Definitely bad wiring

Disclaimer: I am not an electrician. The closest I get is my four or five high school and college physics courses I took. That being said, I do know from visual inspection how not to wire your home. See the photo. I do know enough to do basic circuits and do it safely. Unfortunately I’m not usually ‘shocked’ by anything one of our previous homeowners did. This, on the other hand, did surprise me. Little bit of anger in there too.

Electrical no-no

The problem

We’ve been at this house for 9 years at this point. I’ve ran into tile that was laid on top of hardwood floors, tile that was laid up to cabinets (without raising the cabinets), false walls, macgyvered electrical outlets, and interior outlets placed in the open outdoors (but they did at least have GFCI outlet). I really don’t know why I’m surprised by how this particular project played out; maybe it was the sheer amount of stupidity that was involved here.

Hanging can light
I shouldn’t see the can light falling out of the ceiling

Everybody likes an illuminated space. Some people more than others. With many lights come many light bulbs, and eventually they will need changed. There will be no lightbulb jokes here. Generally, I assume that when a lightbulb is changed, the entire fixture shouldn’t fall out of the ceiling. Who knows, maybe I’m doing it wrong and it’s supposed to take 3 hours to change 4 light bulbs. I think this must be the case, since on closer inspection all four can lights in Aiden’s room were literally only being held up by the springs found in the trim pieces around the lights.

The Journey

I’m fortunate in the regard that I have an attic. Unfortunately, that crawlspace is not meant for a 6’1″ adult. Unless that adult is a contortionist. Some I’m unfortunate in the regard that getting to the problem area requires planning, detailed lists of materials, and a bathroom break before departure. Ever seen the movie Onward? My gauntlet is a 15 foot path of wires, HVAC ductwork, bathroom vents, and at the very beginning a 8′ blind drop off from the room framing.

To successfully reach my prize (I don’t think it is really a prize in this case), I must traverse this perilous path. First, cross the narrow bridge (it’s a 2X6) propped on the ceiling framework of the bonus room to access the top of Aiden’s bedroom. At the end of the bridge, dodge a 240V electrical cable for the HVAC, a bathroom vent, and the first HVAC duct. All at the same time. Aiming for a 16″ wide access hole. And carrying 4 can lights, a 25 pound tool kit, and 50′ of Romex. For the next 15 feet me and my entourage must move from joist to joist while going over and under ductwork, avoiding wires, and moving in ways that I can’t even describe. I don’t have a gelatinous cube in this journey, but a roofing nail in the head is in my opinion comparable.

The “prize”

At the end of the journey comes my prize (not really). A 12′ x 12′ area mostly occupied by ductwork that is at the peak probably only 5′ tall. It is at this point my fun truly begins. For the next two hours I get the pleasure of rewiring and replacing all 4 can lights. Once again, this is while dodging existing live wires, ductwork, and those damn roofing nails. All while hunched over like Quasimodo.

Can lights not to use
See the red warning label? Read it.

Fun fact: warning labels are usually put there for a reason. For example, if a label in big red letters tells you there is a risk of fire, it probably means the thing gets hot. If the label further tells you not to put in contact with insulation due to fire risk, it probably shouldn’t be done. Apparently this guy couldn’t read, or decided laws of thermodynamics didn’t apply to him. But wait, there’s more…

How not to wire your home…

Can light no-no
Really? In what world does this make sense?

I’ll be honest, I have no idea where these lights would be used. They literally have a metal flange that just sits on the drywall with no secure connection to a framing member. I did run across some clips that may have been meant for securing the fixture…but they were tossed aside. Apparently this guy used mind power or something to hold these lights in. Second observation: using an unsecured switch box to contain the wiring. There are four of these, one for each light. An example of how to not wire your home.

Definitely bad wiring
Several bad words come to mind

It took me about 30 minutes to puzzle out exactly what was going on in these two boxes. Again, I’m not an electrician, so it required some study to trace the wiring. After some pondering, though, I figured it out. All our house switches are drop switches. The home was built in 1993, so a neutral wasn’t required at the switch. This particular switch is a 3-way switch that originally only controlled a ceiling fan and integrated light. Since this dude was too lazy to drop another wire down to the switch box, he just split out the traveler for fan control and used the black and neutral to power the can lights and their switch. In other words, a fancy (stupid) daisy chain of lights.

The solution

I’ll give him some credit: he did have a 200 pound air handler sitting over the fan junction box. I had that thing removed and replaced somewhere that was a lot easier to get to. The guys that removed it were cussing the whole time. That being said, he did cram one can light under the air handler platform that went past the fan, so he really should have just rewired the whole thing correctly.

Correct can light
That’s much better

Two hours. Four can lights. One reworked junction box. Even better: the can lights are correct for the application. They also won’t fall out of the ceiling. My back and butt are sore for crouching and sitting on joists for two hours. Thanks to the fact that he had also cut the 3-way wire too short by about a foot, I’ve had to pretty much leave the fan and can lights daisy chained together. Not ideal, but also the only option I’ve got at the moment until I get the time to rework both the fan junction box and drop wires to the wall switch. However, I’ve got no floating junction boxes anymore, and all connections are made in the light versus a floating junction box.

The journey home

I’ll admit the journey back to civilization was much easier without the can lights. It was still a gauntlet. Only poked my head 3 times with a roofing nail. Almost failed the bridge, since its sorta hard to have to back out through that same 16″ hole through wires and plumbing and blindly feel for that 2×6 so could climb down. Lesson #245: do it the right way the first time. The depressing part, I’ve got to go back up to complete the project, but at least I feel more confident about the wiring and lights. Onward again.

Author: Zack

Pharmacist, tech guy, pianist, lover of beer, gamer, beach bum. Probably missed something. Just assume I'm into a little bit of everything.


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