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Jason, Service Technician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 4257
Experience:  Over 20 years of experience in all types of installations, troubleshooting, and repairs.
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Switching out a ceiling light, in the box there are three

Customer Question

Hi Kevin,
Switching out a ceiling light, in the box there are three white wires, three black wires (they are bundled together and pushed back - not used), and what looks like a brown wire (maybe copper?) - guessing it is the ground.
I'm an idiot and took down the existing ceiling light without getting a good look how it was wired (arrghh, won't make that mistake again), and now can't get the right combination for the new light fixture.
Any advice would be helpful before my wife kicks my ass!
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Electrical
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Hi Mark. It appears Kevin is unavailable at this time. I should be able to assist you with getting the light working. Is that okay with you?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
For sure!
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Are you able to post a photo of the ceiling box, with all wires shown?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Sorry kids were going to bed. Pic attached. Black wires are bundled together, there are 3 white wires (one has a cap), then there is the one remaining wire on the right side.
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Thank you for posting the photo. It's a bit difficult to tell by looking, so I have a clarification question for you... are there 3 whites, 3 blacks, and 1 red?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
That is correct. Sorry picture wasn't the best it's dark in there and just had to use the flash with my camera.
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

No problem. With those quantities of those colors, you would normally connect all box blacks to each other only. Connect all box whites to each other, and to the white from the fixture. Connect black from the fixture to the red from the box. Have you already tried that setup?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I've tried that setup and no go. I believe one of the whites is the hot wire. The blacks weren't used at all they were bundled and pushed to the back of the box.
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

OK. If one of the whites is hot, then you would tie it to one of two wires that run between the ceiling box and the wall switch. If you haven't already identified those two wires, we should try to do that. Do you have a multi meter?

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I'm not sure how to identify the hot wire. I do have a digital multimeter, but have only used it for computer stuff not for identifying hot wires, so not sure the best way or correct settings. I've attached a pic of my multimeter if that helps!
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Yes, that's very helpful. Please set the dial 2 clicks to the right of the OFF position. That should be AC volts, in the 200 volt range.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Okay done. How do I test the wires? Don't want to electrocute myself! Lol
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

If the circuit breaker is on, you should be able to find a combination of 2 wire that will cause the meter to show a reading of about 120 volts. Simply touch one probe to one wire, and then at the same time touch the other probe to each of the other wires, one at a time. Since you have bare ground wires in the box, you can just keep one probe on those at all times. If they aren't all spliced to each other, I would do that first. While one probe is on a bare wire, touch the other probe to each of the other wires, one at a time.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Sorry, wee bit confused. Can you clarify. Am I to touch the red probe to each of the white wires, one at a time whilst the other probe is contacting a ground wire?
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Yes, exactly. Sorry for being so wordy. You summed it up in a much less confusing manner than how I stated it.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
Okay, not sure how this works but I won't be able to finish this until tomorrow morning. You have been of great help this far, can I update you tomorrow how thus part goes!
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Sure. You can post here any time. I work full time away from this site, so I'll check for your reply when I get home from work.

Customer: replied 1 year ago.
I tested the lines this morning, one of the white lines got around 120 volts, the rest of the white wires and red wire didn't register anything. I marked the hot wire with a piece of black electrical tape. Attached is an updated photo. Next steps?
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Thank you for the update. Did you take your reading with the wall switch ON, or OFF? Is there only one wall switch for this fixture (meaning it's a single pole switch setup, rather than a 3 way setup). Can you open the switch box and post a photo of the wires inside, pulled out for easier viewing? If so, please don't disconnect anything, just pull them out to make it clear how many wires there are, and their colors.

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