Dan has been a licensed journey-level electrician for some 17 years. He has extensive experience in most areas of the electrical trade.
What Is a Half-Hot Outlet?
Most of the outlets in your home are of the duplex variety—that is, you can plug two devices into them at one time. A half-hot (or switched) outlet is a duplex outlet that has one half permanently "on" or ready to provide electricity while the other half can be turned off and on via an ordinary wall switch.
While the entire duplex outlet could be turned on via a wall switch, only one of the two plug-ins is usually switched; this leaves the other half permanently powered for other uses.
This kind of outlet is quite common in modern construction. If you plug a lamp into the switched side, you can turn the light off and on via the wall switch. Half-hot outlets are most frequently found in living rooms, but can be put into any location.
Learning how to wire a switched outlet is not difficult. It is similar to wiring a regular light fixture. Find out how below.
Note: If you are installing a new outlet or pulling additional wire to an existing one, please check this article about adding an outlet; it contains tips and suggestions for pulling wire to both new and existing outlets.
A half-hot (or switched) outlet is a double outlet that has one half permanently on (ready to provide electricity) while the other half can be turned on and off via an ordinary wall switch.
Preparing the Switched Outlet for Wiring
- If you are modifying an existing outlet, it is almost certain that the old outlet won't need to be replaced, although if it is more than a few years old it should probably be replaced anyway.
- Either the square, Decora-style switch or the more common semi-round type may be used as a half-hot outlet. You may not, however, use a GFI outlet (it is not possible to modify one so that only half of it is switched), but the entire outlet could be switched.
- If you are purchasing a new outlet, make sure that you match the outlet's ampacity (amps) to that provided by the circuit breaker for that circuit; a 15 amp breaker requires a 15 amp outlet and a 20 amp breaker should have a 20 amp outlet.
- After you've taken off the faceplate, on the side of the outlet, there is a small tab connecting the two brass screw-plates together. This tab allows one wire to be used to power both halves. This tab has a slot in it so a small screwdriver can be inserted to break it off. To modify the outlet for use as half-hot, use a screwdriver or a pair of needle-nose pliers to twist and break that small connecting tab. Break only the tab on the side with the brass-colored screws; the one connecting the two silver screws needs to remain intact. See photos for details.
- With the tab broken, the outlet is ready for use.
Breaking the Tab for a Half-Hot Outlet
What Kind of Wiring Do You Need for a Switched Outlet?
- The National Electric Code requires that all lighting switch boxes contain a "neutral", which is an electrical term for a grounded conductor (not to be confused with a ground wire). In your outlet, it is the white wire that terminates on the outlet. Whether or not a half-hot outlet is for lighting is debatable, but you must still have a neutral in the switch box.
- There are two possibilities for the location of the incoming power: either in the outlet box or in the switch box. Either way, you will need what is called "3-wire cable" (black, red, white, and green OR metal all sheathed together: yes I know that makes 4 wires, but that's what it's called!) to connect the two boxes.
- Check the breaker that turns the circuit off; if it is a 20 amp breaker or fuse, you will need 12-3 wire (12 gauge, 3-wire, plus ground). If it is a 15 amp breaker, you will need either that same 12-3 or 14-3 wire (14 gauge, 3-wire, plus ground). You will find that the 14 gauge wire is cheaper and a little easier to handle.
- The Romex (NMC) wire you will be using is generally available in 25', 50', 100', and 250' rolls.
- Make sure you purchase enough wire, as the job will usually require more than you think. To be safe, add about 20% to your best estimate.
There Are 4 Wires in a Romex 3-Wire Cable! What Do the Colors of the Wires Indicate?
- White: the neutral. See warning below!
- Green or bare copper without insulation: the ground wire.
- Red: hot.
- Black: hot.
These will all be cabled together in a sheath. Romex wire is usually used in houses.
The White Wire: A Word of Caution
Switch boxes in older homes usually used the white wire as a power wire, not a neutral. So when the white wires in a switch box are spliced together, any that go to a switch should be ignored and left right where they are.
Do not splice those white wires already on a switch to any other white wires, and especially not to the new white wire that is a part of your new 3-wire cable.
It wasn't until 2011 that the National Electric Code ruled that a white wire being used as a neutral was required in the switch box. Prior to that, it was acceptable to use the white as the switched "hot" wire, although a conscientious electrician would color it to something else (using magic marker, black tape, etc.).
So if you are replacing an older, existing switched outlet, and if it has 2-wire cable between the outlet and the switch, then the white wire is being used as either a permanent hot or as the switched power and IS NOT neutral. Care must be taken to keep it separate from other white wires.
How to Wire a Half-Hot Switched Outlet
Before you do anything, TURN OFF THE POWER! A non-contact voltage detector can be invaluable here for detecting power through the insulation of the wire. Make sure that the power is off. A nasty shock is the least desirable outcome of your project.
As noted above, there are two possibilities for the incoming power: either in the switch box or in the outlet box. These will be treated separately below.
How to Wire a Switched Half-Hot Outlet That Gets Its Power From the Outlet Box
This is the preferred method of wiring a half-hot switched outlet, because if the power is coming from the switch, it is most likely a lighting circuit that is intended to operate lights, not outlets. Yes, you will probably have a lamp plugged in, but the other half of the outlet could run anything. It is best if this outlet is on a circuit intended for outlets. So if there is an option, use the power already in the outlet box.
- In order for the outlet box to work, it must already contain one or more cables made up of black, white, and green/bare ground wires all cabled together. In order to add the switch, you will be adding a Romex 3-wire cable to the box.
- Cut a short 6" piece of cable and remove the outer sheath. This gives you four different colored wires to splice in with the matching wires in the box. These 6" pieces (or "pigtails") will attach to the outlet. Strip off the last 1/2 inch of colored plastic coating on each end of each wire.
- Next, you will splice all of the grounds (green or bare wires) together with that additional green/bare 6" piece. Splicing is when you twist all the bare metal wires together so that they're in contact. You should pull them into a neat bundle with the stripped ends all together, twist them into one, put a plastic twist-on wire nut over them, and screw it down tightly as if it were a bolt head. Hold the wire nut in one hand and tug firmly on each individual wire to make sure it doesn't come loose. Pull fairly hard to test the connection; better that it comes apart now than later.
- Do the same with all the black wires (and the additional 6" piece of black wire you cut in step 2).
- Splice all the white wires together, again with the 6" additional white piece.
- The loose end of the 6" ground wire will terminate on the green ground screw of the outlet. The black 6" wire will terminate on one of the brass-colored screws, the red one on the other brass screw, and the white one on the silver-colored screw. It is most common to put the red wire on the bottom screw, since that will make the top plug-in "hot" at all times and will be a little easier to plug things into it.
- To terminate (affix or connect) the wires, bend a hook in the wire, loop it around the screw in a clockwise direction, and tighten the screw firmly. If the wire tends to come out from under the screw while tightening, you have looped it the wrong direction. Alternatively, many home grade outlets have small holes in the rear of the outlet where the wires can be simply pushed in instead of wrapping around the screw.
- At the switch, put a wire nut on the white wire, capping it off, and tuck it into the back of the box. It will not be used. Splice all ground wires in the box together (if multiple switches or other wires are in the box), again with an additional 6" green/bare piece to go to the switch. Terminate the ground wire on the green ground screw of the switch.
- Terminate the black wire from your new 3-wire cable on one of the screws on the side of the switch, and the red on the other. It doesn't matter which one goes where.
How to Splice Electrical Wire (the Electrical Tape Is Optional):
How to Wire a Switched Outlet That Gets Its Power From the Switch Box
- First, locate the cable that is bringing power into the box. You will see at least one 2-wire cable and the added Romex 3-wire cable that you're connecting to the outlet. If this is a multiple switch location (with more than one switch in the box), there will be other cables, too. The power cable will almost certainly have multiple short wires spliced to it, one wire for each switch.
- Cut a short 6" piece of cable and remove the outer sheath. This gives you four different colored wires to splice in with the matching wires in the box. Strip off the last 1/2 inch of colored plastic coating on each end of each of these 6" pieces (or "pigtails").
- Splice all the ground wires together, with an extra 6" pigtail piece of ground wire added.
- Splice the black power wire and the new black wire from the new 3-wire cable together, with a black pigtail added.
- Splice all neutral wires together, but without a pigtail. The black pigtail will terminate on one of the switch screws and the red wire on the other.
- The ground pigtail goes to the green ground screw on the switch.
- At the outlet box, if there are cables other than the new 3-wire you are using to connect the outlet to the switch, splice them together by color: Black wires together, white wires together, and all ground wires (including the one in the 3-wire cable) together, all with like-colored pigtails.
- At the outlet box, neither the existing black or white wires will be used for the outlet, but may be powering other outlets on the circuit if this is not a new outlet.
- The ground wire goes to the green ground screw on the outlet, the white wire goes to a silver screw, the black wire to one of the brass screws, and the red wire to the other brass screw. All of these wires (except for the ground wire if there are other cables in the box) come only from the new 3-wire cable.
Finishing the Job
- After wiring the outlet and switch, fold the wires back into the boxes as neatly as possible and mount the outlet and switch into the box.
- Attach the cover plates.
- If you have any trouble here, additional instructions on changing light switches or installing electrical outlets can be found in these links. You'll also find tips on removing existing outlets and switches in these articles.
- Turn the breaker back on and check operation. One half of the outlet should be on at all times, with the wall switch controlling the other half.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: I have a garbage disposal that is plugged into an outlet under my sink. That outlet is connected to a GFCI outlet. The disposal is turned on by hitting the button on the GFCI. I want to change that so a separate switch will power the disposal. Any suggestions?
Answer: First, remove the GFCI and the box that it is in. Open the hole, and install a 2-gang box in the place of the one removed. Re-install the GFCI, but do not connect the wiring to the outlet under the sink. Instead, splice the neutrals from the feed to the GFCI and the under-sink outlet together, splice a short jumper to the black feed to the GFCI, and connect that jumper to a new switch. Add the black wire to the under-sink outlet to the switch, install it in the new two gang box, alongside the GFCI, and put a new cover plate on.
This will remove the GFCI protection from the disposal outlet, which is acceptable in most parts of the country. If you would rather keep that protection, install the neutrals just as they were, put a jumper between the GFCI (where the undersink black wire used to be) and the new switch, then put the undersink black to the switch.
As it is, the undersink is powered all the time; as long as the GFCI is not tripped. You are using the test button on the GFCI to turn it (and the under-sink outlet) on and off; adding a switch will eliminate that.
The article at https://dengarden.com/home-improvement/adding-elec... will give some hints on how to remove and replace the existing box - you won't need to run new wire but do need a different box than what is there.
Question: I have a dual outlet box that is switched (both outlets are hot when switched on). I would like to double the box to a four outlet box, two switched and two hot all the time. How do I wire that?
Answer: Assuming that you mean both halves of a single, duplex, outlet are switched the first step is going to be to get a source of permanent hot to the box. You are basically going to install a new, larger, box and add an outlet to it, and that means you will need a source of power for the new outlet.
Question: I am trying to change the outlets and switches in my condo. There is a half hot outlet in the living room. I replaced the switch and outlet, broke the brass tab bridge. The outlet works for supplying continuous power to the devices/lamp plugged in. However, the problem is that the switch doesn't control the top of the outlet as it used to (nor the bottom). What am I missing?
Answer: If the tab is broken, then the wire to it is hot all the time. Either the switch is wired wrong, or it is defective. Possibly, the hot and switched wires are spliced together somewhere.
Question: Can a flipping switch shift the power from the upper half to the lower half of an outlet?
Answer: Yes, but it would have to be a three-way switch and wired in a completely radical way with additional wires between the switch and outlet. Normally there is no possible reason to do that, so it is usually never done.
Question: I have an outlet that's half and half as you described in your article. I have the power supply coming to the outlet, and then I have a 12-3 going back to the switch with the neutral ground or the neutral capped off. Can I put another switch next to that? How would I wire the next switched power to my front porch light?
Answer: First, I'm going to assume that the 12-3 to the switch has a black, white, red and ground. If it does not, you cannot add a new switch and fixture. The box with the switch in it thus has a "hot" wire, permanently hot, a neutral and a ground. That's all you need to run a 12-2 from there to a porch light. Splice into the permanently hot wire, putting it to the second switch. A new 12-2 (black, white and ground) wire will need to be installed to the porch, with the black terminated on the new switch, the neutral and ground of the new wire spliced to the neutral and ground already in the box.
Question: I have a outlet ran off a switch. I’d like to have one always have power and the other stay off the switch. I removed the outlet and it’s only wired with a red and white wire. What is this scenario?
Answer: It sounds like the entire outlet is switched, but with a red wire there I would suspect that there is a black wire somewhere back in the box, likely feeding other outlets. If there is you can check to verify that it is hot all the time and that it is on the same circuit (turn the breaker off and see if both it and the red go dead). If that's the case the outlet could be turned into a half hot by using the black and following directions in the article, cutting the tab on the brass side and putting both the black and red wires on it.
Question: I replaced my old half hot switch with a new one. I snipped the tab between the brass screws. Both outlets are still hot, and the switch doesn't control either of the two outlets. Two white wires on silver side and on brass side red top and black on the bottom. I also replaced the switch and wired same as an old switch. What could be wrong? One more thing is the switch controlled two outlets but I only snipped one outlet so must I also snip the other outlet?
Answer: Yes, you must also snip the tab on the second outlet. Leaving it in place means that the hot wire and the switched wire are connected; the switched wire will gather power from the hot wire and both will then become hot whether on that outlet or on a different one.
Question: I just bought a house where in all of the bedrooms all the outlets are half-hot to the wall switch. This seems overkill, and I would prefer only one in each room be half-hot. How can this be done?
Answer: Not too difficult, but it will take a little time. First, figure out which half is permanently hot - I'll assume for discussion sake it is the top half.
With the breaker off, remove the outlet from the box. Remove the switched wire and cap it with a wire nut, folding it neatly back into the box. Remove the top black wire and splice it to two 6" jumper wires. Put one jumper on each of the brass screws, where the hot and switched wires used to be.
Alternatively, all the outlets could be replaced with new ones, wiring each one with only the hot wire - the switched hot is capped off as before with a wire nut and folded back into the box.
Question: I have room switches that seem to go "nowhere." How do I detect where they go to or turn on?
Answer: Trial and error is about all you can do. Keep flipping them until you can find something happening. One possibility is that it is going outside, and maybe to something that isn't there. I had a house once that had switches intended for future yard lights and simply ended up in the crawl space under the house.
Question: I have a half hot receptacle with the bottom switched and the top always hot. I want to change which one is switched. Is switching the hot wire in a half-hot outlet as simple as swapping the black wires on the brass screws?
Answer: Yes. Just switch out the two wires on the brass screws.
Question: I have a receptacle in which the top plug is controlled by a light switch. I am installing a ceiling fan in the room and want the top plug to be hot at all times and use the switch only for the ceiling fan. Can I do so by simply buying a new receptacle, and not breaking the brass tab?
Answer: Yes you can. When you wire the new outlet only hook up the "hot" wire to the outlet, not the switched wire. Just put a wire nut on the switched wire to cap it off and tuck it back into the box.
Alternatively, you can splice two pigtails to the "hot wire" at the outlet and terminate one on each of the brass terminals so that each half of the outlet is using the same source of power.
Question: My ceiling light is not working. I tested the wiring at the switch. I used the tester on black and white, and shows no power. When putting the tester on black and ground, it shows power. What could be wrong?
Answer: If at the switch, you have power between black and ground but none between black and neutral the most probable answer is a disconnected white neutral somewhere.
This assumes that the white is actually a neutral, not a switched power - if the white is hooked to the switch then it is not neutral. If the white is on the switch, try between the white and ground, flipping the switch both ways to check.
Question: My receptacle outlet only has one hot black wire. It is missing the red one that controls half the outlet through the switch. How can I fix this? Can I pigtail a small piece of wire to the black hot wire on my receptacle? Would that work?
Answer: If your outlet only has one colored wire (whether black or red) it is either not switched at all or the entire outlet is being switched. Either way, the only method of making it a half hot - half switched and half unswitched - is to run another wire to it.
Question: If an outlet is already wired to a switch, does breaking the tab keep one live and the other activated by the switch or is the additional wiring needed?
Answer: If the outlet is already switched, but the tab is not broken, it means that both halves are switched. If you break the tab one half will be switched and the other half permanently dead. It requires additional wiring to make half the outlet switched and half permanently hot.
Question: Can you put a USB outlet with the top always on and the bottom on a switch?
Answer: Assuming you mean outlets that include a USB port or two along with the normal two outlets, it would depend on the manufacturer. If there are two brass screws for the black wire, and a breakable tab between them, it might be possible. You would have to break that tab and wire first the top, then the bottom, checking each time to see if the USB ports are hot. If they are hot with the top wired, but not the bottom, then you can probably wire the outlet as a half hot. If they are hot both ways, it is likely that the screws are connected internally, and you cannot switch just half of the outlet.
Question: I have a half-hot outlet as you describe where half is always ready for plugin and the other half is off connected to a light switch. I removed the wall plate and this is what I found: 2 black, 2 white and one red wire. The black wires are on one side and white wires on the other side. The red is connected to one of the black wires. With this configuration, can I replace this old outlet with a USB outlet? The USB outlet I want to install is a Leviton T5832W.
Answer: No. You cannot separate the two hot terminals on that outlet, or any other USB outlet I've seen. Both sides would have to be on all the time, but if you can accept that it would work.
Question: I have 4 outlets in our bedroom running off a switch. Reading back, I see your advice is to run pigtails off the reds, blacks and white wires with the tab on the brass side broke off and the red wires attached at bottom brass screw? I know you answered this on the single outlet, I'm making sure this how it's done on multiple outlets running off of one switch.
Answer: Assuming that the outlets are daisy chained - that is one outlet to another to another, etc. - you would need two whites, two blacks and two reds on each outlet but the last one. There isn't room for that, so pigtails are necessary. And yes, each outlet you wish to be switched will need the tab broken off. If you do NOT wish an outlet to be switched, simply leave the switched wire (probably red) off and do not break the tab.
Question: I have a switch that is controlled by an outlet. I replaced the outlet with a different color. Now when I use the switch the outlet stays powered. I have snipped the connectors between the 2 brass screws. I have 2 red wires in the top and 2 black wires in the bottom. One of the screw and one in the hole on the back. What did I do wrong?
Answer: Somewhere you have connected a switched wire with an unswitched wire. I suggest you check each wire for power with the switch on and then off. If necessary, remove all the wires but one, check the outlet for power, and then use a different wire. Any and all wires that are unswitched must be together, and any wires that are switched must be together.
Question: I am installing a new outlet in my family room for a mounted TV, which I'm wiring off of an existing (switched) outlet in the same bay...do I/can I connect the black (hot) from my new outlet to the red (hot) of the existing switched outlet?
Answer: You can, but there is a good chance that the red wire is the switched one. I would think that for a TV you will want an unswitched hot rather than a switched wire. Choose the wire that goes to the unswitched half of the outlet or, if the entire outlet is switched and there is an extra black in the box that is not being used you might try that one.
Question: I have a single bulb light fixture that also has an outlet as part of the fixture. Is there any way to convert it to such that the outlet stays hot while the switch controls only the light?
Answer: It might or might not be possible, depending on the fixture and whether you can access the internal wiring. But if it is, you will likely have to add a wire between the switch and the fixture.
Question: I have supposedly 4 half hot receptacles. The switch for them controls nothing. Their receptacles are at full power. Everything should be wired properly. I opened the switch box. The Red is connected to the White power and the Black to the White power. Red to Black, nothing. All wires hanging loose still have full power to all receptacles. Any ideas as to problem?
Answer: Sounds like somewhere the black and red have been connected together. Perhaps someone replaced an outlet (or all of them) in the past but failed to cut the small tab between the two brass screws? All it would take is a single outlet done that way to make them all unswitched.
Question: Can I add receptacles to this outlet when completed? I want to add two more receptacles that will always be hot. Would I have to make a junction box before the half hot receptacle to add more receptacles?
Answer: The answer is easy enough - you can add more outlets very easily. Simply splice into the wire going to the permanently hot side of the half-hot, and splice into the neutral wire and ground as well. Run those wires to the new permanently hot outlets.
Question: Considering 5-20p duplex receptacle, if I break the tab, can both receptacles supply 20 amps?
Answer: Yes. The outlet configuration - the physical design of the holes - determines what can be plugged into it. As both "halves" are the same configuration, either one can provide 20 amps. You should note, however, that trying to pull 40 amps from one 20 amp circuit will absolutely trip the breaker.
Question: If in the case of a half-hot switched receptacle where the power is coming from the receptacle box, if the neutral wire is capped in the switch box, why can't the neutral wire just be snipped at each end of the three-conductor Romex?
Answer: If you simply cut the wire in the outlet box, it is not a neutral, just a wire covered with white insulation. Code requires a neutral in the switch box, thus the necessity to splice it to a neutral in the outlet box.
It is required to stop a homeowner (or someone else) from using the ground wire as a neutral, leaving the circuit without a ground.
Question: My disposal and dishwasher are hooked up to the half n' half receptacle. It has worked fine for a few months now except the dishwasher turns off when we turn the disposal on. Yesterday, the disposal and dishwasher stopped working. There is still power going to the receptacle, but neither is working. Is it possible for this type of set up to blow the internal fuse of both appliances, is there something else going on?
Answer: It could be possible that internal breakers are tripping. There is a button somewhere on the disposal to re-set it. Look around it for a small button that can be pushed; probably red in color.
Question: One line goes to all outlets in a room; connected to a switch. Only one is currently a half hot outlet. Can another one of the outlets be changed to a half hot, leaving two as regular and two operated with the same existing switch?
Answer: It might be possible, but it would require that each outlet have the same wires in it. A half hot requires two colored wires, usually black and red, but it could be two black wires. If it is to pass power to another outlet that is also half hot, it will require two hot wires (plus the white and ground). That means there are at least eight wires in the box: 4 hot (colored) wires, two whites, and two grounds.
While it is possible that the switched hot wire is available in each box, it is unlikely. If it is, though, you can make any or all of the outlets half hots.
Question: How would you come off the first half-hot outlet to hook up multiple outlets in the configuration?
Answer: Assuming the first is a half hot, splice into the black, permanently hot, wire to add more outlets that remain hot all the time.
Or, if the outlets are to also be half-hots, use a three conductor (plus ground) to install between the outlets and splice into both the hot line and the switched line.
Question: When wiring four half-hot receptacles to a wall switch, I realize that the tabs have to be broken out on the brass side. Is this for all the receptacles or do I leave the last one (end of line) intact?
Answer: Break them all. If even one, anywhere in the set, is left intact both halves of ALL of them will be "on" all the time. Leaving one intact has the effect of connecting the red switch leg to the black permanent hot wire, making the switch useless as the red wire is then hot all the time, the same as the black wire.
Question: I just moved into a new place and in the kitchen, both the dishwasher and garbage disposal are plugged into the same outlet that's connected to the switch. How do I undo one of the outlets so I don't have to run the garbage disposal the entire time I was my dishes?
Answer: Turn the power off and remove the outlet from the wall box. If there are two cables, both with a black and white wire, and one from each cable are spliced together with a wire nut and does not go to the outlet, you may be able to pull power from there and follow the directions here to remove the small tab and make a half hot.
If there is only one cable in the box, you will have to get an additional wire up to the switch to get power to make half the outlet permanently hot.
Question: I had a half-hot receptacle and replaced it with a NEW surge receptacle (Decora) which cannot isolate any half. I am now using it as a full duplex switched receptacle. I disconnected the unswitched hot and put wire nut on it and put the other switched hot on the receptacle. I connected the two neutrals to the receptacle along with the ground. My question is; should the two neutrals be connected to the receptacle if I’m now using the entire receptacle from the wall switch?
Answer: The bigger question is why you have two neutrals in the box. It sounds like you are feeding a second outlet as a half hot; if so that red wire should be connected to another red (but not the outlet).
It is also possible that your home is of more recent construction and the switch has a neutral in the box as required by code, but is not connected to anything.
Either way, both neutrals should be connected in what used to be the half hot box, and terminating them both on the neutral screws serves this purpose. Leave them as they are, with both connected to the outlet.
Question: In wiring a switched half-hot outlet that gets Its power from the outlet box if the end of the white neutral wire is capped in the switch box, why can't the end of that wire also be capped in the receptacle box? It is serving no purpose in the circuit.
Answer: I can only speculate as to why the writers of that rule included it, but without a neutral in the switch box, there is no legal or safe method starting a new circuit there. A second switch could be added to operate a new light fixture, for instance, but it needs a neutral.
Too many times a homeowner will use the uninsulated ground wire as a neutral to accomplish what they want, and the result is an ungrounded circuit where there should never be one. Many dimmer switches, which are becoming more popular, require a neutral as well.
So I believe the writers of the electrical code took notice of what was happening out in the field and took steps to eliminate problems down the road, either from electricians too lazy to do the job right or from homeowners that didn't understand just what they were doing. It is true that an extra wire in the switch box can be used as a neutral, but only if the other end can be located and tied to an existing, properly installed neutral. That isn't always an easy task 10 years down the road when no one remembers where all the wires went to! So it is required to be spliced into a true neutral.
Question: I am using an old lighting switch ( lights are daisy chained) with overhead light coming off a switched outlet. I made a mistake breaking off both tabs hot and neutral thinking I needed hot switch wire separated from the neutral post (jumped neutrals back together). Now both outlets work, but now my light won't work correctly. I connected (the fixture) to my neutral pigtail and the wire off neutral side (red) switch after outlet, but there is no light. Do you have any advice?
Answer: If the outlet is switching on and off properly, and the lights are wired to the neutral and switched hot wire as described they should work. Check you connections again and make sure they are all tight.
Question: Multiple outlets wired half hot with the red wire in one room in our house. I only want one outlet half hot. I replaced the outlets and did not break the tabs off on the brass side. Can I just break the tab off of the outlet I want switched or do I need to cap off the red wire on all the other outlets?
Answer: If the switched wire is the red one it will have to be capped off at any outlet that you don't want switched. It will be used to feed the other switched outlets; if you leave it on even a single outlet without breaking the tab all of the outlets will be hot all the time.
Question: Which side is typically the switched side of an outlet? Half of my house is right. The other half is left. I happen to be switching out the colors on one of the sides so I might as well make them all the same.
Answer: I guess which side depends on which end of the outlet is up. The side with white wires is never switched; it is always the black wire that is switched. And you don't change the colors because the outlet is mounted in what most would consider "upside-down"; the black wires always go to the brass screws, not the silver ones.
Question: I'm installing a 2nd "Half hot" switch right next to an existing one to power another light fixture, When i opened the existing " Half hot " switch box it contained two black wires and a green ground. What do i do with the White wire from my new light fixture?
Answer: Unfortunately, this is not unusual. Older homes very often do not have a white, "neutral", wire in the switch box. Modern electrical code requires a neutral in every switch box, but that did not used to be the case and a great many switches do not have a neutral there.
You will have to run a new wire, black, white and ground, from another source into the switch box. The preferred source is the outlet that the switch is operating. That new power source can then be used to operate the new switch and light fixture. I know this is not the answer you want, but it is the only way to make the new light work.
Question: I would like one switch to control two half hot outlets. Power is at the switch, 12/2 switch leg wire to each outlet. 12/2 wire jumps from outlet to outlet. Can the half hots be wired in this configuration without 12/3 wire?
Answer: If power enters the switch first, each outlet will require a hot wire, a switched wire, a neutral and a ground. This cannot be accomplished with a single 12-2 wire - it will require a 12-3 from the switch to one outlet and a 12-3 to the other one.
If, however, the power feed originates in an outlet a 12-2 from the switch to each outlet plus a 12-2 from outlet to outlet can be made to work as 2 half hot outlets.
Question: We have an outlet under the kitchen sink that is switched for the disposal but we just bought an Insta Hot and I was wondering if we can make one outlet hot all the time while leaving the other for the disposal, can this be done by just breaking the tab off as you described?
Answer: Unfortunately, no. I hate to be the bearer of bad tidings but it is very unlikely that there is a wire in that box that is always hot. It is possible, and you can turn the power off and pull the outlet out of the box to see what is there, but if there are no other wires but those terminated on the outlet you would have to run another wire from the switch to the outlet. Simply breaking the tab off as it is will do nothing but make half the outlet permanently dead, not live.
Question: I have power coming to a receptacle. It's a half and half with the top half controlled by a switch. At the switch, the neutral is capped off. I want to put a switch next to it to run to my porch light. Do I have to run a separate feed line, or can I go off get power off of the existing switch that's there?
Answer: If there is a capped off neutral in the switch box, you can put in a second switch for another light, just as you want to do. You will have to figure out which of the existing switch wires is permanent, and hot and splice into that wire to supply the new switch.
Question: I have a plug in the outlet on one side of the room that if you turn on the microwave on the other side, that is plugged into the other outlet it all goes off but if you hold the one plug in a certain way, it will all work. So I need to know why and how to fix the electric to all plug in. Do you have any idea how or why it's operating that way?
Answer: It sounds like a bad outlet, from the information here. I'd replace one or both of the outlets and see if that helps. Outlets are cheap and easy to replace.
Question: I have a 3 way switch for a light bulb. Is it possible to add a full power outlet to this set up?
Answer: You don't indicate where you want to pull wire from to supply the new outlet, but you will need permanent power and a neutral at that point. Neither the switch nor the light fixture is likely to have both available, although it is possible, depending on how the room was wired in the first place.
Question: I swapped out a half hot outlet and switch with new components and the outlet is no longer turning on/off with the switch. I broke the tab for the brass colored screws and checked the voltage at the switch. Both terminals are seeing voltage all the time. What should I try next?
Answer: Either the switch is bad or it is wired incorrectly. Check that one of the wires at the outlet goes on and off with the switch, after removing it from the outlet. If it is then the new outlet has a problem or the brass tab has not been completely removed. If it is not then the switch is either wired improperly or is defective.
Question: I have two outlets controlled by switches. Two outlets are for nightstand lamps. One switch is by the door and one by the headboard. All the other outlets are linked. I removed one outlet with 3 black 1 red and 4 white. Now I have only two half outlets operated with the switch and the rest are dead. I reconnected the wires but no luck. I went from push in wire outlets to simple screw type connectors. Any ideas on what is wrong?
Answer: Somewhere you have left a wire out of your connections. With 3 black and one red wires, there should be only 3 white wires (one of them in a cable with a black and a red), yet you have 4 neutrals. This indicates there are 4 cables and that one of the black wires is not connected.
Question: I have one switched outlet (1/2 hot) in a living room and on the same circuit there are 3 additional outlets (top and bottom both hot). Is there a way to make any or all of the additional outlets switched? The 3-wire cable only goes from the switch to the first outlet and the power source is in the switch box.
Answer: Only if you want the entire outlet switched. If that is acceptable, you will find the cable leading to the other outlets in the first one that is switched. The black wire going to the rest of the outlets will be connected to either the black or red wire coming from the switch; remove it and connect it to the other wire.
This is assuming that the feed to all the other outlets comes from the first, switched. outlet box. If it comes from the switch box (unlikely) the change could be made there, but if it does not then you're likely out of luck.
Question: Can all the outlets in a new bedroom be half switched by running one 14/3 cable when it is sourced from an outlet?
Answer: Yes. A 14/3 cable to the switch and another one to daisy chain all the outlets together, one after the other.
Question: I’m trying to replace a regular outlet with a new one with two USB ports. When I pulled out the old outlet it had the two white wires around the silver screws, the two black wires around the copper screws, the ground wire in the green. But it also had a smaller gauge white and black wires each stuck directly into the back of the outlet. What do I do with them?
Answer: It sounds like you have 3 cables entering the box, all feeding other outlets. The best solution is to put all three white wires, plus an additional one about 6" long, into a wire nut. This connects all three plus your new "pigtail" together. Do the same with the black wires. Then use the new "pigtails" to terminate on the new outlet.
There will be a small slot near the wires stuck into the rear of the old outlet. Push a small screwdriver or other tool into the slot to release the spring holding the rear wire.
Question: I am wiring a new bedroom with all outlets split and half switched. My power comes into an outlet in the middle of the circuit. Can this be accomplished by running a 3 wire cable connecting the outlets?
Answer: Assuming both switched and unswitched power is available at that center outlet, yes. Connect them all to each other with a 3 wire cable.
Question: I need another outlet for my iron in the closet of a two-story home. There is a light switch in there. In layman's terms, can I have the switch changed to a wall switch and outlet combination? I want to know if it can be done before I schedule an electrician. Will I be able to have a light switch off at the same time the outlet is hot/live?
Answer: It might be possible - it depends on how the wiring was done. If there is an unused neutral in the switch box then it will work, but many switch boxes do not have the necessary neutral. You will have to remove the switch from the box and see if there are white neutral wires that do not connect to the switch.
Question: Can I wire a half outlet if the receptacle is a GFCI?
Answer: No. You cannot make a GFCI a half hot outlet. You can switch the entire outlet, but it may result in tripping the GFCI occasionally. Probably not, but it could. It will also switch any and all outlets downstream from the GFCI that depend on the GFCI for protection.
Question: I am feeding a bedroom circuit from a receptacle and want to switch the bottom half of the receptacles can this be done by interconnecting them with a 14/3 w Ground?
Answer: Assuming they are on a 15 amp circuit (they probably are), yes. You will, of course, need an already existing outlet that is half switched or will need to add a switch yourself.
Question: In your diagram showing “...power from the outlet box”, why connect the white switch wire on the outlet side when it is capped on the other end?
Answer: The national electric code now requires that there be a neutral wire in every switch box. If that white wire is not hooked up on the outlet side then it cannot be considered a neutral.
This is done so that timers and dimmers, some of which require a neutral, will work. In addition, everything is already there to run another device, whether an outlet, light or something else, if need be. In the past, too many people have used the ground wire as a neutral, which may work but is not safe.
© 2012 Dan Harmon
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on July 03, 2020:
Assuming that the white wires are not attached to the switch, but spliced together, continuing on to the outlet without touching the switch, the circuit should operate.
It sounds as if you are losing that neutral connection somewhere. Re-check the splice at the switch as well as the termination to the GFCI outlet.
Terry Robbins on July 03, 2020:
I have a 4-wire (green/ground), (white/neutral), Black/Hot), Red/Hot) that is connected to an inside wall switch ( switch is connected by Black/hot & Red/hot).
I purchased a GFI outlet to use on this 4-wire switch circuit.
I wire the GFI outlet as shown here (black & red on the Brass screws with the white/neutral side wired together/merged).
The switch operates as I see the Green LED on the GFI outlet turn on & off using the switch.
However, even though the green LED lights on the GFI outlet - no power is available when anything is plugged into the GFI outlet.
My only guess is that one "cannot" use a GFI outlet on a 4-wire switch.
BTW - I do not need only 1/2 of the GFI outlet to have power all of the time. I am fine with having the entire GFI outlet switched off/on as needed.
Any suggestions/ideas ?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on June 19, 2020:
Only if there is a wire in the box that is the constant hot for that circuit. There probably is, but no guarantee - you will have to open the box and see if there are any wires that do not go to the outlet. If there are, you will have to check that they are hot, no matter where the switch is, and that when the breaker to that circuit is turned off they are dead.
If you find that to be true it would be very simple to change it to a half-hot, following the instructions given here.
brandon on June 19, 2020:
hello, i have an outlet that should be half-hot, one side always one and the other side controlled by the swtich/s, but both sides are controlled by the swtich/s, is there a way to make oneside always hot, with out running new wireing?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on May 31, 2020:
Yes, the electrical rules in Europe and the UK are very much different than in the US, starting with 240 volts in outlets as opposed to the US 120 volts.
In the case of the half hot outlets in the US it is usually done as an alternative to ceiling light fixtures; a half hot outlet, with a switch located somewhere convenient for lighting, will have floor lamps plugged into it. In that manner the room can be lit from a remote location (across the room perhaps) without having a ceiling light.
Eugene Brennan from Ireland on May 31, 2020:
This is interesting. We don't have anything like this. All our socket outlets have the switch/switches at the outlet. Before BS1363 sockets were introduced however, two pin round plugs with a side earth were common. Usually these were single gang and sometimes controlled by a switch above the socket.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on April 28, 2020:
There is no possible way for me to tell what those extra black wires are. But you have a much greater problem with the lack of ground; under that circumstance you are required to use a GFCI outlet and you cannot make those into a half-hot.
Julie on April 28, 2020:
Hi! I have an outlet on a switch trying to make it half hot. two white wires are attached to the silver side, and one black to the brass side. There is no ground, and there are three black wires folded over and not attached. Would I splice the three black together and use it like the red?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on April 10, 2020:
As long as you don't overload the capacity of the switch it should work. The one I looked at was rated for 15 amps, which is most likely what your breaker is as well.
So in short, sure. It should work fine.
Tim on April 09, 2020:
Would these wiring schemes work using a device like the Wemo WiFi Smart Light Switch. I want to turn one outlet into a network controlled outlet in order to integrate my stereo amplifier into my control system.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 23, 2020:
You would wire them as any other GFCI feeding a "load" that you wish protected. Incoming power to the "line" terminals and outgoing wires to the yard terminating on the "load" terminals.
But. I suspect you're going to have trouble with the GFCI's tripping unless you run two neutral wires, one for the black and one for the red wire, and keep them separate. If this is done you will also have to break out the tab on the white wire side of the outlet.
The problem is that a GFCI monitors the current on the neutral and hot wires; when they are unbalanced it will trip. What you are describing, with both red and black wires having current at different times, but using a GFCI that carries the current for both of them, will almost certainly show up as an unbalanced current. Part of the current from the black wire will return through the white wire on the red wire GFCI, causing an imbalance in both GFCI's.
Tito Cano on January 23, 2020:
I have 12 gauge wires (red,black,white, green), and I'm running my red wire from a timer in my garage going out to the back yard with 3 half hot outlets. Now I'm running wires through 2 gfi outlets, one for the red wire and one for the black wire. How should I wire the gfi's and then on to the 3 outlets in the back yard along the fence line?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 14, 2020:
Did you remember to remove the little tab between the red and black wires?
Other possibilities are that the red and at least one black are hot all the time. The switch could be bad, though that would be unusual.
Bob on January 13, 2020:
I am trying to do the half hot outlet. The outlet is coming from another outlet that is not half hot and is controlled by a wall switch. I have two white wires on one side and on the brass side I placed the red wire in the top section (each side of this outlet has holes for 4 wires) and placed the two black wires in the bottom two holes. The outlet is still hot all the time. What did I do wrong? Thanks
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 22, 2019:
@Liz: If the replaced outlet was switched, but the tab not broken, it means that the entire outlet was switched, not just half of it.
When you put both the switched wire and the hot wire onto an outlet without the tab broken it will remain hot at all times. Either break the tab, making only half of it switched, or remove the hot wire and leave just the switched wire on it.
Liz on November 22, 2019:
I am just replacing an outlet that is controlled by the switch in a room with multiple outlets. The one I'm replacing doesn't have the tab removed but when I replaced the the outlet, it didn't work with the switch. What am I missing?
Mike on September 15, 2019:
I have a double gang box that I want to put 2 duplex receptacles in, there are black white and red wires as well as the ground wire, how should it be wired.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on June 19, 2019:
@Dave: If separate wires are pulled between the switch and the light and the switch and the outlet it will not be difficult to re-do the connections in the switch box to make the outlets hot permanently. If not - if the light wire originates in the outlet box for example - you will need new wire.
Dave on June 18, 2019:
Currently I have a duel outlet controlled by a switch when switch is off no power to the outlets how can I make both outlets hot while maintaining the on off switch for the lights
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on June 16, 2019:
You can turn the fan, on or off by adding a 3 wire cable from the fan to the switch. But be aware that you will not be able to control the fan speed with just a switch; it will be either on or off.
ashok balwalli on June 15, 2019:
At present I have a switch controlling the outlet. The outlet 18" above floor and switch 4' above floor are separated 32". The hot from the source is in outlet box. I am now installing a ceiling fan which has a remote control facility. If i would like to a switch to control the ceiling fan, I have installed 2 wire cable to the remote control box located at the fan and I have taken down the cable up to the existing switch. Please advice as to how the entire wiring diagram would be if a new switch to control the fan/light installed. . Please advice. Thank you.-ashok
Katee Shew from Canada on May 14, 2019:
Thanks for this, it really helped me out!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on March 26, 2019:
Impossible to tell for sure, but best guess is to splice them together, along with a short 6" piece of wire. The additional piece goes to a brass screw, where the tab has been broken off. This assumes that black is the permanent hot and that it is feeding additional outlets downstream from the half hot one. This is in line with 2 white wires being present.
Dell b on March 26, 2019:
Wiring a switch outlet,2 white wires on the silver,red wire on brass,but I have2 black wires,which one do I use. Thanks
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 31, 2019:
Sounds like all the outlets and lights are being fed from the one switch, but only some were actually using it. Take the two wires that attached to the same timer wire, and splice them together with a wire nut, along with a new 6" piece of wire. That leaves you with two wires - one old and the new 6" piece - to go to the switch. If you've forgotten which two black were hooked to the same timer wire you may have to play with them, changing configurations, to get what you want, but in any case it sounds like two black wires should be joined together and go to one switch terminal and the third black goes to the other switch terminal.
Rebtographer on January 31, 2019:
Hi, found this article while doing some searching and hope this is the right place to ask some questions. I have been replacing all the outlets and a few switches and even one light fixture on a very old house and was on a pretty good clip until I ran into a problem in a bedroom that I can’t seem to figure out. The room has five outlets, one light switch and two pull chords for lights in the closets. The lightswitch controlled the power to the outlet closest to the bed so this was an issue for my parents as they couldn’t have a phone plugged in there unless the switch was on. I broke the tab on a new outlet and replaced the old one to make it half hot. I also replaced the old timer switch with a new switch. That worked for making that outlet half hot so something could be plugged in one always on and the switch controlled the other plug but then an outlet on the other wall did not work anymore and the closet lights did not work. It seems that those two outlets and the switch are all linked and I’ve missed something. There are 6 wires in the switch, 3 white ones were all capped together and then two black wires were attached to one of the wires from the old timer switch with the other black wire to the other wire from timer. On the new lightswitch I have only two screws. What can I do to keep one outlet half hot and still have the closet light/opposite wall outlet function? Thanks for any advice and sorry for long explanation just hoping to have it make sense.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 23, 2018:
@ Greg: Yes to both questions. You can make as many half hots and as many "normal" outlets on one circuit as you wish. Any half hots may be placed anywhere you wish if you use 14/3 wire everywhere. Or, if only the first outlet after the switch is to be a half hot, the rest may be wired with 14/2
And yes, the feed wire from the switch to the first outlet must be a 14/3, assuming a 15 amp circuit.
Greg Hill on November 23, 2018:
Can i make one in a series of outlets half hot and the rest to remain hot all the time?
Does the feed wire to from the switch to the first outlet have to be 14/3??
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on October 30, 2018:
If you did not snip the tab on the second (or third or fourth) outlet, it will cause all outlets on the circuit to remain hot all the time. The hot wire and the switched wire are connected with that tab, making both wires hot all the time, whether in that outlet or another on the same switch. Make sure you only snip the brass tab, not the one with the white wires.
Dave Kutz on October 30, 2018:
Not sure if my previous ask got entered so will redo here. I replaced old outlets and switches with new ones. One outlet was a half hot. I snipped the tab between the brass screws yet both top/bottom are still hot and switch doesn't control it. The switch also controlled another half hot outlet but I didn't snip it; must I do it also? The outlet I snipped has 2 white wires on left silver terminals. On right brass side a red wire is on top and black on bottom. What could still be wrong?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on September 08, 2018:
Unfortunately, you do not have the wire necessary in the box to make a half hot - the permanent hot is missing and only the switched hot is available.
To make it a half hot you will have to run new wire from the switch to the outlet.
Charles on September 08, 2018:
I have a switch only duplex that I want to make in to a half hot. There are no screws, push connect only, and the wiring in the receptacle box is a 12/2. Not sure what to since since I don’t have the screws to reference the hot side and I don’t have the red wire. Thanks
Ron on September 02, 2018:
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on June 11, 2018:
I very highly doubt that is a problem. You didn't say, but I assume you are checking between ground or neutral and the switched wire - such things can often give a "false" reading in that the voltage may technically be there, but there is no chance of significant amperage on the circuit. And of course checking between the two hot lines will produce a voltage reading as the current tries to flow through the meter, then the disposal and finally back to the panel.
Example - I once ran small wire all over the roof when young, as an antenna, without connecting it to anything at all. It showed several hundred volts to ground, but was completely safe to touch as there was micro amps at best. You are likely picking up a voltage "leakage" between adjacent wires or even through the body of the outlet - conductors in close proximity will often produce a voltage on the other simply through induction, but cannot support any kind of load at all. I saw that recently (using a tick tester) in an outlet downstream from a tripped GFCI - the tester showed voltage but I couldn't get a tiny water pump for a fountain to operate.
timk1160 on June 11, 2018:
Thanks for the response. In one of the other threads, you told Kelly " A voltmeter would show power (to ground) without a neutral, while the disposal wouldn't run ". Is the 52V I see on the switched side of the outlet when the switch is off ok? The disposal seems to be properly controlled by the switch (runs when switched on, off when switched off)?
Does it become a constant power drain?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on June 11, 2018:
You should have the white from the panel and a jumper from the black to the panel connected to the outlet, on opposite sides. If that blows the breaker with nothing else connected to the panel wires then you either have a problem with the new outlet or the panel wires are shorted together. The panel white and black wires should never be connected together, although it is common to use a white on the wire going to the switch to splice to the panel black wire.
It is also possible that the original wiring used a black wire to splice to the black panel wire, returning a white wire (that should have been painted black!) to the outlet - if that is the case then that "white that should be black" should terminate on the brass screws of the outlet, not the silver ones. It actually sounds like this is the problem; confusion over what color goes where in those wires from the switch.
One of the switch wires goes to the black panel wire and the other to the brass terminal on the new outlet, regardless of what color they are.
(I'm assuming in all this that the incoming power from the panel goes to the outlet box, not the switch box.)
timk1160 on June 11, 2018:
Hey Dan, We have an old house. Under the kitchen sink is a half hot outlet. Recently we changed the outlet and now it is all messed up. I clipped the tab on the new outlet. The jumper splice (black from breaker, white to switch, jumper to outlet) is in the outlet box. When the white is connected, the breaker won't set. I found continuity between it and the white wire leaving the outlet. Suspecting a short, I disconnected the white from the "jumper" splice and the switch and ran a separate wire directly from the switch to the jumper splice in its place. Now I get both at 115V when the switch is on but the switched side only drops to 52V when the switch is off. I'm confused.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on May 10, 2018:
If you splice your new pigtail to the incoming power to the GFCI and there is no power at the switch then your splice is bad. Keep in mind that checking across the two wires at the switch will indicate zero; you must check between one and the ground.
Just in case, I'll mention that you need to join the wires together (splice them) before the GFCI with a wirenut. You cannot put your new wire to the other brass screw on the GFCI. Doesn't sound like you did, but I'll throw that out there just in case. You should have three wires in the wire nut: the incoming power, the pigtail to the GFCI and the pigtail to the switch.
When you twist the wire nut on, grab the wire nut in one hand and tug on each wire, separately, fairly hard. Better to come apart before assembling everything than when you push it into the box and don't notice.
Kellyma1974 on May 10, 2018:
I am using a voltage meter, there is a neutral going to the outlets on the bottom, but no neutral on the switch. The main power line was on the gfi so I spliced it to the switch, when I turn everything back on after working on it the gfi outlet works but no power to the switch. Is it possible that the power isn’t strong enough to be spliced to the switch or I’m splicing it wrong?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on May 10, 2018:
That should have worked fine. No, one wire size too small won't hurt with a short pigtail, though if it goes from the switch to the outlet it should definitely be the right size. Probably #12 if it's in a kitchen - most of those are 20 amp circuits even in older homes. And switching an entire outlet is fine.
I really don't know where to go from here without being there to look at it myself. Are you sure your neutrals (white) wires are tight and go to the outlet? You didn't say if you are checking for power with a voltmeter or the disposal. A voltmeter would show power (to ground) without a neutral, while the disposal wouldn't run.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on May 10, 2018:
No, a bad breaker won't do that - it will just not put any power at all to the outlet (or power whether the breaker is on or off, though that would be rare).
More likely is that you have a poor neutral connection. Try plugging in something that requires a good bit of power and see what happens. A vacuum perhaps, or a circular saw. A bad neutral could let enough power through to run a night light, especially if it is an LED, but not enough to operate a heavy appliance.
Kelly on May 10, 2018:
Also I bought all new switches and GFI and outlets because my brother tried working on it at first and he blow a few things ( we have no clue what we are doing) so I wanted to start with all working new equipment. I guess I should stick to my day job fixing body plumbing is nothing like fixing wires in a house lol.
Kelly on May 10, 2018:
Thank you so much for helping, I found where the main power comes from and it’s hooked to the GFI that’s next to the switch, so I did a pigtail of the (hot) black wire to the switch and then the other black wire that runs from the outlet from underneath the sink to the other bronze screw on the switch. I really thought that would work but now I’m not getting any power to the outlet underneath the sink again. I went to Home Depot and bought extra wire to make all the pigtails but I think I bought the wrong gauge wire would that make a difference? Also is it ok that one whole outlet is on a switch? Thank you so much for your help again.
bill on May 10, 2018:
dan i have an outside receptacle that when i check the hot side it is on the right side or black wire but when i add even a night lght both sides of the receptacle indicate hot ,replaced the receptacle no change . could this be a def breaker at the panel box?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on May 10, 2018:
Normally that switch would be running at least one half of at least one of those outlets. It is possible that it doesn't, but that would be rare.
Given that, I'd check the wiring at both switch and outlet. Checking for power at the outlet might tell you something, and certainly looking at how it is wired will - if there is only one "hot" wire to an outlet it is not a half-hot. Might be switched, but not only half of it. A power check will also tell you if power is making it to the switch.
Replace switch or outlets as necessary. Try to figure out for absolutely sure where that switch wire is going to.
If none of that is helpful about all that is left is to run a new wire from the switch to an outlet for the disposal.
Kelly on May 10, 2018:
Hi Dan, I was reading through your past post trying to look and see if anyone had the same problem I have but I couldn’t find anything. I just bought a place and under the sink is two separate outlets, and a switch on the counter wall that’s next to another outlet (the switch and out let are housed together in the same blue box), when I plug something into either outlet under the sink they don’t work. I’m trying to hook up the switch so I can plug a garbage disposal to one whole out let under the sink and the other whole outlet to the dishwasher. How can I get power to the switch to run the outlets on the bottom?
Michael Morgan on March 30, 2018:
thanks Dan, replacing the switch worked!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on March 29, 2018:
Assuming that none of those three fan wires is a ground, one is for the fan, one for the light fixture in it and one neutral. You will need two switches to control it properly.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on March 29, 2018:
Yes, the first suggestion is to inspect or replace that switch. There is a possibility of a bad connection on the first switch in the line as well.
Michael Morgan on March 29, 2018:
hey Dan, thanks for this! I recently had all the switched outlets on a circuit go bad. The always hot still works fine but the switched outlet does not work at all. A breaker was not tripped either. Perhaps the switch went bad? Thanks in advance for any suggestions!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 27, 2018:
Just put them in a wire nut together and twist the nut as if screwing a bolt on. When done, hold the nut in one hand and tug on each individual wire with the other to verify that they are both snug. If they are to come out, better to do it now than as you push them into the box where you can't see it happen!
Brian on February 27, 2018:
Dan, thank you so much. I was considering going down the splicing route to see if it would work, but since I wasn't sure, I figured I'd read a little first... happy to hear your reply. I've spliced elsewhere before, so I'm comfortable with it, just wasn't sure if it would do the trick here. Thank you sir.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 27, 2018:
Not at all - what you are asking isn't a problem. Remove the switched wire from the outlet and cap it off with a wire nut (if there are two of them, splice them together). Either splice two short "jumpers" to the permanently hot wire and terminate one on each of the brass screws or simply replace the outlet with one that has not had the tab broken out. The intent here is to get the unswitched hot wire to both top and bottom of the outlet.
Be sure that any switched wires continuing on are spliced together, though, or you will lose that switched power further down the line.
Brian on February 27, 2018:
Dan, thank you for all of the input. One question - I have 5 half-hot plugs connected to the same wall switch. Three of the 5 of them are pretty useless as half-hot and I'd love to change them to "always on," leaving the remaining two controlled by the switch. I'm getting the impression that is impossible... correct?
Angie Barker on February 23, 2018:
Thanks, Dan. I have an electrician coming next week, and just needed to know what to ask him to do. I appreciate your input.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 23, 2018:
I'm sorry, but the answer is "No". You need a green ground, a white neutral and TWO hot wires; one switched and one not. As it is the best you can do is either a switched outlet or an unswitched, but you cannot have both. A half-hot, of course, is both switched and unswitched depending on whether you are plugged into the upper or lower portion.
It is possible, however, that you could fish some new wire through, particularly if the exit from the wall is directly under the switch.
Angie Barker on February 23, 2018:
I have a switch above my sink that has a dedicated 20amp breaker. The wires connected to the switch are white (with black tape), black, and green. From there, they are spliced to a white, black, and green wire enclosed in flexible metal housing. The metal housing extends from the switch (above my counters) to the wall at the back of my kitchen cabinets and out below my sink.
I think the former owner was planning on hardwiring a garbage disposal but never got around to it. As of now, the wires are capped off and the breaker is off. However, I would like to use these existing wires under my sink to install a half-hot outlet for my new plug-in disposal and a new dishwasher. Your article talks about red wiring, but in my scenario there is no red wire. Is using the existing white, black, and green wiring an option for a new half-hot electrical receptacle?
Steven on February 21, 2018:
That worked! Thank you for all your help.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 17, 2018:
Stephen: I can't imagine why a white wire is spliced to two blacks and folded into the box except to provide power to the switch, but also can't see that it would do any harm to add a pigtail to the blacks and terminate it on the unused brass screw now that you have broken the tab off. The worst that could happen is that it immediately blows the breaker or, if something really strange is going on, put 240 volts into the outlet somehow. Use a lamp to test it with if you don't have a tester - that way if there is too much voltage you're out a light bulb instead of a vacuum cleaner or something.
My guess is that those black wires are the permanent hot and that the white is being used to provide a hot wire to the switch; the returning black from the switch is used to provide switched power to the outlet. You might look and see if that white and the black to the outlet are in the same outer sheath; that they go together to wherever they end up.
Steven on February 17, 2018:
Thanks for your quick reply.
There are 2 black wires and (another) white wire spliced together in the back of the box. Should I add a pig tail to that?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 12, 2018:
Hi Birdfeeder. First, the lack of a ground wire (I assume there was none in the box - that they were not spliced together and folded into the back of the switch box) is a little troubling. Anything built in 1989 should have a ground wire in the box, but probably not terminated on the switch. If it were my home I would use it anyway, but it IS against code. Do check that there aren't some bare wires nutted together, with no insulation on them at all, though - those would be ground.
Your voltage is OK, and is what you would expect when checking between two wires on a switch and turning the switch on and off. You will need to determine which is hot all the time, though - with the switch off, check between the two wires and a neutral (white) wire. If there is power between the black (for instance) and the neutral when the switch is off then the black is hot and the yellow is the switched wire - the one you want for the light. The neutral from the light will go to the other whites in the box.
This is assuming that there are white neutral wires in the box that go nowhere but to another white. Not to any switch. At that time it was common to use the white as a switch leg, and in that case it is not a neutral. The test above should tell you if there is a neutral there.
Birdfeeder1 on February 12, 2018:
Dan, a clarification to my earlier question. Regarding the voltage difference, when I mentioned I checked the voltage in an outlet, note that it wasn't the switched outlet but another outlet in same room. Sorry for the confusion. Thanks.
Birdfeeder1 on February 12, 2018:
Dan, I have a half switched outlet in my bedroom (Chgo built 1989) & would like to leave outlet as is but add a ceiling light to switch. I have a new light fixture, ceiling box (old work), 14/3 romex to connect from fixture to switch. I opened the switch box, which also contains a 3way next to it, & found the single pole w/black wire on top screw & a yellow wire on bottom screw of switch. The yellow is connected to the 3way (I think on the right side) & then it exits the box. Also in box were white (wirenutted) & black (also wirenutted), but no green. Is this ok? I haven't opened the outlet box since it's behind a dresser. How would I wire the switch to light the new ceiling fixture?
Also, w/single pole switch in off position, when I measured the voltage between the yellow & black switch poles w/digital meter it showed 108 VAC, yet when single pole is turned on voltage shows 0 VAC but the light plugged into outlet goes on. Note that the 3way next to it was in on position but the hall lights themselves-controlled by 3way-were off, not sure if this matters (I forgot to check voltage w/3way "on". I check the outlet & it showed 124VAC. Is this normal or should I be concerned?
Thank you for the assistance.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on February 11, 2018:
Hi Steven. I'm afraid that unless there is another black wire that is hot all the time in the outlet box you're out of luck here. Nothing you do with the white wires will do anything to provide power to the upper half of that outlet - it requires a black wire. I'm guessing here that with two whites in the box, that there is a pair of black wires as well, spliced together with a wire nut and folded into the back of the outlet. If there is, try and add a short piece of black wire to the splice and put the other end onto the upper brass screw. That's about your only chance to make that outlet a half-hot. If there are no other wires in that box you will have to run a new wire from the switch to the outlet - could get pretty messy.
Steven on February 11, 2018:
I have a switched outlet that I would like to turn into a half-hot outlet. It's an older setup with 2 white wires connected to the silver screws and 1 black wire connected to the bottom brass screw. I broke the tab between the 2 brass terminals, and now the top outlet is dead. Should I connect the white wires differently now that the tab is broken?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 13, 2018:
It really sounds like you've lost a connection somewhere in an outlet box. A wire has come disconnected and is no longer getting power. The switch leg is obviously working fine, the permanent power at the box is working - everything is fine but the single yellow wire in the first outlet.
Check all the wires in each box, looking for a wire nut that perhaps has come off or should have had another wire in it. Somewhere a connection has been lost in the physical action of tugging wires around, taking them off the outlet and putting them on the new outlet.
firstfirm on January 13, 2018:
Hello again, thanks for your quick response and helpful information.
I hooked up the second outlet, the same as the first (also the same as the old one I took out), the yellow to the lower brass and the black to the upper brass, the white to the upper silver and ground to green. Also prior to connecting, again I cut/pulled out the little brass piece between the 2 screws.
Now the second outlet is working perfectly! The upper part is on always and the lower part of the outlet is controlled by the switch and can be turned off and on!
Unfortunately the first outlet has not changed, the upper part of the outlet is on always which is correct, but the lower part of the outlet is not controlled by the switch, the lower part never works.
I am alright with this, but do you have any other suggestions to try to get the first outlet lower part to work and be controlled by the switch? If not, no problem, I can live with it.
Thanks for all your help.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 13, 2018:
Firstfirm: Suggest you pull the switch from the wall and look at the wires there. It is possible that the power from the breaker panel enters the outlet box first, then goes to the switch. If that is the case, the switch leg of the circuit, from the switch to the outlet, may be white, and the yellow wire spliced to it in order not to have a white wire on the brass screws.
It is also possible that by not wiring the second outlet (which could actually be the first one), connections are not being made that would provide power to the outlet in question.
But in no case should a white wire that goes to the white screws be connected to a wire going to the brass screws. That will blow the breaker immediately.
firstfirm on January 13, 2018:
I have a single switch that controls the lower part of 2 separate outlets. The switch controls the lower and the upper of both outlets are on all the time.
When I tried to replace the first outlet, I found a section on the yellow and white cables each with a section that was stripped bare and might have been connected, not sure.
The cables separated when I pulled the outlet out of wall.
I was concerned about the 2 bare cables in the wall, so I taped each of them up separately not connected.
I then connected the new outlet - same as old one - yellow to the lower brass and the black to the upper brass, the white to the upper silver and ground to green. Prior to connecting, I cut/pulled out the little brass piece between the 2 screws so it matched the old outlet.
I have not installed the second outlet yet.
When testing the new outlet it's not working properly. The switch does not work. The upper part of the new outlet is on always which is correct, but the lower part of the outlet does not work when you turn on the switch. The lower outlet never works.
Where is my cabling incorrect? Does the yellow and white need to be connected for it to work properly? Is there a special outlet I need? And what do I need to know to prepare for the second outlet installation?
Please advise if you need any additional information or have any questions.
Thanks so much!
Michael on January 02, 2018:
That all makes sense. Mine is tied to
The same breaker. Makes sense capping the red at the panel instead. Thanks Dan, you are the man!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 02, 2018:
As long as the black isn't tied to a different breaker, you're fine. If it was you have two circuits in each box and outlet, and very likely have 240 volts in the outlet boxes, which is OK but any such box (and outlet) needs labeled indicating that.
A more common method of accomplishing the task would be to use the black incoming to the switch as well as continuing on to the outlet, with the red being the switched line. The red from the panel box is then just capped off in the switch box.
By doing that there is no possibility of having dual circuits at each outlet, plus it is the common method, and any future work on the outlets should be obvious what is going on.
Michael on January 02, 2018:
Thanks Dan. I did have an actual 12-3 wire (black, red, white, ground). I just wire nutted the Black wires at the switch and used red for the hot to the switch (and then the switched side of the outlet) and black then at first outlet for always hot side.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 02, 2018:
12-3 refers to a black, red, white and ground (the ground isn't counted). If this is what you did then yes, outlets can be wired as a half-hot. If, however, there is only a black, white and ground going from the switch to the first outlet, and then on to others, you cannot. You need that red wire.
Michael on January 02, 2018:
Thanks for this tutorial. Very clear thank you. I have source power running from the panel to the switch (12-3) and I have 12-3 then running from switch to the first outlet, and outlets belong that. Can I wire it this way? I ran it this way unfortunately and already drywalled. Thanks!
Rob No More on December 13, 2017:
You should change your screen name to "Dan The Man" :)
Thank you sir!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 13, 2017:
You got it! That will distribute the 2 circuits around the room, using both of them in equal amounts. The only real change is the in any given outlet there will be only one circuit rather than two, and that's how it's normally done anyway.
Depending on just how your outlets were done, you will may have to nut two blacks together on the first outlet, along with a 6" "pigtail" that goes to the outlet. This may well be already done in the box, though; otherwise you would have had TWO blacks and TWO reds to each outlet so that there was a black and red, both still hot, to supply the next outlet in line.
Rob Again on December 13, 2017:
So, on the first outlet: Black & White go to the outlet and the 2 Reds wire nutted together
Second outlet: Red & White go to the outlet and the 2 Blacks wire nutted together
Is that correct?
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 12, 2017:
Unless your outlets are switched, with a switch somewhere in the kitchen, (that would be very unusual), each outlet appears to have 2 circuits going to it. Verify this if possible, by turning off the breakers. If that breaker is a two pole, however, it will not be possible to turn off just one of the circuits.
If this is the case, I would suggest putting just one circuit to each outlet, with the other one being spliced on through in order to feed the next outlet in the circuit. At the next outlet, use the other hot to feed the outlet, splicing the first one through.
Kitchens are required to have 2 circuits in them, and for good reason; small appliances such as toasters or microwaves require considerable power. It seems that the requirement was satisfied by making each outlet have both circuits, which I've never seen done but is quite possible, but as long as both circuits are available you will still have the power required. Just make sure that both circuits are being used, with approximately the same number of outlets on each circuit.
I assume that the hots are red and black, not two blacks. Take considerable care in either case to never tie the two circuits together anywhere.
If the outlets ARE half hot, with one half of it switched, it will not be possible to reproduce that with the new outlets. Instead they will all have to be made with the permanent hot supplying power. Or the entire outlet switched, your choice.
Rob on December 12, 2017:
My kitchen outlets are fed by 3 wires (with the brass tabs removed).
I've remodeled and bought pop out outlets (Legrand 15-Amp Adorne Pop-Out Square Duplex Electrical Outlet from Lowes). These are only 2 wire (hot, neutral & ground). How should I deal with the extra hot wire?
Thanks in advance.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 01, 2017:
Yes, you can tie them together with the hot feed but it will disable the switch and both will be hot all the time. Or you could remove the wires from the switch and tie those two together, bypassing the switch. Either way is quite legal.
Frank on November 01, 2017:
Can i make hot the switched outlets by tieing the red snd black wires to the hot feed and be legal?
Lucy A on July 21, 2017:
Thanks for a wonderful, clear posting!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on July 16, 2017:
If the power originates in the switch box then you will have to install additional wire because that black wire is switched and you need both that and a constant hot wire.
If the power originates in the outlet then that white wire is most likely not a neutral at all, but either a constant hot or a switched hot. Either way it should be marked, usually by wrapping it with black tape, to indicate it is hot. In this case you already have a constant hot in the outlet box, to run the outlet, and won't need any additional wire.
Justin on July 16, 2017:
What if you only have a hot and a neutral coming from the switch
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on June 27, 2017:
You will have to replace the wire from the switch to the disposal with a 3 conductor wire, using it to wire a half hot outlet in the wall to plug both dishwasher and disposal into. It might be possible to add both an outlet (using the disposal wire) and a second switch to control the disposal, again addition a half hot outlet or two outlets into the wall. Either way will require running some new wire to the wall, but if you could add a second switch in the same stud bay as the outlet it might be easier to do that. If so, the first switch could be removed, with the wires simply spliced through the box and a blank cover put on it.
Kurt Mall on June 26, 2017:
Hello, I removed a hardwired garbage disposal that is turned on/off by a switch above the counter(wires below counter). I'd like to add a dishwasher to the circuit but am not sure how to connect to this wire because of the switch. The disposal is on a dedicated 20A circuit.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on January 07, 2017:
@Stephanie: this can be done by wiring it to the same wires, both black and white, that are used on the half of the existing outlet that is permanently hot. Presumably where the dishwasher is plugged in. Simply splice into those wires, along with the green one, by removing them and adding both the new wire and a new, short (6") piece in a wire nut with the short piece going back to the outlet where the wire had been originally. Make sure that you use a new outlet rated at 20 amps.
Do be aware that you may well overload that circuit and blow the breaker. You already have a dishwasher and disposal on the circuit; adding a coffee pot or other high current appliance and trying to operate all three at the same time could easily overload the circuit.
Stephanie grantham on January 07, 2017:
We have a half hot outlet under our sink that runs our dishwasher as well as our disposal that is connected to a switch. We are trying to add a separate outlet to our island through the same circuit. Please help!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 20, 2016:
That's great! Told you it was something simple, and likely a loose connection. I've troubleshot enough of those to know! Glad you got it all working.
Ron Modlin on December 20, 2016:
Took the red wires and twisted them tightly before installing the nut.
It all works correctly now.
Love it when a plan comes together!
Thanks for the help. You helped me learn something new!
Ron on December 20, 2016:
Hi Dan, Thanks for the "to do" list.
I will do what you suggested.
Yes, I believe it's something that is not difficult... I Hate When That Happens!
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 19, 2016:
You spliced all red wires from the replaced outlet into one wire nut? None were left out? And the red wires are the switched ones? If that is all that was done, then the other outlets must work. Suggesting a loose wire in the wire nut that is not making good contact. Possibly, if you replaced the other outlets, a poor connection there. If the switch was replaced, either the wiring is wrong there (it sounds right, though) or a bad switch. Rare, but I have seen brand new switches that were defective.
I would carefully double check all work done for loose connections. Is it possible that the red (or black) wires on the 4-way switch were swapped? Check that both wires on the end of the 4-way switch are in a single cable (the two wires on the same end must be in the same cable).
Whenever making connections, whether in a wire nut or under a screw, give each wire a good hard tug to see if it will come out. Better now than later, as you install the outlet into the box and don't notice a wire falling off.
From your description this cannot be a major problem and when you find it you're most likely going to hit yourself in the forehead with a loud "DOH!" sound. Don't give up too easily.
Ron Modlin on December 19, 2016:
Hi Dan, Thanks again for the information.
Current situation is that I followed your latest instructions for the outlet in question. I removed the red wires (switch function) from the outlet and spliced them with a nut. The duplex outlet is now hot.
However, I have lost the "switched" function for the other outlets in the room. One half (bottom) of each outlet is hot and the other half (top) is dead.
Fyi, when I installed the new outlet without removing the tab, of course the result was exactly as you said: the outlets were totally "hot".
I have replaced a total of 6 outlets in that room. the outlet I have been asking your advice on was the final one to be changed. And, it seems to coincide with the "switched" function issue.
So, I'm scratching my head at the moment.
Also, there are 3 light switches in the room. One at the entrance and 2 others on the wall by the bed. I replaced the entrance switch and one of the switches by the bed.
The entry switch had 2 red and 1 black wire attached. I attached the black wire to the black (lower) screw and a red wire above that, then the second red wire on the opposite side.
The one switch I replaced by the bed was a 4 pole switch. 2 red on one side and 2 black on the other side.
The third switch in the room is buried behind the headboard and not planning to replace.
Any additional thoughts?? time to punt??
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 19, 2016:
Yes, it will change the instructions. If you hook up all the wires just as they were, without breaking off the tab on the new outlet, every outlet on the circuit will be hot all the time. You must still remove the red (or whatever color is switched) wires and splice them together with a wire nut if there is more than one of them. If there is only one switched wire, cap it with a wire nut but do not terminate it on the new outlet.
That way the switched part of the circuit is still intact, still not connected to the permanently hot wires, and can still function for the rest of the outlets on the circuit. It simply isn't connected to the single outlet that you do not want to be switched.
Ron Modlin on December 19, 2016:
I want to add a wrinkle to my wiring plan. I will replace the existing outlet with a new one. When I do that (and I still want this outlet to be totally hot) what if I don't remove the bridge connecting the upper/lower brass screws on the black/red side? How would that change the instructions you provided earlier?
Ron on December 18, 2016:
Dan, thanks for the quick response. I will try your suggestion.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on December 17, 2016:
I'm going to assume that the top half is unswitched, and that it has black wires going to it.
Remove the red wires and splice them together with a wire nut. They will now be attached together but will not go to the outlet.
Add another wire to the black wires. This will likely require removing them from the outlet and splicing the two existing black wires, along with two short additional pieces of black wire, into one wire nut. Put the two ends of the two short pieces onto the two brass screws of the outlet. The goal here is to provide power to the lower outlet screw, where the red wire was, while keeping the two existing black wires spliced together.
Make required adjustments to these instructions, depending on which half of the outlet is switched, and which color wire is switched. Again, the goal is to remove switched wires from the outlet and then provide power to the terminal where they were, using the unswitched wires to do so.
Ron Modlin on December 17, 2016:
Hi Dan, in a bedroom there are several electrical outlets, all half switched. I would like to make one of these outlets all hot. The outlet has 2 white wires, 2 red wires and 2 black wires attached. The other outlets are similarly wired. I tried replacing the outlet and not removing the tab on the "brass" side, however, this resulted in just making the switch non-functional. Any ideas?? Thanks.
Dan Harmon (author) from Boise, Idaho on November 15, 2016:
You want to replace a half hot outlet with a switch (dimmer) to run some LED lights. And you want to convert another half hot outlet into constant on.
Yes. The first outlet has a permanent hot, a neutral and (hopefully) a ground in it. Everything you need is thus there to operate a switch and lights. If you want both switches to operate the new lights, use the switched wire as a hot - if not, use the permanent hot as the hot wire. Note that this will NOT be a three way switch setup - that both switches will have to be on in order to turn the lights on if you choose the first option.
The second outlet also has that permanent hot, neutral and ground. All that is necessary there is to either replace the outlet OR to jumper the bottom half onto the top half and cap off the switched wire, leaving it unused in the box.
mike on November 15, 2016:
I have a bedroom circuit, power into the switch, then into 2 receptacles on either side of the bed that are switched at the top. I want to change one of these receptacles to a 2nd dimmer switch (was well as the first one) and add 6 recessed LED lights. The remaining receptacle will be a hot-only receptacle. IS this a possible scenario?