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Wiring Basement Light Fixtures

By Dave Rongey - Summary:

Installing Basement Electrical Wiring for Lights and a Switch: I wired my basement so all the lights operate from one switch but the switch does not operate the lights and the lights just stay on. What did I do wrong?

Troubleshooting Basement Light Fixture Wiring

Electrical Question: I wired my basement so all the lights operate from one switch but the switch does not operate the lights and the lights just stay on. What did I do wrong?

  • I ran 12-2 Type-NM Cable which replaced the old wiring that was 14 AWG.
  • The breaker is 20 amp which was installed by the previous owner.
  • There is a 14-3 cable that comes from the breaker box into a junction box.
  • I have installed the wiring from the switch, and from the rest of the lights, and the three cables come into one junction box.
  • After I wired the lamp holders into place I turned the breaker back on.
  • The lights come on but the switch does not operate the lights, the lights just stay on. I have tried many different wiring combinations, some that caused a short circuit which tripped the breaker.
  • I have capped off the red wire that comes from the breaker box but maybe I should not have?
  • I am out of ideas and need some help. I am very interested in becoming an electrician apprentice, but this road block has zapped some of my enthusiasm because this seemed like a simple project.

Can you help?
Thank you.

This electrical wiring question came from: Jeff, from Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

Additional Comments: It is nice to have a place to come to for answers. Thank you for creating this resource.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical wiring question Jeff.

Installing Basement Wiring for Lights and a Switch

basement electric wiring

Application: Electrical Wiring for Basement Lights and a Switch.
Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced – Best installed by a Licensed Electrical Contractor.
Tools Required: Electricians Pouch of Hand Tools for Rough-In Wiring, Electric Drill and Auger Bits,  Extension Cords, and a Ladder as needed.
Estimated Time: Depends on the extent of the basement wiring project and available access to the project area.
Precaution: Any existing wiring in the immediate area that may interfere with the new wiring should be identified, turned OFF and Tagged.
Notice: Installing additional electrical wiring in the basement should always be done according to local and national electrical codes with a permit and be inspected.

How to Avoid Mistakes when Installing Basement Electrical Wiring

  • Wiring from a Junction Box
    • As described in this question, there is a 14/3 cable that comes from the panel to a junction box for this circuit and that it is on a 20 amp circuit breaker and this is incorrect.
    • The circuit should be 15 amp, not 20.
    • Because the existing circuit wiring is #14 gauge then the remainder of the circuit wiring should all be #14 gauge.
  • Installing The Right Wire Size
    • There is no benefit from increasing the circuit wire size.
    • In fact #12 AWG wire is harder to work with especially when installing switches that are rated for 15 amps.
  • Problems with Light Fixture Wiring
    • The size of the circuit wiring has nothing to do with this electrical problem, however the problem is with the wiring connections.
    • Please review the following information and wiring diagrams for switches:

NOTE: It is nice to hear that you are interested in becoming an electrician. Consider learning the principles of electricity, the fundamental methods of circuit wiring, and most of all the application of the National Electrical Code.

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Be Careful and Be Safe - Never Work on Energized Circuits!
Consult your Local Building Department about Permits and Inspections for all projects.

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