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        nonworking switches - possible ceiling light opportunity? Sign In/Join 
        posted
        Here in the south, a ceiling fan sure would be nice in our den. We just so happen to live in a house that has five nonworking switches in that room alone. Two near the main entry door, one near each of two other doors. (The third switch near the main entry door does activate a nearby outlet.) The mystery switches are wired. I have checked every outlet, top and bottom. When I use a stud finder on the ceiling, it finds something between the joists right in the center of the room, and I can feel something solid there by tapping. The house was built in 1990 and we've lived here for 1.5 years. How likely is in that the builder installed wiring and a light box for a future ceiling light/fan when building but then covered it up with drywall? Would a circuit tracer (or something else) help me know for sure? It's a big room, so I'd hate to put a hole in the ceiling and then have to patch the hole and retexture the entire ceiling if I'm wrong (because I don't think I could match it exactly). Thoughts?
         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Also, this ceiling is not accessible from above. This is the bottom story of a two-story house.
         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        a lot of stud sensors have a line finder built in... red light when you pass over a live electrical circuit. I made one years ago with an old tape deck head and an amplifier, the earphone buzzes when you pass over a live wire. mark them with painters tape and if they lead to a switch that isn't working, dead switch, replace it after pulling the power.

        if you're doing that sort of thing, you must have a no-contact power finder, ten bucks at the home center. beeps and flashes a light near a live wire. it's a life-saver. but it won't work through a wall.

        ceiling fans are heavy devils, and they will pull out the box and fall to the floor. that's why there are special power boxes for ceiling fans with big old steel arms that you nail or screw to joists, to hold the weight. you are going to have to open up some ceiling to put that in, and then patch regardless of your desire to not make another project.

        everything is accessible, provided you are ready to do some drywall patches. that's the joy, and curse, of DIY.

        myself, if I find live wires and dead switches, I'm going to shotgun all the switches, because I grew up surrounded by broadcast engineers who replaced all the, say, capacitors if one went poof and took you off the air. there are a good dozen pros who drop in and out of these boards who think that's apostasy. to each their own, I won't have to replace any of those switches again in my lifetime. and they're two-odd bucks each in a contractor 10-pack.

        This message has been edited. Last edited by: swschrad,


        sig: if this is a new economy, how come they still want my old-fashioned money?
         
        Posts: 5849 | Location: North Burbs, MN | Registered: Mar 14, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        My Black and Decker stud finder supposedly has that feature but has never worked, even when I've tried it on hot wires I know exist and work fine.

        What's the point of a no-contact power finder if it won't work through a wall?

        I suspect you're right about the patching because it seems DIY projects ALWAYS have their way of becoming bigger than planned... as did my last one a few weeks ago. Smile
         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        I would say call in an electrician.

        I'm in Houston and my home was built in 2002. There is a light switch in the den area that controls the top plug of the 4 outlets in the room. I have a lamp the room and would love to add a ceiling fan or light fixture. But, knowing that most builders do not simply "add" something for potential future use, I would not count on there being an electrical box there for a fixture.

        Heck, a few of the outlets in my house were never "connected" from when the house was built (I'm the 2nd owner).
         
        Posts: 11 | Registered: Jul 08, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        An electrician!?

        I'm imagining that the original buyer made a change and the builder didn't remove the wiring, rather than a scenario in which the builder did something extra out of the goodness of his heart.

        I said that my AC finder never has worked. Correction: almost never. It did find something above those switches. But it's just too weak to trace anything all the way to the center of the ceiling, because those wires have to be very close to the surface. I have to get actually on the switch plate, but it recognizes when I turn those mystery switches on and off. What could I use?
         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Legally, the box if it exists should not be covered with drywall. That's not to say you don't have something buried in your ceiling.

        The circuit tester is designed to allow you to test wires that you can see and touch to determine if they are hot. It is a very handy little tool that no DIYer should be without.

        You may just have to do a little surgery to see what is in your ceiling. Does the room have any lights that are switched by any switches in the wall today?


        General Disclaimer

        Any advice given here is general in nature and is not necessarily valid for your given area. If in doubt check with your local codes enforcement department for what is required when doing electrical, plumbing or structural work on your house. Permits may or may not be required in your area and home owners may not be able to DIY some tasks. I have no way of knowing if you have the skills needed to complete the tasks you are asking about, when in doubt seek professional assistance.

        My advice may be worth exactly what you pay me for it. :-) For the record I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.
         
        Posts: 885 | Location: Cary, NC | Registered: Aug 17, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        There are seven outlets in the room and of the six switches, two work. (Miscounted earlier when I said five nonworking switches.)
        One controls half an outlet right next to it. Another controls an outside light. All other outlets work all the time.
        With two nonworking switches together, I'm thinking one is for a fan and the other is a three-way with the other two nonworking switches to control a light.
        There actually is a seventh switch that controls a recessed spot light shining on the fireplace, but that's on a separate circuit. Otherwise, no other lights controlled by switches in the room.
        I've heard of a circuit tracer vs a circuit tester, which sounds like a voltage tester, right? I was hoping to find something like a stronger version of what is supposed to work (better) on my stud finder.
        I don't know. Maybe it's not worth it. Sure is hot, though!
         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Also, I understand that I could have outlets that should have been powered by switches but the tabs weren't broken, etc. I can check that before performing surgery, too.

        UPDATE: I checked all the always-on outlets and none are wired to be switched.

        This message has been edited. Last edited by: AlisonM,
         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Alison,
        It is hard to say what the extra switches are for. It is very likely they thought ahead and wired for a fan in the middle of the room. They should not have buried the box if they did. Though the inspector would not be able to tell after the fact if a box is buried behind the ceiling.

        If your ceiling is smooth patching it isn't terribly difficult. If you have a texture, good luck with that. I'd probably do a little surgical exploration if it were my house, but I have smooth ceilings, and I can repair drywall.


        General Disclaimer

        Any advice given here is general in nature and is not necessarily valid for your given area. If in doubt check with your local codes enforcement department for what is required when doing electrical, plumbing or structural work on your house. Permits may or may not be required in your area and home owners may not be able to DIY some tasks. I have no way of knowing if you have the skills needed to complete the tasks you are asking about, when in doubt seek professional assistance.

        My advice may be worth exactly what you pay me for it. :-) For the record I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.
         
        Posts: 885 | Location: Cary, NC | Registered: Aug 17, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Update! I've been marking my ceiling with tape where my stud finder has found "items" between my joists... and every once in a while I get that stud finder to verify the fact that the switches turn on and off a wire running to that general area. So I opened up a 1" x 2" hole just big enough to peek in and sure enough, I found an all-metal hanger light box covered up by the ceiling. My hole opened up on the outside of the box perimeter so that I can just make out the bar attaching to the joist and the wire going to the area. I'm planning on removing the drywall from the inside box area shortly.
        My question is: how can I determine if this box is fan rated? Where will I need to look? I'm sure it won't be as easy as the word "fan" on the INSIDE of the box where I'll be opening the drywall. Any other good way to tell if it's the right type?
        Thanks, all! Cool

        This message has been edited. Last edited by: AlisonM,
         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        FYI, from the very little I can see thus far, it looks like it's probably something roughly like this type of hanger box. (As opposed to the type that just mount to the side of one joist. I'm seeing Raco boxes like this on HD that are both good and not good for fan installations, so I am just curious how to tell the difference.

        As an important side note, in case I'm looking at having to reconfigure, my joists are only 12" on center in this room, as it turns out. Hard to find hanger boxes for that size.

        This message has been edited. Last edited by: AlisonM,

         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        The metal fan boxes I've seen have studs that use a nut to fasten the fan hanger to the box instead of just two screws in the tabs of the box.

        Fan boxes can be metal or plastic, most are metal. Can you see through your hole in the ceiling what the bracket looks like? Ceiling fan brackets are pretty beefy, the box can also be mounted to blocking or two the side of the joist. If it is mounted to blocking or the side of the joist it should be fastened with screws, and preferably NOT drywall screws which have no shear strength.


        General Disclaimer

        Any advice given here is general in nature and is not necessarily valid for your given area. If in doubt check with your local codes enforcement department for what is required when doing electrical, plumbing or structural work on your house. Permits may or may not be required in your area and home owners may not be able to DIY some tasks. I have no way of knowing if you have the skills needed to complete the tasks you are asking about, when in doubt seek professional assistance.

        My advice may be worth exactly what you pay me for it. :-) For the record I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.
         
        Posts: 885 | Location: Cary, NC | Registered: Aug 17, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        How to tell -- take a good look at your existing box, then go to your local store and look at their fan rated boxes, versus not fan rated, look at the screws to attach the fan to the box. It seems to me, if I remember right, the screws for the fan rated box are the next size bigger than the non rated fan box. Cheaper fan rated boxes are rated 50 lbs which will hold many fans, but not usually the more top line fans.

        I wonder if someone attached the box by added a wood piece across two joists, a common way to do it when you want the box in the center of a room (some builders don't care about that)
         
        Posts: 989 | Location: No. California | Registered: Mar 24, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        I've got my answer. I could read through the first hole that it is a steel city hanger. Then I opened up a hole in the middle of the box and could see that it is just one of those adjustable ones that you can slide back and forth and tighten down by unscrewing a center screw. Eek

        So I guess I'm on the hunt for a fan box that will retrofit in a 12" space. If anyone has any ideas on that, let me know!

         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Your red wire pretty much guarantees someone set it up for ceiling fan use, but you are missing a grommet where the wires come through the metal box, and you are missing a ground wire to the metal box.

        If you use a light enough fan, maybe that will work. Grab a hold of it best can do, see if it is securely mounted. If it's not, shove it out of the way (turn off the electricity first). But sitting here, I can't see how well it is attached to anything.

        They do make fan mounts that you shove through the hole and then work the supports out to the side, maybe you might have to cut one side down to make it fit. Or you can place a new box against the joist, and add screws to attach it to the joist, then install the new fan.

        I wonder about the other end of those wires, if they are still intact. I see overspray or drywall mud on those wires, that indicates they were in use at sometime, or were going to be used. So it appears someone changed their mind about installing one, or they removed it, or ??? If someone had placed the box and wires but just drywalled over it, those wires would be clean.

        This message has been edited. Last edited by: Re-mdlr,
         
        Posts: 989 | Location: No. California | Registered: Mar 24, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        I'll see what I can find that will minimize my ceiling damage. I don't like the idea of having to match a bunch of ceiling texture, so the smaller the hole the better. It's that 12" space that makes thing difficult. I'm glad to know my joists are closely spaced, but it makes this a pain.
        The fan is a nice Casablanca that weighs 28 pounds IN THE BOX. Not sure if that's considered heavy but I know of some much heavier ones out there.
        I plan to test the wires as a next step. The ground does have a lot of mud on it, as does the red wire, but the black and white look pretty clean. They are capped off so I can't see the tips, but I can always cut and strip.
         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Heavy fans usually have heavy light assemblies, or are remote control, or are very decorative. 28 lbs is no problem.

        Depending on the fan, it might have a decent ceiling trim that would allow a little bigger hole than the box which would make it easier.

        And it's the other end of those wires I was wondering about, someone may have cut them short since they weren't going to use them. You'll have to open up the switch boxes that don't work and see what's there, and look for the red wire.

        This message has been edited. Last edited by: Re-mdlr,
         
        Posts: 989 | Location: No. California | Registered: Mar 24, 2004Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Actually, the switches are still wired and my stud/ac finder actually shows that those wires are still working. Crazy. Even on the ceiling, the AC locater on my stud finder was going on and off when I had someone turn on and off that switch.
         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Ok, so I just hooked up an extra closet light fixture to the wires and it all works! Three of the four non-working switches worked when I used red to black. The remaining switch worked when I connected black to black. So the wiring is definitely right for a fan. In looking at how sturdy the existing box looks, it's not bad. I just didn't know if it's appropriate for sure. The problem is that if I don't want to use it, I don't want to make that hole any bigger to find out one way or the other. You'd think the builder would have put the right type of box on, though, with the way the wires are run.
         
        Posts: 36 | Registered: Feb 08, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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