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Terminating Wires in a Junction Box for a Receptacle and Thermostat that Controls a Fan

November 26, 2007

Phil Dijoseph Says:
Help? I have a attic fan with a thermostat and a receptical with a on/off switch and a lite on it in my hall way. The lite would come on when thermostat turned the fan on, or I could turn the fan on with the on/off switch to turn the fan on, well the lite stopped working so i took all the wires appart in the attic and a cant figure out how to put them back the same way. I have 8 wires in the attic, black and white(power), b&w fan, b&w from receptical in hall way, b&b from thermostat, I bought a new receptical because I think the lite blew out, any help would be apprciated thanks phil

Wayne Gilchrist Says:
I’m a little confused by your explanation. You reference a light in your problem, but you did not reference it in the attic junction box. At any rate, based on the information that you’ve provided me, I’ve created a wiring diagram that will work. However, if you learn that the wires are different than what you’ve described, please reply to this post with updated information and I can create another wiring diagram.

Before you begin reconnecting the wires in your attic, be sure to turn off the power to this circuit and verify that the power is off at the junction box. Once you’ve completed the terminations, fold the wires back into the junction box and be sure to place a blank cover over the junction box. This is a National Electrical Code® (NEC®) requirement to help prevent an electrical fire.

Wiring Tip:
Phil, this is not just directed towards you, I receive emails and questions like this one all of the time. Before disconnecting any wires mark them, take pictures or use a note pad to make drawings and take notes. This will help you when it comes time to reconnect your wires; I do it all of the time. We all get distracted and can easily forget what wire goes where.

There are several ways to mark your wires. You can buy some number books at your local home improvement store, use different colored electrical tape, wrap the wires with tape and write on the tape, etc….

Taking pictures is always very helpful. Most of us carry cell phones with cameras in them or we have digital cameras. This will help you when it comes time to put the wires back together or it can help me if you get stuck and need my assistance.

I hope that using a notepad is pretty self explanatory.

Wiring Diagram of a Receptacle and Thermostat that Controls a Fan
Click image to enlarge

Wiring 2 – 1/2 Switched Receptacles Controlled by 3 Switches

November 25, 2007

Rick asks:
Do you have an article or a diagram of wiring two half hot receptacles from three switches?

Thanks for any info……….


I didn’t have an article or diagram, so I created a wiring diagram and I’m writing this article. Now, the wiring diagram that I created assumes the power supply is coming into the receptacle. I’m also using 14 AWG wire in the diagram. This means that your existing circuit needs to be on a 15 amp circuit breaker maximum. If your circuit is 20 amps, ensure there is 12 AWG wire on the entire circuit.

So, let’s start by installing the cables (wiring).

  • Ensure the power is off to this circuit before beginning work
  • Run a 14/2 NM cable (romex) to your first receptacle.
  • Install a 14/3 NM cable from the first receptacle to the second receptacle.
  • Install a 14/2 NM cable from the second receptacle to the first 3-way switch.
  • Install a 14/3 NM cable from the first 3-way switch to the 4-way switch.
  • Install a 14/3 NM cable from the 4-way switch to the last 3-way switch.

Now let’s terminate the wires and install your switches and receptacles. To do this, please refer to the wiring diagram (Fig. 2) below. Please note the terminations between the second receptacle and the first 3-way switch (Fig. 3). Here you are going to use the white wire to supply power to the switches.

According to the National Electrical Code® (NEC®), this is the only time you are permitted to use the white wire as a power supply wire. However, this wire needs to be identified as a “hot” wire. To do this either wrap some black electrical tape around the wire or use a black, permanent marker.

Also, please note the tab (Fig. 1) on the “hot” side of the receptacle (brass colored screws) has been broken off. You must remove this tab to make half of the receptacle switched. If you do not remove this tab, then the receptacles will be energized all of the time. I use a pair of needle-nosed pliars to break off this tab.

Switched Receptacle Tab
Fig. 1 – click to enlarge

Wiring Diagram of Two Half Switched Receptacles Controlled by 3 Switches
Fig. 2 – click to enlarge

Wiring Diagram of a Half Switched Receptacle Feeding a Switch
Fig. 3 – click to enlarge


Happy Thanksgiving to Everyone

November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving


I just wanted to take a minute for a quick post to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. Hopefully, everyone is having a great day and very thankful for all of the delicious food and football. I know I am.  

It has been quite some time since I have upgraded my version of wordpress. I’ve decided to do an update this evening at 8PM Mountain Time. This blog will be down and inaccessible for approximately 1 hour; if everything goes well.

At any rate, Happy Thanksgiving. The game is back on. Got to go. 

Circuit Tracers and Breaker Finders – Do they really work?

November 21, 2007

Circuit Tracers and Breaker Finders

BBBertram Says:
Do circuit breaker tracers/finders really work? I have tried a couple and they only narrow the search down to 6 or 7 breakers which isn’t much help. Is there one you recommend?

Wayne Gilchrist Says:
I believe they work, but they are like everything else; you get what you pay for. We use the Greenlee Power Finder Circuit Seeker™ Circuit Tracer Cat# 2011 and the Amprobe Advanced Wire Tracer model AT-2001. Both of these tools come with hefty price tags and are probably not recommended for the average homeowner or DIYer because of the cost. However, if you don’t mind spending $500.00 – $750.00, then these are the 2 that I recommend.

Now a circuit tracer or breaker finder is simply a transmitter and receiver. You hook the transmitter to one end and use the receiver to find the signal at the other end. The problem is if the circuit you are trying to find is sharing a neutral or is in a conduit or cable with other circuits the signal can be induced or backfed onto other circuits and give you a false reading.

As always, you need to read, follow and understand the instructions with these and all tools before using them. You also need to “know your tools”. I thought our circuit tracers didn’t work properly and I felt “ripped off” at first. But after I read the instructions and used them several several times, I began to understand how they worked.

I definately think that the breaker box cover needs to be removed for more accuracy. However, I do not think you need one of these tools as a homeowner or DIYer. In a residential application with a second person helping, I recommend using a receptacle tester or turn on a light and have one person stay at the circuit location and the second person go flip breakers. Hopefully, the breaker box is labeled correctly. If it is not, please label each circuit. If you are working alone, plug in a radio on this circuit, “crank it up”, and go flip breakers until the radio goes off. 

I think circuit tracers or breaker finders are best suited for commercial and industrial applications. In these applications, there are typically several breaker boxes that the circuit could be in. Using one of these tracers will definately get you into the correct breaker box almost immediately.

Once I find the correct breaker box, I remove the cover and slowly search for the signal circuit by circuit. At this point, I run the receiver over the wires and not the circuit breakers. Once I narrow down the few breakers it may be, I concentrate harder on the receiver. The receiver will usually make a louder noise or the signal strength will be stronger on the correct circuit.

I hope this helps. Good luck and be safe when working in live or energized breaker boxes. 

What Do You Do During an Extended Electrical Power Outage to Keep Your Family from Going Stir Crazy?

November 20, 2007

Snowfall in Bozeman, Montana 11-20-07

Well, winter finally arrived last night in Montana. We received approximately 10 inches of snow here in Bozeman. However, around 5 PM the power went out. I was sitting at my computer and just started a post to this blog, when my UPS “squealed”, the lights flashed and the electricity went out. I figured no big deal, as I heard our Guardian generator start cranking. Within about 45 seconds after the power failure, our generator was running and our electricity was back on.

I thought it was back to “business as usual”, but after approximately 5 minutes the generator shut off and the electricity was out again. “Oh great, now what” I thought as I put on my boots and coat to go outside and see what is going on. It was dark, blowing, snowing and cold and I didn’t want to be outside any longer than I needed to.

So, I went over to the generator and opened the side door to see what was going on. I was really hoping it was something simple and we would have our electricity on momentarily. “Ok, I need fuel, spark and compression for this thing to run”, I thought. “What am I missing?” I looked at the propane tank guage and it was empty. I don’t believe that I ran out of propane (the tank was refilled today). Thankfully, it is something simple, but we had to do without electricity until the utliity company fixed the problem almost 5 hours later.

We live on the outshirts of Bozeman. There is no city water, no city sewer, no natural gas and no cable TV. When we bought the house about 3 years ago, everything was (and still is) electric (water heater, furnace, range, dryer, well pump, etc…). My plan is to eventually install solar power.

Because we live rurally and in Montana, we need to prepare for extended power outages and cold weather. So, we have a wood burning fireplace, a Guardian 25kW generator, 2 freezers, 2 refrigerators and we keep the pantry stocked with lots of canned goods and bottled water. We also have a fair amount of candles, flashlights and oil burning lamps. So, we are fairly prepared.

We depend on electricity to cook dinner, have water, use our toilets and heat our home. But when the generator quit running, I quickly remembered what is was like to be without electricity. I have definately been spoiled having this generator. “Now what do we do?”, I thought. After taking an ass chewing from my wife, I started bringing in some wood to start a fire. After a couple of minutes, we had heat. Now we need to eat. I went outside and fired up the grill; I can honestly say that I definately prefer to grill on a nice sunny day.

We sat around for about 30 minutes after we finished eating, but everyone was quickly becoming stir crazy in the candle lit rooms. We couldn’t all agree on what board game to play or what to do. We ended up making it through the night just fine and the power came back on around 10 PM.

This got me thinking that we need to come up with something to do for future power failures. So, instead of answering a residential electrical wiring question today, I would like to ask you a question. What do you do during an extended power outage to keep your family from going stir crazy?      

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