in my old house (built 1960, significantly transformed 1980, minor transformations 2010), there is a three gang of simple two way switches in the section that has been created in 1980 and transformed in 2010. My ownership postdates both of these...

I am automating and refreshing. The old switch is almond and ugly; I am going white, and where appropriate smart switch.

One of the switches controls the (only) ceiling light fixture [edited]. I have replaced it with a smart dimmer. All good.

The issue is with the other two switches. I can't figure what they control, if anything at all. There's only receptacle outlets in the room, and none is controlled by either of the switches. The receptacles' tabs are not broken, so I checked whether someone might have forgotten to break them, but that's not the case, the other wires in the receptacles are for daisy chaining these receptacles. I also checked that they are not controlling anything in the adjacent rooms. I can't find what they are for.

I don't want to leave them as they are due to the ugly, dirty almond color. My options appear to be:

  1. replace with white switches (that control nothing)
  2. remove them, put wire nuts on the wires, and use a big old ugly blind/blind/open three gang plate
  3. install receptacle outlets instead (and cap the load wires with wire nuts)

Does that make sense? Must I identify/trace the load wires' paths to remove fully or cap them in a junction box, or is it ok to just cap them locally? Would there be any concern in using option 3 here? Any other option I am missing?

Thank you

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    Are there any outdoor fixtures it might control? Did there used to be a ceiling fan in that room? Former hall lights that are no longer there? You can do a resistance/continuity test on the fixture side leads to see if anything is connected.
    – lordadmira
    Dec 22, 2020 at 3:59
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    BTW: the term you're after is "light fixture" not "light appliance" Dec 22, 2020 at 4:20
  • Thanks @lordadmira - no outdoor light fixture (and it's on an internal wall). The current roof is from 1980 and cuts perpendicular to the previous roof (parts of the old roof can be seen, cut, in the attic). It's possible these switches had a function in the 1960 house and were not properly removed at that time. For the resistance/continuity test, I do need to identify the fixture first, right? Or do you mean, from the switch side on the load wires? Thinking of it, that's probably what you mean. Dec 22, 2020 at 4:45
  • Yes. :) If these switches are near the 1960 exterior, that's probably what they were for. But you said it was a 1980 section. You can guess, based on the wiring jacket, which house-phase they belong too. Vintage wiring is not vinyl. I'm in the same situation as you. I have multiple generations of wires some of which are GNDN lines. (goes nowhere, does nothing) I wish I knew where they ran.
    – lordadmira
    Dec 22, 2020 at 5:32
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    Reminds me of the Married With Children episode where Al became obsessed with what an unknown switch did and pulled a ton of wiring out. Never did find out what it controlled but in the last scene the dog is out in his house thinking "dammit I wish that light would stop turning on and off" Dec 22, 2020 at 8:35

1 Answer 1


I would caution to not remove anything you do not know what it controls.

House fans are common, an exhaust fan in the attic?

I caution that trying to make resistance measurements is normally a waste of time and I have seen a lot of ruined meters when DIY folks and apprentices have measured live circuits.

Why are resistance measurements questionable? A thermally switched attic fan will show open in the cool winter being 1 switch and the light fixture for that fan that the light burned open. I was called in to repair some wiring in an exactly similar case. The owner found the dead light and fan later and wanted them to work, 4 or 5 total trips into the attic to identify the feeder and verify the removed switch’s then to reconnect and verify took over 2 hours to get repaired and working. The owner then remembered removing the switches.

I had an emergency call a sump pump quit working and the finished basement was flooding, when you are looking for a failure not a switch the owner took out in the summer it takes longer and emergencies on a weekend night cost 2-3x if you can get someone! The owner had tested the circuit and it was open the sump was empty and the float switch opened the circuit.

So there are 3 different cases a burned out lamp, a thermal switch and a float switch that made the circuits look like nothing was there.

You mentioned putting in receptacles, this may be a possibility depending on how things are wired. Do not assume that white is a neutral in switch box especially if it connects to a switch in this case it is normally a hot and even though code recently changed requiring neutrals at most switches reality is most homes will have old style switch loops for decades to come.

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    Thanks Ed. This makes sense, even though in my case there's really no equipment in attic or basement or anywhere else to see. I won't remove until/unless I have clear understanding what these switches were for. Dec 26, 2020 at 1:58

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