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Handy
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I just bought a lovely house built in 1895, and a week into it most of the lights went out. Due either to vibration from the DirectTV installer drilling holes, or because he had all the TVs and DVRs on at the same time, plus the drilling. I looked into every outlet and switch and moved backstabs to terminals, taped exposed cracked wires, and added pigtails where the wires were cut short. Meanwhile my electrician's mother was in the hospital and he wasn't returning calls.

In the past week I have learned a lot about this old house, and there is a veritable roadmap of the history right there in the exposed beams of the basement. It looks like the remnants of the old Tube and Knob system were replaced in the 1930's with two-wire BX. In the basement there is a whole confusing maze of 5-6 JB's connected by BX that doesn't light anything up.

The panel and GFCI circuit were installed in 2000. This I know because the electrician Alberto signed the panel like it was Picasso. All the 2nd and 3rd floor rooms have contemporary standard duplex receptacles, but wherever there is BX, the white wire is also connected to the grounding screw in most outlets. [I know that ground is not the same as grounding, at least according to recent NEC, but I don't understand this practice.]

When my electrician was able to help I found that the lights were back on, he had opened all the junction boxes in the basement, replaced the first JB, and disconnected the black wire. It just hangs there with a wire nut on it, like a used condom draped over the chandelier.

The Bx that runs up the inside walls evidently doesn't control any actual outlets - at least I can't find any. But if I disconnect the white wires in any junction box, the first breaker trips and all the old lights in all the rooms stay out, across five different circuits. I didn't realize the neutral wire in these JBs was still necessary.

Evidently this didn't bother the previous home owners, but you have to tie my hands behind my back not to rip all this stuff out immediately. I carefully folded all this wiring back into the JBs and closed them up, and the breaker didn't trip. For now I am sitting on my hands and avoiding eye contact with the ceiling. But I shouldn't need to hire an electrician to remove this stuff, since it isn't hot. And I don't just want to sit here until the next outage. I'd like to have a plan of attack. I hate not understanding what is going on.
 

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DIYer
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, the white wire is also connected to the grounding screw in most outlets. [I know that ground is not the same as grounding, at least according to recent NEC, but I don't understand this practice.]
This is almost certainly wrong. The way your outlets are wired, I mean.

Regarding terminology, grounded means "neutral", grounding means ground, in NEC terms. The two should never meet except at your service panel.
 

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... the white wire is also connected to the grounding screw in most outlets. ...
This is called a bootleg ground. It's a trick used by a dishonest electrician to make it appear that a receptacle is properly grounded when it isn't. Inexpensive three-light receptacle testers can be fooled by this trick. More expensive testers are supposed to be able to detect it.
 

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The neutral needs to be moved over to its own screw, the outlets need to be replaced with two prong or put on a gfci.

White? I didn't think they had tw insulation in the 30s...correct me if I'm wrong.

Does this bx contain a very brittle, small, aluminum wire?
 

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DIY'er
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Thank god it isn't aluminum. I said black and white but at this point it is just guesswork... the actual wire wraps are rust-colored.

One of the many JB's:
I'd turn the power off, get out the snips, and start over. Seriously your idea about ripping out the wires and starting with modern wiring would be great.
Rip it out!!! :)
Jamie
 
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