Latest Discussions : Electrical & Lighting


12:52PM | 01/13/99
My family built a house back in 1972, and
we used Surfacepack relay switches from
Switchpack Systems. Mechanically and
electrically, they were kinda shoddy, and
we've finally run out of our stock of
original replacements. So, I'm looking for
a modern substitute.

The units are about the size and shape of
a single gang outlet receptacle. From the
back, they have three #12 solid wires, for
line, load, and neutral. on top, there are
a pair of screws where you hook up bell wire
to any number of momentary contact switches,
like doorbell buttons. When you push any of
the buttons and briefly close the low voltage
circuit, the spring loaded solenoid cycles
once, and toggles the switch from off to on,
or from on to off, like a traditional pull
the string closet light.

Does anyone know of a durable, long lasting,
modern replacement for these evil things?

Thanks --



08:59PM | 01/31/99

Sounds like you and I have essentially the same system. Let me describe mine.

My home was built in 1954, and came with (even then) what was called “Remote Control Switching” from GE. It is comprised of little 24-volt (DC) rocker switches in place of normal 110v switches. When you push the rocker switch up, a relay is switched to on, and your light/receptacle is turned on. Push the rocker switch down, the reverse happens, and the power to the light/outlet is turned off. Each rocker switch has 3 wires; one is power from the transformer, and the other 2 go back to the relay. The wire is basically solid-core bell wire.

All of my relays, and most of my transformers are located in a central place, which is neat because I can add switches and power things from anywhere. I even have master switches which can turn on all lights inside and out in case of emergency. It’s only drawback is that one cannot get a dimmer switch for a light without running 110v wire and bypassing the low-voltage system, but I got around that with the introduction of wireless dimmer switches.

It was an idea that never caught on in the residential side, but it did on the commercial, so all the components are still widely available, a point which led me to decide to keep the system instead of ripping it all out, which would be very expensive to do. The switches fit in sets of 1 to 3, in a space the size of a regular outlet box, although mine use something like phone or cable TV brackets instead of actual electrical boxes. The little plate that the switches snap into lines up, screw-wise, with regular outlet box screw holes. The cover plates have the same hole pattern as décor switch plates, and although I do not know if the originals could still be purchased, I buy blank décor plates and cut out the holes, or make decorator ones out of wood. We bought the home last June, I checked, and the components cost less than in 1994 when the last owners last bought a part..

I have about 35 relays, and 50 switches, and it looks like maybe 5 relays and 3 switches have been replaced in 45 years. Does this sound like something you could use? If so, I have copies of the original installation manual, which I could fax you. You could also call your local electric supply company and ask if they can get GE low-voltage relays or switches.

At any rate, let me know more about your system. Until now, I did not know there were other similar systems out there.

TomR -


09:43PM | 01/31/99
As Tom said, they are a neat system except for that little part about needing custom faceplates. I had the system in a home in Lafayette, In. It was easy to work with and track problems. I had a box of GE switches in the basement that had been left by the previous owner.

In designing the electrical system for a dream house, I would consider a system like this which could very easily be controlled by computer or other systems very easily. I would look toward a company like Allen Bradley for the relays.


12:11PM | 02/01/99
Tom & Ren --

Thanks for taking the time to respond.

Unfortunately, mine are only a two wire
system on the low voltage side, so the three
wire G.E. relays wouldn't help.

Thanks anyway --

-- J.S.


05:51AM | 02/02/99
It sounds like you have a single-phase relay, which, when energized, the solenoid is thrown one way and simultaneously reverses it’s polarity, so that the next time it is energized, the solenoid is thrown in the opposite direction.

My relays are two-phase, in that it has separate wire loops for each direction of the solenoid. I was a little confused when you said you had three wires on the switch, as other systems that I have found with single-phase relays only have two wires on the switch.

Would you be willing to provide a more complete description of your system? I just need to know a few things, like:

* What is the voltage? AC or DC?
* How does each wire trace in the system?
* Do you have any other electrical circuitry that is part of the system?
* Anything else you think might be helpful?

While researching my GE system, I have discovered many different varieties of components from other companies. I would be willing to share what I have found, and I am sure we can find a solution to your dilemma.

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