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Joseph Barcus
Joseph Barcus, Handyman
Category: Home Improvement
Satisfied Customers: 38
Experience:  worked on things like this for years
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Black and white wires mixed up. Should I be worried?

Customer Question

What would happen if I mixed up the black and white wires on a ceiling fixture? Would it be safe to just guess?

Submitted: 11 years ago.
Category: Home Improvement
Expert:  Joseph Barcus replied 11 years ago.

The fan won't know if you mixed the wires. The motor might run backwards, but still as a rule of thumb black on black, white on white. Now if you were to cross the wires in the main lines it would throw a breaker for sure, and many times in people's homes I myself have run into people crossing the wires using the white for hot black for neutral. That is against code so bad and someone that would cut into the white wire thinking oh its just a neutral will get a big surprise. So again if you crossed it at the fan it won't kick breaker but make the fan run backwards; but fans also have a switch on them to change rotation. Again, I would just shut power off and go change it. Its no big deal to do it, and save someone in the future of getting into a bad thing.

Also like to add, by crossing the wires at the fan will make the "case" hot and if a ground would come in contact with it could shock you or whoever gets in it. So please just change the wires. Hope that helps.

Customer: replied 11 years ago.

I wasn't very clear as to what my problem was. I didn't know it was so complex. I bought a chandelier and both wires are black.. at some point in the box there was a white sticker on the wire that is the "white" wire. The sticker fell off and they are both black to me now. That is the real problem here.

Expert:  Andy Lambert replied 11 years ago.

The chandelier has two black wires or the house wiring is two black wires?

Customer: replied 11 years ago.

The chandelier

Expert:  Andy Lambert replied 11 years ago.

Are there any instructions with the chandelier or did you buy or receive an old one?

Customer: replied 11 years ago.

There are instructions but the wires are both black. One had a white sticker on it so I could tell them apart but it had already fallen off when I got it out of the box.

Expert:  Joseph Barcus replied 11 years ago.

Ok here is the answer to your problem. It is simple and this way you will know for sure. Since you are talking about a light this is important you hook it up right. Kill the power, take the light, and an ohm meter - a cheap one will do just fine. Take one leg of the meter, place it on the dead center in the light socket. Then find the wire that matches that one, that spot will be your hot and go one your black wire on your light feed. If you want to just make sure, touch the side of the base the screw thing and then touch the next wire until the meter swings or beeps or however your meter works. That will be your white wire. There you go, problem solved.