Converting Switches to Outlets

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rchesterton
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Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by rchesterton » Mon Jan 21, 2019 2:30 pm

I would like to replace these two switches with regular outlets. The three way wiring always confuses me so I thought I would ask BEFORE I mess things up.

The diagram shows the entry into a great room where there are some dimmers that control the lights in that room. There used to be two entrances into that room but one of them was closed up. That's why there was two sets of switches for the lights in that room. I would like to replace the switches with outlets because they are right over my kitchen counter - would be much more useful there.

1. How should I wire the outlets? If it was just black and white it would be easier but I do not know what to do with the reds.

2. Will I have to use GFCI protected outlets since this line does not have one on it and they are over my kitchen counter?

Here is a diagram and a picture of my situation.
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Aaron
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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by Aaron » Mon Jan 21, 2019 3:39 pm

Before you proceed, do you already have at least two 20A receptacles for your kitchen counter - on two separate circuits - that are GFCI protected? That may inform your decision to proceed with this project.

As for the two 3-wire cables entering the double-gang box, you'd need to determine where the other end of those cables are. Chances are they go either to a ceiling fixture box or the other switch box that paired with each of the 3-way switches that used to be there.

That other end would need to be connected to a power source (using the white and black conductors and just capping off the red on each side).

rchesterton
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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by rchesterton » Mon Jan 21, 2019 3:55 pm

There are exactly two 20 amp outlets in my kitchen and they are on different circuits - GFCI protected.

This circuit is exclusively for the lights in the room. The breaker is off and the only thing that is not powered right now are those ceiling lights (recessed lights). There used to be ceiling fans in that room as well - now they are chandeliers. They are also on this circuit, but that's it.

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Aaron
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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by Aaron » Mon Jan 21, 2019 4:10 pm

Okay, so the recepts you're proposing to add are in addition to the two 20A recepts you've already got?

Do you know where the other end of those cables are?

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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by rchesterton » Mon Jan 21, 2019 5:33 pm

Yes, they would be in addition to the two I already have. This is another circuit, too. So there are two already in the kitchen - each on its separate circuit. Then these two would be #3 and #4 - on a 3rd circuit - which also powers the recessed lighting, two chandeliers, and there is a small patio outside of the great room with lights - they are also on this circuit.

I looked inside the outlet where the dimmers are for the lights in the living room (recessed and the chandeliers - the reds go into that box but I believe that's where they end. There's only one switch for the outdoor light. I checked that box too - no reds. I also took a look at the chandeliers - no reds in those gangs either. It seems that the reds just go between the two boxes (the one I want to put outlets in and the one that is right outside the doorway to the room.

The ceiling fans that were there were only fans - no lights. So I do not believe there was a need for a red up there. At first, that's what I was thinking - but it looks like the reds just go between the two switch boxes.

Is that logical that would be the way it was wired?

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Aaron
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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by Aaron » Mon Jan 21, 2019 6:21 pm

Ok, well you got to be absolutely sure you know where the ends of those two cables are because the other end is what you'll connect power to for receptacles.

You can use one or both of those cables for two receptacles.

Be sure you just use 15A receptacles. If it's within 36" of a sink or water source they'll need to be GFCI.

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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by rchesterton » Mon Jan 21, 2019 7:56 pm

The circuit is 20amp.

I cannot imagine those 12:3 lines going anywhere else but between those two switch boxes. There's nothing else on the circuit and they are the only two boxes that 12:3 shows up in.

I will just cap the reds on both ends and wire the outlets with the black and white. For the current dimmers - where the reds are - I would just cap them as well and use black and white - like I normally would with 12:2, right?

Worse case scenario, if I am wrong about where those cables are running - I am thinking I would know because something just would not work. Is there anything else that I should be concerned with?

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Aaron
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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by Aaron » Mon Jan 21, 2019 11:30 pm

Well you certainly cannot imagine because you must find out and know for a fact. Use tools to trace your circuits.

A good way is to test for continuity. With all the power turned off you can test open with a volt-ohm meter connected to the black and white wires on each end of the cable. Then, if you connect the white and black together at one end of the cable and see a closed circuit on your volt-ohm meter at the other end, you know you've got a circuit path and deduce it's very likely the same cable. If you test continuity with the red, it's even likelier.

Only "likely" the same cable? It's worth mentioning that you'd only know you have an electrical path. Who knows where that cable REALLY is going behind the wall. It could be entering a junction box where it's spliced with another cable that is going to the end you're testing. Probably not, but it's worth appreciating weird possibilities with these sort of retro modifications.

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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by Aaron » Tue Jan 22, 2019 7:27 am

One thing I noticed in your pic above: wires are wrapped around the terminal screws of the devices counterclockwise. It should be clockwise. That way, as you tighten the screws, you're also tightening the connection of the wire wrapped around the screw post.

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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by rchesterton » Tue Jan 22, 2019 10:06 am

Thanks for pointing that out - there were a lot of things in this house that were done by another DIYer who was not very careful or attentive to detail. It's funny...I don't know how a person would NOT know to wrap in the direction of the turning of the screw.

So, if I test for continuity and find that is it "likely" the same cable - but at least then I would know that I have an electrical path...wouldn't that be enough to move forward with replacing the switches with outlets (and capping the reds)? Even if there was a junction box somewhere along the way - if I unintentionally break the circuit by capping the reds (not knowing there is a junction box somewhere along the line) - isn't the worse thing that could happen is devices not working? Then I would know there is more to it than I originally thought. Is that a logical (and safe) way of thinking?

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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by emtnut » Tue Jan 22, 2019 10:50 am

You're probably right that the 12/3 just runs between the 2 - 3way switches.

You would have to rewire to make these into receptacles thou.
The 3 ways don't have a neutral. It is just a hot, and 2 travellers.

You'll need to find where the power and load (lights) is, and reconfigure the wiring there.
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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by rchesterton » Tue Jan 22, 2019 10:54 am

Or, I could replace the three ways with single pole dimmers, right? That is the only switch box that controls those lights - nowhere else (well, once I get rid of the old switches and turn them into outlets).

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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by emtnut » Tue Jan 22, 2019 11:02 am

rchesterton wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 10:54 am
Or, I could replace the three ways with single pole dimmers, right? That is the only switch box that controls those lights - nowhere else (well, once I get rid of the old switches and turn them into outlets).
To do the change with the new receptacle, it would be "AND change the 3 way to single pole".
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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by rchesterton » Tue Jan 22, 2019 11:14 am

What I am trying to avoid is rewiring. If I put in outlets AND change the dimmers to single pole then I could cap the reds and just use the 12:3 as 12:2. Correct?

There is no three way wiring going into any of the lights.

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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by emtnut » Tue Jan 22, 2019 11:20 am

rchesterton wrote:
Tue Jan 22, 2019 11:14 am
What I am trying to avoid is rewiring. If I put in outlets AND change the dimmers to single pole then I could cap the reds and just use the 12:3 as 12:2. Correct?

There is no three way wiring going into any of the lights.
When I say 'rewiring' , I mean rewiring within a switch or light box. (not running new cable)

The picture of the 3 way you posted, has a hot and 2 travellers. There is NO neutral, so a receptacle cannot be powered there (as it is wired).

You have to find out where the source of power is, and where the wiring from the light is. Then you can rewire from that point.
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Aaron
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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by Aaron » Tue Jan 22, 2019 1:29 pm

Right... unless there's a power source in the box opposite of where these two 12/3s are. Then you can tap power from there to supply power to the proposed receptacles.

It's so common for power to be at the light fixture box only, though... Switch boxes often only have switch loops. In that case, receptacles cannot be powered there because there isn't a neutral present unless you want to get rid of light the switch operated.

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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by rchesterton » Sat Jan 26, 2019 6:43 am

This is probably a 101 electricity question, but when I test for power I shut everything for that circuit off, disconnect all devices (so that each conductor is isolated), turn the breaker back on, and see what one is hot. Of course, I do this when no one is around!

But I am guessing the pros do it differently. Is there a more efficient way of determining where the power is coming from?

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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by Aaron » Sat Jan 26, 2019 11:46 am

I'm not sure what you want to accomplish? You can't test for power unless the breakers are on? It's very common to have someone help you test for which breaker kills a circuit, shutting them off sequentially until you lose power to the circuit you're working on.

Maybe you're talking about tracing a circuit? You can use the continuity method I described above, or you can use an inductive tone injector and pickup tool if you don't have a pair of conductors.

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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by rchesterton » Sat Jan 26, 2019 6:34 pm

rchesterton wrote:
Sat Jan 26, 2019 6:43 am
when I test for power I shut everything for that circuit off, disconnect all devices (so that each conductor is isolated), turn the breaker back on, and see what one is hot.
I am going to be looking for the conductor that carries power either into one of the two switch boxes or the light fixture above. It is a mess inside the box with three dimmers - many many wires. I was just wondering if there was an easier way to tell what conductor carries the power without having to disconnect everything. I do not think I am explaining my question clearly. I think I will do what I always do (even though it may be the long way around).

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Re: Converting Switches to Outlets

Post by emtnut » Sat Jan 26, 2019 6:47 pm

rchesterton wrote:
Sat Jan 26, 2019 6:43 am
This is probably a 101 electricity question, but when I test for power I shut everything for that circuit off, disconnect all devices (so that each conductor is isolated), turn the breaker back on, and see what one is hot. Of course, I do this when no one is around!

But I am guessing the pros do it differently. Is there a more efficient way of determining where the power is coming from?
You can often tell by the cables run into the box. Good example is the pic you showed of the 2 3-ways switches. There is only 2 3-conductors cables... so power isn't there.

You can disconnect the other 3 ways and the light, and then sniff for power. Or you can try to 'read' what is going on by what wires are fed into the box.

I wouldn't worry about trying to save a 1/2 hr, this is DIY and your time is free(well, kind of !)
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