how can I get an existing light switch to control lamps?
August 9, 2016 11:42 AM   Subscribe

The light switch inside our bedroom corresponds to a wall sconce over our bed. My wife hates the lighting from it and would prefer lamps. What's the best way to get the switch to control plugged-in lamps?


not ugly (a socket-to-plug converter and an extension cord dangling from the wall sconce is right out)
doesn't require more than the simplest electrical work (I feel up to replacing the switch, but not running new wires)
robust (don't want a remote control with a battery that can fail)
simple (not interested in a smartphone app having anything to do with it and would rather avoid superfluous-to-this-task infrastructure like some home automation hub)

What searching I've done suggests that this combo of X-10 switch and lamp modules or this combo of Insteon switch and on/off modules should probably work.

But more than anything my searching showed me that there are a zillion different competing methods in this domain and I don't know enough to compare them, hence my being here asking you -- thanks.
posted by Zed to Technology (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have to involve the current wall switch? The simplest solution would be simply to mount something like this or this next to the existing switch and be done with it.

If you want anything more complex than that, I think you're looking at bringing in an electrician to rewire switch to control an outlet, instead.
posted by Karaage at 11:54 AM on August 9, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you know if the wall is insulated? If not, it would be trivial for an electrician (or a friend who knows this sort of stuff) to run a couple feet of cable from the switch down to a new outlet. You could verify this first by shutting off the power at the breaker, removing the switch plate and switch, and poking a long stick (or stiff wire) down from the switch to where the outlet would be to make sure there's no insulation or fireblocking that would block a cable.

An easy hole cut in the drywall, a new outlet and (old work) junction box, three or four feet of Romex, and you're good to go. You can find wiring plans anywhere.

If the wall is insulated or there is fireblocking it will make it more complex, but not impossible.

Standard disclaimer: Any electrical work should be performed by someone qualified to do so, the power should be shut off at the breaker AND the circuit checked before doing any work.
posted by bondcliff at 12:05 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

The right way to do this is to get an electrician to come in and wire up the outlet nearest your bed so that it's switched. You're probably looking at a few hundred bucks. I'm assuming that the wire for the outlet enters the room near where the wire for the sconce does, and that the electrician can just fish it out of the wall and put a switch in next to the switch for the sconce. This is pretty likely but not guaranteed.

Kraraage's option would also work, though obviously it's much more of a quick-and-dirty solution.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:20 PM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

As far as the X10 and Insteon things go, I'd agree that it looks like it should work, though you'll need to make sure that your existing switch has both hot and neutral wires going to it, otherwise it won't be able to get the power it needs to run. I'd tend to agree that it might be more worthwhile to hire an electrician to wire up a new switched outlet if you can, as a mechanical switch will almost certainly be more reliable than any remote, battery or no.
posted by Aleyn at 12:52 PM on August 9, 2016

What's the best way to get the switch to control plugged-in lamps?

Since your question specifically asks for the BEST way, the answer is: Hire an electrician and tell them what you want.

But here is my internet-answer: Install an outlet where the lamps can plug in. Wire the switch on the wall to control the outlets. But you have to know how to do this and all the nuances and steps involved. You have to understand wiring one outlet vs. both, etc. You have to understand that doing a poor job can cause fires. Etc...
posted by TinWhistle at 1:52 PM on August 9, 2016

I was gonna post a combo of bondcliff and aoanlat answers. The good news is you're more than 3/4 of the way there, you have to move the jawn a few feet. Interior wall? Bam, easy. If you can't do it yourself and you don't have a buddy you need a handyman, last course of action is an electrician. Those options are listed in ascending order of cost. DIY is like $25 or less, electrician is depends, under $200. Electricians get $175 to pull a line back to the panel around here, this is much, much much less work.
posted by fixedgear at 1:57 PM on August 9, 2016

In defense of fugly hanging cords, they're way less ugly if you tuck them into surface raceway (plastic or metallic. "Wiremold" is a sample trade name.) also, depending on your sconce, you might be able to replace the fixture with a recessed outlet (often used for clocks). But that probably all still sucks, so never mind.

I think either solution you list would work well. I haven't played with X-10 since late in the century before our own but I wasn't impressed. The Insteon stuff looks slick. I'm not sure how big the dimmer is. If your switch device box is small and/or the Insteon device is larger, you may want or need a Wiremold-type switch box extension. They come in a variety of depths and are paintable. Something like this.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:38 AM on August 12, 2016

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