3

Current Situation

My upstairs hallway gets rather dark as it has no windows. It is also at the top of a set of stairs, which too has no light source.

To ameliorate this, I have recently installed LED light fittings. I would like to remove the light switches to ensure that these lights remain on permanently, as,

  • LED lights,
    • have a tremendously long lifespan.
    • cost ≈£0 to run.
  • Stairs are among the most dangerous items in the home.

Currently, the switches that control these lights are as follows;

  • One normal switch downstairs
  • One normal switch upstairs
  • One funky switch in the middle

Questions

  • How do I wire the conductors to ensure permanent connection?
  • Is it legal to remove the light switches?
  • Would it be permissible to plaster over the disused back boxes?

Nota Bene

  • I am in England.
  • I have lots of spare,
    • Wago connectors
    • Back box blanking plates
    • Plasterboard
    • EasiFill
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  • 27
    Have you thought about simply using a switch guard (covering up the switch) to prevent accidental turning off?
    – ahulpke
    Jan 18 at 23:23
  • 11
    @ahulpke - i.etsystatic.com/16430664/r/il/c5612c/1818189096/… a 5p solution...
    – Valorum
    Jan 18 at 23:32
  • 25
    Have you considered motion sensors to replace the switches? Jan 19 at 6:00
  • 7
    replace the switches with key operated ones
    – jsotola
    Jan 19 at 7:37
  • 38
    It's your house, so you can leave the lights on if you want. But if I bought or rented it off you and found on the first night that you'd hardwired the light over the stairs (presumably right outside the bedroom door) the first thing I'd do, after cursing you, is take the bulb out. Which is trivially done and more risky than someone switching it off. So you really should go for keyswitches (with easily found keys) or switch guards and not some subtle solution. Plus you ought to turn the lights off when the LED drivers die, which they will if you leave them running 24/7
    – Chris H
    Jan 19 at 11:27

7 Answers 7

8

The power to the switches should be in a single drop from the main circuit that runs through the ceiling. That means you can simply short the permanent live in the rose & disconnect all the switches from the entire circuit in one go.

You have to be absolutely certain this is the case before you start. Rarely in the UK, mains power may go to the switch first. It's unusual but not impossible.

Note, in UK terminology you currently have two '2-way' switches and one 'intermediate' switch.

This is the standard way to wire lighting in the UK - using an image from LightWiring UK
Just to be clear, none of the switches in the original illustration are 2-way - I've roughly drawn a couple in, shown surrounded in a blue dotted line, just to indicate how they are all linked from one single drop, even if the switches are on different floors.

enter image description here

Using the diagram from http://www.lightwiring.co.uk/three-way-light-switching-old-cable-colours/attachment/intermediate-switch-wiring-diagram-old-colours/ as a guide… [sorry, I used the old colour Red/Black Green illustration rather than Brown/Blue/Green-yellow]

Detach all the wires to the first drop, marked with blue below. Safely cap with terminal block. Leave in-situ & label for future re-connection as
'Removed drop to switches in [locations]. CONNECT LAST'.
This leaves your entire switching circuit dead & disconnected. You can now remove all your other switches & cover the boxes. However, it would be very nice for future owners of the house if you safely terminate the wires & cables in each box & leave a note inside each explaining the situation & how to restore it. Labelling each wire with its terminal name would also win you support from a later reinstaller.

Loop the Live from the main feed into the normally switched Live down to the lamp itself.
Done.

enter image description here

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  • Be aware that while "loop at light" is probably the most common configuration seen in the UK it's certainly not the only one. Jan 19 at 20:47
  • 1
    Anecdotally, I solved a similar problem by putting light switches at the head & foot of every staircase, all wired to the same stair/hall lighting. That way you can switch on/off before & after every ascent or descent, if you wish. Whichever floor you're on, you can reach all the hallway lighting. One of the switches also includes a dimmer, so you're not stunned by an actinic glare in the middle of the night. Multiple occupancies usually use 'punch-switch' timers, so you can switch on from any floor & they go off automatically after 5 minutes. I didn't want those in a single-occupancy house.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 21 at 12:07
68

In increasing order of difficulty:

  1. Write "Leave On" on tape on the switches. What, really, are you worried about? This gives you 99.9% of the result for 0.1% of the effort.

    enter image description here

  2. Install switch covers.

    enter image description here

  3. Install key- or code- operated switches.

    enter image description here

  4. Do something James-Bondy like put in Smart Switches and code the hub to respond to their being turned off by flashing all the lights in the house, making a loud noise and turning them back on. Or put in biometric switches.

    enter image description here

  5. Remove the switches, bond the switched wires together with Wagos. Then install blank cover plates or cover with the disconnected switches, and your safety-oblivious noncompliant housemates can flip them all day long.

    enter image description here

  6. Jack hammer all the walls open, tear out all the cabling and junction boxes, re-wire the lights so they are not connected to switches, and redecorate. (The question mentions "lots" of wallboard, filler etc so I thought I'd address that with a solution.)

    enter image description here

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  • 4
    The thought of reinstalling the disconnected switches in option five mate me laugh :D Jan 19 at 13:32
  • I will be going with key switches as per option three. Good shout. Jan 19 at 13:33
  • 1
    @JamesGeddes you probably won't find 3- or 4- way key switches. Since you are willing to do some redecorating, you might be able to install one key switch in a new junction box in a way that, when on, bypasses all three existing switches but when off, allows control from the existing switches. So you can't lock a dark staircase, if someone comes along to the top or the bottom they can light it up. Depending on how it's wired you may need to run a new cable to make this work (if cable from power and cable to light are in different boxes).
    – jay613
    Jan 19 at 15:14
  • @jay613 You are correct, so I intend to replace the upstairs "normal" light switch with the key-switch, then WAGO & blanking plate everything else. Jan 20 at 12:31
  • 2
    @JamesGeddes my point in the last comment was that if you do it that way, and the key switch is locked in the off position, you have a dangerous situation where people using the stairs cannot light them up. Would be better if the lock in the off position could be bypassed by regular switches at least top and bottom of stairs.
    – jay613
    Jan 20 at 13:42
14

The LEDs themselves do have a long life, but their drivers to work them do not.

Do not know UK rules, but most electrical boxes must be accessible, no plaster or permanently mounted stuff in front of it. Blank solid face plates would be okay.

Switches would leaved wired as they are,since three switches probably a headache to rewire right.

Can use a safety cover to protect them from being accidentally turned off.

6
  • That's my point, I don't want someone to be able to turn them off at all; accidentally or otherwise. Turning these lights off is a health and safety hazard due to their proximity to the stairs. Only an Electrician should be able to turn them off. Jan 18 at 15:23
  • 41
    @JamesGeddes not being able to interrupt power to a circuit is also a health and safety hazard. Jan 19 at 11:31
  • 6
    @JamesGeddes Wait, but since there are switches at the top and bottom, isn't it just as easy to turn the lights back on if you find someone has switched them off? Something like tape or switch covers would make sense, if you really want these lights to stay on, but removing the light switches seems like it could do nothing but cause problems (e.g., need to change a lightbulb and don't want the power on, someone can't sleep because of all the light, no way to quickly turn them off if something bad happens, and so on). Jan 19 at 19:34
  • 1
    Additional option is to install something like a long mirror in front of the switch on a hinge that can be easily swung back but normally hides the switch Jan 20 at 11:29
  • 1
    @Kevin yes, we do. Typically all the lights in the house are on one breaker (sometimes 2) so if you turn off the breaker to change a bulb, you have no light to work by. Or have to fiddle with desk lamps
    – Chris H
    Jan 20 at 11:30
10

You can buy key-operated wall switches. I think they tend to be called 'fish key' operated, due to the shape of the flat metal key / operating implement. I have one installed on my LED lighting in an otherwise dark and forbidding corridor.

The lock is not a security level lock (though you can get these as well), it's just not possible to accidentally operate.

They are compatible with the existing wall boxes, neat, not expensive, possible to operate if you need to, and easily reversible back to standard switches should you come to change your lighting configuration or sell your property.

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  • 1
    They're ideal, and I've used them for a similar application in the past. Some are even changeover type so compatible with 2-way switching. And they're easy to revert when someone who sleeps with the bedroom door open moves into the house, otherwise I'd be taking the bulbs out.
    – Chris H
    Jan 19 at 11:23
7

With a lot less effort - get a nightlight. You need a socket handy, but anyway it's a little lamp you just plug into the socket and leave there. I won't post a link because they are very easy to find.

I have them all over, on staircases and in the cellar, the newer ones have motion sensors in so they are not on all the time. I see that some have the option of different colours or a disco-style light change... For kids they have them with smiley faces.

This has the advantage that you don't need to do any electrical work, and you can take them with you when you move house.

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  • The OP already has the light fixtures. The question isn't how to light the stairwell, but how to prevent the lit stairwell from becoming not lit.
    – chepner
    Jan 20 at 19:43
  • 1
    +1 we are in the same situation as OP. These or similar are stupidly easy to install, cost less than $0.50/yr to run continuously, and provide enough light to see where you're going in a dark hallway (but not so much they're a bother at night) Jan 20 at 22:02
5

Answers using US terminology, and there may be legal differences outside the US.

  • How do I wire the conductors to ensure permanent connection?

You have 2 3-way switches at the ends and a 4-way switch in the middle. While you could "combine everything", that would result in parallel connections, which is not allowed. So you need to pick one traveler in each segment and join those together.

In switches 1 and 3 (3-way), connect the common wire to one of the traveler wires with a wire nut or local equivalent. Cap the other traveler. Remove the switch and put a blank plate on the box.

In switch 2 (middle = 4-way), figure out which traveler is active to each of the other switches. Connect those two wires together. Cap the other two wires.

  • Is it legal to remove the light switches?

Yes, at least in the US. The requirement is to have light. That means you have appropriate switches to turn on/off, you have a motion detector to turn on/off automatically, or the lights are simply always on. The latter two options are extremely common in commercial settings, but they can be used in residential settings as well.

  • Would it be permissible to plaster over the disused back boxes?

No. The boxes still have wires in use, so you can't plaster over them or make them otherwise inaccessible (e.g., blocked by permanently installed cabinets). The only exception is if your circuit actually loops. That is, if the switched hot actually loops back to the first switch to power the lights then you could get rid of all the switches and connect hot to switched hot in the first box. But that is only one of a few different possible configurations. The solution I described will work for any configuration and allows the switched setup to be reconstituted later if desire.

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  • You really don't need to join up all the wiring a bit at a time, just clip it all out of the circuit in one go, from in the ceiling. The power's in the ceiling, not in the switches.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 18 at 15:53
  • 2
    In the UK, the power should always originate in the ceiling, all switches are 'switched hot plus return [optionally plus carrier]' dropped from the ceiling. No permanent live should be in the switches anywhere - though, there's bound to be one someone DIY'd ;))
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 18 at 16:01
  • 2
    @Tetsujin, that is not correct. Live and neutral are distributed from the fuse box to the first ceiling rose, to the second ceiling rose, etc. and every switch is connected to the ceiling rose (with the possible exception of the changeover switch in a 3-switch installation). The brown or red wire at a one-way switch is permanently live (otherwise how would you turn the light on ?). For a two-way system, one of the two-way switches will have a permanently live wire.
    – grahamj42
    Jan 19 at 8:22
  • 1
    @grahamj42 - I worded it badly - but these comments are an addendum to my own answer - that clipping out the one live drop to the first switch will disconnect the entire switch circuit. You don't have to chase the live right through, you can just eliminate the switches entirely, from the rose.
    – Tetsujin
    Jan 19 at 8:50
  • 2
    One major difference between the US and the UK is in the UK we nearly always seperate socket circuits from lighting circuits while the US tends to combine them. This leads to different wiring topologies being the norm. Jan 19 at 20:46
5

You want to be able to turn off the light for safety should you need to replace the bulb. You might do that by using the circuit-breaker, but that will turn off all the ceiling lights on that floor.

The cheapest approach is a bit of tape over the switch "do not turn off", or put a bit of work into making a more attractive "Molly guard"

Otherwise, install a key-operated switch, and blank off the other former switches, using Wago connectors (or screw terminal blocks) to maintain the connection that was provided by the switch.

You probably don't want to burn your bridges by plastering over instead of just blanking off the other switch outlets. It may be a modification which requires an electrician (not sure) and it may reduce the value of your residence when you come to sell it (whereas with blanking plates, it's a trivial matter to reinstate the former switches before marketing the property).

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  • 3
    In the US, at least, plastering over a junction box with wire connections inside is illegal. The connection must remain accessible for later trouble shooting/repair/replacement/upgrade.
    – FreeMan
    Jan 19 at 13:53
  • Different codes in the UK. Wires here aren't always in conduit. Often, it's PVC insulated twin+earth attached to wooden studs or block walls and plastered over. There are rules about where it can be located and how it must be protected, and what constitutes work which must be done by a qualified electrician.
    – nigel222
    Jan 19 at 14:05
  • 2
    Most residential wiring in the US isn't in conduit, either (Chicago is one notable exception). The wiring itself can be buried, but the junction boxes (where connections are made) must be permanently accessible. Again, I did specify "in the US" knowing that things are different in the UK. This answer will be read by people around the world, and Americans could read the "plaster over" part and not realize that doesn't apply here.
    – FreeMan
    Jan 19 at 14:13
  • @FreeMan: Putting on a blank wall plate would be legal in many places, and I've seen that done in places which used RF controls for lights. If the light with the RF control needed to be replaced, an electrician would have no problem figuring out where the switch would need to go and re-installing one. I've also seen switches that would sit recessed, and could probably have a cover plate installed over them. That might actually be better than a blank cover plate for RF-controlled light, since it could provide a backup means of control if the remote is lost.
    – supercat
    Jan 19 at 16:03

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