Most of us DIYers have been there. We have a light switch in one location, and an outlet with a lamp or a light fixture attached to a different location not controlled by the switch, but we want that light switch to control the light. What are we to do? For us, we ran into this situation during our kitchen shelf build. But we've been there and done that and we knew what we had to do to make our setup work the way we wanted it to.

For our shelf project we had installed recessed lights under the lower shelf, and we had an outlet available to plug the lights in, but we had a few problems facing us before it operated the way we wanted it to.


Our challenges were:

  1. Placing the whole house audio controller in the present junction box wouldn't work. The audio control is too wide and was forced too far to the right, which meant the outlet cover plate wouldn't fit over both the audio control and the outlet.
  2. We wanted the outlet to stay as low profile as possible, so using a plugin remote to control the lights wouldn't work, or always plugging unplugging them wasn't an option
  3. We wanted these lights to be controlled by the same switch that controls the rest of the kitchen's under cabinet lights, not with a separate switch that was somehow stuck on the wall or added near any other switch.

The solution to these three somewhat difficult problems? A quick swap and a purchase.

As you may be aware, we have an extensive collection of home automation items throughout the house, and this is where we started to solve issue #2 and #3. I went to the Smarthome.com website and ordered one of their Insteon OutletLinc dimmers. The switch we wanted to control these lights is already an X10 switch, so that means we already had half of the difficulty solved (the remote side of the equation).

These outlets look like pretty standard duplex receptacles with one that is always on (lower), and the second controlled by an Insteon remote (like the light switch, or button on the front of the switch). As the corny plastic cover on the front of the device says..."Welcome to the future." (Yeah, the nerd in me even thinks a tagline like that is super cheesy.)

Issue #1 was also somewhat easily resolved, but it involved a little work. I needed to swap out the adjustable single gang junction box (blue one) and the single gang low voltage frame (orange piece), for a double gang box. This would allow the new outlet and the audio control to live side by side in harmony, and would allow a outlet cover to fit properly.

To start this, I just had to remove the old outlet and audio control (after first turning off the breaker, of course).

Let me first say, the Internet and blog land is overly full of "this is how you change an outlet" posts. There are videos, how to guides, articles, posts with 42 photos that outline "this is how you unscrew a screw", and horror stories of "outlet installs gone wrong." Bottom line, people are often overly scared about electricity, but it's not hard and anyone can do it. You just need to be cautious, respect what you're dealing with, turn off the circuit breaker, test the line often to be sure it has no power, and be patient and thorough. 

All of that being said, what I'm talking about isn't a simple "how to change an outlet" posts. Rather, this is a how to switch a junction box and install a Smarthome switched outlet post, which is a bit different. What I'm really trying to say is, "please don't judge."

After removing the old outlet, I snipped the curls off of the wires to give less of a barrier to removing the junction box. Otherwise the curls on the wires would have caught the box on the way out, resulting in me swearing and cursing the project.

This junction box is one of the ones I really like to use on projects (and one we installed during our kitchen disaster renovation). It mounts with a metal plate on the side, and allows you to adjust its depth by turning the screw on the side of the box. The added benefit of this is if you adjust it all of the way forward, it unseats from the collar that's fixed in place and you can swap it out with another size junction box of the same style without pulling nails or tearing up your wall. How great is that?

I know some contractors that like to use remodel junction boxes throughout, even in new construction, to allow for easy future removal if needed, but with this type of junction box, it's even easier.

After removing the old junction box, I also slid out the orange low voltage box. I would have liked to have kept it configured the way it was, but the size just wouldn't allow it. The whole reason one would typically use one of these orange pseudo boxes is to ensure the line voltage (outlet), and low voltage (audio control) stay in separate areas. You don't want to end up in a situation where your line voltage items ever turn your low voltage items into line voltage items. This is a fire hazard and can also lead to a lot of damage through electrical components in your house. In the words of The Offspring, "You gotta keep 'em separated."

Installing the dual gang junction box was as easy as feeding the old wires through the knockouts...

...And sliding the new box into the old metal mounting collar and adjusting the depth all of the way back.

Once the wires were all in place, installing the outlet was rather simple. Unlike normal outlets, this Smarthome outlet doesn't require you to loop the wires over posts, but rather, twist on wire nuts to a few pigtails that come out of the back of the outlet.

When I twist on wire nuts I always like to cover their base on down to the wire with electrical tape. It just adds one extra barrier that would keep a ground wire or other item from entering the back of the wire nut and causing a short. Every time you turn a light on or off, or power goes to an outlet, the wire moves just a little bit, so it's always good to cover all of your bases in case one happens to escape its intended location. 

A final item to once again establish the separation between the line and low voltage items in the single junction box is to use this orange divider that is made for the box. The junction box allows you to slide the divider between the two items and prevent any issues if one of the line voltage items was somehow to come loose and in contact with the low voltage.

I popped on the outlet cover plate and called the project "done." It looks good, fits nicely, and all three of the issues I covered have been resolved. 

With everything installed I set up the outlet to respond to the under cabinet switch being turned on or off. Following the instructions that come with the outlet, setting the outlet is quite easy. You just hold the button on the front until the light on the outlet begins to flash, then send the code of the item you want the outlet to respond too. Now, when we enter the kitchen it may look like this...

...But a quick flick of the switch has it looking like this.

Now I can't say we are 100% done with the shelves. Wendy obviously needs to come in and work her magic with "styling" them. But at this point they are fully functional and ready for her handiwork. I still need to build a little box or something to conceal the power transformer for the lights. I would have liked to have built the transformer right into the shelf, but it is just a little bit too large for that. Oh well.

Do you have a switch, outlet, or other place in your house that might benefit from one of these devices? This sort of technology, though a novelty right now, will ultimately be standard in just a few years. Once it is, a world of possibilities in controlling your home will open.

Comments 4

Comments

kim
10/11/2012 at 7:50 PM
I think this could come in handy. I will have to show my husband, since he handles the electrical updates. My question is where is the switch, that little oval on the outlet itself or somewhere else?
Alex
10/12/2012
The switch is actually anywhere in your house that has electricity. The switch acts like a remote, and the outlet a receiver for the remote. The signal travels along the neutral wire in the house and triggers the outlet to turn on or off. It's a very cool system.

In our case, the switch is about 4 feet to the left of the "wine bar" right at the entrance to the kitchen.
bfish
10/11/2012 at 7:51 PM
But of course this is useful!! Living in an old home there is very little that doesn't have to be rewired/require new circuits so I can definitely see some uses for this.

Now I'm rationalizing -- since we've already waited 25 years to do anything to our 1950s kitchen in a 1920s house (and may have to wait a few more years, but hope not!) we SHOULD be able to anticipate needs and design the electrical service to the completely-done-over room to accommodate all lighting and other power-requiring contingencies, but one can never be certain . . . .
Alex
10/12/2012
Well, the best part about using Insteon for lighting control is the fact you can do it a small amount at a time. It's not a major investment to get up and running. You get to just add single switches, controls, and outlets as you need it. When you actually redo electrical, you can do things that are more in line with the plan. We usually put all of our actual switches in a closet or in another room, then we just have a single wall control that controls all of those other switches.
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