Switch to control an outlet replacement confusion

I’m replacing a switch that controls an outlet with a lamp plugged in. I want to do it myself (I’ve replaced a dozen light switches but not an outlet switch).

I’m confused. The current switch has a white and black wire in it. That’s it. In the box there’s a separate white and red cord bundled together but not connected to anything in the box. There’s also a secondary unrelated switch for another room next to the “outlet switch”. How do I get the zwave switch working? It’s a linear ws15z on off with a neutral. I’ve connected the neutral and line but the outlet doesn’t get power. The switch does. I obviously dot want to experiment so I hope someone can enlighten me as to what’s happening in the box, there’s no load so I’m a bit confused. Also I’ve never seen a red wire before in any box.

Edit: http://i.imgur.com/v7w69X9.jpg

That’s a photo of the box and switches.

I’m totally guessing that the switch next to your “outlet” switch is a 3 way switch. Ignore it it except that it might have a neutral you need. And if it’s a three way that is a clue as to what the red wires are…

I’m totally guessing that with only two wires going to your “outlet” switch, one is “line” and one is “load”. That means in theory you don’t have a neutral that you need except maybe in that “bundle”.

I’m totally guessing the white bundle to the side is a neutral bundle, but I’m not there with my voltmeter.

You are messing with electricity, so in addition to getting zapped you can smoke a switch. So either get a voltmeter and test, get someone’s help including a pro, or guess and assume consequences anywhere from nothing to dangerous.

the two leads on the old switch are not neutral and line. that’s the line coming from and going back to the outlet. you’ll want to pull the outlet out of the box and identify which is the line and the other will be your load. The neutral should probably be the other white bundle in the box, but test it with a test light first to make sure.

in your scenario the red wire pictured is white, but routing should be similar

I added a link to a photo. The switch on the right is a 3 way switch. I only mention it because of the nuetral I may or may not need (as you said as well). This 3 way was added after the house was built but none of the original 3 ways in the house use a traveler wire. It’s also bundled in the back so what’s the relevance of the three way to the red? Anyway the pic may add clarity but thanks for the response and word of caution. I’m trying to understand it to know if I need to call a pro or if it’s doable. Thanks.

Can you carefully get one more pic looking a little more up into the box?

Please remember that we are still all guessing here, and we may not be able to definitively get you answers.

BTW, I really don’t like the red and white tied together at all…


Pic is up, what’s the potential problem with the red and white?

Red usually is a traveller, white is usually a neutral. I’m not an electrician, so I’m sure there is some exception I’m not aware of…

I’m not sure what you have there, I still believe the white and black on the left are line and load (outlet is a load), and the stuff on the right is all dedicated to the three way.

There is a potential that the red and white are neutral, but now I really can’t tell without hooking up a meter…

Wish I could help more.

That’s alright the wiring in this house is up to code technically but was called “lazy” before. I’ll figure it out one way or another. Thanks anyway.

Can you post a picture of the wiring for receptacle this switch is controlling? Pull the receptacle out so we can see the wires in it and colors.

Is the receptacle its controlling a half hot? Meaning one of the plugs is switched while the other is always on?

Maybe I can help, I wouldn’t worry about the three way switch, electricians wire 3 way switches in many different ways. I am pretty sure they made the white hot and tied it to the red in the 3 wire which would be the point wire on the dead end switch. Also the single pole switch on the left is just a 2 wire switch leg which is just a line and a load. If i am correct then you don’t have a neutral in the box.

I hope this helps you understand the wiring, maybe someone with more zwave device knowledge could figure out a work around for your device problem.

Thank You,

John McKay
McKay’s Electric Llc.

This is not the first time this topic has been raised in the forums. Basically when you have an outlet controlled by a switch and the power comes to the outlet, you will have only 2 wires + ground coming to the switch and no neutral (just like @jmckay12 explained above). I have been tinkering with one of those for a while and the only solution I have found is to buy a z-wave switch that doesn’t require a neutral. The Leviton VRS05-1LZ and VRS15-1LZ Vizia RF vizia RF don’t require a neutral connection, at least when wired as single pole switches. I am getting one this week and will set it up next week end and can let you know how it works. But from what I have read in the forums, it should work. One last thing - because I have also read that in the forums - some people may tell you “simply connect the z-wave switch to the neutral bundle you will find in the back of the box”; from experience, that works only when you have a single source. But I’m not an electrician - so please check with a professional. When it comes to wiring, I will echo one of @JDRoberts comments: a lot of people think they know when they really don’t. You just need to admit and recognize when you are over your head and call for help. And I mean no disrespect here.

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There are least eight different ways to wire a three-way that is not networked. Some of these will work with zwave, some will not. Sometimes it depends on the specific brand of switch that you’re using. So sometimes when you replace a nonnetworked switch/receptacle with a networked one you actually have to change the way the wiring runs.

Wire Colors

In the US, wire colors are not mandated by code. People can and do use anything. Sometimes they just grab the last piece of wire in the box before they go home at the end of the day. You can also tape wire which means putting like a little piece of black tape on one end of the white wire. And it’s not necessarily the end that you’re looking at.

So you can’t go just by colors. Or find a diagram on the Internet and copy that.
Even if it looks exactly the same as yours, the current may be flowing differently.

Step one of every wiring project

The first thing, no matter what you’re doing, is to take before photographs of everything, including the screws where the wires connect. Label each wire so you can figure out again later which was which. We all think we’re going to remember what it was like, and we never do. So photograph and label.

Step two of every wiring project

The next thing is to test every segment of every connection so that you know exactly what it is currently doing. (Pun intended)

If you don’t know how to do that, or you don’t know what tools will do that, stop. Seriously. Don’t go any further. Either bring in someone who does know, or go take a class.

Remember your mission

If you live near a Home Depot, many have classes in how to install a light switch, and that’s a really good place to start even if they’re not working with networked switches. You’ll learn a lot about how to look at what’s there and figure out what it’s doing. And how To work safely around home wiring.

Trial and error is a very bad idea with home wiring. Because you can literally burn down your house. Or kill somebody two rooms over. Again, nobody thinks they’ll do this. But it happens.

Remember that your goal is not to turn on this particular switch. Your goal is to turn on this particular switch while maintaining the fire safety and electrical safety of your whole house wiring. That’s a very different project.

I’m all in favor of people learning more about networks, and how network devices can be used in the home. I’m just also in favor of learning it in a safe environment. :sunglasses:


You just need to admit and recognize when you are over your head and call for help.

Yeah I appreciate all the caution and advice and I think I might have to call a pro to do this. I’m dissapointed because I’d like it to be as easy as just disconnecting and reconnecting wires but it seems it’s not usually that simple.

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I’d opt for one of the non-neutral required z-wave switches, since there really isn’t a neutral there for you to use. -Tying into the neutral for the 3way switch next to it may work, but not the ideal way to go about it.