Electricity is an incredible thing. Most of us can’t fathom what life would be like without the miracle of electric power. Sometimes, though, you just want a quick and easy way to get that power shut off. On that hard-to-get-at floor lamp in the bedroom or reading nook, for example, or when your daughter’s stereo starts cranking out the fourth hour of its Justin Bieber tribute. I decided to wire a switched outlet (actually several switched outlets) after I recently installed some LED shop lights, and wanted to be able to control them all with the flip of a couple of switches, rather than using 25 pull chains.
The instructions we provide are easy enough for a novice, and will work whether you’re installing a new circuit, or “stealing” power from an existing outlet to power your new outlet. Keep in mind that if you do add on to an existing circuit, for anything other than adding a low-demand device like a floor lamp or overhead fixture, you need to make sure you don’t overload the wiring or breaker on that circuit. Got something a bit more power intensive in mind? We have simple instructions on how to add a circuit coming soon in an upcoming how-to article.
We’re going to show you how to wire a switched outlet where the power comes directly to the outlet, and another cable runs over to the switch. This will work whether the “hot” wire in is on its own breaker, or is at the end of a run of other outlets. We’ll also tell you how to do the wiring if the hot wire (carrying the power in) comes into the switch box first.
Because we value all our HomeFixated readers, keep in mind that before starting this, or ANY electrical project, MAKE SURE THE POWER IS OFF FOR THE CIRCUIT YOU’RE WORKING ON! And, if electrical work is outside your expertise / comfort zone, we encourage you to hire a pro. Lastly-ish, make sure you’re following local code and permitting requirements, which can vary from what we’re telling you here.
Tools And Supplies To Wire A Switched Outlet
• Wire strippers
• A hammer (for new work)
• A drywall saw (for old work)
• Regular and Phillips head screwdrivers
• Romex cable: 14-2 for lighting circuits, 12-2 for tools or appliances
• An outlet! Get a 15-amp version for 14 ga. wire, a 20-amp outlet for 12 ga.
• A switch. For lighting circuits, you can use a regular toggle switch, or a dimmer for compatible lights. Again, they come in 15 and 20-amp versions.
• Outlet boxes, either old work or new work
• Wire staples (for new work)
• Wire nuts or push-in connectors
• Cover plates for the outlet and switch
Getting Ready To Wire A Switched Outlet? Think Inside The Box
Step One in your quest to wire a switched outlet is to give it a home. Electrical device boxes come in many shapes and sizes; a standard box for an electrical outlet or switch measures roughly 2-1/4” x 3-3/4”, and comes in plastic and metal versions. They’re available in various depths; if wall depth isn’t an issue, a deeper box makes it much easier to tuck in your wires.
Boxes also come in two types: Old work and new work. If you have access to the framing, you’ll want a new work box. It attaches to a stud or joist with nails or screws. If you’re adding a box to a finished wall, you need an old work box. After cutting a hole in the drywall, you fish the wiring through the wall, and into the back of the old work box. Then you insert the box into the cutout, and a couple of little “wings” expand out to hold it in place.
If you’re using a new work box, run the wiring through the holes in the back of the box after it’s attached to the wall. Note: It’s easier to start stripping the sheathing from the cable before pulling it into the box. Make the cut and pull the sheathing back about half an inch, but leave it on until the cable is pulled through, then yank the sheathing off. Leave about ½” of the sheathing inside the box. Use wire staples to attach the wiring to the framing, to keep it tidy, and put a staple within about 6” of the box. Keep track of which wire will bring the power, and which goes to the switch.
How To Wire A Switched Outlet Where The Power Comes In At The Outlet
We’ll start our project to wire a switched outlet with the scenario where the power comes in at the outlet, and you’ll run another wire over to a wall switch to control it. Following the instructions above, get the power and switch wires into the box, keeping track of which is which. Strip about ¾” of insulation from the end of each wire.
Since ground wires must be continuous, we need to add a little bonus piece, known as a pigtail, to connect to the outlet. Cut an extra piece of ground wire about 6” long, and connect it to the two ground wires in the box. You can either twist them together and use a wire nut, or use a push-in three-wire connector if code allows. Now make a U-shaped bend in the end of the pigtail, and secure it to the green screw on the outlet.
Next, take the white (neutral) wire from the “hot” inbound cable, make a U-shaped bend in the end, and connect it to one of the two silver screws on the outlet. This will be the side with the larger of the two prong openings. Make sure your screwed connections are good and snug. Many outlets also have holes in the back for “push-in” connections, but most electricians use the screw terminals, as they’re less likely to come loose.
Now for the fun part – diverting the power to the switch. Take the black (hot) wire from the “hot” inbound cable, and attach it to either the black or white wire from the cable that goes out to your switch. Again, you can use a wire nut or push-in connector.
Take the other wire that goes out to the switch, and connect it to the copper-colored screw on the outlet. This will be the side with the shorter prong opening. Since white wires are normally neutral, it’s a good idea to wrap a bit of electrical tape around it near the connection, to indicate that the white wire going to the switch carries power. Do this at the switched end, too.
Now, neatly fold the wiring into the box, being sure the bare ground wire doesn’t come near the terminals on the outlet. Push the outlet into position in the box, and tighten the two mounting screws. Screw on a cover plate, and let’s get that switch done!
Time For A Quick Switch
Wiring the switch is the easy part. Pull the cable into the switch box, just like you did for the outlet. Strip back about ¾” of insulation from the black and white wires. Connect the ground wire to the green screw on the switch, and connect the other two wires to the screw terminals on the side of the switch. The wires can go on either terminal.
Carefully tuck the wires into the box, attach the switch to the box, and install the cover plate. And that’s it – all easy peasy! Just flip your breaker back on, and you’re ready to master the awesome power in that outlet with a mere flip of the switch.
How To Wire A Switched Outlet Where The Power Comes In At The Switch
If your power comes in to the switch first, it’s still easy to wire a switched outlet. Once the two cables are in the box, following the directions above, strip about ¾” of insulation from each wire.
Both neutral (white) and ground (bare or green) wires must always be continuous. Connect the two white wires together, using a wire nut or push-in connector. For the ground wire, we need to add a little bonus piece, known as a pigtail, to connect to the switch. Cut an extra piece of ground wire about 6” long, and connect it to the two ground wires in the box. You can either twist them together and use a wire nut, or use a push-in three-wire connector. Now make a U-shaped bend in the end of the pigtail, and secure it to the green screw on the switch.
Now take the two black wires, make a U-shaped bend in the end of each, and connect them to the two screw terminals on the side of the switch. It doesn’t matter which goes where. Tuck the wires carefully into the box, and screw the switch to the box using the screws at the top and bottom. Add a cover plate, and let’s go input our outlet!
Wiring the outlet is simple. Pull the cable into the box, and again strip about ¾” of insulation from the white and black wires. Attach the ground (bare or green) wire to the green screw near the end of the outlet. Attach the white wire to the silver screw, on the side with the longer prong. Attach the black wire to the copper-colored screw, on the side with the shorter prong opening. Tuck the wiring carefully into the box, attach the outlet to the box, and install the cover plate. And that’s all you have to do to wire a switched outlet, and light up the night – or restore the peace!