How To Look At A House

McGarry and Madsen's home inspection blog for buyers of  

site-built, mobile/manufactured and modular homes

Why does the bedroom have a light switch but there is no light in the ceiling?

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

All habitable rooms of a home are required to have switched lighting near the entry door. You need to be able to turn on a light when you enter a dark room to avoid a fall or bumping into furniture. But the building code allows that the switch can be connected to a wall receptacle that a lamp can be plugged into for the necessary light. It used to be common for builders to have switched receptacles in bedrooms, but is rarely done nowadays. A switched wall receptacle might also be used for the required interior lighting at the front door into a living room. There is, however, one exception: kitchens and bathrooms must have installed lighting.  

   So it is likely that the switch is connected to a wall receptacle in the bedroom. It is usually connected to just the top half of a duplex receptacle. We suggest that you put the switch in the off (down) position and plug a corded light into every receptacle in the room until you find one that is dead. Then turn the switch on to confirm it’s the one.

   If no receptacle in the room is dead with the switch in the off position, try throwing the switch to the on position and testing all the receptacles again. It could be that the switch was installed upside-down. If you still have no luck, then the required switched lighting for the room is missing.

   There are also two complications that can arise in remodeled older homes regarding switched bedroom lighting:

1) If the bedroom has a switched wall receptacle and wiring was run for a ceiling fan with a light kit on a separate circuit as a later update, it may appear that the switch is not functional. Check to see if the switch goes to a wall receptacle. It is likely that the circuit for the ceiling fan is always live and it is simply controlled by the pull chains or a hand-held remote.

2) If there is only one wall switch and it controls a ceiling fan, but the fan does not have a light kit, then the required switched lighting for the room has been removed. A light kit needs to be added to the fan, or the fan replaced with a ceiling light.

    For more details, go to our blog post Which rooms in a house require switched lights per code? Also, see our blog post How can I figure out what a mystery wall switch does?

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  To learn more about electrical wiring, devices, and receptacles, see these other blog posts:

 • What is the difference between what trips a GFCI (ground fault) receptacle and a circuit breaker?

What is the code requirement for GFCI protection for receptacles near a wet bar sink? 

What is the requirement for a service receptacle outlet for heating, air conditioning, and refrigeration (HACR) equipment? 

Why is an opening in the wall around the side of an electrical receptacle outlet a safety defect?  

When was GFCI-protection for kitchen dishwasher receptacle outlet first required? 

What is allowable voltage range at a wall receptacle outlet in a house?

When should I replace electric receptacle outlets? 

Does an electric receptacle outlet in a storage shed require GFCI protection? 

What are "self-contained" electrical receptacle outlets and switches?

What is the difference between an electrical receptacle, an outlet, and a plug?

Does a washing machine receptacle outlet require GFCI protection?

What is the building code requirement for receptacle outlets at stairs and stair landings?

Can I remove a 240-volt range receptacle and hard-wire the range? 

What is a "backstab" receptacle outlet? 

Why are some electric receptacle outlets upside down (ground slot up) in a house?   

What is the height requirement for an electric receptacle outlet? 

Where are GFCI receptacle outlets required?

When were GFCI receptacle outlets first required?

Why does painting an electric receptacle (outlet) make it unsafe?

Why are electrical outlets and plugs polarized? 

How many electrical receptacles (outlets) are required in a hallway?  

What problems does having too many electric receptacle outlets on a single circuit cause? 

Is a house required to have outdoor electric receptacle outlets?

How I can tell if a receptacle outlet is tamper resistant?

Why is there a GFCI breaker in the electric panel for the bathroom shower light and exhaust fan?

What is a false ground, bootleg ground, or cheated ground receptacle? 

   Visit our ELECTRICAL page for other related blog posts on this subject, or go to the INDEX for a complete listing of all our articles.

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