Open the switch box
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You can add a sconce above nearly any
light switch in about three hours.
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Photo 1: Test for power
With the power turned off at the
main electrical panel, unscrew the
switch and pull it out. Turn the power
back on and use a noncontact voltage
tester to locate the hot wire.
Is your bathroom dimly lit? Do you
have a hallway that could use
more light? Here's how to add a wall-mounted
light directly above a light
This project requires an understanding
of how a switch is wired and a few
basic tools. You'll need a noncontact
voltage detector, a wire-stripping
tool, a screwdriver and a
drywall saw. Then, with our instructions
and a few hours' work, you'll be
able to add a sconce to any room that
has an appropriate switch.
Not all electrical boxes with a light
switch in them contain the necessary
ground, hot and neutral conductors. To
find out, first shut off the power to the
switch at the main electrical panel.
Then remove the switch cover, and
hold the noncontact voltage detector
against the wires attached to the switch.
This is to ensure the power is off before
you remove the screws and pull the
switch from the box.
To locate the required neutral, look
for two or more white wires joined
with a wire connector. If the only white wire entering the box is connected to
the switch, then there's no neutral and
you can't power a sconce from this
box. If your switch wiring looks different
from what we show here and
you don't understand how it's connected,
put everything back together
and abandon the project or call a
There's one more important test you
must complete while the power is still
turned on. With the light switch
turned off, hold the noncontact voltage
detector against each of the wires
connected to the switch. Take note of
which wire causes the tester to light
up. This is the hot wire and the one
you'll connect to the “hot” side of the new double switch. If you're adding a
separate single switch, this is the wire
you'll use to power both switches. Now
turn off the power to the switch at the
main electrical panel. Back at the
switch box, test once again to make
sure the power is off and mark the hot
wire with a wrap of black electrical
Finally, complete a simple calculation
to see if the existing switch box is
large enough to accept more wires. For
more information, see “Crowded electrical boxes.”
After you've determined that the
existing switch box will work to power
the new light, it's time to shop for the
sconce and pick up the remodeling
box, cable and electrical connectors
you'll need. Choose the fixture first.
Then pick a rectangular or round
remodeling box that is small enough to
be covered by the light fixture canopy.
You'll need enough cable to reach from
the switch to the box plus about 3 ft.
Match the cable, either 14-2 or 12-2, to
the existing wire gauge. Fourteen-gauge
wire is as thick as a dime and 12-gauge
wire is as thick as a nickel.
Cut the hole and run the cable
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Photo 2: Cut the hole
Trace around the box. Then draw a
second line inside the first to indicate
the cutout. Cut notches for clamps and
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Photo 3: Remove the knockout
Punch out one of the knockouts in the top of the box with a screwdriver.
You'll push the cable through this hole.
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Photo 4: Push in the cable
Push the cable through the knockout
and up toward the hole. If you're lucky,
it'll come into sight. Otherwise, reach
through the hole to grab it.
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Photo 5: Mount the box
Strip the sheathing from about 12 in.
of cable. Push the wires through the
built-in wire clamp at the back of the box.
Make sure at least 1/4 in. of sheathing is
visible inside the box. Push the box into
the hole and tighten the clamp screws.
Locate the studs. Then hold the fixture
against the wall somewhere between
the studs to determine the best location
and lightly mark the top and bottom of
the canopy with a pencil. Center the
remodeling box on the marks and mark
the box cutout carefully, taking note of
notches needed for the clamps and
other protrusions. Cut out the hole
(Photo 2). Next, punch out one of the knockouts in the top of the switch box
and push the cable up to the hole
(Photos 3 and 4). Prepare the remodeling
box for mounting by stripping about
12 in. of sheathing from the cable and
pushing it into the box through one of
the cable entry points on the back.
Make sure at least 1/4 in. of sheathing
is visible inside the box. Leave some
slack cable inside the wall to allow
some leeway when you connect the
switch (Photo 5). Then fit the remodeling
box into the hole and tighten the
Figure A: Wiring Diagram
Use a double switch to power two different fixtures. The existing box must contain a neutral line that's not connected to the switch.
What If You Have To Go Fish?
We're showing how to run a cable
through the same stud space that
contains the switch. Positioning the
light in an adjacent stud space is more
difficult. For information on how to do
this, see “Fishing electrical wires
Connect the fixture and switch
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Photo 6: Install the fixture
Trim the black and white wires to 8 in.,
leaving the ground wire long. Strip the
ends of the wires. Connect white to white,
black to black and bare copper to bare
copper. Loop the bare copper wire clockwise
around the grounding screw on the
fixture strap before connecting
it to the fixture ground wire.
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Photo 7: Connect the switch
Strip the ends of the wires at the switch box. Connect the neutral white wires
with a wire connector. Connect the ground wires with a 6-in.-long pigtail wire
leading to the switch. Loop the black wires clockwise around the screws and tighten
Photo 6 and Figure A show how to connect
the light fixture. Start by mounting
the fixture strap to the box. Strip
the ends of the wires and connect
them to the fixture.
At the switch, cut the cable about
12 in. beyond the box. Strip 8 in. of
sheathing from the wires and push the
cable through the knockout, leaving
1/4 in. or more sheathing visible
inside the box. Trim the black and
white wires to the same length as the
wires they will connect to. Then strip
the ends of the wires. Connect the
white neutral wires with a wire connector.
Connect the wires as shown in
Figure A. Connect the hot wire to the
side of the double switch that has the
“jumper tab” between the terminals
(Photo 7). Complete the project by
mounting the light fixture, screwing
the switch to the box, and installing
the cover plate.