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Old 06-19-2012, 10:37 PM   #1
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New to electrical and have a problem


Hey everyone. I do cabinetry and general maintenance but have never done anything with electrical. I just bought a foreclosed house that needs some repairs. I will probably be visiting this site often. So here is my first problem.

When I moved in there was a ceiling fan in my middle bedroom, it didn't work and seemed like it was about to fall. There is also a light switch with no switch.

I hooked up a cheap light just to get some light in the room and have turned the wires in the wall to put in a light switch. My problem is all 3 wires are showing as hot with my no-contact tester and I don't know what is what. There's a black, red, and white. There's no other light switch in the room and all the receptacles are working fine.

The box in the ceiling has 3 sets of wires going to it. 2 blacks were twisted with one white, 2 whites were twisted together, and one black was by itself. When I disconnect the two whites it kills the lights in my bathroom and other bedrooms so I twisted them back and capped it. When I unhook the white from the 2 blacks nothing seems to happen and only the 2 blacks that are still connected show as hot. The lone black wire doesn't show as hot. Everything is alligator clipped for the light until I figure out what is what.

Can someone help explain to me what is what and anything I need to do.
Thanks

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Old 06-20-2012, 12:42 AM   #2
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New to electrical and have a problem


Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidKulzer View Post
Hey everyone. I do cabinetry and general maintenance but have never done anything with electrical. I just bought a foreclosed house that needs some repairs. I will probably be visiting this site often.
Welcome. Let's see what we can do to get you started.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidKulzer View Post
My problem is all 3 wires are showing as hot with my no-contact tester
Non-contact testers can be quite finicky about picking up phantom voltages. You should get a meter to take better measurements.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidKulzer View Post
There's a black, red, and white.
Normal wire colors as defined by code are:
White - Neutral
Green / Bare - Ground
Other - Hot

There are a few exceptions allowed, such as using a White as hot in a switch loop if it's identified with a different color at both ends.

Additionally, any hot can be controlled by a switch. If you have one wire always hot, and one wire controlled by a switch. Then you'll commonly have the black as the always hot, and the other non-white color as the switched.

Quote:
Originally Posted by DavidKulzer View Post
The box in the ceiling has 3 sets of wires going to it. 2 blacks were twisted with one white, 2 whites were twisted together, and one black was by itself. When I disconnect the two whites it kills the lights in my bathroom and other bedrooms so I twisted them back and capped it. When I unhook the white from the 2 blacks nothing seems to happen and only the 2 blacks that are still connected show as hot. The lone black wire doesn't show as hot.
It sounds like the three cables you have in this box are:
- Incoming Power
- Outgoing Power
- A switch loop (where one cable takes hot to a switch, and brings the switched hot back to a fixture)

A quick question, by twisted together, you mean with wire nuts right? Sometimes you'll find wiring where folks just twist wires together and wrap it with electrical tape. This is a big no no.

The two blacks connected with the white are the incoming & outgoing hots. The white takes hot down to a switch, and should be marked with a different color. If it isn't, wrap some black electrical tape a few inches away from the connection.

The lone black brings the hot back from the switch. It should be part of the same cable as the white connected to the two other blacks.

The two whites connected together are the incoming and outgoing neutrals.

To connect the light in, you should connect the fixture's black to the lone black, and the fixture's white to the two connected whites.


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Originally Posted by DavidKulzer View Post
Everything is alligator clipped for the light until I figure out what is what.
Please, don't use alligator clips for anything other than voltage testing. They can easily snap off, and I have yet to see any that have insulation rated for 120V. Wirenuts only take a little bit more effort and provide a safe and secure connection.

I suggest picking up one of the many books on wiring. The Black and Decker's Complete Guide to Wiring gives a nice overview of the basics. Additionally, it provides many example circuits and goes into details about stuff such as box fill and load calculations. I found it to be a great starting point.


Last edited by a_lost_shadow; 06-20-2012 at 12:44 AM.
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Old 06-20-2012, 01:41 AM   #3
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Where did the red in the switch box land up in the ceiling?
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Old 06-20-2012, 11:37 PM   #4
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I don't know how to quote like you did so I'm going to space things out. Not as easy to follow as the way you did it.

First off, thanks for the help and knowledge.

I have a meter but left it at work. I brought it home tonight and tested a few things. With the white wire that was connected to the 2 blacks unhooked, nothing in the light switch showed any power. With the white wire re-attached the black wire at the switch shows hot but the red and white still show nothing. The lone black wire in the ceiling shows no power either way. Even with all 3 wires at the switch connected the lone black wire shows nothing. The only way I was able to get the light to work so far is connect the white from the light to the 2 connected whites in the ceiling and the black from the light to the 2 blacks/1 white in the ceiling.

The alligator clips were just for figuring out what was up. I did wire nut everything before I called it quits for the night. I got the Black and Decker book last week. Great book for a beginner like me. Whatever is going on in this room doesn't seem to follow what's supposed to be going on according to the book. That's why I'm on here.

The red wire isn't in the ceiling. I don't know where it ended up going.

I'm gonna test some more wires and see what goes to the switch and what goes back to the ceiling.
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Old 06-20-2012, 11:50 PM   #5
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Another update.

Apparently the WHITE wire that's connected to the 2 blacks in the ceiling is the BLACK wire at the light switch. I checked for continuity and that's the only connection I can find. I don't know what the white or red in the light switch go to.

Like I said, all the receptacles in the room work, top and bottom.
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Old 06-21-2012, 07:08 AM   #6
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If you can find the red at a receptacle it might be that someone did not break out the tab between the brass screws and the constant hot is over-riding what is supposed to be the switched hot.
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Old 06-21-2012, 08:13 AM   #7
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You transition from w/b cables in the ceiling to r/b/w cable at the switch, so there has to be a junction box somewhere, either at a receptacle, another switch, or in the attic.
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Old 06-21-2012, 09:05 AM   #8
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...there has to be .

Don't you mean "we hope"?
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Old 06-21-2012, 09:13 AM   #9
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There's only 3 receptacles in the room so I can check them when I get home from work today. I can also look in the attic for the junction box.

I also don't understand why there's so many things on that one circuit. I am very new to anything electrical but it doesn't make sense to me. If I hook a vacuum up in the living room it trips the breaker. On that one circuit I have 3 bedroom ceiling fans/lights, the bathroom light, the kitchen light, 2 outside flood lights (3 bulbs each), and some receptacles. There may be more stuff, like porch lights, but that's all I've noticed so far. Is that too much?

Last edited by DavidKulzer; 06-21-2012 at 09:21 AM.
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Old 07-07-2012, 09:27 PM   #10
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Sure seems like too much!

Have you made any progress sorting this out?

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