Before I moved into an apartment in the city, I had a house with a giant corner desk in the corner of my bedroom. This was back before LCD screens, so it had three *giant* CRT monitors which sucked a fair amount of power, even when off. That, coupled with other things that had no need to stay on all the time (ahem, always powered subwoofer speaker) made me want an easier way to turn them off to save energy. Leaving digitallyimported on all day, every day, probably didn’t help too much either. A little romex, some plastic outlet boxes (and outlets), a plug, and a couple of light switches and I had a solution. I left it along with the desk when I moved, and have wanted another one ever since. It is very straightforward – just like powering a lamp, except instead of a light bulb at the end, it’s a series of outlets.
Please check the update at the end – I used the wrong clamps.
- 1 plug (I get two because I almost always mess up the first one)
- 1 light switch
- 1 light switch plate
- 1 box for switch
- 2 wire nuts (yellow)
- Romex/nm cable – length up to you. I used approx 15 feet
For each outlet:
- 1 box
- 1 outlet
- 1 cover
- Romex to length
Tools I used:
- Screwdriver (screwgun for laziness)
- Wire Stripper
- Utility Knife
- Electric multi-tool (continuity tester)
- Needlenose Pliers
Attaching the plug
Decide how long you want the “tail” to be – that’s the part going between the switch and the wall – and add a foot for good measure. Strip about 3-4″ of the outer shield off, and get rid of the paper around the bare copper wire. Push the bundle through the plug end. Strip about 1/2″ off the other two wires. The only tricky part is getting the end right – Black is the “hot” wire, and is on the right as you face an outlet. It also always has brass (colored) screws. I always use needlenose to create the loop in the end of the wire before screwing it in. After that, it’s just left to re-attach the plug cover.
Creating the outlet strand
I start at the end of the line. Take one of the metal boxen, and knock one of the circles out on the end – this is the only one that will have only one open hole. Hopefully you’re using some sort of wire protectors – I got the wrong ones apparently… oops. I’ll be re-doing this with the correct ones, by the way. I put about a foot in between the boxes, so cut off a 18-20″ length of romex and stripped it as before. It’s easier to put into the outlet box if you put the hook on the end after inserting. Outlets are the same as the plug, but there’s another hint with them – the shiny copper is the hot (black) side. Don’t foget the ground (bare copper) goes to the green screw. After that, simply mount the outlet in the box. Don’t forget to tighten down the protective clamp. I wait to put the covers on until I’m sure I haven’t messed it up. Testing as I go makes that even less of a problem.
After the first one, it is a very simple manner of doing the same thing for however many boxes you have. Basic procedure:
- Knock out end(s)
- Add protection
- Cut wire to length, plus 6-8″
- Strip outer cover off romex
- Get rid of paper around ground wire
- Strip the black and white wires
- Insert wire into box
- Make the bends in the three wires
- Attach to hot side, cold side, and ground
- Repeat for other end going out the other side of the box, and to the other side of the outlet block (excepting the ground)
- Mount outlet
- Tighten protective clamps (Get the right ones)
- Test for continuity where it should be (and where it shouldn’t)
- Put covers on
Connecting the switch
In this case, I knew where I wanted to mount my switch, and wanted both wires to come out of the back. (Another advantage of the metal knock-boxes, by the way). It’s actually hard to find single pole switches anymore, but not a big deal. The switch will be marked “up”, and on there back there will be a pole that is differently colored. That’s the “hot” or “common” one to connect to the outlet. That one will always have live electricity going to it, no matter how the switch is oriented! I’m lazy, so I used the continuity tester to see which of the other poles would be “on” when the switch was on. The black wire from the wall cord goes to the always hot pole, and the black from the outlet strip goes to the one you just found that’s switched how you want it. The two white wires and the two bare wires get connected via the wire nut (or grounding screw on the switch).
Connect one lead of your tester to the cold pole of the plug (left as it faces the wall). First, check there is no connection to either of the other two prongs on the plug. Then, going down the line, check that the meter says it’s connected to the cold half of the outlet at all of the outlets (you can just do one per pair, they’re connected within the block). Going back down the line check that the meter says it is *not* connected to any of the hot sides or the grounding plugs. Switch to the hot pole on the plug and leave the switch off. It shouldn’t read as connected to anything down the line of plugs now. Turn the switch On, and make sure it’s only connected to the hot plugs, and that the prongs still don’t read that they are connected. If any of those steps go awry, there’s something somewhere it shouldn’t be… I check once in a while as I go just so I don’t get confused – I just leave one lead in one side of the outlet at the end and check after I finish a plug.
If you haven’t already put the covers on, now would be a good time. I plan to mount this facing up on the square steel going horizontally across my desk back so I attached some reasonably strong hook and loop fasteners to the back of each box. The switch goes in the front of the desk in the upper right corner where it’s easy for me to switch on and off as I come and go, so I put it on the top and right. To make it easy – “measure twice, cut once. or better yet, don’t measure at all” – I put the other half of the hook and loop combo on the back of each box and just pressed it into place rather than trying to match up. It’s held up for a while now with absolutely no worries. Plug it into the wall (or a power strip), and plug something cheap into one of the plugs ( I used a monitor… ahem ) and flip the switch. Done!
Updates, because I messed up:
- Get the right clamps! The wrong ones will either run a screw into the wire or end up fraying it causing a dangerous situation. I have the wrong ones in these pictures. I got done taking pictures and re-did the entire strip with the correct (safe) ones.
- This is not for moving around at all. Solid wire shouldn’t be moved/bent. The only reason I’m comfortable using this is because it’s close to a permanant install.
- Plug it into a real power strip.
- There’s really not many reasons to do something like this instead of a good power strip.
A couple of references: