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In my house there is a switch in every room that controls an outlet. I’ve asked my electrician to remove that so that the outlet is always on.

He says it’s safer to have a “control switch” but I can’t think of a good reason why.

What am I missing?

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    Think they are usually used for table/desk lamps if room does not have ceiling lights. Other than that, having one outlet on switch not needed. Electrician might not have wanted the work to rewire and patch walls. Rooms have more than one outlet or just the one?
    – crip659
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 1:05
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    This question made no sense to me until I got the idea it might be talking about a switch away from the socket it controls…?  Which also suggests that OP may be talking about the USA specifically?  (That might be worth mentioning in the question.)  Here in the UK, all rooms have ceiling light(s) with wall switch(es); and each power socket has a built-in switch.  (Well, except for very old buildings.)  Electrical standards must vary a lot between countries; most of the electrical questions on this site wouldn't really apply here!
    – gidds
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 10:38
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    @JosephFilip A refrigerator on a switch? That seems like asking to have to throw out its contents. Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 13:39
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    @ilkkachu I would guestimate that happens in most houses just as often as the draining of the hot water heater ... never.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 14:47
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    @MichaelRichardson - UK homes have refrigerators, washing machines, driers, etc, on switched outlets, and we just avoid turning them off unless we really want to. It's not hard. Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 20:11

5 Answers 5

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It's in the Building and Electrical Codes

You may have noticed that you can walk into a room that you've never been in before, and reach for a light switch, your hand has a really good chance of finding it. It's almost like magic, and it's so universal that people take it for granted.

Actually, it's no accident. It's required by both the electrical and the building codes. Every room must have a light, and the light must be operated in a switch located at -- well, your hand knows.

Here's another non-accident. Ever go up a stairway, go the first couple of steps and then your feet just know what to do? That's because of a rule that says on a stairway, every step's rise and run must be identical. This is what happens if it's not.

This is one of literally a thousand rules in the Building Codes designed to keep people safe.

A switched receptacle is allowed as a substitute for an overhead light

Normally, Codes require that the light switch operate an overhead light or other built-in lights - sconces, cove lighting, etc. However, builders lobbied to get an exception to allow a switched receptacle instead -- on the presumption that someone would plug a floor lamp into that receptacle, and be contented with that as the room light, and switch the light only at the switch.

The reason builders wanted this is, it's cheaper.

Of course, this is a bad plan for exactly the reasons you are observing - #1 people will switch the light off at the light, and #2 it renders the receptacle unusable as a plain receptacle. This is especially bad with the consumer electronics revolution, where people have an exponentially increasing number of things to plug in other than lamps.

Unfortunately, you only have 2 options for eliminating the receptacles.

  • If the wiring permits, convert the receptacle to a half-switched -- meaning one of the 2 sockets will be switched by the light, and the other will not.
  • Install an overhead light, sconces, cove lighting etc. hardwired into the room, and rewire the circuit so the switch operates the overhead light instead of the receptacle. The overhead light will satisfy the Code requirements for a functional room light.
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    @user253751 I haven't looked, but it happens all the time that I write big answers that can take awhile to write (I can disappear for a couple hours too if life intervenes)... and then, during that time, someone else has posted. Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 18:14
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    I mean a duplicate of your own answer to a different question. Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 19:00
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    @user253751 if questions are not duplicates themselves, but largely similar answer fits, what's wrong with that?
    – Mołot
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 0:54
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    @Mołot in some SE's, the standard is duplicate only refers to the question; in others, duplicate can refer to a duplicate question, or a question that can be answered by answers to a different question. As I am not a regular member of this community, but rather only come here for specific answers I am seeking, I don't know this exchange's policy. If there is an answer that is duplicate to to this one, and it's the policy of the SE, then this question could be closed as a dupe.
    – CGCampbell
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 14:55
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    Generally when I've encountered a switched outlet that meant to control a floor lamp, it was already wired as half-switched. OP should check both halves of the outlet — possibly one half is already unswitched,
    – AndyB
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 5:31
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Additional reason: More than 20 years ago I had a socket in the garden, switched from the inside. That was to deny any unauthorized person a connection for power tools. While still doing that, is is no longer effective as everything is battry operated now.

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    This is the exact reason I have a switched outlet on my front porch from 28 years ago. We have a festival come to town each year and when we first moved in we were warned that people would just randomly walk through our yard, "borrow" things that weren't locked down, etc. The outlet is switched with the front porch light to prevent such borrowing. Don't think anyone ever attempted to do any such borrowing, but that's how we wired it. Excellent point.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 11:25
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    Well, you still need to charge those batteries...
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 15:42
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    Except outside receptacles are now more mandatory than they've ever been, so that switch is more useful than ever. Meanwhile, in an old industrial district near my house... there are a couple of J1772 connectors (EV level 2 chargers) just poking out of a chain link fence with nothing anywhere near them, and nothing I see keeps you from pulling up in a Chevy Bolt and topping up! LOL! Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 18:20
  • @FreeMan How does having the outside outlet off stop people from picking things up? Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 4:21
  • Having the switch for the outlet on the inside of the house, @AzorAhai-him-, prevents people from "borrowing" electricity from the outlet outside. I was told that this happened.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 10:34
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A number of years ago it was required by building code to have a switched receptacle if there are no ceiling fixtures in a room. It still is I am certain. It is a safety issue for entering a room when it is dark. If you have a ceiling light, then I believe it can go, but to remove all the related wiring and switch will require drywall work and/or a blank plate where the switch used to be. That is unless code allows simply wire nutting both ends of the swicth leg and leaving them in the outlet/switch boxes. Then it would be just a blank plate only, where the switch is eliminated.

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  • We had an addition built years ago. Rooms with ceiling light/s no switched outlets. Rooms without ceiling lights have a switched outlet. Was done by an Electrician so am guessing it was for code.
    – crip659
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 11:46
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    @crip659 I had some work done by an electrician nearly 30 years ago. No permit, no inspection (to be fair, no payment, either), but it was most certainly not done to code (thought I didn't know it at the time). Sadly, not a safe assumption to make.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 12:37
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    @FreeMan Mine was done with permits and inspections, that is why I mentioned the switched outlets as being for code. Sorry that I did not explain better.
    – crip659
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 13:02
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    My comment wasn't clear either, @crip659. "Having an electrician do the work" is not a guarantee that it will be done to code, not that having switched outlets isn't to code.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 13:05
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A remote switch for an power outlet can also be a safety measure.

When I was a child, a TV appliance caught fire during the night and we lost part of our home. When my parents got to build their own house later, they put a master switch on each room that would control all power outlets in that room. Every night they would make the rounds cutting off power to any appliance in the house. It is also very convenient as it allows you to unplug everything in one go, I miss that feature from my childhood home.

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    My mom's house had a switch at the top of the basement stairs that would turn off all of the lights and outlets in the basement, except for the laundry machines. While convenient for avoiding having to walk to the far end of the basement (ranch-style home) to turn off a light, it caused many instances of anguish in my youth, when it was flipped several times as an attention-getter, but had the side-effect of resetting my Nintendo console! Commented Apr 5, 2021 at 21:24
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    A better safety measure would be to check that 1. All the electrical installation is up to code and 2. All electrical devices complies to safety standards, are in good condition and are properly used. If both of those points are ensured, a master switch is more a matter of convenience than safety and if one of those points is overlooked (especially the second one) it's an accident waiting to happen with or without a switch.
    – zakinster
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 9:53
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    @zankister That might be true in an ideal world, but in reality there are manufacturing defects, parts wear out of use, dust covers ventilation fans and, in general, accidents happen even with all (theoretical) safeties in place. Being able to cut power in one single place adds an extra layer of safety. Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 17:38
  • @DanHenderson You think that was a side-effect, actually your parents knew that was the most effective way to get your attention. Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 13:50
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    @DiegoSánchez sounds like you're describing a fuse box. Commented Apr 7, 2021 at 20:41
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From where I am, there is no code requiring switches to power outlets but I have installed one for my autistic son's TV. I require that all appliances not in use be unplugged to save on the electric bill. The outlet switch however makes it easier for my son to just leave the TV plugged in reducing the chances for him to be electrocuted.

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    The standby usage of a TV is of the order of 5W a year. Unplugging will save on the bill, but...! Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 10:49
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    I’m certain that the cost of adding additional switches is more than you’ll save over even a very long timeframe. Plus, if you’re getting electric shocks from unplugging things, something else has gone very wrong.
    – Tim
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 11:13
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    "5W per year" is a bit confusing, as a watt is already a rate (1 joule per second). I assume that means the TV pulls 5W while off, which in a year would add up to approximately 43 kWh of energy. Where I live, that would amount to about $11/year, if the TV were in standby the entire year. Unless you install the switch yourself, it would likely take decades to recover the cost of having one installed.
    – chepner
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 13:27
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    While the logic or math may not be precise, this is a very valid reason for this particular person and his son. It doesn't deserve down votes, and it is a benefit of having a switch controlled outlet. It's an unusual one, no doubt about it, but it is a benefit in this family's life.
    – FreeMan
    Commented Apr 6, 2021 at 13:31

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