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Old 08-23-2009, 06:19 AM   #1
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Funky wiring in Kitchen


Or maybe it's not funky I don't know - So here's the project:

The old Kitchen had 2 florescent lamps that were mounted in a strange off center location on the ceiling. My wife wants a pot-rack over the island, but my moderate OCD will not allow me to hang something over the Island that is flanked by two large, off-center lamps. They must be moved. Also, I wanted to add a separate switch for just the pot rack (it has some low watt lights on it).

So - I removed the florescent lamps, and then removed the lightswitch cover to see if the electrical wiring cam in through the side or top of the jbox...

But now I'm really, really confused because none of the white wires are connecting to the switch, only black wires, even though at the lamp, the wiring looks like I would expect... I have attached photos, so if you can explain why this is, I'd appreciate it very much.

For the record - the most I know about electricity is how to jump start a car... and the requisite terms - "Positive", "Negative", "Ground"....

ACTUALLY - after thinking about how electricity works, I need someone to confirm what I am thinking - the switch is simply acting as what completes the ground circuit from the lights - in other words, a constant source of power is being applied to the lights via the white wires, goes through the lights, to the black wire which should be heading for the ground - the ground loop - and therefore the circuit - is completed by my action of flipping the switch and presto! LIGHTS.

So I want to add a separate switch to run the pot rack lights, can anyone look at the wiring in my jbox and tell me if this is possible? I'd like to avoid running another wire down the wall if possible, but I'm have no idea how to do that and maintain the integrity of the individual circuit. Photos attached.

Wires at the jbox:


Wires at the first Can


Current and Intended Can relocation:

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Old 08-23-2009, 06:25 AM   #2
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Funky wiring in Kitchen


And to clarify - the wiring on the left into the box is the hot wire from the circuit breaker - the white wires going to the fixtures in the attic are coming in from the left.. so they're all wrapped together obviously since they're supplying current, while the black wires are for the ground... I guess that leads to a new question... this switch only turns on those two florescent lights... the second one piggy backs off of the first can... I think.. I haven't confirmed - but I assumed this was the case since the first can has the two black and white wires, while the second can only has one black and one white wire.

Makes me wonder where the second black and second white wire in the jbox are going. Like I said, I'm no electrician, so be nice...

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Old 08-23-2009, 07:43 AM   #3
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Funky wiring in Kitchen


What is the wiring like in the second ceiling box? One white and one black?

You have your wire coloring backward; black carries the supply of electricity, white is the neutral. Nothing looks wrong or funky at all. You're wiring looks fine and safe. So what's happening in your switch box is one of two things:

1) the wire coming in on the left is the supply from your main panel, the hot (black) goes into the switch, and leaves the switch, where it is actually supplying to other lines (the three black wires that are pigtailed together). At least one of them goes to feed your light(s), and the other either goes to feed the second light, or goes elsewhere to an outlet or something somewhere else in the room/house. So in this scenario, your switch is going to switch on/off two separate lines going somewhere.

2) But most likely, this is what is happening: one of the two blacks coming in from the right is the supply from your main panel. It is then wired up to one black that goes somewhere else in your house/room, and also to a black wire that goes into the switch. From the switch, the black that goes out the left of the box must go and feed your light(s). I'm betting that it feeds the first can you showed in the picture. So in that can, you have one black wire that is the hot coming from switch, and the other wire connects to that and runs over to the second light so that when you turn your switch on, both lights get power.
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Old 08-23-2009, 08:10 AM   #4
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I'm no electrician either but, man oh man, what a sloppy paint job. Another paint job like that and pretty soon all your wires will be white.

It looks to me like you have two cables on the right side of the switch box and one cable on the left side of the switch box. And the pigtail to the switch is coming from a cable on the right side of the switch box. That would mean, then, that power is coming in to the box from a cable on the right side and the switch is controlling power to the cable on the left side. So the cable on the left side must be going to the ceiling box.
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Old 08-23-2009, 08:24 AM   #5
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Funky wiring in Kitchen


Relating building wiring to car wiring:

In the car, black is for both neutral and ground. You can think of "negative" but don't say that word out loud when discussing building (alternating current) wiring.

In buildings ground and neutral are kept separate except where the power feed comes to the main panel; white is neutral and green (or uninsulated) is ground. "Wire up" all equipment (lights, etc.) to hot and neutral. Then connect framework, switch yokes, ground wires, etc. to ground which must include a wire, usually bare, in every cable. Ground wires are connected together wherever they come together as when cables enter a junction box. A neutral that accompanies a hot wire from the panel is connected only to neutrals that serve lights and equipment served by the corresponding hot wire.

In the car, red is most often used for hot; you can think "positive" but again don't say this out loud when discussing building wiring. In buildings, any color except white and green is for hot wires with black most often used and red next most often used.

In the car is is not unusual for a switch to connect and disconnect the ground so as to control the circuit. Sometimes two lights are controlled alternately by having one light connected to hot, the other light connected to ground, and the second terminal of each light connected together with the switch connecting this third wire to either ground or hot.

In buildings nowadays, switches are never put in the neutral lines although you may find that in wiring more than 70 years old.

In your project, does the switch shown control both lights or is there a separate switch for the other light?
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Last edited by AllanJ; 08-23-2009 at 08:27 AM.
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Old 08-23-2009, 09:39 AM   #6
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Funky wiring in Kitchen


Allan, I have just learned more about wiring in the 15 minutes reading your replies than I actually "learned" my entire life. I know battery systems are DC and Homes are AC, but never really made the distinction thinking always Red is positive/hot, black is negative/ground.

Your explanation would make me realize why I got zapped when I touched that light switch the wrong way I guess (although I was insulated with my rubber shoes I thought - but that's a discussion for another day I guess)

So in combining the other excellent reply regarding the pigtail on the switch with your explanation, and knowing that when I flip that switch BOTH LIGHTS come one... then yes - the single black wire connecting to the bottom of the switch must go to the lights... the 2nd light is piggy backed off of the first light, and the three black wires tied together must be 1) the supply wire 2) the short wire connecting to the switch and 3) a wire going to some outlets somewhere, since it is connected directly to the supply and therefore must be always on... or I guess it could be going to another switch...(would it?)

So the neutral wires all go to the same place - the earth/"ground" right? Would it be reasonable to say that assuming your electricians were the most professional in your town and all the wiring and circuitry is right (and you have no reason to suspect otherwise) - then you could connect any white wire to any *other* white wire and it would be OK? Obviously this is probably not optimal, but I'm both checking my understanding and want to keep the answer in mind if I need to take a safe shortcut.

Now - with my better understanding of how all this would go together, I'm still struggling to figure out a way to add a pot rack (basically a 3rd can) on it's own switch without running another wire down that wall. If I have to poke a hole in the header it's going to be a beast because these raised ceiling homes have like 4 2x4s at the top and you never know where the nails are in those things. During a brief stint with a home theater guy, I had trouble drilling through those when the houses were just frames, and now I got sheetrock.

I suppose I could poke through the pantry ceiling (the pantry is where you would end up if you drilled through the sheetrock behind that light switch) and run it down some conduit down the wall and then punch it through the pantry wall into one of those jbox extenders (which I have some of - but does "type 2/low voltage include 120V home electrical? or just speaker, phone, CAT5e/6, etc...???). My concern with safety in that case though is if I sell the house and the new Suzy home-maker is swinging her knife around in the pantry, could she kill herself since I put electrical wires on the outside of the wall?

I didn't think adding a pot rack would be this complicated, but thanks for all the great feedback so far. I know the simple answer is just "scrap the other switch and just wire it in with the florescents."
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Old 08-23-2009, 09:52 AM   #7
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Funky wiring in Kitchen


In order to switch the pot rack lights separately from the other lights you will need to run a new cable.
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Old 08-23-2009, 10:22 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Port View Post
In order to switch the pot rack lights separately from the other lights you will need to run a new cable.
Jim, any suggestions on whether I should even try to drop the wiring inside the wall, or is it acceptable to run it down that pantry wall provided I put some kind of conduit around it?

I know that going inside the wall I'd have the stack of 2x4's at 10 ft and then at least one other 2x4 @ 8ft... I'm not looking forward to that, but I've already done something like that for my living room when I wired it up for RJ-11 and RJ-45.. so I guess I could do it again... although the wall this stuff is on is only

Thanks for the reply.
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Old 08-23-2009, 01:07 PM   #9
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Funky wiring in Kitchen


Detail: Even though the neutrals all converge at the main panel and are connected to ground there, you need to be careful about connecting neutrals together at junction boxes and outlet boxes when hot feeds from more than one circuit enter the same box.

The neutral accompanying a hot feed wire is connected only to the neutrals further downstream that go with the loads served by that hot feed.

In effect the wiring is arranged in a "tree" fashion, with branches off from "main lines". Both the neutrals taken as a group and the hot wires taken as a group form similar tree arrangments. It is not a "network" in the sense of wires branching off in different directions and coming together again downstream.

Another way of saying it is that, from any point in the hot wire network and also from any point in the neutral network there may be only one path back to the panel.

Yes I have shied away from doing projects where additional wires or cables have to be strung in the walls. They do make conduit intended to allow wires to be run along the surface of walls and ceilings, Wiremold is the trademark of one brand of this.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 08-24-2009 at 06:54 AM.
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Old 08-24-2009, 10:01 AM   #10
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Funky wiring in Kitchen


To the original poster: I would highly recommend buying an intro to home wiring book. Home wiring is surprisingly simple and intuitive once you know the basics. I suggest the Black & Decker book, Complete Guide to Home Wiring. I used it as my crash course to moving around some outlets in a room, and I ended up realizing that the book covers about 95% of everything you'll ever need to do in a house with regards to electricity. There are a lot of pictures of real scenarios (switches, 3-way switches, 240v outlets, etc), showing the connections in detail. Such a book will answer everything you need to know about your project, and then some. Hope this helps.
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Old 08-24-2009, 10:05 AM   #11
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Funky wiring in Kitchen


The problem with many of the DIY/wiring books is that they have a LOT of mistakes in them. Some have been recalled due to the errors

I did buy one years ago - still have it
But verify what you see in a book with another source - a person, online etc

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