Trace Electrical Wire

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  #1  
Old 10-20-07, 03:52 AM
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Trace Electrical Wire

Is there anyway for the average Joe to trace an electrical wire?

The reason I'm asking is that I've discovered a light switch and a light that each only have 1 cable in the (black, white, ground).

What I'm suspecting is that the homeowner wired it similar to what I found in my basement where they have a junction box between the two locations for the power to come in.

The problem with that is I have a finished attic. I haven't confirmed yet, but I am suspecting that all my ceiling fixtures on the 2nd floor were done this way when it was rewired.

That being said, if I can't find the junction box(es) where the power is connected, is it worth tearing up the floor to replace the wire? I'm planning on starting a remodel on the 3rd floor this winter so if I need to do it, now is the time before I put in new flooring.

If the answer is "yes, you must rewire", do you think it's worth the effort to put a subpanel on the 3rd floor to service the 2nd and 3rd floor during the rewiring effort? I'm thinking it would save wire as well as my sanity of fishing so many cables up the wall. If so, can I have the subpanel in a closet? I know there are some restrictions about clearance, but I'm not sure exactly what they are.
 
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  #2  
Old 10-20-07, 04:45 AM
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You can trace wires with a wire tracer. You can get these at your local hardware store. These are pretty cheep and do a good job. Clip one end on the hot wire and the other on the neutral wire turn the tracer on and go stick it in an junction box or the breaker box to find all the wires attached to the wire your are hooked on.

Hope this helps
 
  #3  
Old 10-20-07, 05:43 AM
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Does it work through floors and ceilings? That's what I'm really hoping to find is where the power connects to this wire.
 
  #4  
Old 10-20-07, 06:41 AM
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Switch Loop

If you have only one cable coming into the light switch box, you have a switch loop. Look for the "hot" wire in the outlet box where the light is located. It should have the switch loop cable and the "hot" cable. Be careful. Electricity can kill you. Good luck with your project.
 
  #5  
Old 10-20-07, 06:58 AM
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Wirepuller, I would have expected exactly what you're saying. That is not the case here. I have 1 cable (black, white, ground) going into each location.

Somewhere in between the two points the power is getting in. I suspect that it is buried underneath the recently finished 3rd floor (previous owner finished). I need to figure out if there is a way to trace the wire so I can figure out corrective measures or if I need to start removing the floor randomly.

Editted to add:

What I'm really hoping is to trace this wire to a junction box that is simply behind some insulation or up in the attic space above the 3rd floor. I already abandoned wires in the kitchen because I couldn't figure out where they spliced an ungrounded circuit with new wire. I want to avoid this if possible.
 
  #6  
Old 10-20-07, 08:01 AM
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If this ceiling fixture was added it could be that a wall receptacle was at one time switched. The ceiling box could go to the wall receptacle box.

Some of the stud finders have electrical wire tracing capabilities.

If during your renovation you find electrical boxes hidden inside the wall or under the floor you must move them. You are not permitted to bury electrical connection.
 
  #7  
Old 10-21-07, 01:07 PM
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I believe the light fixture location is original as far as I can tell. I haven't determined that any of the outlets anywhere in the house are controlled by a switch.

I have a stud sensor that senses electrical current. I can try that I guess.

I aware of the requirement that the junction box cannot be buried and should not have been in the first place. If I find a buried junction box beneath the floor, I hope to have enough slack to put in a floor outlet where the junction box is.

In short it doesn't sound like there is a magic bullet to find where the wire is getting it's power from.

If I do need to run new wires, what about putting the sub panel in the closet? What kind of space constraints would I Have there?
 
  #8  
Old 10-21-07, 01:31 PM
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A sub panel must have a space 30 x 36 x 6'7" in front of it that is clear of any obstructions. You can not put it in a closet.
 
  #9  
Old 10-21-07, 01:53 PM
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Is the closet restriction due to the space requirements or is it specifically prohibited?
 
  #10  
Old 10-21-07, 02:30 PM
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Clothes closets cannot be used for electrical panels. Utility closets may be used, but the space requirements in front of the panel must be met.
 
  #11  
Old 10-22-07, 07:14 AM
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Thanks. I should have specified that this is a utility closet. I'll have to check the space requirements. I'm hoping I don't have to go this route and I'll simply be able to find and correct any potential issues.

Thanks for the information. Now it's time to do the demolition (at least in the near future)
 
  #12  
Old 10-22-07, 12:45 PM
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Just be clear, let's assume your closet is 30x36. That means you can not put anything in the closet as it would be within the working space in front of the panel.
 
  #13  
Old 10-22-07, 02:02 PM
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After further looking, it won't be able to be in the closet anyway due to the 6'7" space restriction in front of the panel. The slanted ceiling causes issues with that, as it wasn't going to be facing toward the door.

I don't know where I would be able to put it.

Can you refer me to some code online that I can look at regarding subpanel replacement? I have a multitude of possible locations but each location has their own special situation.

For instance, I don't know if I could put it on the opposite side of the wall in the stair well (and possible cover with hanging picture frame).
 
  #14  
Old 10-23-07, 06:59 AM
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Other than the space, it can't be in a bathroom or a clothes closet.
 
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