Background: This started out as a simple addition of a recessed light in a hallway. The beginning issue was that the wire to power it was live all the time. So I took apart the switches in "Box 1" by my front door. Having little electrical knowledge, I found myself quickly over my head which landed me here.

The Setup: I have Box 1 which contains 4 switches and 5 wires (each with a live and neutral). I have Box 2 which contains one switch for my living room which works independently of the switches in Box 1. Currently there is no power to the wire for the recessed light and none of the other switches work as they've been disassembled. I'm having trouble figuring out how to get them back together and make everything work again. That's where I'm hoping DIY can give me a hand and school me on DIY home electrical work.

The Goals

  • Have the recessed light be on it's own switch.
  • Have one switch for the porch light, garage light, and lamp post light. There were 4 switches previously so I want to cut it down to two.

Current Knowledge

  • The Service Box wire will trip the breaker if I connect the live to the neutral.
  • The Garage wire will trip the breaker if I connect the live to the neutral.
  • The Lamp Post Light wire will turn on the light if I connect the live to the neutral.

Tools Available

  • Klein Tools MM100 Multimeter
  • Klein Tools Voltage Tester
  • Commercial Electric VAC/DC MS8900H Tester
  • Standard tools: wire strippers, needle nose pliers, etc.

Full Wiring Diagram Main Switch Box - Hots are red

  • Is everything running through the box on the same circuit breaker? Also, are any of the white wires "coded black" with electrical tape or other markings?
    – Comintern
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 0:23
  • @Comintern They are indeed on the same circuit breaker. I don't think any of them are coded as there aren't any indicators. If I use the voltage tester, it only beeps on the black wires.
    – Chad
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 0:35
  • One more question - when you say "the wire to power it was live all the time", are you referring to the fixture box that you attached the recessed light to? If so, what did you do to kill that wire?
    – Comintern
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 0:42
  • @Comintern The wire labeled "Recessed Light" ran to the junction box where the light will go. It was wired incorrectly and had power all the time. I stopped that from happening by detaching it from the switch.
    – Chad
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 1:46
  • It appears the living room switch box is supplied power from the main switch box. If that is the case, there is no way to conventionally switch the recessed light unless you add a third conductor from where you want the switch located for the recessed light. You might consider a wirelessly switched light fixture of some sort that only needs a constant power supply, the switching is achieved by an internal relay triggered by a wireless controller.
    – bcworkz
    Commented Mar 22, 2014 at 2:02

1 Answer 1


First thing to confirm would be which direction the switches are being fed from. There are 2 ways that you can do this - feed from the switch:

feed from switch

Or feed from the fixture:

enter image description here

When feeding from a fixture, you'll notice that one of the white wires is actually being used as a black wire. It is common practice for this to be "coded black", usually with a single wrap of black electrical tape, but not everyone does this. By the description in the comments, it sounds like everything was being fed from the fixtures except for the porch light (although it seems odd to do a lamp post that way given the extra wire required, but I digress). My guess is that the box where the recessed light went was wired correctly, just using the bottom method from the 2 pictures above.

The second step is to confirm that the wire you have marked as "Service Box" goes to the distribution box. If it does, your previous wiring set up was probably like this (in which case there should have only been one wire nut in the box other than any used for grounding):

enter image description here

Until you do these two things, it would be premature to decide on how to combine switches or re-wire. You could reverse the wiring for the garage or lamp post to combine switches, but you'd need to figure out what to do about the hot running into the fixture (capping it may not meet code in your area). What you would basically be doing is changing from fixture feeds to box feeds and figuring out what to do with all of the fixture hots. Multimeter readings likely aren't going to be much help - pictures of all of the boxes at the fixtures would help more (or diagrams of each box with wire connections noted).

I'd start with confirming the wiring the diagram above, get the wiring back to how it was originally so everything works again, and then posting an update with the information above for advice on how to change how it is wired.

EDIT: Porch and lamp post can be combined like this:

enter image description here

  • I learned a few things about the wiring the hard way that may provide additional context. The service box wire and the garage light wire trip the breaker if I connect the live and neutral. The lamp post light turns on if I connect the live to neutral. I think the recessed light was hooked up to two switches originally so the power may have been coming from Box 2 (e.g. the living room box). Does that give any more insight as to how to fix this?
    – Chad
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 3:05
  • @cwscribner OK, when you short a wire against itself it means that the white is really a neutral. If you complete a circuit that way, it is "coded black". If there are only 2 wires from the garage coming into the switch box and it trips the breaker when you short them you are missing a wire in your diagram or something got wired wrong someplace. Are you sure you are only shorting the 2 wires that run to the garage? Also, if the recessed light was on a 3 way switch there would be another wire coming from that fixture for the carrier.
    – Comintern
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 3:12
  • Honestly, the wiring is very confusing. The wire directly from the service box is split into two wires. One runs directly into the switch box. The other goes into another junction box and is joined with 3 other wires; so one supply, one runs to some lights on the house, one to the switch box (garage lights), and one across the basement into another junction box. I think the service box wire runs into the same junction box as the garage light wire. That junction box has two "in" wires and two "out" wires. One of which is for the lamp post. I think I may need to diagram the whole thing...
    – Chad
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 3:18
  • @cwscribner - Does the porch light do anything when you cross its wires?
    – Comintern
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 3:19
  • No, both the porch and recessed light are without power.
    – Chad
    Commented Mar 16, 2014 at 3:20

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