Instlaling a Switch to a Hard-Wired Light Fixture

ntl1991April 12, 2011


I'd light to install a switch for an overheat light in the 2nd bedroom on the 3rd floor of my 3-family. (I list it as a den when I rent the apartment, even though it's a legal bedroom due to the skylights.)

The main reason I want to change the fixture is because the ceiling is sloped, and it's getting harder and harder to find nice, modern fixtures with pull chains. 2nd is for the convenience factor...

I have no attic access to drop wires down the wall, and I'm not exactly clear on how to run the new wire for the switch loop.

I'll have a new 14-2 wire from the light fixture going down to the switch box. Because power is going to the light, I will be using 14-2 with the white wires taped black to signify they are hot.

How do I get access to the switch box from inside the stud cavity next to the door. (That's assuming there's no horizontal blocking in the stud cavity...) Where will I cut my access holes for the top plate? Will I need to chisel out a path for the wire to run through the top plate? Because there is no flat ceiling in this room, I should have access from the top plate right into the parallel roof rafters to get to the light fixture, right?

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We're kind of left to guess since your pictures don't even show the light fixture location. But, from what I can see, it looks like the fixture is located between two rafters. You will have to cut drywall to fish the cable up the wall into the rafter bay. If that rafter bay the light is in doesn't line up with the stud bay you are putting the switch into, plan on even more drywall cutting and rafter drilling. Structural integrity of the rafter needs to be respected. With no attic acces, there is no easy way.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 6:56PM
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Sorry about the pictures. I took them before my tenant moved in, so I wasn't able to get pictures of the specific location of the light.

So if the rafters don't line up, (which if they didn't I'd be looking at getting more toward the left of the doorway in the pictures), I'd have to open up the wall enough to get over into the stud cavity that lines up with the rafter and then work up from there through the top plates and into the rafter, and then get to the fixture.

When I converted from Steam heat to Hot Water Baseboard, I had my electrician install a ceiling fan at the top of the cathedral ceilings in the living room to push the warm air back down in the winter. I did the patch work when he was done, and it seemed like access was easy enough. He tapped into the power from the sconces around the doorway, sent separate wires for the fan motor and light, added a dual control fan dimmer switch.

In the bedroom, the fixture is only about a foot away from the wall, so I don't think there will be much hassle getting the wire to the fixture after I get it up through the top plates. When my tenant moves out at the end of this month, the location of the fixture in the rafters, and my switch location will be something I need to investigate to get everything aligned.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 7:21PM
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Or you could look into X-10, Insteon, Z-wave, or UPB technology. They can provide remote control of a light without installing an additional electrical cable.

Here is a link that might be useful: Smarthome Home Automation

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 7:58PM
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Actually, since you've mentioned it, I have looked into wireless switch technologies a while back for a hallway light. I remember seeing light bulbs with wireless receivers which were signaled by standard looking wall-mounted switches which were wireless and used batteries. I remember the reviews were mostly poor, however... If, after looking things over, I can't figure the fishing of the wires, I might look into those wireless technologies. I'd be able to change the fixture (from a terrible 80's 3-bulb adjustable light), as well...

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 9:18PM
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I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but in most localities a homeowner is allowed to perform electrical work only on his own, owner-occupied home. If this is a rental, you'll have to hire a pro.

Using a pro is a good idea anyway, to help shield yourself from any liability should disaster occur, and be laid to the wiring. I'm speaking here as a property owner myself. (I'll admit that I've done very light electrical work on my rentals, such as direct replacement of receptacles, switches, and light fixtures.)

This fact kind of tends to tilt the playing field toward a wireless gadget that installs without wiring changes, if you can find one you're happy with.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2011 at 9:57PM
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There is no way to tell how the framing is installed to make a determination on fishing cable without opening the wall and looking.

At the very least you are likely to need access in the wall to drill the top plate and any blocking.

There are long flex bits that might be able to make it from the new switch box cutout, but going through both blocking and a top plate is liable to require opening the wall to ensure you are far enough form the face of the stud to not require a nailing plate for protection, or to install the plate.

If you also live in one of the units you might get some relief on being allowed to do work, but that will depend on local law.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 9:33AM
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I've got to go to the town hall this week, so I'll check with the city about doing the electrical. I do live in the 1st floor apartment.

The odd thing about the ceiling fan in the living room is that I only had to patch one hole... He cut a hole for the ceiling fan box to actually mount the fan and wire it, and the only other hole I had to patch was up on the wall above the switch... I would imagine he would've needed to drill holes through about 5 perpendicular rafters or so to get to the center of the room to the ceiling fan...

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 2:11PM
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If it were me, I'd go with a remote switch and skip the wiring all together. We have that in our bedroom, and it works fine. You can mount the remote to the wall near where you'd put the switch. That fan came set to be used without a hardwired switch. The wires are in place if we ever changed it. We do have a remote wired in (so it does not need batteries) where the switch would go, and a second one on the headboard.

We installed remotes for our two kitchen fans also - so we can turn the fan on and off without using the pulls as that gets cumbersome. These two did not come that way, but it was easy enough to put the controls in the motor housing. We still use the switches to control the lights. (the south is on a three way switch and the north is on a four way switch)

The big fan we have in the library came with a remote, but we wired it to a main of/on switch also. This one is kind of a pain becuase the switch controls the power, but the remote controls the dimmer and fan speeds.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 4:59PM
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"I would imagine he would've needed to drill holes through about 5 perpendicular rafters or so to get to the center of the room to the ceiling fan..."

It sounds like you had the joists for the ceiling (or rafters if the roof is immediately above the ceiling) running the 'correct' way you would only need the few holes you had.

One at the top of the wall for the holes in the top plate of the wall to access the joist /rafter space, one for the switch itself (that the box should fill) and one for the fan box (again the box fills the hole).

The wire is fished between the openings in a continuous run and no other holes are needed.

If you do not understand what the framing looks like you might consider hiring whomever did your last job.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2011 at 9:00PM
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Hello macybaby, thank you very much for the pictures and information. Do you know the manufacturer's name or model numbers for the devices you are using?

Also, brickeyee, with there being no ceiling in that room, just as with the living room, wouldn't the rafters in living room (and bedroom) look something like this? I'm not a framer, but I would imagine that they would be perpendicular to the direction you are pulling the wiring...

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 12:30AM
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Unless he found a magic way to run the cable it would appear that what you think is behind the ceiling is not correct.

Maybe the actual ceiling is on straps running perpendicular to the rafters, or even long 'purlins' to prevent roof loads from cracking the drywall.

Putting drywall directly on the underside of rafters often results in cracks from roof loading.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 9:18AM
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Aha! That might be the case here... I didn't think about the use of furring strips or purlins. I just remember being amazed at how quickly he installed the ceiling fan and with such little effort or damage!

Before I purchased the house, the 3rd floor's flat ceilings were removed and were converted to cathedral ceilings, and the six skylights were installed. I believe it was after a fire in the kitchen, as the vinyl siding doesn't quite match the rest of the house and new(newer, 1980's style) cabinets didn't match the rest of the house with it's original 1940's kitchens. I wouldn't be surprised if they furred out the rafters to install the drywall...

I might have a go with the stud finder, although I'm not sure if it will be sensitive enough to detect the furring strips behind the drywall... I'd imagine that bedroom would have the same treatment as the living room.


    Bookmark   April 14, 2011 at 10:56AM
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