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Old 01-13-2012, 11:01 PM   #1
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


I was hoping to get some pointers on how to attack a few problems I have with a used house that I bought for a pretty good deal. The house was built in 1985 and has a 200 amp breaker panel and uses copper wiring. At a later point a secondary panel was installed and I believe it is a 100 amp box but I would need to check on that. This box has a 50 amp breaker that goes to a 70 amp box outside in the detached garage. The garage doesn't have its own ground and shares one with the main house ground so this needs to be corrected which is simple enough.

The problem stems from the house having an electrical remediation order put on it in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010 for cultivation. Long story short the house was taken by the court as proceeds of crime and I ended buying it when the crown had it on the market. The growing was done in the garage out back and some of the rooms downstairs but it wasn't gutted although the electrical was messed with.

Problem 1: When you turn off the light in one bedroom the breaker would pop and would need to be reset. This was an easy fix that brought up another problem, something was done to the wiring and when it was repaired they wired the switch into the main hot/common wire going into this box as well as the light switch wiring. When the switch was off the light was on because it was connected to the live wire but when you flipped the switch to 'turn it off' you actually connected the hot to the common and the breaker would blow.

That problem is an easy fix, don't wire the hot to the common and you won't blow breakers, pretty shoddy fix because it could never have worked right. The problem I found is in this junction box there are 8 romex wires going into this little box and all of the hots are twisted together with a marrete and some tape and all 8 commons were treated the same way. These were all stuffed in one of the octagonal metal junction boxes commonly used for ceiling lights. This junction box was also used for a light fixture so it was pretty cramped inside.

Of the wires in the box there was the live wire coming from the 200 amp fuse panel about 5 feet away. The light fixture also has a switch so this accounts for another of the wires in this box. There are 6 more wires going somewhere that I am not sure what they do or where they go. The breaker box is labelled 'basement lights' so they probably go to some of the other lights which is another problem.

I have a few problems here, this is a finished gyprock roof so I can't see where anything is and I don't know if all of these wires are needed anymore. Looking at the amount of wires in this box without even checking the area I can see it would fail so I need to split these up. What is the best way to address this? My thoughts are to install another junction box close to the light fixture and then split the wires going into each box so it spreads the load. The roof was freshly painted and this is right by the fuse panel and considering the history of the home anything may have been done. I can fix anything I cut up on the walls and roof so what would you suggest the best way would be to correct this? I am fluent in DC electronics and have done a lot of research on AC and I had had no issues so far so I am confident I can fix home wiring with some tips.

Problem 2: I have a number of ceiling lights downstairs that do not work, I tested these before I removed all of the wiring from the previous problem. I removed the light fixtures and checked each one out and found the following. The light outside of the furnace area doesn't work and in the junction box above the light fixture there are two romex wires coming in and it is wired as it would be with a single switch. On this light I am not really sure where the switch is, I looked in the obvious areas and there are no switches and the ones further away that don't work seem to be a little far from this area.

I have a kitchen light that doesn't work and in the open area beside the kitchen there is a second light that also doesn't work. I look in the junction box in the kitchen and there are two wires coming into it that are marked red/white/back instead of the white/black, ground of all of the other wires. I have also looked at every switch box in the basement and not one switch uses a red/white/back wire. I believe the red/back/white wires are used with 2 way and above switches but I don't have any of these either. This one has me stumped, the ceiling in the kitchen also looks newly painted so who knows what is up there either. Any suggestions on how to address this? There is a switch right beside the kitchen that I am assuming is for the ceiling light and I can see if from the back of this wall going into the roof of the kitchen but it doesn't go that box.

The light over the open area beside the kitchen just has a single romex cable going into it so I assume this one should be wired the main kitchen light which it isn't.

Thanks for any tips or tricks in figuring this mess out. I have to buy one of those inductive power testers to see if there is a live hots in any of the mystery switches or the light fixtures which may help indicate where the problem is. Sorry for the long post, I am used to writing and figure too much information is better than none.

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Old 01-13-2012, 11:31 PM   #2
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


Way to messed up to have anyone here trying to trouble shoot all that on the net. Hire a local electrition. Anyone here will just be guessing and with electric that can kill someone or burn your house down.

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Old 01-14-2012, 12:55 AM   #3
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


First, if you don't already have them, get some basic electrical test/safety equipment:
- A proximity voltage detector
- A decent multimeter, at a minimum UL listed. You should probably get a category 2 or better.
- A three prong outlet tester that will tell you if a outlet is wired properly/reversed and if it's grounded.

There are circuit testers that you can help you with tracing out the wiring. However, I'm not all that familiar with them. I used a more homebrew approach. I grabbed a small spool of 22 guage bell wire. On one end, I attached alligator clips, on the other I attached ring terminals. This allowed me to hook the alligator clips to a wire I was interested in one outlet box, and then using my multimeter find the other end by checking for electrical conductivity. Just remember to always turn the power off, and VERIFY its off, before testing. I've seen what a 12V short from a lawn mower battery did to small wires. I don't want to think of what 120/240 would do to this test apparatus.


Second, have you made a circuit map of your house? If not, I suggest doing so. Doing so will give you a good idea of what's on each breaker. It will also identify any miswired outlets. Finally, you might be able to discern some of the logic from the previous runs. If at the end of this step it all makes sense, you may also want to consider playing the lottery before you go to sleep.

Once you know what's on each breaker, it'll give you a starting point for actually mapping between boxes. Then comes the tedious part of opening boxes up, and attempting to trace the wires from box to box. As a warning, this will probably take awhile. If you need this done in a reasonable amount of time, you may want to consider a pro. Having the circuit map will also help you identify if the previously owner left live wires sitting in the wall (say when you come across an electrical box with too many wires for the remaining devices on the circuit.

Now for some of your specific questions.

1) Too many wires in a ceiling box:
- Each electrical box has a limit on the number of conductors it can have in it. I suggest you read up on Electrical Box Fill, such as at http://ecmweb.com/nec/code-basics/el..._calculations/ .
- You're correct that you'll need to install additional boxes to correct the problem. Do you have attic access above the problem box? All of the boxes need to remain accessible. So putting them in the attic will allow you to use larger boxes and not have to worry about how they look in the room below. If you don't have attic access, you'll have to consider if you want to put more ceiling boxes in and cap them off, or if you want to re wire so that the circuit goes from outlet to outlet instead of fanning out from a single box.

2) The furnace light.
- First try turning on every single light in the house. See if it comes on. Second, after you've made the circuit map, see if you can guess which circuit should be feeding the box. Then you can turn off the circuits in the area and see if you can determine which wire goes to the box. Finally, there's the dangerous option. You can use your multi-meter to try and see if you're getting 120 in that box. You may find that you've just got a bad light fixture. On the other hand, you may need to go digging up stream to find what's disconnected. Also, there is a chance that the light was disconnected during one of the other rewirings and never reconnected.

3) The kitchen light.
- Again pretty much the same advice as #2. There are a few options for using xx-3 wire (black, white, red, ground).
a) You're using a switch loop to control the light that's up to 2011 code. Thus the black and white take hot and neutral to the light switch. The red connects the hot to the light when switched on. (seems unlikely)
b) There used to be a ceiling fan located here, so the black/red wires were for switching on the fan and light separately.
c) You're dealing with a multiwire branch circuit. This would be 2 circuits sharing a neutral and being run in the same cable.
d) There used to be a 3 way switch.
e) Someone ran out of 2 conductor cable and finished a run with 3 conductor cable. I would suggest also taking a careful look at the switches in the area. You may find one where the red has been clipped back along with the outer insulation on the cable.

As a suggestion for future posts, I suggest picking one problem and focusing on it. I like you tend to just backup the dumptruck of information and drop everything in the first pass. Often I find that folks tend to get confused processing everything, and on the internet we can't see when folks eyes glaze over. Also it's much easier to miss small questions in the longer posts.

Finally, welcome to the forums and good luck with this.
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Old 01-14-2012, 08:03 AM   #4
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


Back in 1985, you did not need four wires to sub-panel's, only three, and as for a ground rod, was not clearly defined, until they started to look at people getting electrocuted. If you wish to bring up to more recent codes, you will need to check your local rules to see if you are grandfathered in certain areas, due to once you start updating stuff, permits will need to be pulled most likely.

Just beware that you are opening up a huge can of worms at this point.

Okay, I just went back and re-read the Thesis that the OP posted. This was a grow-op, that means that regardless where it was done on the property, you are going to have to pretty much pull permits, may have to rip off the gyprock and insulation if you have determined that the wiring in the home was messed with, in a way that will mean total re-wire. You are looking at a very costly affair.
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Old 01-14-2012, 08:21 AM   #5
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


Are you located in the U.S.?
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Old 01-14-2012, 08:33 AM   #6
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


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Originally Posted by Billy_Bob View Post
Are you located in the U.S.?
I am going to guess Canada. Too many fancy words and terminology, than we simpletons use down here.
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Old 01-15-2012, 11:54 PM   #7
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


Thanks for all of the help, I did more searching in the house and found a ceiling box off of the other side of the kitchen which has red/black/white wires in it. Just for the record I live in British Columbia in Canada. Interestingly enough the electrical order would need to have an inspection done before the order was lifted and with some of the shoddy work done it shows our system doesn't work.

There are a bunch of lights that are screwed directly to the panels on some t-bar roofing so I was removing the lights & panels to mount them properly and found a ceiling box under there. I went out and bought a inductive power tester and a polarity tester and I can see that the box has hot wires and one of the black wires in the light fixture box is also hot. There was a dead switch in the bathroom that went up to a ceiling box and then disappeared over the kitchen roof somewhere. In this ceiling box both white wires were connected together and both black wires were each capped by themselves. I think the wall switch used to go to the ceiling box with the red/white/black wires and was pulled out and bypassed at some point.

So here is what I find interesting, both wall switches are single pole switch and both look just like the other ones and the wiring in both switch boxes looks like it has been there for a while. The furnace room is on one of the back walls for the kitchen so I can see some of the wiring and the switch I am guessing is the kitchen light switch definitely has standard romex wiring which doesn't look like it has been switched out. Is it possible to have a 3 wire or 'looped' switch arrangement with just single pole switches? It looks like it is wired through the ceiling box to act as a 3 way switch and not through the switches. I have been searching for the single pole switches with a looped configuration but I can only find two way switches. As a_lost_shadow suggested I have also been using a continuity meter on a dead circuit which is how I figured out which wires went to the switch in first room and which went to the switch panel. Personally, when I do testing I throw the master breaker just to be sure and then test for power with the inductive tester.

Sadly enough all of the problem areas are in a basement so I don't have any access into the ceiling other than cutting into drywall which is why I have been testing for continuity. The ceiling fan may also be a possibility, there are a number of them upstairs and there is one switch missing in the kitchen wall plate so this may be. I will test the wires in the ceiling box to make sure they are going to the ceiling box I found and that my kitchen switch is going there as well and if that is the case I can just wire it as a single switch. It would be nice to have one at each end of the kitchen but I could live with just one if I had to.

Thanks for all of the input other than calling an electrician, they are the ones that did this so I will just fix what they messed up.
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Old 01-16-2012, 12:09 AM   #8
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


Quote:
Thanks for all of the input other than calling an electrician, they are the ones that did this so I will just fix what they messed up. 01-14-2012 10:33 AM
UMMMM an electrician that was any good would never have done that kind of work, so blanket statement like that is rather foolish. That's like saying it doesn't matter if you get a qualified electrician your better off wiring something yourself with little or no knowledge of what your doing.

I nearly laughed my a$$ when you said this was a pot growing OP then blamed the poor wiring on electricians. Stoned ones maybe .... .

Good luck with your rewiring, ... no need for me to give advise I'm one of those guys that messed up your wiring.....
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Old 01-16-2012, 12:44 AM   #9
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


No joke, this was a dope house. Don't know how much of the house was cleared during a search. So some of what you see as a simple code violation, maybe a little more then meets the eye. Becarful dopers do some strange stuff.

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Old 01-16-2012, 12:57 AM   #10
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


If you want to make your job alil easyer go out and get a toner. it will help you track down those wires if you use it right and please make sure your power is off. keep in mind that in some cases people reverse polarity so be carefull
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Old 01-16-2012, 11:05 AM   #11
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


Quote:
Originally Posted by ThatGuy View Post
...Just for the record I live in British Columbia in Canada...
FYI - It is important to say where you are doing the work when asking electrical questions on the internet. Electrical code rules are different for some states in the U.S. and different for different countries.

Some things which are allowed in the U.S. are not allowed in Canada and the other way around probably?

Best if you click on "User CP" on top left, then click on "Edit Your Details", then enter your "Location".
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Old 01-16-2012, 11:12 AM   #12
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Help with wiring issues on a newly purchased house


Thanks again for the incite and I am not slagging electricians in any way but I enjoy this kind of stuff and would rather fix it myself. As anyone in any industry knows, just because you have certification doesn't mean that you are good at what you do or dedicated to doing the job right. I live in a very large area that is saturated with trades people so it can be challenging to find the right person for the job especially with cutting-corners to keep the prices down.

In my case the house was not gutted to cultivate like some, most of the activity was done out in a large free standing garage but by the staple marks on the walls and some other clues I know they were inside as well. The upper floor of the house is fine and it would seem that most of the problems are in two rooms downstairs, a front bedroom with the over-loaded ceiling box and the kitchen. The other two lights are just off of the kitchen so all of these issues are in this one area. I think the home owners just went and hired the cheapest guy to come and put things back in order so they could sell the house at the best price and some how it passed inspection.

It is all part of the joy of home ownership I guess and if nothing else I will know this house. Some of the issues include...
- The previous home owner did some renovations downstairs as well which include...
- Installing ceiling lights into t-bar ceiling tiles
- Installing extra plumbing with non-standardized methods
- Hacking the foundation away in one area to put a plumbing stack in an outside wall where there was an inside one right beside it where it should have gone
- Installing wall footers with no insulation between the footer and the floor so they rotted out
- Poorly crimped water supply lines that are leaking in different areas up in the roof
- Leaking bathtub upstairs that was continually used and caused a lot of mold in an interior wall under this bathroom

Needless to say the bathroom downstairs was gutted and the floor was jack-hammered so all of the plumbing could be fixed and brought back to code. Some of the walls downstairs were removed because of the damage and will be rebuilt and a few were removed so they could be put in a better location for better usage of the space. It kind of ticks me off that the stack in the outer wall required the outer wall to be gouged out to the tar paper so it could fit inside the wall but this will be fixed as well.

At this point I am not sure who was worse, the people who used the house to grow drugs or the owner who did all of the renovations. I would say at this point the owner who did the renovations is at the top of the list for doing bone-headed things but I haven't started fixing the garage so this may change.

Cheers, Dennis
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Old 01-16-2012, 11:50 AM   #13
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I am still searching for how the kitchen light was originally wired and I think this is it...

S1 Method #3 Multiple Single Poles For One Fan

A rare method used to control a single exhaust fan from 2 or more different bathrooms. The exhaust fan is located in a central location, like an attic, and connected to duct work that comes from all (lets say) 3 bathrooms. Each bathroom has a single pole switch that can turn the fan on or off but the fan can only be turned off at the place where it is turned on. Level; Intermediate
Description; Power is fed to a disconnecting switch located near the fan. A 2 wire switch leg is pulled from the fan to the 1st closest bathroom switch and another 2 wire from the 1st switch to the 2nd and another 2 wire from the 2nd to the 3rd. The white in the 2 wire is identified with black tape and used as a hot, not a neutral and not the switched hot that connects to the fan.
At the fan box; the hot feed is connected to one terminal on the disconnecting switch. The white (with black tape) is connected to the other terminal on the disconnecting switch and feeds power to one terminal on each bathroom single pole. The black switch leg is connected to the other terminal on each bathroom single pole and then directly to the fan. The white from the fan is connected to the white neutral in the feed.


I found this on a blog site..... http://singlepole.blogspot.com/ I think this is how the kitchen was originally wired, it is the only thing that makes sense although this method doesn't make any sense considering you don't have proper control of the light. I think I will trace these wires with my continuity meter and if they are in fact part of the same circuit for the kitchen light I will just make it a single switch light and be done with it. There is a single light over the kitchen sink which currently has a pull chain to activate it (actually, it is a standard light fixture with a screw in adapter that has some outlets on it and pull chain which has constant power) that I was going to put a wall switch onto. Because this is right at the entrance to the kitchen it could be used when entering the kitchen until the main light could be turned on. Not an ideal solution but it beats what they did originally as posted above and saves me from ripping the drywall roof apart. The other option would be to run the proper wiring to a 3 pole switch where the original switch is sitting if I can get it through the roof and then wire it through the ceiling box.
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Old 01-17-2012, 10:51 AM   #14
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So I cleared the t-bar above the box I found and only one of the 14/3 wires in this box and it is dead, in fact everything in the box is dead. This may be related to the overloaded box by the fuse panel so I really have to get on this and fix it. I checked the kitchen light and it has power that is constant and other than turning off the breaker none of the switches do anything on this light. The hot comes into the kitchen light from a 14/3 romex that I can't find the other end to so it must be up in the ceiling somewhere. What I am sure is the kitchen light switch is also hot but it only has a 14/2 romex going to it so I don't know where it is getting juice. I forgot to check the light switch to see if it was still hot after I turned off the breaker but I am guessing there is a hidden connection up above the kitchen roof somewhere. The breaker the kitchen light is on also has the front light on it and some of the entry way lights as well

The light fixtures on all of the lights that don't work are all the same so I am guessing they were all changed at the same time and this is where things were messed up. The bases of these lights are fairly big so I think I may make a hole that will be hidden under the base of the light so I can a mechanics mirror in there to take a quick look around. Both the kitchen and the furnace hall lights are just off of the furnace room so if nothing else I may be able to put my own wiring in for the switch without cutting huge holes in the ceiling. My concern is the hot 14/3 romex in the kitchen though, if it has a splice that is above roof that is not properly protected then this may cause a problem.

The people that owned the house before pretty much gutted it before they moved out and I found they cut right through the shielded romex going to stove fan without even turning it off. Mind you about 3 feet down the line there is an open splice where it goes from the shielded to the regular romex that is connected with wire nuts and no box so I need to fix this as well.

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