Converting a pull on light to a switch – Ask THE Handyman St Louis – Get It Done

In a back area of my unfinished basement, I have a pull-chain light, but it is so dark back there, I have a hard time finding the light and pull-chain. Can I add a switch for this light so when I walk into the room, I can turn on the light?

You sure can, and you will be so glad that you did. I’ve bumped my head, stumbled over things, and suggested this to customers so many times. Basically, what you are going to do is run a wire from the pull-chain light to the location where you want the switch. Besides drilling holes in the joists for the wire, the rest is just hooking up the wires.

Begin by turning off the power for the pull-chain circuit. The new wire you’re going to run will have to be run through holes drilled in each joist if the wire is going perpendicular to the joists. It is against code and dangerous to have the wire hanging loose. The holes can be any size, but a spade bit of at least ½” can be used.

Once the new wire is run from the pull-chain light over to the location where the switch will be, you’ll then need to bring it down to where you’re going to install the switch. Don’t cut the wire just yet. Using the “new-work” switch box, nail it to a stud just inside the door, or at the location you’ve chosen. Next, allowing for about a foot of extra wire cut the wire and run it through the slots and into the switch box.
Peel back the outer insulation of the romex wire so that you have at least 6” of the inner wires. You will see a coated black, coated white and a bare ground wire. Using the wire strippers, remove at least one inch of the black and white coatings to expose those bare wires. You’re then ready to attach these wires to the switch.

Most new switches will have a small slot where the wires can be pushed in, but if not, attach them to the two brass colored screws on the side (not the green one). In this particular case, it doesn’t matter which hole or screw the white and black are attached to. Push the wires into the box and then secure the switch and then the cover.
Now, go back to the pull-chain light. Loosen the screws on the light and gently pull it away from the junction box. You should see a white wire and a black wire attached to the back of the light. Leave the white wire in place, but disconnect the black wire. Take the black wire from the new wire that you’ve run, use a wire stripper to expose about one inch of copper on the light’s black wire, then take the two black wires and wrap them together, using pliers. Once they’re twisted together, secure them with a wire nut. (If you have aluminum wiring (silver color), you’ll need to use an anti-oxidant to cover the bare wires completely.)

No bare copper should then be seen. If there is, wrap it well with electrical tape. The white wire from the new wiring will then be attached to the other screw on the back of the pull-chain light, using the same techniques as you did with the black wire. Gently push the wires back into the junction box, then reinstall the pull-chain light.

When all is done, turn on the circuit breaker and test you’re light. If it doesn’t turn on, you may have to pull the pull-chain, but once it is on, you can remove the string as you won’t need it any longer.

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Light Inoperable – Get It Done – Ask THE St Louis Handyman

I have a lamp that no longer works. I’ve tried replacing the bulb but that doesn’t do it. Any suggestions?

Your lamp issue should be one you can fix, but first let’s start at the beginning. Make sure that the outlet the lamp is plugged into is working. Get another plug-in fixture or appliance and plug it into to the socket. If that fixture doesn’t work then you’ve got a bad plug.

If the outlet is working, take a light bulb that you know is good and try it in the lamp. It is very possible that you just have a batch of bad light bulbs. If it isn’t the outlet or bulb, then you’ve verified it is something in the lamp.

Assuming that the lamp has an incandescent light bulb, and not a halogen light bulb, the problem is likely the socket. Replacing the socket is usually an easy fix, but before you do, let’s try one more thing.

Unplug the lamp, then remove the bulb. Look into the socket where the bulb was, and at the bottom, in the center, you’ll see a small metal tab. This tab touches the base of the light bulb, but sometimes it gets smashed down too far and won’t make contact with the bulb. Using a screwdriver, bend the loose portion of the tab up slightly. Screw in the light bulb and see if it works. If not, you’ll have to replace the socket.

Again, be sure the lamp is unplugged. There is usually a decorative brass outer shell which will simply pull up and off of the socket and will expose the lamp wires. Using a screwdriver, loosen the screw where the wires are attached. The socket should then be free. Replace the new socket just like it was. It doesn’t matter which wire goes to which screw. Note: if you had a 3-way socket and bulb (low, medium, and high), you’ll have to replace it with a 3-way socket if you want to keep that function. If you only want the light to go on or off, then a 2-way socket is fine.

Once you’re done, plug in the lamp and enjoy the light (while you finish reading the Post-Dispatch)!

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