Unable to determine wiring in kitchen light


Old 01-20-01, 11:53 AM
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I am trying to replace a kitchen light fixture. When I removed the old one, the wires all appeared to be the same color. Very dirty and cracked. When I disconnected the old fixture, I attempted to try to connect the new one to the same wires. It seemed to work for a while, but the range hood no longer worked and the outlet on the adjoining wall no longer worked. Today the kitchen lights (there are 2 but only 1 was replaced) flashed and both went out. The breaker did not flip and the other lights(dining room) that is on that breaker is still on. I am stumped. Is this a short and if so how do I know what wires are what when they are all the same (or so it appears) color.
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Old 01-20-01, 12:29 PM
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Location: ottawa canada
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My first thought is if everything worked properly when you first installed it, and the only place where touched the wires is during the installation of the new light fixture; ..

It is possible that you an insulator nut connecting the wires together in the light fixture box has come apart, or has become loose. Even if you only disconencted the wires on the old light and put them on teh new, anything in that box , could have loosen up by moving around the wires. The wires to the rest of the circuit could be joined up (connected together) in that same box. Well it worked ok when you first installed it , right...Vibrations could be enough to disturb an already a barely connected , lose insulator nut.

Other things can do this , I am just going on assumption that things worked fine for a good period of time, then the fixture was changed, work for shorter period of time, and now...

[Edited by dkerr on 01-20-01 at 03:37]
Old 01-22-01, 10:58 AM
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Location: Fayetteville, NY, USA
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Well, here's my take on all of this. You have what they call "octopus wiring", where they send some juice to a ceiling box (the octopus's body) for subsequent distribution to other areas (the way the wires branch out in various directions resembles the tentacles).

Some of the stuff on that circuit which still works after the problem started is upstream of that ceiling box (stuff between the ceiling box and breaker, or "upstream" electrically, is still connected fine). There will be groups of each colored wire in the ceiling box (I realize they appear to be the same color to you, but once upon a time they were different colors and now only a voltage meter can tell them apart. Anyway, they wire-nut the conductors from each tentacle together in the box, sending power out of the box to the other parts of the house. You would have a group of "hots" and a separate group of "neutrals" in the ceiling box. One conductor in each of the groups is the incoming hot & the incoming neutral to feed all the other branches going out. You loosened up one of the groups or broke a wire while changing the light fixture.

The condition your wiring is in tells me that it might be aluminum, and that someone has used higher wattage bulbs for protracted periods of time. Most ceiling fixtures are rated for 60 amps maximum. People ignore the sticker on the fixture base that says this and throw 75's, 100's or even larger in there withut a second thought. The rating is intended to keep the bulb's heat from damaging existing house wiring up in the ceiling box above that heat source.

I am concerned about the cracked wire. The insulation has turned brittle with time, and moving or flexing it may have caused some of it to crack off. I have personally seen what you described, and in all honesty I must tell you that it's scary and should be dealt with. Done completely properly the wires that are cracked should be replaced all the way back to where the insulation is healthy. Unfortunately, that's bound to be about a foot away from the box. You certainly don't want to just rip a hole in your ceiling, and you can't legally make terminations concealed in walls or ceilings, so you would end up replacing each wire all the way back to the first accessible wall box, and sometimes all the way back to your main panel. I know this sounds like a nightmare, so...

I would turn off the power to that circuit, take a very bright flashlight and very, very thoroughly do a visual inspection of all the wires in that ceiling box without moving or flexing them if at all possible. You're looking for any chunks missing from the insulation, or any visible bare wire showing on any insulated conductor. If you identify only a few of them you can do a careful repair and should be OK. (Of course for liability reasons I should probably say something like "this should only be done by a qualified electrician, followed by an inspection by your local code enforcement agency".) You can very, very carefully wrap the wires that appear to be cracked or otherwise damaged using only very high quality electrical tape. I use only 3M "Scotch Super 33+", it's good for 10,000 volts per wrap! If you can identify which are black and which are white (probably dark tan from age), use black and white tape, respectively. Tape should overlap, forming a minimum of 2 layers along the entire wrapped area.

If the damage involves all or most of the wires up there, I would honestly think hard about calling in an electrician. Tell them on the phone that you need to get an ESTIMATE on some electrical problems you're having. Most reputable electical contractors will do this free, will tell you what the problem is, what they're going to do about it, and answer your concerns or questions. Of course they're not going to sit around with you all day having tea and chatting about your house, but at least you will find out what you're up against and what it's gonna cost you to get peace of mind.

Now, to address the problem of power conking out, it is a loose connection, most likely, right there in the cieling box where you have moved & flexed old wiring to install the new fixture. With the power off, again, I would carefully grab ahold of a group of wires of one color or the other, and crank the heck out of that wire nut while trying desparately not to bend or flex them and crack even more insulation. Then do the other group. If that doesn't restore the integrity of the connections we'll have to think of something else. I'm sorry that this is not an easy situation you're in. Certainly we'd like to see your initial problem solved, but also want you to be safe. Please post a reply so we know how you're doing, okay?

Good luck, susanm.


[Edited by JuiceHead on 01-22-01 at 02:07]
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