Rewire a Switch that Controls an Outlet to Control an Overhead Light or Fan

February 9, 2009 | by Fred (email) |

Last week I described how an outlet should be wired for switch control when the voltage enters the circuit at the outlet.  This setup is how our master bedroom was wired before I installed an overhead ceiling fan.  As promised, I detail below how to modify this wiring setup with minimal effort so that the switch can instead control an overhead fixture.  Later this week, I’ll post some before and after pics from our ceiling fan installation.  Before we get started, let’s briefly review last week’s diagram:

Review of Switched Outlet Wiring (Power Enters at the Outlet)

In this diagram, voltage enters the circuit at location (A) in a standard 2-wire (+ground) Romex.  The white neutral wire from this Romex is connected directly to the silver terminals on the receptacle (E), and the black hot wire is connected to the white wire running to the switch (B).  The white and black wires from this Romex are connected to the switch (C).  The black wire at the switch is now switched hot which is run back to the receptacle and connected to the gold terminal (D).  The result:  the outlet is only hot when the switch is turned on.

Notice that in this diagram, the neutral wire never leaves the receptacle box.  Voltage exits the receptacle box on the white wire to the switch, and then returns as switched power on the black wire, both in the same Romex cable.

To rewire this circuit to control an overhead fixture, we need to get both hot and neutral to the switch box, and ultimately out a second Romex to an overhead fixture.  We do this by repurposing the Romex between the receptacle and the switch, and adding an additional Romex to the overhead fixture.  Here’s how the wiring diagram changes:

Rewire a Switch to Control an Overhead Fixture

Diagram Explanation

  • Step 1: We need to alter the wiring in the receptacle box to move hot, neutral, and ground up to the switch.  To do this, we use the receptacle as a bridge for the hot and common wires.  For both Romex’s in the receptacle box, the black wires are wired to the brass terminals, the white wires to the silver terminals, and the ground (copper) wires are nutted together and attached with a pigtail to the receptacle itself.
  • Step 2: Add an additional piece of Romex from the switch box to the overhead fixture.  This Romex should be sufficient gauge for the current (12 gauge for 20 amp circuits, 14 gauge for 15 amp circuits).  In our diagram we add 2-wire Romex with the intention that all of the voltage traveling to the overhead fixture will be switched.  We could also add 3-wire Romex and have one switched hot wire, and one constant hot wire running to the overhead fixture.  (This would be useful, for instance, if we were installing a fan with a separate fan and light control).
  • Step 3: Wire nut the neutral wires from both Romex’s in the switch box together.  (This sends neutral up the wire to the fixture).  Connect the black wires from each Romex in the switch box to the switch.  (The black wire running up to the overhead fixture is now switched hot.  Wire nut the ground wires together and add a pigtail to connect the switch.

Additional Notes

  • Note that once hot and neutral are both at the switch, we have a lot of options for expanding this circuit.  We could split the hot wire onto two switches that run to an overhead fixture.  This could be used to give us independent control of a fan and light fixture.  (Alternatively, modern technology gives us the ability to retrofit the switch with a “smart switch” that will independtly control the fan and light on a traditional two-wire circuit).
  • It goes without saying:  Only perform this work if you are qualified (and licensed if necessary) and always turn off the power at the breaker panel before you start work.

ProTool Reviews has a similar guide for wiring a ceiling fan that accounts for several different scenarios- pull chains, multiple switches and more. If this article hasn’t answered all your questions, check out their guide and helpful diagrams.

What do you think? Have you made this type of circuit change in your own home?
25 Responses
  1. Jeff says:

    How do I throw a dimmer switch (for the lights on fan) into this mix? The dimmer is not on/off, only to dim lights. The gang box would look like this – (1) Romex in (Hot) dimmer switch – jump to on/off switch (dimmer swth & on/off swth in gang box). (2) romex leaving gang box (both no power) to overhead light/fan. Existing hot romex in gang box is currently terminated to on/off switch for 110 outlet on wall. I want this to remain active as t.v. is plugged into it.

  2. Robert says:

    I am currently in the middle of adding a ceiling fan with a light to my bedroom and have encountered a similar situation to what you have described above.

    Where my wiring set up differs is that I have 3 sets of romex coming in to the only outlet in the room that is controlled by the wall switch.

    Inside of the outlet box, The first romex cable – black wire goes to the gold screw, the white wire is connected to the black wires from the other two romex cables in a wire nut. The white wires from the other two romex cables each go to the siver screws.

    How do I determine which wire is which based on your above diagram? Can I still use the switch on the wall to control the fan? I’m not reall concerned with keeping the outlet controlled by the switch anymore if that helps.


  3. Fred says:

    Hi Rob,

    I’m going to need some more information. The black wire that goes to the gold screw on the outlet… is that the only wire connected to the gold terminals on the outlet?

    Also, when you look at the side of the outlet, is the bridge between the top set of connectors and bottom set of connectors on either the silver or gold terminals broken? This configuration is frequently used to switch only 1/2 of an outlet while leaving the other outlet hot all the time.

    Assuming that no other wires are present and the bridge isn’t broken, it certainly *seems* like the outlet is wired wrong. It sounds like the neutral wire may have been used to switch the outlet, rather than the hot wire.

    Do you have a voltmeter that you could use to measure the voltage from each wire to ground?

    Note: I’m not an electrician, and it sounds like you aren’t either, so please be careful.

  4. Ben Garcia says:

    Need help.. added a room (14 x 18), like to do myself the the wiring. Need to know how to run wires from panel box to outlets ( 2 outlets in each wall), and run wires for lights in closets ( 2 closets w/switches). Also have a bathhroom I need to wire as well. Have 12/14 gauge wire,outlets,boxes,and 100 amp panel box,breakers ( 15-20 amps). Unable to find help online how to wire a room(diagram).

    Thx. Ben

  5. Miguel says:

    Thanks for the excellent post and diagram..It made my job super easy


  6. jaime says:

    I like to connect a fixture from the existen outlet cant you tell me how to do that. please tell me in my e-mail

  7. Terry says:

    I’m now going through the same scenrio as Robert stated in May 2009, “Inside of the outlet box, The first romex cable – black wire goes to the gold screw, the white wire is connected to the black wires from the other two romex cables in a wire nut. (JUMPES OVER TO THE 2ND GOLD SCREW)The white wires from the other two romex cables each go to the siver screws. THE BRIDGE IS REMOVED FROM THE GOLDEN SIDE TO WORK ON ONLY 1.S OF THE OUTLET.

  8. selevasio k barinisavu says:

    wat is the purpose of the contactor in the control circuit n how can we join or install another contactor to it .?

  9. selevasio k barinisavu says:

    how do you hot wire a switch.

  10. kevin says:

    I have the same problem as this posting. The only difference is that in my switch, I only have two wires…a black and a white…not a ground. The switch controls a plug across the room. I want to wire the switch to control a light, not the plug.

  11. William Barrett says:

    I have a box with an outlet and a switch that controls the hood fan for my range. I want to replace the outlet with a GFCI outlet. Can you send me a diagram for that.


  12. Tara Bank says:

    Hi I need help. I have two outlets which are controlled by the one switch. I have removed the panelling and I see the switch wiring. there are wires one black and white + ground connected to the switch.

    – I want to install a light in the room and it should be controlled by the switch.
    – I want switch should not controll the both outlets. There should be power in the outlets all the time.
    – I do not want to remove pannelling from the outlets because it will be way too much work for me.

    Any easy way to achive the goal, just to rewire from the switch to new light. Thanks

  13. Chris says:

    What if the power comes in at the switch instead of the outlet?

  14. bryan says:

    I have a floor outlet that will bo longer be used….but he switch will go to overhead. What do I do at the switch since I don’t care to use the outlet any longer. Thanks

  15. Rob Bocca from Savoy Ind. Inc. says:

    I have installed a 3 wire 65watt florescent floodlamp box fixture above my home work bench for added light. I did this by using a 14 gauge extension cord cutting off the female end and plugging it into the closest outlet. It worked fine but I wanted to put an external wall switch and box on the wall to make it work and look cleaner than having to plug it in when I needed it. I wired the white from the above fixture to the switch and the white from end plugged into the wall outlet to the same white. I then wired the black from the above fixture to the the other screw with the black from the wire plugged intO the outlet. Both green ground wires I attached the green ground screw on the switch. When I plugged it in the light came on but the switch was in the off position when I proceeded to put switch In the on position the breaker popped .What is the correct wiring and what did I do wrong.

  16. Rod Haskins says:

    I am putting two LED lights in our office. I can
    not get to the outlet that the switch operates. I have located the romex cable that is coming out of the switch box. My question is: if I splice the wire from two LED lights
    to this romex cable, will the lights work when I turn on the switch upon entering the room?

  17. Zachary Duffy says:

    Hi. In our bathroom, the light switch turns on the light and the bathroom fan. Is there an easy way to rewire this and set up individual switches? One for the light, one for the fan.

  18. Hightower says:

    Can you please show us a diagram of what this setup would look like?

    We could also add 3-wire Romex and have one switched hot wire, and one constant hot wire running to the overhead fixture. (This would be useful, for instance, if we were installing a fan with a separate fan and light control).

  19. SportsFan says:

    Thanks for this explanation.

    1. What happens to the switched receptable (half) in this case. Does it continue working with the switch? Or does it become permanently hot? Is it recommended to change the receptable/outlet to one that has not been cut by half -to make it switchable?

    2. What happens when your switch has 2 Romex (black). One coming in and the other going out. The Whites are wire nut and ground is pig-tailed. Yet there’s no ceiling light…. The switched outlet seems to have a few wiring at minimum 6. So it appears that the power comes from there onto the switch, and perhaps to each independent outlet in the bedroom.

    3. What would be the best approach in wiring the bedroom for a ceiling light/fan combo that is mainly operated by RF and or universal remote, in this case? An installation to a switch is simply optional according to the manufacturer (Casablanca Isotope)
    a. Run 14/2 to wall switch and pigtail the black to one black and the white to white wire nut -which is there already (fan only has 1 black and 1 white plus ground)? I have 14/3 available, but I wonder how to connect it …. Black -black (fan/light); red – white (fan/light), but where to in the switch?, and white onto exiting white by the switch? Can i put the red AND White together in the switch/fan? (Seems odd).

    b. Run 14/2 from the receptable (switched one)?


  20. Dave S. says:

    I have the exact same scenario, installed basic Light and ran Romex to switch. Does it complicate things that outlet 1 also connects to another outlet, although only the first outlet is controlled by the switch. Power source comes in from box to outlet 1

  21. Michael says:

    If only I knew what a Romex was. I have a ceiling fan that used to work with a remote and could be overridded by a wall switch. for months I have not been able to get it to work. I thought i had it wired right but its as if there is no power. This has no pull strings on the fan, just the remote. Ther e is also a black wire in the ceiling that I know is hot and is connected to a wall recepticle becasue when I touch it, the floor lamp plugged into that recepticle, flickers. But there is another black wire that should go to the wall switch but it never works to get the fan going. how can I test or how should I route this to work? I would like to get the fan to connect to that wall switch but at this point, I just want to see a fan blade turn.

  22. Raul says:

    I have a room that controls two outlet for a lights, but now I want add a light to the celling can you help me with that. thanks

  23. Joseph A. Lordi says:

    When you flipped the switch you connected the hot directly to the neutral causing a short and therefore you blew the circuit braker. you would have to know which side of the outlet was hot and which side was neutral before you could wire the switch. You are trying to open the hot wire when you flip the switch so only the hot wire should be wired to the switch not both the hot and neutral.

Leave a Reply