I noticed two switched outlets on one wall were not working. (I am assuming the outlets are switched because the receptacles both have their tabs removed and I have located a switch on the wall that does 'nothing'). The bottom half of the outlets are working fine in both cases.

Now the wiring I encountered is confusing and I will try to represent it as clear as possible and get some suggestions before I attempt any other work.

Outlet 1 has 2 4-wire cables coming into the box. The 2 black wires are each individually connected to the copper side. The 2 red wires are connected to the top silver screws and the 2 white wires are connected to the bottom silver screws. Ground wire in place. The tab is broken on the silver connector side. Using a Fluke VoltAlert both black and red wires are ringing hot regardless of switch position. enter image description here

Outlet 2 has 1 4-wire cable and 1 3-wire cable coming into the box. The 2 black wires are connected to the bottom copper screw. 1 red wire is connected to the top copper screw. The 2 white wires are individually connected to the silver screws. Ground wire in place. Rings hot on black wires only regardless of switch position. Tab is removed between copper screws. enter image description here

Now the switch itself has one black wire at the top screw and one red wire connected to the bottom screw. Black is always hot while red is hot only in 'on' position.

Where do I start? Thx.

  • 2
    can you post pictures of the wiring?
    – bib
    Sep 12, 2016 at 13:46
  • Hi bib. I will get some pictures in tonight. Any other info I can provide that can help the discussion? Thx.
    – Dee Cee
    Sep 12, 2016 at 18:09
  • Images posted. Site limited me to 2 images only.
    – Dee Cee
    Sep 13, 2016 at 16:36
  • Is there an unused white wire in the switch box? Probably capped with a wire nut?
    – bib
    Sep 13, 2016 at 16:44
  • Where was the non-connected black wire going to? Also if you meeter outlet 1 sliver to cooper on the top screws what is your reading? Sep 13, 2016 at 16:53

1 Answer 1


Some general rules.

  1. Black and red wires shouldn't be going to neutral terminals. Silver is neutral.
  2. In general, the tabs on the neutral (silver) side shouldn't be broken unless the upper and lower portions of the socket are being fed from different circuits.
  3. Cable that has black/white/ground is called 2 wire (as in 14/2; the ground is not counted), and black/white/red/ground is called 3 wire (e.g. 12/3)

It sounds as if line power is coming into outlet box 2, the black/white cable. You can confirm that by turning off the power, disconnecting the black wire and leaving it clear of the outlets and other wires, then turning on the power and carefully checking to see if it is hot. Then turn the power back off before proceeding.

I would start with new outlets with tabs intact. (They are cheap). Break off the tabs on the brass side only on each.

Box 2: Connect the black hot (from the 2 wire cable) to the black from the three wire cable and to a pigtail (a short piece of black wire) with a wire nut or a push in connector. Connect the pigtail to the lower brass terminal. Connect the red wire to the upper brass terminal. Connect the two white wires to the silver terminals (the tab on the silver side should be intact).

Box 1: Connect both black wires from the three wire cables and a black pigtail with a wire nut or connector. Attach the black pigtail to the lower brass terminal. Connect the two red wires and a red pigtail with a nut or connector. Attach the other end of the pigtail to the upper brass terminal of the outlet. Attach the two white wires to the two silver terminals. (Tab intact.)

Switch box: Leave this as is, but cap the white wire if it is not already.

In all boxes, attach all of the ground wires and attach the ground to the outlet ground screw.

The lower halves of each outlet should now be always hot and the upper halves switched.

  • All current electrical work is from the builder. I apologize for using the wrong terminology. With Box 2 black wires disconnected and the switch in the OFF position should any of the red wires in Box 1 be hot?
    – Dee Cee
    Sep 13, 2016 at 22:46

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