What's the Deal with the Coordinated Outlet Switch? Turn on to the Truth About Switched Outlets
With the national DIY market fast approaching the $14 billion mark, it's no wonder that people are taking on more complicated and challenging tasks.
With the number of tutorials on YouTube, many more homeowners can take it upon themselves to add their own outlet switch or other electrical extensions. If you're looking to deal with a coordinated outlet switch, then you need to learn all about how they work and what they can do for you.
Here is full coverage of how to install your own outlet switch or to maintain an older one.
Looking For a Switched Outlet?
Across most homes, it's standard for outlets to be made in a "duplex" style. In this case, you'll be able to plug two things in at the same time in the same outlet. However, once in a while, people will add a switch to one both outlets.
Often, the switch goes to one of the two plugs, making it a "half-hot outlet". These outlets allow one half of the duplex to be permanently on while the other is controlled by a switch to provide it with electricity. If you're in a situation where you don't have overhead lights, wiring one of these to an outlet with a lamp can make a huge difference.
You could always turn the entire duplex off and on with a wall switch, but controlling just one is pretty standard in modern homes. Getting the chance to control a plugged-in lamp from the wall is a massive benefit when lighting really matters to you.
A half-hot outlet is usually one that's found in a living room but in a modern home, it could be put anywhere. Since wiring a switched outlet isn't much different than wiring any other light fixture, lots of people do it as a DIY project. So long as you're careful about the flow of electricity, it should be no trouble at all.
Preparing Your Switched Outlet
If you're going to put together your own outlet, you need to prepare your outlet for wiring. With an existing outlet, your old outlet won't need to be replaced unless it's more than a few years old.
If you have to go out and purchase a new outlet, make sure that the new outlet matches the current amperage that the circuit provides. A 20 amp breaker demands a 20 amp outlet, so make sure your outlets and your breaker match.
Take off the faceplate and look for the tab on the side that connects two brass screw-plates together. This tab connects both halves and allows you to use just one wire. You can insert a screwdriver to break it off. Using a pair of pliers, you can break that connecting tab to create your half-hot outlet.
Go to your breaker and turn off the power. Now you're ready to start installing your new half-hot or a switched outlet.
Use The Right Wiring
You should follow the electrical code when you're going to be wiring something up on your own. All lighting switch boxes have a "neutral" or grounded conductor. This is the white wire that ends on your outlet. Even if you're using a half-hot outlet for lighting or anything else, you need to have a neutral wire in your switch box.
Your power could come into either your outlet box or to your switch box. You need to get a "three-wire cable" to connect one to the other. You'll usually have black, red, white, and green all bundled together as the wire you'll use to connect one box to the other.
Make sure you've got that breaker turned off and the right gauge wire for your breaker. A 12-3 wire is the best when you're dealing with 20 amp breakers. If you've got a 15 amp breaker, use either 12-3 or 14-3. That 14 gauge wire is going to be a little cheaper and easier to manipulate, but it'll overheat if you try to use it with a 20 amp breaker by accident.
Cut yourself plenty of wire to get the job done. Shorting yourself on wire is not only frustrating, but it's a waste of wire. If you end up cutting all the feet of wire you need but miss the mark by a few inches, you'll have to throw that wire away.
Get To Know the White Wire
If you live in an older home, your white wire is going to be your power wire, not your neutral wire. If you end up having white wires in your switch box spliced together, leave those that go to a switch where they are.
In 2011, the National Electric Code changed the rules about wiring. They ruled that from now on, it would be considered a neutral wire. Hot wires used to be marked by a conscientious electrician, but this was up to their discretion so not a very safe system.
If you're going to be replacing wires on an older system, you'll notice two-wire cables from the outlet to the switch. This makes it a little easier to predict when the white wire is your hot wire, but be careful when navigating this mixed up system. Nothing is for certain if your house is less than 50 years old but more than 10.
Separate your hot wire from your other wires or use a multimeter to test every terminal. Before you touch anything, touch your multimeter to figure out which is the hot wire. Do this before you disconnect your power so you can be sure.
An Outlet Switch Makes Life Easier
With the help of an outlet switch, you get to have the lighting you've dreamed of in your home. Rather than having to rely on overhead lighting, you can light your rooms how you want them to be lit.
For more safety tips before you go out on your own, check out our own safety recommendations.