3

I have multiple outlets in my room where the top plug on the outlet is controlled by a light switch. My objective is simply to make it so that these top plugs are always hot, regardless of the position of the light switch.

After turning off the breaker, testing the outlet, and opening the outlet, the job appeared pretty simple: I have the expected ground wire near the bottom and two white wires connected to the left side of the outlet under screws (and connected together by an unbroken brass/copper tab), and on the right side there was a red wire connected to the top screw and a black wire connected to the bottom screw (but the brass/copper tab on this side has been intentionally broken, presumably to allow them to operate independently of each other). Since the top plug is connected to the red wire, and the top plug is the one that's controlled by the light switch, my instinct was that the red wire was my culprit. Therefore, my goal was to remove the red wire and have only black wires going to the right side: https://imgur.com/a/F5cZfeZ

To confirm this hypothesis, I opened up an adjacent full-hot outlet. As I suspected, no red wires were attached, only two white, two black, and the ground (green). https://imgur.com/a/1ayrXRW

The electrician seemed to make things easy for me. There were two caps, one red and one black. The red had three wires terminating in the cap, one of which was very short (it was this short wire that was connected to the outlet). I just removed this short wire, and left the other two wound together and in the cap. https://imgur.com/a/g4tBEdj

Similarly, there were three black wires terminating in the cap, one of which was very short (again, the short wire was the one connected to the outlet). I removed the short wire and the cap completely, and just took both of the other two wires and attached them to both of the (newly available) screws. https://imgur.com/a/jpBEDVQ

After completing the wiring, I turned the breaker back on. Nothing alarming occurred (and the breaker didn't trip or anything), but now all of the half-hot outlets in my room are completely non-functional. In fact, the light/fan that were also controlled by other switches in the room is also not working. The other outlets and lights in the room are working normally.

My only guess is that I need to get an unbroken brass/copper tab to replace the broken one on the outlet. This is my guess because the adjacent full-hot outlet had an unbroken one, which I saw when I opened it up as a reference. I was very careful to make sure that screws were fully screwed in to prevent a wire from popping out and was careful that uninsulated ground wasn't touching any uninsulated hot (which I imagine would have caused an immediate short/breaker flip if it had).

  • 5
    Does this answer your question? How can I rewire half switched receptacles? – Peter Duniho Sep 26 at 17:36
  • 1
    The two answers seem fine to me. But if what you really want is to eliminate all of the switched outlets and make them all 100% always-on all, you might consider just bypassing the switch itself. You can remove the switch from its wall box, shorting the pair of line and load wires that the switch is controlling with a wire nut or other approved connector, and then replace the switch cover plate with a plain flat plate. You have to keep the box accessible (hence the plain plate), but this way there won't be some random switch that doesn't control anything, waiting to confuse someone. – Peter Duniho Sep 26 at 17:40
  • 1
    See also diy.stackexchange.com/questions/80956/… for more relevant information. – Peter Duniho Sep 26 at 17:40
  • @PeterDuniho I wish you had posted this as an answer! If you take a look at my comments on the accepted answer, what you propose is exactly what I ended up doing. I struggled with putting 4 wires in a wirenut, and didn't want to have to repeat the process for all the outlets controlled by the switch, so opted to take the easiest route and bypass the switch so that the red wire running along the wall is now always hot, rather than switched depending on the position of the switch. – monstermac77 Sep 26 at 21:05
  • I think it's great that the best solution to my problem wasn't actually how to fix my original wiring approach. The best solution was to revert what I had done and do an entirely different approach. Good job thinking outside the box on this. – monstermac77 Sep 26 at 21:07
4

The short wires are called "pigtails".

As you gathered, it was important that the two black non-pigtails remain connected to each other irrespective of the receptacle. You can use the 2 screws on the receptacle as an ad-hoc splice block... but that doesn't work if the tab is broken. The purpose of the tab is allow you to use it as a splice block instead of for separate control.

You can't buy a new tab. You have 2 ways you can fix this.

1. pigtail each socket separately.

Leave the two pigtails on it, but simply move the red pigtail from the "red wires" wire-nut, to the "black wires" wire-nut. You can still do that if you saved the bits. Or you can buy some loose wire and cut some bits if you have a stripper.

Putting 4 wires on a wirenut is a little challenging, and you'll need red or tan wire-nuts, not yellow ones.

There's no way to replace just the tab. To salvage a tab-broken recep, just pigtail both sides as above.

2. Replace the outlet

You can "get the tab back" by replacing the whole receptacle - but given the DIY repair boom, prices are going crazy, and you could pay as much as $1.25 for builder (cheap) grade... or $4 for the vastly better quality spec-grade ones.

In fact the spec-grade ones allow 2 wires under each screw, so the builder wouldn't have needed to pigtail.

| improve this answer | |
  • Option 1. ("pigtail each socket separately") is a great idea, so I tried it, but indeed putting 4 wires in a wirenut turned out to be very challenging (I was using a large red one, which is rated for 4 wires) so I decided to do an approach I should have thought of before: bypassing the switch in the first place. Since I would have had to do your approach on multiple outlets, it ended up being remarkably easier to just connect the single red and black wire going to the switch together, so the circuit is always complete (rendering the switch disconnected/moot). – monstermac77 Sep 26 at 20:48
  • My solution (bypassing the switch), did of course involve returning things back to their original state at the outlet: twisting the three black and the three red wires together (imgur.com/a/FCAtaP7), then snipping the end of the wires which appears to be standard practice, and then capping them with the wirenuts. – monstermac77 Sep 26 at 20:51
  • Then I simply opened up the switch, saw that there was only two wires going to it (one red, one black) and twisted those together and put the wirenut on. Unfortunately, my first attempt left too much uninsulated wire outside of the wirenut (imgur.com/a/rdBvqcZ) so I untwisted, cut, and then retwisted the wires (imgur.com/a/BSlWI1q). That looked much better (imgur.com/a/UjajrKh). – monstermac77 Sep 26 at 20:55
  • My only concern with my wiring is that there were points where a quarter inch or so of uninsulated wire was twisted against insulated wire. I imagine the current is going to follow the path of least resistance, and therefore go the extra quarter inch to the part of the twist where neither wire is insulated rather than burning through the insulation (if attractive forces even can transmit through the insulation), but this is only a guess! – monstermac77 Sep 26 at 20:57
  • 1
    @monstermac77 well done. Yes, that twist looks fine. No need to pre-twist, the nut is gonna do that for ya when you tighten it down "like you mean it" :). I myself don't like using wire nuts near the limits of their capacity. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Sep 26 at 20:58
3

You are correct. The broken tab is blocking the electricity from continuing to the second black wire and on to the other outlets.

Easiest thing is to simply replace the outlet so that the tab is unbroken. If you want to keep the old outlet, you can put the wirenut back together while adding an additional short wire (pigtail) so that you can connect both screws.

It is, of course, just easier to replace the outlet.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.