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Old 12-08-2019, 11:48 AM   #1
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New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


Hello to all - looking to get some input on where I can diagnose my issues before shelling out to hire an electrician to come out.

We had 3 old wall-mount outdoor light fixtures that we replaced on our garage. Simple project - one I've done many times before (white-to-white, black-to-black and copper-to-copper ground). This time around, when I finished the install, screwed in some bulbs, flipped on the breaker and then turned the switch to the "on" position, my garage door light flickered (hz wave?) and the breaker tripped (without the new bulbs turning on in the new fixtures).

I figured I had some wires touching causing a short so I took each fixture down and re-inpected and re-wire-nutted each with no visible issues. I tried the process again and this time when I turned on the switch, it sparked, so I quickly turned it off. The breaker did not trip this time. I've had the circuit off because I don't know what to do next.

Of note is that there are two switches for this circuit - one at two entries to the home. The first attempt I used one switch, the second attempt I used the second switch (the one that sparked).

Any obvious things that I should be looking for or testing? I haven't had this type of issue before and am at a loss as to why it's happening. I currently haven't been able to run a refrigerator in the garage and garage doors due to the circuit being off.

I did try LED bulbs first (8 watt x 3 bulbs) and then I tried 53 watt incandescents - neither worked.

Thanks in advance for any helpful hints!
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Old 12-08-2019, 11:52 AM   #2
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


Could be a short inside one of the new fixtures.

With power off, check the circuit for a short with ohm meter.
Open the cct in logical places to isolate short.
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Old 12-08-2019, 11:58 AM   #3
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


@CodeMatters - thanks. That's what I figured I'd have to do next is just test with a multimeter in various places to at least try to isolate the issue. I have a buddy coming over to help. I'll report back to see if that yields and findings. Hopefully it's not the fixtures - they were custom made and took a long time to be produced. Maybe when installing them I had a pinch and insulation came off or something is getting grounded. I'll find out... hopefully.
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Old 12-08-2019, 11:59 AM   #4
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


Fuse.... Sounds like you have not re-wired as before.

In three way switches, the wire colors and switch terminals are easily mixed up.
I'm sure someone will be along to show you pics of three way wiring (I don't know how to find/load them).

Then if that does not help, we'll have to ask specific questions/pics if exactly what you have to correct it.

As a preliminary question, do you have a multi-meter and know how to test for voltage and/or continuity
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Old 12-08-2019, 12:30 PM   #5
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


Quote:
Simple project - one I've done many times before (white-to-white, black-to-black and copper-to-copper ground).
The problem with wiring that way is that not all whites are neutrals. Whites are used as power carrying wires in switch loops or in multi-switch configurations as a traveller.

While there is a requirement to mark those white wires that carry power, it doesn’t always happen. In fact, it is a rarity in some areas.

My guess is you connected a white power wire to a neutral and now have a direct short.

Btw, is this a detached garage ?
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Old 12-08-2019, 12:52 PM   #6
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


Remove the fixtures and clear the wire ends. Try the switch. If it holds, with the power off instal a fixture and test again. Rinse and repeat.

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Old 12-08-2019, 01:14 PM   #7
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


@Oso954 The only thing I can think of is that everything is flipped backwards where the white and the black are not the traditional common vs. load.

The fixtures passed the continuity test so they can be crossed off the list.

Should I try wiring the ribbed light fixture wire to the black lines instead of the white as they are now?

EDIT: and it is an ATTACHED garage.

Last edited by fusebox7; 12-08-2019 at 01:19 PM.
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Old 12-08-2019, 01:16 PM   #8
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


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Originally Posted by fusebox7 View Post
@Oso954 The only thing I can think of is that everything is flipped backwards where the white and the black are not the traditional common vs. load.

The fixtures passed the continuity test so they can be crossed off the list.

Should I try wiring the ribbed light fixture wire to the black lines instead of the white as they are now?
Even if that were true, it would not trip the breaker.

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Old 12-08-2019, 01:18 PM   #9
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


@rjniles @Oso954 - the old light fixtures had black to black and white to white... the only difference with the new fixtures is that the "ribbed" is supposed to go to "white" and the "smooth" to black (which I have done).
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Old 12-08-2019, 04:33 PM   #10
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


Some users find it safer, easier and cheaper to use a series test light at the breaker feed point to help isolate and locate a short circuit. What is needed is a standard light bulb socket with pigtail wires coming from it. Disconnect the breaker wire and connect the test bulb wires in series with the breaker lug and the wire that was removed. Turn on the breaker and the bulb will light with normal brilliance to show that the line is shorted. Proceed along the feed path, disconnecting fixtures from the far end back toward the panel until the light goes out. Using Vulcan logic, you'll know where the short may be.

Generally, using that same Vulcan logic, it will be something you worked on recently.
ps. Believe it or not, in older days, much older days, electricians used to stick their finger inside a light bulb socket or onto a wire to see if it was live! True fact.

Stay safe, don't work on any connections while they are live!!! Good luck in the quest.

Last edited by surferdude2; 12-08-2019 at 04:35 PM.
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Old 12-08-2019, 05:35 PM   #11
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


It took all day and following the advice posted here (THANK YOU) but we (believe) we found the culprit... one of the screws used to attach the fixture had rubbed the insulation off of the load wires (CRAMMED IN THE BOX) and since the bracket plate is grounded it was shorting the circuit.

I still have the wires in reverse polarity due to the horrible fixture instructions (marked wire to white... marked meaning wording/labeling?). But that will be an easy swap.

Thanks all - problem solved. Deductive reasoning wins this time!
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Old 12-08-2019, 05:43 PM   #12
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


Common failure, fixture screw runs through the wire insulation. Ribbed or otherwise id'd is always neutral (white).

All the best, SD2

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Old 12-08-2019, 06:34 PM   #13
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


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Originally Posted by surferdude2 View Post
Some users find it safer, easier and cheaper to use a series test light at the breaker feed point to help isolate and locate a short circuit. What is needed is a standard light bulb socket with pigtail wires coming from it. Disconnect the breaker wire and connect the test bulb wires in series with the breaker lug and the wire that was removed. Turn on the breaker and the bulb will light with normal brilliance to show that the line is shorted. Proceed along the feed path, disconnecting fixtures from the far end back toward the panel until the light goes out. Using Vulcan logic, you'll know where the short may be.
Wow. I've never heard of that trick. So pig-tailed socket is inserted in series(one pigtail towards breaker, one out to the fixtures on the hot wire) and if there is a short further down the line the light will come on? And that's because there is a continuous circuit back to the panel or some other source of ground? Thanks for that.
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Old 12-08-2019, 06:46 PM   #14
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Re: New Garage Lights - Tripping Breaker / Sparking Switch


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Originally Posted by schreibdave View Post
Wow. I've never heard of that trick. So pig-tailed socket is inserted in series(one pigtail towards breaker, one out to the fixtures on the hot wire) and if there is a short further down the line the light will come on? And that's because there is a continuous circuit back to the panel or some other source of ground? Thanks for that.
That was common practice years ago when all sub panels used screw-in fuse protection, breakers were high tech back then or didn't exist yet. The electrician just screwed a light bulb into the fuse socket (same size and fit as a screw-in fuse) to do what I described. When out of fuses and one blew, some homeowners would put a copper penny in the socket and screw a blown fuse in to hold it against the contacts to substitute for a fuse. Sometimes we read about those people in the paper!!!

You can learn a lot from an old dummy!

ps. Repeatedly closing a circuit breaker into a short circuit is not only risking damaging to it, it can be dangerous to the operator. The possibility of the instantaneous short current exceeding the SCCR (short circuit current rating) of the breaker is ever present. It can blow up into a fireball of plasma and shrapnel that can do great harm to the unsuspecting operator. This is especially true when houses are built close together and dual fed from a daisy chain open loop at each end. The person closest to any given transformer may be subject to tremendous instantaneous high short circuit current levels, all the way down to the final load on any branch circuit. Current code requires an adequate level of SCCR of all connected device in order to mitigate that risk.
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Last edited by surferdude2; 12-08-2019 at 07:08 PM.
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