Dear Mr. Electrician: How do I convert a switched outlet to an outlet that is always hot.
Answer: It is usually a few simple wiring changes at the outlet box that can make the switched outlet hot all of the time. However, the easiest thing for a novice to do is just disconnect the wall switch and join the two wires from the switch together with a wire connector. You can then install a blank wall plate to cover the unused switch box. NOTE: Some text links below go to applicable products on EBay.
Photos below are of a job that I did for a client where I installed two wall switches and a ceiling fan using the existing outlet switch location. In the photo at the top of this post you can see that the switch box did not have a neutral conductor in it. The white wire on the switch was being used as the hot wire and the black went to the split switched outlet pictured below.
According to the National Electrical Code a white wire being used as a hot must be changed to a different color. It is not unusual to see the white wire being used as the hot conductor on a switch, but it is still wrong to do.
If you are working on a white wire that is hot, take the time to re-identify it with another color electrical tape. Do not use green or gray. You can also use a permanent marker to colorize the wire.
The switch conversion job depicted below was done using plastic electrical boxes. If you are more interested in converting a one gang metal electrical box to two gang or more, visit this post of mine.
I submitted the electrical permit application for this job a few weeks prior to starting the work. The inspector did not require a rough inspection because it was a small job. I only needed an inspection from the town electrical inspector after the work was completed.
in my permit application I included a one page typewritten detailed scope of work describing what I would be doing. It helps the inspector have a better understanding of what’s going on.
CONVERT SWITCHED OUTLET TO HOT
First thing is to shut off the power at the circuit breaker. Test the wires with a volt meter, pigtail light bulb, or a non-contact voltage detector to make sure that they are dead. Next disconnect the existing switch and tape the ends of the wire separately. Do not connect the switch wires together.
Go to the outlet and remove the white wire from the group of hot wires. Connect that white wire to the other white neutral wires in the box. You can do this directly on the outlet or by splicing them all together and adding pigtails.
Push a small nail, paperclip, or tiny screwdriver into the slots on the back of the receptacle outlet to free the wires if they are not looped around the screws.
Connect all of the black hot wires to the hot side of the receptacle or pigtail.
If the receptacle outlet is split as above, you will need to replace it.
Below is the same outlet location with the hot wires spliced together and the white neutrals under the same wire connector. Pigtails were used to keep the full LOAD of the outlet circuit from passing through the receptacle. See my switched outlet wiring diagrams for guidance.
After converting the switched outlet to being hot at all times, I had a hot and a neutral at the existing switch location. I pulled a 14/3 Romex cable up to the new ceiling fan location so that I could have a switch for the fan and a switch for the light on the fan.
One thing that is not pictured in the above photo is the outlet extender that I used to fill the space between the recessed outlet box and the finished surface of the wall. You can see my post about the use of outlet extenders here.
Below is the next step in the process of installing wiring for a ceiling fan. I cut the hole for the new two gang switch box while the old one was still in place. Having the bigger hole makes it easier to get the old one out.
A keyhole saw was use to cut the hole for the new two gang switch box. I held the face of the new two gang old work box against the existing switch and drew a line around it to guide me while cutting.
CHANGE ONE GANG TO 2 GANG SWITCH BOX
I taped the ends of the wire in the existing switch box before attempting to remove the box. Even though the power is off, I still treat the wires as if they are hot while I am working on them.
I keep an old screwdriver in my tool bag for situations where some prying is needed, but a pry bar is too big. Gentle nudging and moving the screwdriver close to the nails helps the box come off.
The existing switch box was originally installed during the construction of this dwelling. The plastic nail-on boxes are fast and cheap to install. Dust still remains piled inside of the switch box from the original construction because the installer didn’t take the time to clean out the box.
I love my Knipex 10″ high leverage diagonal pliers. Never a problem cutting nails. Cutting the nails makes it easy to remove the switch box from the wall.
Once the old switch box was out I had plenty of room to pull the new cable in for the ceiling fan installation.
Below you can see that I made two red pigtails from some excess wire on the 14/3 that I pulled. The pigtails feed the power to the new switches. The white neutral wires are spliced together. I usually use the black wire on the 14/3 to control the fan and the red wire to power the lights.
You cannot easily see in the photo above, but I drove one sheet metal screw through the right side of the box into the wood wall stud. I usually do this to make the box more secure. Be careful not to over tighten and distort the box.
A dimmer switch was used to control the lights on the ceiling fan. A standard wall switch was used for the fan.
The new ceiling fan controls consist of a Leviton Decora wall switch for the fan and a Lutron Skylark dimmer for the lights on the fan.
My home page is here.