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priscilla 04-22-2007 03:46 PM

need to finish unlabeled rough-in
Background: We hired electricians to come in and install some canned lighting for our bathroom remodel and move some wiring; they installed the cans and moved some wiring that needed moving, but did not finish the job beyond the rough in.

The problem: The electrical is all roughed in now, but they didn't label anything. I want to install the rest on my own rather than re-hire them (since the cost was double what we were told it would be), but because nothing is labeled and the wiring runs behind the sheetrock, I don't know what goes to what.

We have two double boxes and one single, that go to:
  • two separately wired sets of canned lights
  • a fan
  • an outlet
  • a vanity light
Is there a way to determine which wires belong to what?

Thanks very much!

zel 04-22-2007 05:55 PM

*With the power off!!!- you can use a multi-meter to check for continuity between the wires to see which is which.

priscilla 04-22-2007 06:45 PM

regarding checking continuity
I have a multi-meter that I haven't used in ages, I'm sure I can find online how to use the thing again, but how does one go about checking for continuity? I'm very much a novice with regards to electrical work, the most I've ever done is change out a plain switch for a dimmer.


Speedy Petey 04-22-2007 06:47 PM

I have to honestly say you should NOT mess with this. It is hard enough doing this for the first time with no experience, but to figure out someones else's mess is that much harder.

Hire a new guy to figure it out. For someone good it should not be that big of a deal.

priscilla 04-22-2007 08:42 PM

I appreciate the input, but I'm generally pretty handy, and can tackle most jobs, so I'd really like to figure this one out. The rough-in was more than I wanted to deal with, but now that the boxes are in, I want to finish it up and get the switches installed onto those boxes.

I'd love to know how to check for continuity. Maybe another online search is in order...

priscilla 04-22-2007 09:30 PM

Never mind. I'll just install the outlet, put switches on the other boxes and then turn them on to see what works. Seems the easiest plan.

zel 04-22-2007 10:23 PM

Checking continuity is pretty easy. Alot of meters will beep when there is continuity. Set the meter to the ohm symbol and touch the leads to the wires you are trying to determine are connected. Again, please make sure the power is off. If the meter doesnt beep, it should read "OL" until you have continuity. There shouldnt be much resistance if you are going from one end of a wire to another.

trptman 04-22-2007 10:50 PM


Originally Posted by priscilla (Post 41952)
Never mind. I'll just install the outlet, put switches on the other boxes and then turn them on to see what works. Seems the easiest plan.

With no point of reference as to what wires go where??
If your elect. exp. consists of changing a switch to a dimmer, and you insist on the above "plan", all I can say is good luck. :whistling2:

priscilla 04-22-2007 11:11 PM

Thanks Zel. I'm going to see if we can't get the other electrician to come and label what they did, so I know what goes where. If not, I'll check the continuity and sort it out that way. I dug out my multimeter and did some looking around online about checking continuity - seems fairly straightforward. I appreciate the tip - thanks!

zel 04-22-2007 11:13 PM


Speedy Petey 04-23-2007 06:27 AM

I am curious. You say the cost "doubled" and was "more than (you) wanted to deal with".
This is a TINY job. Probably an hour or two TOPS.....and you were overwhelmed by this?? How much could he have possibly charged?

I think maybe I am missing something here.

J187 04-23-2007 07:56 AM


Originally Posted by priscilla (Post 41952)
Never mind. I'll just install the outlet, put switches on the other boxes and then turn them on to see what works. Seems the easiest plan.

That is exactly why you shouldn't try to do this yourself. Honestly, electrical is no place for reckless guess work. It would be smarter, easier and SAFER to chase the wires rather than start wiring devices with random combinations of wires.

Would simply identifying what wires go where help you? Are the wires tied to the panel already? If not, would you be able to do this after you've figured out what wires go where?

Identifying wires isn't difficult at all - even if the wire runs through your entire house, but you would have to know where it starts and where it ends. You would have to know this for certain. Just because you shut the breaker off and the power to hot wire number 1 goes out, doesn't mean that wire is tied DIRECTLY to the panel unless you can visible chase it there.....

KUIPORNG 04-23-2007 08:33 AM

checking continuity is one way, but I think it is not the easiest way.... if you think about it, wire inside a device only have a few option:

1. always hot wire
2. hot wire (when switch being turn on)
3. neutral wire
4. ground wire

if it is a switch, you have one more type
5. controlled hot wire supplied to the device.

I don't see other possibility... Therefore, you could just do the connection after finding out which of the above the wire belong... I don't think you need to check for continuation to find this information out, you could easily do so with a voltage tester (sound/light enable preferred)... doing continuation is useful if you want to draw out all the circuits on paper for your future reference... but if you just want light to be turn on... you don't need to do that....

you do need to turn on the main panel to do above testing... but that is alright and safe if you do it properly...

this assume the rough in setup the circuit(s) for you though, if the electrician does not connect all device within a circuit to form one homerun... it is going to be a nightmare to figure this out...

priscilla 04-23-2007 01:02 PM

Yes, well I didn't think the rough in was going to be that big of a deal either, in fact, I expected the job to be finished to the switches not just roughed in, and I certainly did not expect it to take as long as it did. I'd just finished tiling the floor a few days before and was getting prepped to tile the tub surround; I really was not in the mood to open the ceiling and drill through a bunch of beams to move wires around because whoever had done the work previously, put the bathroom light switch right next to the shower and that switchbox needed to be moved to the other side of the doorway.

What was needed was to install 5 canned lights (two on one wall, three on the opposite - with separate switches for each of the two sets), move the switchbox (not sure if that's what they're actually called) for the vanity light and fan switches, from one side of the door to the other, and install an outlet. I wanted the outlet and all the switches to be on one wall next to each other, at the same level. I'd already torn the walls out down to the beams, but the ceiling drywall was still intact.

That was the job. It took two guys 5 hours to do that. We were originally told by the electrician that it was $85/hour and that it would take around 3-4 hours. Even when it took five hours I wasn't that concerned, until we got the bill and found out it wasn't $85/hour as he'd told us, it was $85/man-hour, a little factoid he'd just assumed did not need clarifying. So two guys doing this job ended us up with a bill of around $850 (he only charged $60/hour for the second guy) instead of the $450 we expected. Maybe not a big deal to some, but a big deal to us.

So we are left with two double boxes and a single, full of a bunch of wires that are grouped, capped off and of course, not labeled. Now we've got to figure out which box goes to what, so we can put our switches on. Basically, that's all that's left to do and I'm not planning to bring these guys back in to do it or to spend another $200 for someone else to do what we can do ourselves with a little time and knowledge. The most time consuming part is going to be tracing this all out, but I'm going to try like hell to get these guys to come back and label what they have done. If they do that, it should be a very straightforward job for us. Otherwise, it will take a while to trace it out before I can finish it.

So not sure if you missed anything or if we just got royally shafted. Either way it left a sour taste and a desire to add yet another skill to our ever-expanding construction knowledge.

KUIPORNG 04-23-2007 01:38 PM

May be the easiest for them before they forget is have them draft down the circuit(s) on a piece of paper... that is usually useful information... I stick all such diagram besides my panel for reference.

they charge like a professional, they should service like a professional...

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