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I have a lone light switch lying around and thought it would be cool to use this switch to turn on/off a surge protector instead of the smaller switch on the surge protector. Can this be done?

The benefit of doing this is that I can separate the outlets and the switch; the surge protector is hidden underneath a desk, and the light switch is on top of the desk, for example.

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This would be fine if you mount the switch in an electrical box in the wall and use it, for example, to switch the receptacle (or just half of the receptacle) that your surge suppressor or battery unit is plugged into.

For instance, you could us an "old work" box to put the switch in the wall above the desk, and fish NM cable to/from the box with the receptacle in the wall at the normal height off the floor behind the desk.

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EDIT

I should probably whip out Visio or a paint program and draw my own diagram, but I'm going to bed so I'll use one I found on the net. :-)

Make sure you've turned off the power to the outlet box before you mess with it.

So here's a picture (below) of what gets hooked up to what. Note that the wire you would fish through the wall to the new switch box is 14/3 or 12/3 (I presume the receptacle already exists, so match whatever size wire is already there).

The reason you'll run 3-conductor (plus ground) wire, is that code now requires a neutral in pretty much every switch box, and if you're not using some kind of occupancy sensor or other device in the switch, which would use the neutral, you just cap it off for later use.

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If you decide later that you want to only switch half of the receptacle, you would pigtail the black wire in the receptacle box just like the white wire, connect the black pigtail to one of the hot terminals on the receptacle, connect the black return wire from the switch to the other hot terminal, and break the little brass tab that connects the two hot terminals. DO NOT break the tab on the neutral side.

Normally, that tab is left intact so you only have to connect one hot lead to the receptacle, or so that you can wire power straight through the receptacle to continue the circuit on to somewhere else.

But you can use needle nose pliers or a small screwdriver to bend that tab back and forth a few times until it breaks off, to electrically isolate the top and bottom sockets.

Finally, this is partially personal preference, but I would wrap the wires around the screw terminals, clockwise (direction you turn the screw) and screw them down tight, instead of poking them into the backstab connectors (if there are any backstab connectors). If the wire is #12 (thicker), the backstab connectors aren't appropriate anyway. You can end up with bad/broken connections inside the receptacle, too much heat and potential for fire.

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If you feel uncomfortable tackling this, see if you can get a smart friend to help out. Or call an electrician. But this isn't too tough to do.

There are a few ways to cut the hole in the sheetrock for the "old work" box. Make sure you put that box in the middle somewhere between two studs, not right up against a stud, or there won't be room for the ears on the box to rotate and catch the sheetrock. Don't cut too deep and damage another electrical wire.

The clips in the openings in the back of the box are clamps for the cable, so don't break those out. They'll clamp down and hold the cable in the box.

Don't cut the insulation on the wires inside the non-metallic cable when you trim the sheathing off. Also, leave at least 1/4" of sheathing inside the box. Trim off enough sheathing that you have about 6" of wire poking out of the box, so it's easier to work with. You'll want to beg, borrow or buy some wire strippers. In a pinch you could trim the insulation off the end of the wires with the utility knife.

Remember that loose electrical connections lead to fires. Make all the wire connections nice and tight (wire nuts, screw terminals on the switch and receptacle). When you screw the wire nuts on, pull on all of the wires to make sure you can't pull any of them out of the wire nut. The whole idea of the wire nut is that it clamps the wires together hard, so screw it down tight.

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  • Do I have to modify the standard outlet in order to convert it into a Switched Outlet?
    – Kyle
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 5:52
  • @Kyle Not if you want to switch the entire receptacle (top and bottom). If you only want to switch half of the receptacle, you would break off the brass tab only on the hot side (leave the neutral side alone) and run the return leg from your switch to either the top or bottom terminal/screw, and attach the hot conductor directly to the other terminal. Then one socket will be switched, and the other socket will be live all the time like any other wall socket. Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 5:56
  • Let's stick with an entire receptacle switch to keep it simple. Do you have a link with step-by-step instructions on how to do this? I am new to electrical work.
    – Kyle
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 6:01
  • @Kyle I've added a little info to my post that might help you out. Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 7:46
  • Thank you for the detailed info. The room in question has wood panels so I don't want to drill into the walls. Do you have any idea how to fix the light switch box to the wall without damaging the wall? I know it will be ugly, but I don't care for aesthetics in this case. Also, would it be a hazard if the wires (coming from the outlet, going to the light switch) were exposed?
    – Kyle
    Commented Aug 13, 2015 at 9:32

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