Lots of electical problems

Old 03-09-03, 02:25 PM
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Lots of electical problems

Hi, I and my wife recently bought a house, and after a while I decided to fix up some of the electrical problems I knew we had.

I'm not an expert, but can read a wiring diagram and know how to wire up switches and receptacles, but I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed after I started to check things out.

I started by mapping out the circuits - almost all the receptacles are two pin with grounded boxes, but the only 3 pin was ungrounded (in hindsight a warning). I also knew I had to install a GFCI in each of the bathrooms and over the kitchen sink.

Then I fixed a problem with the kitchen lighting - the previous owner had remodeled the kitchen and put in 10 recessed lamps, with 75 W bulbs each, but used two dimmer switches rated for 600 W each, so the switches were hot and buzzing. I replaced one of the dimmers with an on/off, and the other with a new dimmer, and removed 4 of the bulbs (those spots are expensive).

Then I checked the new wiring into the kitchen - it's routed through the basement, but it's not in conduit, although there's unused (empty) conduit routed from the main panel to under the kitchen.

I decided to leave that for now and do the simplest job, replace the 2 pin receptacles with 3 pin. The wiring is the original two wire cable.

Everything went well until the second receptacle (the first was the end of the circuit) of the first circuit when I knew straight away something was wrong - whoever had wired this up had taken the wire coming in and cut back the neutral to under the main insulation, and done the same to the live of the wire leaving the box, so there was only one live and one neutral. I checked the next receptacle and found the same thing, with the neutral from the previous receptacle connected to the brass screw and a live connected to the silver screw - and so on around the circuit, neutral to live, live to neutral, neutral to neutral, live to live and so on.

This is where I threw up my hands and gave up for now.

I know how it should be wired to be up to code, and I know my priority should be to get a professional in to check what else about this mess needs to be fixed, but just how dangerous is all this? Is there something I can do for now to make things safer?

Old 03-09-03, 04:47 PM
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It's difficult to say without seeing this first hand, and perhaps conducting some tests. What you apparently believe is that the receptacles are wired in series. That would mean that none of the receptacles work unless something is plugged in and turned on in all of them. Is that true? You can also use a ohmmeter to figure out what is really connected to what. Without that, you are only trying to infer, and that can lead to incorrect conclusions.

As for your recessed lighting, they do many 1000-watt dimmers (and even higher). They also make lower wattage bulbs.
Old 03-09-03, 08:22 PM
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2 main problems.... you said the "live was to silver and the brass to neutral" which is a reversal as it should be (hot should be to brass and neutral should be to silver) also, you said you're replacing 2 prong with 3 prong. Is there a ground? if not you must replace these with GFCI recept. and label them with "no equipment ground" ..... As for the "cutting back" of the wires.... do you mean they are not attatched at all? I find this confusing, as if there is only one that is attatched you can't possibly feed it to another receptacle. I may be missing something. Are you saying they did not actually cut the wire, but instead, cut a piece out of the insulation to attatch to the screw? More info is needed.
Old 03-09-03, 08:46 PM
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I'll try to clarify what I see. The end receptacle is fine. It has one cable entering the box, the black wire is connected to the brass screw, white to the silver.

The next receptacle along has two cables entering the box. The one attached to the brass screw has just the black wire visible. The white one has been cut back. The other cable has only a white one visible and has had the black wire cut back. This white wire is attached to the neutral screw of the receptacle.

This cable connects to the third receptacle in the circuit, and carries the live into the brass screw of this receptacle. In this box, the black wire is cut back on the cable entering the box. The cable leaving the box has had the white wire cut back, and has the black wire attached to the neutral connection.

This definitely looks like serial circuit to me, but I'm more confused than ever now. I forgot that I would something attached to all receptacles and on for current to flow, but I don't need this, so it can't be serial.

Well - since I know enough about electricity to know that I don't know enough about it to fix this myself. I'll get a professional.

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