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I have two switches in a box connected via a jumper wire; one for an outside light and one for the top plug of a wall receptacle. My problem is that the receptacle switch has to be switched on in order for the exterior light switch to work.

What's confusing me is that the line in comes to the exterior light switch first, so if I were expecting any odd situation, it would be the reverse (e.g. the exterior light switch needing to be on for the switched receptacle to work).

The 110 line in connected to the exterior light switch is indicated by the red arrow below:

light switch with colored arrows pointing to line/load/jumper

Then there's a jumper line that runs from the same screw of the exterior light switch over to the switch that controls the top receptacle of the outlet (blue arrow above).

The green arrow on the above photo is the load out to the exterior light.

Here is what the switch for the receptacle looks like:

light switch with colored arrows indicating line/load

Again, the blue arrow denotes the jumper wire coming from the powered, exterior light switch, and the green arrow denotes the connection to the top plug of the receptacle.

How can I fix this so that I can turn the exterior light on without having to switch on the receptacle?

(NB: not shown is a 3rd, 3-way switch in between these two that controls a ceiling light -- it is not connected to these two in any way other than all neutrals/grounds in the box being gathered together, respectively.)

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  • How are you testing the wires for power? Does moving the inter-switch jumper to the other terminal on the switch for the receptacle change this behavior? Nov 27 '20 at 17:22
  • @ThreePhaseEel I'm flipping off the breaker that controls the 110v line in when I need to poke around; while the breaker is on, I can flip the switches to observe the behavior of the switches. If that's not what you mean, let me know. Re: moving the jumper/traveler wire, I'll check back and let you know.
    – TylerH
    Nov 27 '20 at 17:42
  • @ThreePhaseEel Making that change results in the switched receptacle having power regardless of the switch position.
    – TylerH
    Nov 27 '20 at 17:51
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    @Craig No, it is connected to the 3rd switch as I mentioned. This 3rd switch works fine and is on a completely different circuit.
    – TylerH
    Nov 27 '20 at 19:15
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    @Craig Indeed, that pigtail method is what I thought would fix the problem (see the yellow capped black wires closest to the foreground in the pic in my last comment to you) -- but if ThreePhaseEel is right, then the only reason that didn't solve the problem is simply because the installer mislabeled the romex sheathing with his sharpie during install.
    – TylerH
    Nov 28 '20 at 14:06
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You have the wrong wire identified as your always hot

The problem you have is that the last installer who was in the box made the same mistake and identified the incorrect wire as the always-hot for this circuit. In particular, based on what happened when you moved the jumper to the other terminal on the switch for the receptacle, the wire pointed to by the red arrow in your pictures isn't the always-hot coming into the box, but the switched-hot going off to the receptacle. In turn, this makes the wire pointed to by the green arrow in your pictures the always-hot coming into the box.

So, you can fix this by undoing the wire nut on your pigtailing job, removing the wire from the top screw of the switch for the receptacle, nutting that wire in with your pigtails, and landing the wire you undid from the pigtailing job on the now-free top screw of the switch for the receptacle. Once that's done, you can button the box up, turn the breaker on, and enjoy your lightswitches!

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  • I suspect you may be mixing up the results of the testing (or I may not have been clear in my descriptions of the results earlier). The installer ran the wiring without drywall or insulation in place and labeled the romex at that point, so mislabeling would be a huge goof on his part... on top of that, the runs for the receptacle and the 110 line in (red arrow) come from the bottom of the box, whereas the green run comes in from the top (toward the exterior light). I do have a contact voltage tester buried somewhere under a bunch of boxes. I'll hunt around for it and test this theory.
    – TylerH
    Nov 28 '20 at 14:41
  • @TylerH -- a voltage tester would be a very good idea at this point Nov 28 '20 at 15:27
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    Yep, somehow the installer mislabeled the runs; the one labeled 'outlet' was the always-hot when everything was disconnected/off except for the breaker. Re-labeling and re-attaching the wiring based on that resulted in both switches working independently/correctly. Chalk yet another up under the 'never trust a previous electrician' column...
    – TylerH
    Nov 28 '20 at 17:27
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    @TylerH -- Trust, but verify, because we are but human :) Nov 28 '20 at 17:58

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