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Question DetailsAsked on 5/28/2015

The recessed lights on high ceiling doesn't light on at all. Whom should I call for help? Electrician or a handyman

just bought a house and trying to find all those light switches. noticed some switches don't do anything.
I wonder who can tell me those switches for. The whole section of recessed lights on high ceiling doesn't even light on.
Could it be wiring problem or just light bulbs needs to be replaced? Can't ask a previous owner since he's deceased.

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1 Answer


I would first check inside the breaker panel door or nearby, for a possible listing or sketch of what circuit or maybe even a sketch of what each breaker/switch does. You can also start a sketch yourself, separate page for each floor - turning off one breaker at a time and seeing (with a test light or night light or outlet tester and the light switches) what goes off when the breaker is off, sketching which circuit powers each outlet and light and such.

220V double breakers of course usually power (through the funny-looking angled or funny shaped three-pronged heavier duty outlets) electric range and other high-amperage kitchen appliances like in-wall oven or stovetop, electric clothes dryer, high-amperage garage power tool outlets, electric water heater, electric furnace, hot tub, electric sauna, pool heater, sometimes also as master shutoff for detached building like inlaw apartment or garage.

As you make your map, pretty soon it will be obvious (especially if you have one lamp on from an outlet in each room) which devices/outlets (indoor and outdoor) you do not have a circuit breaker or switch match for. Good time to test each outlet with a $10-20 outlet plug-in tester too, to look for bad outlet wiring that the electrician could fix if you need him to come to fix the recessed light circuit.

If an older house and rarely newer houses wired for high electric entertainment demand, remember top and bottom plug locations in a single outlet can be on two different circuits if wired that way, so check both plug locations on each outlets to be sure on same breaker.

Also check if any breakers are off, though I would be cautious about turning tripped breakers on - certainly do not "hold" it on so it can't trip back off if needed due to a flaw, and pay attention for any flickering or dimming lights or burning smells whichh could indicate it was off for a good reason, for at least an hour after turning one back on.

Ceiling light problem could be burned out bulbs that were not changed, or could be bad wiring or switch, or could be wrong type or too hot a bulb was put in there so they all burned out quickly so were not replaced or used again. Because you do not know which, probably best to get an electrician in to check it out because he can then test each fixture and see what is what. My guess - if whole bank is out, probably not all burned out, but could be they are and he just never bothered to get them replaced, presuming he was likely not able to do it himself.

Of course, if you can reach the bulbs, try taking one out and putting a known good bulb in - probably new one if a fancy type pin arrangement, but if regular Edison screw base type try just a regular existing known good bulb with same base type - just don't leave it in there because in a recessed fixture could burn up the bulb or overheat the fixture if wrong type or too high a wattage for fixture.

If calling electrician for this, and you don't have a ladder (and can't borrow one from a neighbor) that can reach there, let electrician know height the fixtures are so he brings appropriate ladder. If using extension ladder against wall, put a couple pairs tube socks over the top end to prevent marring the wall, even if it has rollers.

Common "mystery switches", which may or may not be near the thing they control - in stream-of-thought order:

1) sump pump for basement drainage system

2) outdoor wet well sump pump for french drain system

3) well water pump and system

4) basement septic grinder/lift pump, or leach field/septic tank lift pump

5) furnace (usually 220V double breaker if electric furnace)

6) air conditioner (usually 220V double breaker)

8) yard/walk/landscape lighting

9) porch or patio floodlights/spotlights

10) security system and/or its cameras/infrared lights

11) pool, hot tub, etc outside power - master switch or individual function/lighting controls

12) outdoor /patio kitchen master power shutoff

13) electric/hybrid car charging outlet

14) winter car block heater outlet

15) garbage disposal

16) whole house fan

17) attic exhaust fan

18) high-powered permanently wired mosquito or bug zapper

19) intercom system (in-house or to remote gate or door entry system)

20) doorbell transformer circuit (sometimes)

21) built-in full-house vacuum system

22) Central Air electronic filter or ultraviolet light power

23) outdoor convenience outlets

24) electric fence

25) electric gate

26) in-slab or under-slab heating - drive or walk or steps

27) electric in-floor heating

28) under-sink electric powered water purification unit

29) water softener or water treatment system

30) electrically-controlled irrigation system

31) pool lighting

32) septic tank sensor/alarm system

33) dishwasher

34) roof/gutter thaw cables

35) under-sink instant hot water system

36) hot water heater

37) bathroom infrared heating or electric baseboard heaters

38) household electric baseboard heater circuit

39) garage door opener (sometimes)

40) whole-house controller system - low voltage or wireless

41) computer center power (router, ethernet network, etc)

42) phone / wireless / router booster unit power (usually in more remote areas)

43) whole house humidifier / dehumidifier

44) whole-house electrostatic or similar air purifier, allergy control system, etc

45) low-voltage lighting, powering the low-voltage transformera

46) electric start or controlled fireplace or insert or wood/pellet stove or such

Undoubtedly I have missed a bunch, maybe some other contributors will hop in with more. This would make a great coffee break game amongst retired contractor types - "how many ways can you ..." or "how many things can a switch ..." or "how many different types of circuit can you put in a breaker box ..."; or as a test questions for contractor exam prep course or electrician apprentice school - my students always LOVED it when I popped that sort of quiz question on them on them.

One other alternative - if house was sold by a family member acting as executor or such, you or your Realtor might be able to send a note asking where switches are for certain items or what certain switches control, if that person might have been a childhood resident or a frequent visitor to the house.

Answered 5 years ago by LCD

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