New fixture, old house.

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Old 01-02-13, 09:41 AM
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New fixture, old house.

Hi all --

I'm stumped. My house was built in 1953, and I can't figure out the wiring in my ceiling.

I'm trying to replace a ceiling fan and install a track light fixture. There is only one switch to control the ceiling box. When I removed the fan, I found three wires coming out of the ceiling -- two black wires and one white wire. Using a non-contact voltage sensor, I found that the two black wires has power, and the white wire does not (that's the ground, yeah?). I've wired the light two separate ways, changing only the what I've attached to the two black wires. Nothing works. The light won't come on. So, I changed out the switch, thinking it was bad. No dice.

When I initially wired the light, I did not test the wires for voltage. I had one of the black wires as the ground, and the other black wire wired to the black wire in the fixture, the white to the white. With that configuration, no matter where the switch in the wall was positioned, the light was constantly on. When I tried to toggle the wall switch, I heard a loud popping sound (arcing?). But the fixture does work.

Any good ideas?
 
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Old 01-02-13, 10:00 AM
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Welcome to the forums.

Sorry, based on some of your questions and comments, I'm inferring you have very little knowledge of electricity and would like to recommend you read the book Wiring Simplified (available at big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes) before proceeding any further.
 
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Old 01-02-13, 10:05 AM
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After you follow Mitch's suggestion, pick up a test light or analog multimeter. The white is neutral, with the blacks being the ungrounded conductors. Posting a picture of the inside of the switch box and ceiling box will help.
 
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Old 01-02-13, 10:11 AM
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Old 01-02-13, 10:13 AM
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Using a non-contact voltage sensor, I found that the two black wires has power,
noncontact testers are useless for serious testing. They are too prone to false positives. You need a cheap analog multimeter or at least a test light if you are going to do any electrical work.

had one of the black wires as the ground,
Scarey! Luckily you didn't cause a dead short. Only green and bare are ever ground.

When I tried to toggle the wall switch, I heard a loud popping sound (arcing?). But the fixture does work.
Double scarey. That is why you do not connect wires at random.

The wiring at the switch is just as important in determining how to hook this up but you have not even mentioned it. Please tell us all the wires at the switch and how they are connected.

I found three wires coming out of the ceiling -- two black wires and one white wire.
If your house is wired with cable they you are missing a white wire.
 
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Old 01-02-13, 10:25 AM
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Welcome to the forum.

Although I can't suggest much more then what has already been suggested, I would suggest this;
When disconnecting something that will be replaced (either with the same piece being disconnected or with a new piece), always take note of how it was originally connected. Digital camera and a pad of paper with pen are your best friend.

This way here, if something was done out of the ordinary, you know how it was originally hooked up and working.
It also makes for great 'how to' documentation in some cases.
 
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Old 01-02-13, 12:49 PM
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Thanks, all. While I have changed out plenty of light switches and fixtures in my day, I've never run into a problem like this. And, yes, I'm a total amateur, and so may have done more harm than good. Given how weird this whole thing is, I'm finally breaking down and calling an electrician. Bummer, but I don't want to be the one responsible for burning my house down. Thanks again for the responses.
 
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Old 01-02-13, 01:16 PM
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Please let us know what the electrician does to resolve this for you.
 
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Old 01-03-13, 07:49 AM
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I have light! Here's what I discovered:

Because the house is so old, there's no ground wire. I mistook the neutral for the ground (yikes). There are two hot wires (the black ones). They're there to wire a ceiling fan's fan and light separately.

Turns out I fried three dimmer switches in the making of this melodrama. Feeling like a real genius at the moment.

Thanks again, all, for trying to help.
 
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Old 01-03-13, 08:15 AM
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I mistook the neutral for the ground (yikes)
Yeah, that was the first red flag I saw in your original question.
 
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