Unable To Re-Wire Ceiling Lights (Chart Included)

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  #1  
Old 12-18-12, 10:53 AM
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Unable To Re-Wire Ceiling Lights (Chart Included)

We are remodeling our bedroom. The house is over 100 years old and nothing has been done in this room for quite a while.

The setup for the room is this:

1) 4 regular outlets (2 wires and ground) that we were able to replace and re-wire with no problem.

2) 3 outlets that had 4-5 wires each. These we just capped and taped off then covered as we decided not to even try to figure out this wiring (probably 220 as this is where a washer/dryer used to be when it was a two family house).

3) The ceiling lights is where the problem comes in...

The bedroom had two overhead lights: a ceiling fan in the main part of the bedroom and a small globe light over by the bedroom closet. On the wall, there were two switches and another outlet. When we pulled all this out of the wall to replace it we saw it was all daisy chained together in a really weird way.

Our rational was, since we have so many other outlets, we would just ignore that daisy chaining and go with a simple two switch solution on the wall (one for the new ceiling fan, one for the new globe light we installed).

However, this is where things get weird. No combination of wiring seems to power the overhead lights anymore. This led me to buy a Greenlee voltage detector.

Below is a chart I put together illustrating what our current setup is. The top of the chart shows you what we started with on the wall and how everything looks now after we removed it all. The bottom of the chart is what the two ceiling plates looks like now with everything pulled out.

Name:  electrical_chart1.jpg
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The one thing that will jump out at you is the fact that the ceiling outlet by the closet seems to have two hot wires. This seemingly MAKES NO SENSE! Yet, everything worked before we pulled it out.


Any ideas on how to re-wire this correctly? I've tried just about every conceivable combination to this point and I can't come up with a solution.
 
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  #2  
Old 12-18-12, 11:59 AM
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Welcome to the forums!

The one thing that will jump out at you is the fact that the ceiling outlet by the closet seems to have two hot wires.
Actually, several things jumped out at me before I got to that. One is that you have knob-and-tube wiring that you're apparently trying to reuse. There is probably no safe or code-compliant way to do that. Another is that you show two hot wires and two neutral wires in the 2-gang box. That won't allow for switching to be installed there. A third is that you show a hot and a neutral in the box for the ceiling fan while you also show the wires in all of the other boxes disconnected, and you show that the hot wire is bare copper

The two hot wires in the box by the closet are interesting. Some questions:
  • What are you using to test the wires for voltage, function and continuity?
  • Where is your main distribution panel?
  • What is the make, model and size of the panel?
  • Is there any K&T wiring in or near the panel, or has all of that been upgraded?
We can help you make the electrical system in your house safe, and to have power wherever you need it, but it's going to take a bit more work than just figuring out the function of the existing wiring in your bedroom, I'm afraid.
 

Last edited by Nashkat1; 12-18-12 at 02:23 PM.
  #3  
Old 12-18-12, 12:08 PM
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Well, I wish I could give the answers your looking for but frankly, I have no idea. We can't bring in an electrician so I'm doing my best here on my own.

I literally just want to put the new lights back the way the old lights were. This has been run like this and has worked for over 50 years safely, 30 of which I personal have slept in this very room. I'm not worried about anything other than putting this back the way it was two weeks ago when everything worked just fine.

I did this in the living room across the hall last year with a similar setup. There must be a simple solution to this room no?
 
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Old 12-18-12, 12:20 PM
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You aren't using a non-contact tester to determine which wires are hot are you? If so your results may be wrong. You need to use an analog multimeter measuring to a known good ground such as a metal water pipe. Hot will be 120v and Neutral less then 5 volts.

Do you have a fuse box or a breaker box?

Don't jump to the conclusion you need an electrician yet. A lot can be done by the home owner willing to learn.
 
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Old 12-18-12, 12:34 PM
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A lot can be done by the home owner willing to learn.
And that is me!

I will actually go one step further and say an electrician is NOT an option. I've got to get this figured out on my own and I'm willing to put the time in.

As for the meter, I did buy a meter at Walmart that has a AC/DC voltage dial with an LED display with two long prongs (red and black) but I didn't know how to use it. I asked the guy at the hardware store and he just recommended the Greenlee no touch wand I have now that beeps red when near a hot wire.

I could try and verify my results with the other meter but I'm unsure of the process. However, the Greenlee meter I have has a voltage dial and I can turn it ALL the way down to the lowest setting and it "seems" to be getting the correct reading from each wire as they are pretty far apart.

Any thoughts?
 
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Old 12-18-12, 12:44 PM
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"Two long prongs", do you mean probes attached to wires? Is it self ranging? If your not sure post a link to it at Walmart and we will have a look at it to better help you.
 
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Old 12-18-12, 02:23 PM
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I did buy a meter at Walmart that has a AC/DC voltage dial with an LED display
That sounds like a digital multimeter. Many of us prefer analog meters because they're better at filtering out induced voltage, but it's what you have and it will work for the tests you need to make.

I asked the guy at the hardware store and he just recommended the Greenlee no touch wand I have now that beeps red when near a hot wire.
I use a Greenlee myself and I'm particularly fond of the one with the adjusting dial. Nothing wrong with it, but it only indicates that power is present. It won't read voltage or help you determine function or continuity. Your other meter will do that.

Originally Posted by ray2047
A lot can be done by the home owner willing to learn.
And that is me!
Sounds promising.
 
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Old 12-19-12, 08:33 AM
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I looked and the meter I bought from Walmart is the "Digital Multimeter GE2524." Here is a screenshot of the one I have:



I tried Googling it and looking up tuts on YouTube for finding the hot/neutral wires but most only explain how to stick the prongs into an outlet to test its voltage.
 
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Old 12-19-12, 09:37 AM
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I tried Googling it and looking up tuts on YouTube for finding the hot/neutral wires but most only explain how to stick the prongs into an outlet to test its voltage.
Set the meter to 200V AC (two clicks clockwise from off). With the wires disconnected and separated, turn the power on and touch the two probes to any black or red wire and the white wire in the same cable. A reading of 120V indicates a hot-neutral pair.
 
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Old 12-19-12, 09:50 AM
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To determine which is neutral run a wire from a ground such as a metal water pipe and test each to ground. The one that is less the 10 volts is the neutral.
 

Last edited by ray2047; 12-19-12 at 06:59 PM.
  #11  
Old 12-19-12, 06:08 PM
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Update:

Thanks for the great info! And with it, I have some new findings...

I set the meter to the above recommended settings and tested the wires on the wall panel first.

I found that the ONLY combination of two wires that gave me a 120V reading were the bottom left + bottom right wires (reading at about 124.5).

I also tested the wires in the ceiling on both sides, but neither gave me any kind of reading other than zero (sometimes I get a negative but it goes away).

So, what does this tell us?
 
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Old 12-19-12, 06:28 PM
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One of the splices that has been undone probably feeds power to the stuff that does not work.

Newer wiring patterens are A to B to C etc. Older knob and tube may have a switched neutral and be fed from ceiling boxes down to the receptacles.
 
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Old 12-20-12, 06:55 AM
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One of the splices that has been undone probably feeds power to the stuff that does not work.

Newer wiring patterens are A to B to C etc. Older knob and tube may have a switched neutral and be fed from ceiling boxes down to the receptacles.
I see. Thanks for the info. So, in my situation, how would my new findings effect how I wire the switch on the wall and light in the ceiling?
 
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Old 12-20-12, 02:17 PM
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Given your descriptions of both hot white and bare wires. I don't know how to tell you to proceed. Neither of those conditions should be occurring.
 
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Old 12-20-12, 10:30 PM
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I see. Thanks anyway!

Anyone else have a thought on where to go from here with the wiring? Perhaps I need to use a different settings in testing the ceiling wires?

Again, I am still optimistic this can be done as it WAS done not two weeks ago and everything worked.

Thanks!
 
  #16  
Old 12-20-12, 11:16 PM
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I found that the ONLY combination of two wires that gave me a 120V reading were the bottom left + bottom right wires (reading at about 124.5).
Then that is a hot/neutral pair. Determine which is which by plugging an extension cord into a good receptacle, inserting one of your meter's probes into the neutral (the larger) slot.

To determine where the other two wires go, turn the power off and attach a length of wire to one of them that's long enough to reach the other open boxes. Set your meter to ohms. It should be the one at 4:00. Touch the probes together. If the meter squeals or flashes or otherwise sends you a message, that's it. Otherwise, try the setting at 5:00.

Once you've found the resistance (ohms) setting, take your meter and your length of connected wire to each of the other open wires in the room and test them at the same setting. When you get the same signal from your meter that you got when you toughed its probes together, you've found the other end of the wire you connected onto. Then test for the other end of the second wire.
 
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Old 12-21-12, 07:34 PM
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Thanks. That sounds like a good idea, however, unfortunately I don't have a length of cable that will work for that. The wires are a good 20 feet apart and I have no way of connecting the two in order to create a "bridge" like that to test.

Is there any other way of testing each wire individually or perhaps trying to re-wire the switch/light again to get it on? Would this even work with one light at this point or will I have to get power daisy chained back through the other wires again to get it all working back?
 
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Old 12-21-12, 07:40 PM
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You can identify wire pairs by shorting one end together with a wire nut. You would then check other ends for continuity with the meter.

This needs to be done with the power off and verified before you attempt this.

You can also insert the wire ends into an extension cord and use it to act as a jumper.
 
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Old 12-21-12, 07:44 PM
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An extension cord is a length of wire. Attach the wire on end to be tested to the brass screw of a receptacle and plug in a polarized or with ground extension cord. On the other end insert one meter probe into the narrow slot.
 
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Old 12-22-12, 05:58 PM
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OK, I will attempt to give this a try.

However, in the meantime, I'd like to get something clear in my mind about something.

If I found the hot/neutral pair on the wall, would it not be IMPOSSIBLE for their NOT to be a hot/neutral pair in one of the ceiling plate that matches this? Otherwise, the electricity is not completing the circle when we hit the switch at the wall.
 
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Old 12-22-12, 06:34 PM
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If I found the hot/neutral pair on the wall, would it not be IMPOSSIBLE for their NOT to be a hot/neutral pair in one of the ceiling plate that matches this?
Assuming power comes in at the switch then there would always be a neutral at the light with modern wiring but there would only be a hot when the switch was on. However since this is K&T you may always have a hot but only have neutral when the switch is closed. The other possibility is a switched hot and a neutral from another source or a switched neutral and a hot from another source. All of these wiring methods were used in the days of K&T.
 
  #22  
Old 12-22-12, 08:38 PM
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Interesting. Allow me to dig a little deeper here.

So, with my new lighting fixture I bought, obviously I would have a black (hot) and a white (neutral) wire.

Lets say I wire the black of the new light to the black of the ceiling and the same with the white wires, and nothing happens. Obviously the first thing I'd try is reversing them to see if I had them switched. If that still didn't work, would it be matter of just capping off one of the ceiling wires and only using the just the one, based on the above description?
 
  #23  
Old 12-23-12, 06:02 AM
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Obviously the first thing I'd try is reversing them to see if I had them switched.
No. The side of the light the white goes to is for safety not fubction the light will work either way it is hooked up.

If that still didn't work, would it be matter of just capping off one of the ceiling wires and only using the just the one, based on the above description?
No, you need a hot and a neutral for the light to work so you need two wires.

After rereading your post I wonder if you were talking about cables not wires. If you were talking about cable please re-post using correct terminology.
 
  #24  
Old 12-25-12, 11:21 AM
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UPDATE - PROGRESS MADE!

After not really being able to make heads or tails of the situation (sorry but some of the stuff posted above kind of seemed to lead me off track a bit) I decided to go back to some good old trial and error.

I first did a retest of my readings. I found that three of the four is actually a match that gives me a 124v reading. The bottom left + bottom right AND the bottom right + top right. Here is a chart to illustrate this (again, ignore the black as they are clearly mislabeled):

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So, I rewired the switch using the top right + bottom right on the wall and ran the white wire of my light to the bare copper and hen I ran the black to black in the main bedroom ceiling panel. BOOM! We now have light on this switch! Here is another illustration showing how I wired it to accomplish this(ignore the black as they are clearly mislabeled)::

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So, it would seem that since the one wire on the top left is the odd man out (and it does not seem to match anything) I'm assuming that the closet light was daisy chained off the other three somehow.

With this new info, is there any thoughts on how the ceiling light may have been run? I've tried, but still can't get it wired to come on with a single switch.

Thanks!
 
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Old 12-25-12, 11:27 AM
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If possible I suggest don't try to figure it out. May drive yourself nuts trying. Just run new NM-b from the breaker box for the closet light and abandon the existing K&T. You then have a starting point for future replacement of some of the other K&T. Use a deep switch box for the closet light and run to it first. With the deep switch box you can have room for new connections when you start replacing the K&T. (An old work box will be easy to remove then replace when you start fishing new cable.)
 
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