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Rich
Rich, Master Electrician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 1801
Experience:  Over 35 years residential, commercial, industrial wiring, install, troubleshoot, service, maintain
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I want to put an entirely new light fixture into my living

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I want to put an entirely new light fixture into my living room ceiling. I don't know how to figure out where in the ceiling I already have wiring that I could tap in to. I have a 3-way switch that I can tell is wired, but doesn't seem to go to anything, so ideally I'd like to figure out where that wire goes so I can use it to control the new fixture. Is there some easy way to tell where the wire that the 3-way switch is wired to runs in the room?

Rich : Hello. I can help you today. Rich
Customer:

Hi Rich.

Customer:

I'm Mike.

Customer:

So what do I need to know?

Rich :

do you have any kind of voltage testor ? is this accessable in an attic space ?

Customer:

yes

Customer:

yes to the tester.

Customer:

no about attic access.

Customer:

ground floor of a 3-floor home

Rich :

does the testor have wires or just rings when you nget close to power ?

Customer:

you seem to be talking about a different sort of tester than I have, I think.

Rich :

is there a box where you want to put this new light ?

Customer:

here's what I have available to me.

Customer:

1) a voltage meter

Customer:

2) a tool that will tell me what breaker goes to a particular outlet

Customer:

and 3)...

Customer:

hang on, let me grab it downstairs...

Customer:

the third is a continuity tester.

Customer:

I don't have anything that I can, for example, run along the ceiling to find where wiring might be

Rich :

ok .. well the 3 way would normally switch a light in the room it is in ,, or the room that is next to it .. or it may be switching an outlet

Rich :

does any of that make sense ?

Rich :

is there an existing electrical box where you want the new light ?

Customer:

Yes, I know how they are supposed to work. We've tested every outlet in the room bounded by the 2 3-way switches (that I assume work together) but it doesn't seem to currently control anything.

Customer:

there is currently no electrical box. That's what I want to add.

Rich :

have you taken the switch out of the wall ?

Customer:

That's why I need to find the power in the ceiling.

Customer:

I have pulled the cover off, but not take the switch out of the wall...

Rich :

Ok .. no box .. so you understand that it means cutting out plaster on the wall and ceiling if you want to conceal the wiring

Customer:

yes

Customer:

wait, wall AND ceiling? Not just ceiling?

Rich :

can you see what color wires are on the three terminals on the switch

Customer:

just a sec.

Rich :

ceiling would be a lot of luck to find the wire where you wanted the lightn

Customer:

red, white, and black.

Rich :

how close are the two 3way switches .. wondering if the shortest distance between them is around a wall the usual .. or over the ceiling route

Customer:

the shortest distance is likely through the ceiling. they are on opposing sides of the living room.

Customer:

maybe 20 to 25 feet?

Customer:

and they don't share a wall

Rich :

OK red white black ,, then this sounds like the end of the line .. the power and switch leg are in the other switch box ,, i think

Customer:

okay, let me take the other plate off, and see what it has.

Rich :

OK if this is true ,, power on the other end .. then using this 3wire would not work for as new light

Rich :

you would need to find the switch leg .. that goes from the other switch to whatever it is controlling

Customer:

the other one appears to be black, black, and red.

Rich :

when you tested the outlets .. did you test top and bottom of the outlets .. sometimes they are split bottom switched .. top hot

Customer:

yes

Rich :

yes the black black red would be typical for the switch with the power and switch leg

Customer:

my guess is that when this place was renovated, the guy intended to do something with this 3-way switch, but ended up not...

Rich :

how old is the house ?

Rich :

when was the renovation

Customer:

there is another 3-way switch right next to the ones I am working on that control the recessed lighting.

Customer:

originally 1910, but renovated in 2006.

Customer:

turned into a 3-unit condeo

Customer:

er condo

Rich :

where is the recessed lighting in the room just trying to get a mental picture

Rich :

do you think that thye old ceilings have been lowered in the renovation

Customer:

there a 5 recessed lights, 1 in each corner (roughly) and one off-center.

Rich :

new plaster ceiling

Customer:

hard to sya... the ceiling is 10 to 12 feet.

Customer:

I think new plaster

Rich :

nope too high for to have been dropped

Customer:

I'm usually pretty handy... I get the feeling, though, that I should probably hire someone to help...

Rich :

well .. action plans .. there is a tool that is used to trace circuits in walls .. can be rented in some localities .. send a radio signal along the wire and can be traced ... could open up outlet boxes looking for an extra wire dead ended . probably close to that second switch .. could look in the recessed light in the center oif the room and see if it is dead ended there

Rich :

none of this is a sure thing .. have worked in a lot of old farm houses in new england ,, alway a surprise how they are wired

Customer:

I have a "digital circuit detective", but I don't think it's going to help... Looks like you'd use it to find the circuit breaker that ties to a given outlet or light fixture...

Rich :

how does that work .. attach to wire and then get signal at breaker ? maybe attach to wire at swiotch and see if it reacts at an outlet ??? do not know how that tester works ,.

Rich :

I kinda told you how i would rry to find it .. maybe that thing could help ?

Customer:

plug in to outlet, then the other piece is a transmitter of some sort. hold it up to the breaker, press a button

Customer:

it might.

Customer:

I've never used it... I bought it when I was trying to replace an outside outlet.

Customer:

Let me try something.

Customer:

tried using it to see if it could identify the switch to a known switched outlet... didn't seem to work.

Customer:

let me try one other thing. hang on.

Rich :

the wire you are looking for may not be attached to anything .. just a thought in the rewire

Customer:

that thought occurred to me.

Customer:

Voltage meter would tell me if there is power, yes?

Customer:

damn, now I need to find my volt meter... not where I thought it was...

Rich :

yes .. but that wire may not be connected ,, may be lurking in back of box

Customer:

got power to one of the switches

Customer:

checking the otehr

Customer:

it appears to have power, too...

Customer:

so what the hell are they wired to..

Customer:

Okay... I think I'm giving up and hiring someone....

Customer:

I appreciate the help.

Rich :

switches may show power .. but if nothing on end of wire then nothing will be controlled

Customer:

ah...

Rich :

the wire may dead end in a box som,ewhere ..

Customer:

think I need to pull the switches out then?

Customer:

how can I track down that box?

Rich :

I would guess in a outlet box near the second switch ,, black black red .. or in the center light fixture

Rich :

will be a guiessing game

Customer:

Okay... I'll bring in a professional, I guess...

Customer:

Thanks for your help, Rich.

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