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electrical: lack of neutral wire at switch

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  • Dec 21st, 2022 1:08 pm
[OP]
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May 17, 2012
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electrical: lack of neutral wire at switch

I have a light fixture in our basement currently controlled by a simple on/off switch. i want to put a smart switch in it's place but there does not appear to be a neutral wire at the switch box.

the circuit is wired so that power from the panel goes through the light fixture first then on to the switch and back to the light

like this

Image

am i correct in assuming that all i would need to do is run a new wire with a neutral from the light fixture to the switch? there will (has to) be a neutral at the fixture, correct? i have not decided yet whether or not to call a pro, partly because this *is* something i could potentially DIY -- none of the wiring is hidden behind drywall all along the exposed ceiling. just trying to gain an understanding.

i know there are smart switches that work with 3 wires but they need dimmable bulbs. i want to control non-dimmables.
Last edited by esoxhntr on Dec 17th, 2022 8:04 pm, edited 3 times in total.
14 replies
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Nov 6, 2014
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I've seen in many newer breaker panels that neutral is bonded (tied/strapped) to ground. Your smart switch might work by putting the ground wire to the neutral post of the switch. Don't quote me on that as I have no insight on when your house was built or the breaker panel design. Not ideal and considering its not a gfci circuit the light switch "should work". Others can chime in and keep me honest.
[OP]
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May 17, 2012
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ontario
fordmaple wrote: I've seen in many newer breaker panels that neutral is bonded (tied/strapped) to ground. Your smart switch might work by putting the ground wire to the neutral post of the switch. Don't quote me on that as I have no insight on when your house was built or the breaker panel design. Not ideal and considering its not a gfci circuit the light switch "should work". Others can chime in and keep me honest.
everything i've read so far says don't do this usually in bold too. LOL house was built in late 80s but panel was upgraded some time after.
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Jun 8, 2004
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Oakville
esoxhntr wrote: I have a light fixture in our basement currently controlled by a simple on/off switch. i want to put a smart switch in it's place but there does not appear to be a neutral wire at the switch box.

the circuit is wired so that power from the panel goes to the light fixture first then on to the switch

like this (except the installer did not bother to put black tape on the white in switch box grr)

Image

am i correct in assuming that all i would need to do is run a new wire with a neutral from the light fixture to the switch? there will (has to) be a neutral at the fixture, correct? i have not decided yet whether or not to call a pro, partly because this *is* something i could potentially DIY -- none of the wiring is hidden behind drywall all along the exposed ceiling. just trying to gain an understanding.

i know there are smart switches that work with 3 wires but they need dimmable bulbs. i want to control non-dimmables.
yes, you could pull a new 14/3 Romex wire from the light box to the switch to replace the existing 14/2 Romex wire since the basement is unfinished.
[OP]
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May 17, 2012
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ontario
cba123 wrote: yes, you could pull a new 14/3 Romex wire from the light box to the switch to replace the existing 14/2 Romex wire since the basement is unfinished.
thanks, that makes sense. forgive stupid question; there *HAS* to be a neutral at the light box for me to tap, correct? as in, that light would not even work right now if there was no neutral there.
CANbike wrote: Buy a smart switch that doesn't require a neutral wire. Usually labelled "no neutral required".

i.e. Lutron Caseta Smart Lighting Switch
They are expensive and you need to use dimmable bulbs for these - I want to be able to use regular bulbs. They don't really 'turn off' the light, they dim it so that no light is emitted but enough power still flows through the circuit to power the wifi connection in the switch.
Newbie
May 9, 2017
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esoxhntr wrote: They are expensive and you need to use dimmable bulbs for these - I want to be able to use regular bulbs. They don't really 'turn off' the light, they dim it so that no light is emitted but enough power still flows through the circuit to power the wifi connection in the switch.
Then get one that works with regular bulbs.

i.e. GE CYNC Smart Light Switch On/Off Paddle Style, No Neutral Wire Required
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Apr 29, 2018
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It is easier to just get smart bulbs. The source had the bright ones on sale for like $4 recently. After being flashed to Tasmota, they work really well with HomeAssistant. Bought like a bunch of them 2 years ago, and just keep replacing them if they fail. So far only like 3 have failed so pretty good
Can't Stop. Won't Stop. Game Stop
[OP]
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May 17, 2012
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kramer1 wrote: It is easier to just get smart bulbs. The source had the bright ones on sale for like $4 recently. After being flashed to Tasmota, they work really well with HomeAssistant. Bought like a bunch of them 2 years ago, and just keep replacing them if they fail. So far only like 3 have failed so pretty good
maybe, but since everything is exposed in a partly finished basement, i was hoping it would not be much harder to do it right and wire the switch properly. the amount of 14/3 i would need is maybe 5ft, switch is close to the light. plus i was hoping to stick a 'dumb' 200 watt equivalent / 3000 lumen LED monster in there (this is a workspace in the basement)
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Jun 8, 2004
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esoxhntr wrote: thanks, that makes sense. forgive stupid question; there *HAS* to be a neutral at the light box for me to tap, correct? as in, that light would not even work right now if there was no neutral there.



They are expensive and you need to use dimmable bulbs for these - I want to be able to use regular bulbs. They don't really 'turn off' the light, they dim it so that no light is emitted but enough power still flows through the circuit to power the wifi connection in the switch.
yes, there has to be a neutral wire at the light.
[OP]
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I think I got it. When I replace the 14/2 between the light and switch with 14/3, the end result will look like below but the neutral (grey in this pic) will be connected to the smart switch, not capped as illustrated. i wish i saw this first. actually looks really simple since everything's out in the open. hope it helps someone in the future. if your switch is before your light or you have a 3 way switch this will look different obviously

Image
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Mar 25, 2005
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fordmaple wrote: I've seen in many newer breaker panels that neutral is bonded (tied/strapped) to ground. Your smart switch might work by putting the ground wire to the neutral post of the switch. Don't quote me on that as I have no insight on when your house was built or the breaker panel design. Not ideal and considering its not a gfci circuit the light switch "should work". Others can chime in and keep me honest.
Neutral and ground are bonded at the service disconnect ONLY. Subpanels and devices are seperate. So no, don't do this.
Deal Expert
Mar 25, 2005
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esoxhntr wrote: I think I got it. When I replace the 14/2 between the light and switch with 14/3, the end result will look like below but the neutral (grey in this pic) will be connected to the smart switch, not capped as illustrated. i wish i saw this first. actually looks really simple since everything's out in the open. hope it helps someone in the future. if your switch is before your light or you have a 3 way switch this will look different obviously

Image
This is correct! Provided you have room in the switch box for 14/3, this will work fine.
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Sep 4, 2005
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esoxhntr wrote: I think I got it. When I replace the 14/2 between the light and switch with 14/3, the end result will look like below but the neutral (grey in this pic) will be connected to the smart switch, not capped as illustrated. i wish i saw this first. actually looks really simple since everything's out in the open. hope it helps someone in the future. if your switch is before your light or you have a 3 way switch this will look different obviously

Image
This is the ideal solution you want to do.


Another solution, if easier, is to run a new source 14/2 to the light switch.

For example, if you have to open tons of drywall to get a new 14/3 from the light fixture to the switch. It may be easier to open and run a 14/2 from a receptacle on the wall up to that existing light switch. Now the source is at your light switch, instead of the light fixture. You've already got the existing 14/2 going from the light switch to the light fixture. Just make sure you disconnect and cap off the source wires on the light fixture side (or better yet if you can disconnect it off from wherever it was being fed from upstream).

Otherwise, as others have mentioned the other easy solution is to get a switch/bulb that doesn't require a neutral wire.
fordmaple wrote: I've seen in many newer breaker panels that neutral is bonded (tied/strapped) to ground. Your smart switch might work by putting the ground wire to the neutral post of the switch. Don't quote me on that as I have no insight on when your house was built or the breaker panel design. Not ideal and considering its not a gfci circuit the light switch "should work". Others can chime in and keep me honest.
Do not do this.
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Feb 25, 2015
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NB
Lutron Caseta works very well. Caseta switches are fine with non dimmable bulbs. You can add a wireless remote or motion sensor and not be limited to hardwired switch locations. E.g. a motion sensor could control outdoor / driveway lights - the car triggers exterior lights as you pull in. A motion sensor in a walk in closet is priceless.

The price difference between dimmable and non dimmable bulbs is negligible these days.
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