Straight Dope Electrical HELLLLP!!!!

Hi, I’m hoping someone can help me with my home electrical wiring issue. I’ve taken down an old ceiling fan and put up a new dual LED ceiling light fixture. But I can’t get it to work right… I’m a network engineer not an electrical engineer damn it! :stuck_out_tongue:

The full question/situation can be viewed in this image. I did it this way so that everyone can see it with minimal issues.

Please let me know if you have any suggestions that might help. Much appreciation in advance!!!

OK, TLDR (at least, not the whole thing), but I can tell you right off why the illuminated switch isn’t working. Those switches rely on a small amount of current passing through the lamp when the switch is in the off position. Your LED lamps present too high a resistance (or a very non-linear one) to illuminate the indicator.

I can live with the illuminated switch not illuminating. Not ideal but I understand the issue with that.

However… I would like both LED ceiling lights in the single ceiling light fixture to come on when I turn on the wall switch, and for both to turn OFF when I turn off the wall switch. So far I haven’t been able to get it to do this.

To be more clear: I have never been able to get the lights on the new ceiling light to work with the wall switch. Depending on how I connect the wires above, I can even get both of the two LED ceiling lights ON at the same time, but it is NOT controlled by the wall switch. It is just always on. When I take these LED lamp wires and connect them to the OTHER black/white pair in the ceiling box, which I assume has to be the pair controlled by the wall switch, the ceiling light NEVER lights regardless of what position the wall switch is in.

Some of your assumptions about the wiring are probably incorrect.

There are two ways to hook up a light switch. One is that you bring the circuit up from the branch feed to the switch, then switch the hot, and continue both the switched hot and the neutral up to the fixture. The second way is that you bring the hot and neutral up to the fixture, but then you take a pair of wires down to the switch. The incoming feed at the fixture is always hot, and is connected to one wire going down to the switch. The wire coming back from the switch is the switched hot. If you do this with typical white and black wires, you SHOULD wrap the end of the white wires with black electrical tape to indicate that it’s really being used as a hot wire and not a neutral. In practice, I almost never see the colored tape.

The second way is very common for fans since it results in less wire being used. You don’t have two separate feeds (one for the fan and one for the light). You just have one feed and the wire necessary to go down to the switch.

Your LED transformers should be connected in parallel (black to black, white to white). You shouldn’t have them on two separate feeds like your picture shows. You need to figure out how your wiring is connected, and without the proper tools I don’t know how you are going to figure that out except for random guessing, and that’s a good way to burn your house down. If you don’t want to spring for an electrician, at the very least go down to ye ol local hardware store and buy yourself a cheap voltmeter. At this point though, I’d really recommend an electrician. You seem to be in way over your head.

Well, your diagram is a bit confusing, but here’s my simplistic take on the problem:

You need to determine what wire is “hot” when the switch is on. There should only be one (assuming that the wall switch is a SPST (standard) switch. Use a voltage tester to determine this wire. Test from HOT (black) to ground - not to Neutral (white). The reason for this is: wires can be mis-colored.

Make sure that the switch actually breaks the circuit when it is operated. Then, sort out any white wires - make sure that they are all unswitched, and connected to neutral (electrically the same as ground). You can turn off the breaker and use an ohmmeter to verify this.

Once you have your hot/neutral pair, connect both LED power supplies to those wires (in parallel).

Leaving the ground out of it, there are two pairs of wires.
One is always on since we know the old fan didn’t rely on the wall switch.
You need to wire the LED lights to the other pair in parallel so that the switch toggles them.

This may be a good day to run to Radio Shack or Home Depot for a multimeter.
It is, of course, very important to securely cap off the remaining hot wire once you get everything put back together.

ETA: What they said!

This was my assumption too, and I have done this many times. When I do it this way (even if I only use a single LED transformer instead of both in parallel) no light ever comes on regardless of what position the wall switch is in.

Like I told others, I understand the part about the illuminated light switch not illuminating and that is OK. I can live with that. I just want the LED ceiling lights to come on when I turn on the wall switch, and so far I can only get the LED lights to come on if I connect them to the HOT that is NOT controlled by the wall switch (i.e. always on, I am assuming it was for the fan motor previously)

I will probably take everyone’s advise about the voltmeter.

Don’t use the LED fixture for troubleshooting. Use a DVM to figure out which wire is hot all the time, and which is controlled by the switch. You also need to verify that the hot is actually being switched, and not the neutral.

This is very likely the situation you have*. You’re connecting one LED to the line that just runs to the switch and back, so of course it never has power. The other isn’t connected to the switch at all, so of course it never turns off. Get a voltmeter and verify that.

ETA: * so in the left-hand picture, the middle and right black wires are two ends of the same wire. The middle and right white wires are two ends of the same wire. The left black and white wires bring in the electricity.

Zen and CompGeek:

I agree that you both are probably right and I’m about to go out and get a voltage tester now.

Just before I go I wanted to say that, given what you have said I’m having a bit of trouble visualizing exactly what wire would be connected to what in the final configuration.

Assuming your guess is correct:

A) Would all four wires (coming from the ceiling box, two white, two black) be connected to SOMETHING or will one or more of them be “orphaned”?

B) Will any of the four ceiling box wires ever be directly connected to the opposite color? (white to black or vise versa)

Figure out which white and black pair in the ceiling fan junction box connect to the light switch (W2 and B2). The other pair will have the incoming hot and neutral (B1 and W1). Mark W2 with a piece of electrical tape. Connect B1 to one of the switch wires*. Connect your LED lights to the other switch wire and to W1.

  • I think either is allowed here.
    ETA: Do you really only have a single ground wire in the junction box, and also have a ground wire in the switch box? There seems to be either a missing or an extra ground wire in your diagram.

The black (hot) wire coming from the breaker to the ceiling will connect to the black wire coming from the switch. The white wire from the switch (which should actually be RED, which was why I mentioned that the colors can be misleading) will now be your switched HOT. This will connect to the black wire on your fixtures. The wire wires on your fixtures will connect to the white wire from the breaker box.

It would be a good idea to wrap some red tape (or use red marker) on the end of the white wire coming from the switch (on both ends), to reduce future confusion.

I drew this. I think it will help you.

Red marker doesn’t age very well. I’ve come across red marker on wires that I didn’t even realize was there until I took a very close look at it. Red tape would be better.

I said black tape because most folks have that, and places like Walmart only sell it in black. Red is better if you have it since it would be less confusing. Black and red are both allowed by the national electrical code (NEC).

And yes, put tape on both ends (at the switch and at the fixture). I ran out of space on my diagram I drew to mention the switch side of it.

Good point. And this method can cause all kinds of confusion.

The best approach is to use a DVM to understand how everything is wired. This will require some basic knowledge on electrical wiring, obviously. Looking at the OP’s diagram, I am guessing he has the knowhow to do it.

Thank you everyone: Crafter Man, Compgeek, Beowulf, Zenbeam, all of you helped a lot!

Final solution is as you suspected: CLICK HERE

My ceiling light is now glowing merrily… and I didn’t burn down my house!!!

Oh and thank you for going to all that extra effort with the diagram for me I appreciate it!!!

I think I shall now reward myself with beer and toast the fine gentlemen who helped out!!


You’ve got the right idea, but you are switching the neutral instead of the hot. What you have now works, but it’s a code violation. With the switch off, if there is a short between the hot and the fixture, then the fixture becomes hot and presents a safety hazard.