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Kevin, Licensed Electrical Contractor
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 3592
Experience:  30 years Licensed Electrical Contractor in Illinois, Adjunct College Electrical Instructor, Former Electrical Inspector, Diploma: Digital Electronics, FCC Technician License
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I removed a ceiling light without taking note of connection

Customer Question

I removed a ceiling light without taking note of connection configuration and am unsure about connecting the new fixture. I have a photo which hopefully I can upload. There are two white wires twisted together with a pigtail extending out of the connector.
There are 3 black wires, 2 of which seem to be together together and all 3 of them were twisted together with a connector. I may have removed a pigtail extending out of the black wire connector - I can't remember. Finally there is a single white wire. The
new lamp I have has a simple two-wire set-up with a separate grounding wire. The lamp is swag style. Can you tell me which wires I need to connect new lamp to?
Submitted: 2 years ago.
Category: Electrical
Expert:  Kevin replied 2 years ago.
Hello and welcome to Just Answer. My name is ***** ***** I will be happy to assist you with your electrical question.
1) The single pigtail white neutral within the yellow wire nut will splice to the white neutral on the light.
2) As far as which black is the switched loop conductor, an AC voltmeter with a built-in continuity feature can easily determine which of the blacks is the switched loop conductor that extends from the wall switch. Do you have a voltmeter available?
One of the ceiling blacks is a constant 120 volts, another ceiling black is either connecting to a wall receptacle or to another wall switch. The 3rd ceiling black is the switched loop for your light that you are trying to connect to. Thus the reason to always have an AC voltmeter readily available whenever performing electrical work:)
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for your help. 1) Although my photo shows the 3 black wires unconnected, all 3 of them were definitely twisted together. when I disconnected the old fixture. (I separated them only for the photo). 2) I have a digital multimeter which can test continuity but I have never actually used it other than to measure the charge on a car battery; i.e. can you walk me through using it for this task like I'm a two year-old? Again, thanks!
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
I'll try to stay nearby so I can respond more rapidly.
Expert:  Kevin replied 2 years ago.
Thank you for the replies.
1) Where are the 3 black wires spliced at? Inside one of the wall switch boxes?
2) Take a look both 3-ways. Set your meter to the AC voltage setting and the 200 volt range. At one of the switches, place 1 meter probe to the black screw and the other probe to a bare copper ground wire. Only one of the switches will measure a constant 120 volts at the black screw whether the switches are ON or OFF. Once you locate this 3-way switch, the other 3-way switch will be the one that has the extended switched loop that extends to the lights.
Inside the 3-way box that contains the switched loop (does not have a constant 120 volts on the black screw) this connection maybe be spliced to two other blacks in that box.
Double check this wire nut splice as this is where both of the black switched loop wires meet.
3) If this does not work, reply back to me and we can continue with some additional troubleshooting methods......Thanks......Kevin!
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Have you looked at the photos I uploaded originally of the ceiling junction box? Those show what I have. Of the black wires, two of them are wrapped together, 1 seems not to be. But as I say, all 3 black wires were twisted together already with a yellow twist-on connector when the old fixture was still installed and working since the house was built 33 years ago.You mentioned a wall switch box but I haven't opened it. Is that really necessary? I think you have presumed that I have multiple 3-way switches controlling the ceiling fixture but there is only one switch which controls this fixture. Perhaps the wiring was intended originally to permit this, but it is not a necessary function since there is only a single switch controlling the light and I have no need to change that.
I don't mean to sound uncooperative, I just want to make sure you understand my situation. It may be that my situation is so self-evident that it hasn't occurred that I'd ever need any help with it! Maybe so but I got spooked by online warnings and decided not to attempt trial and error connections.
If it's of any help, I believe that the power for this ceiling light enters through the light, fixture, then goes down to the switch rather than the other way around. I make this assumption because the circuit breaker switch that turns off this kitchen ceiling light that I'm installing also shuts off the ceiling lights in both an adjacent laundry room as well as one bedroom that is on the opposite side of the house. Not the other bedrooms though and not the hallway.
Expert:  Kevin replied 2 years ago.
My apologies as I was thinking you had two 3-ways installed. Yes, thanks for the pic's:)
How many light fixtures were originally are controlled by the one wall switch? Only (1) one light fixture or two?
If the 3 blacks were spliced together, then 1 black is the switched loop and the other 2 blacks must be for 2 lights?
If only 1 light was originally installed, then only 1 ceiling black would have connected to the light black and the other 2 house black wires would have been spliced together. In other words, 1 switched loop spliced to the light fixture black is all you need for 1 light to operate, plus the neutral splice.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Just one light is controlled by one switch for the ceiling light I'm replacing.. However..... there is a separate switch in the same switch box which controls a separate set of fluorescent lamps on the ceiling on the other side of the kitchen. THESE tubes ARE controlled by 2 switches, although neither of these 2 3-way switches control the ceiling fixture I'm replacing nor do the 3 way switches control it. Also, these fluorescent tube fixtures are on the same circuit as the light I am trying to replace. Could this be the reason why there are extra black wires in the box I am working with?
What has thrown me off since I got the new lamp is the presence of that single white wire that you can see on the far right side of both pictures I sent. If that extra white wire was not there my choice would have been obvious. In fact I wouldn't really have any choice! But as I've said, I don't know whether or not that extra white wire was being used on the old lamp.Any idea what the extra white wire is? Unless that extra white wire seems important, I'm tempted to just go ahead, and twist the 3 black wires back together along with a pigtail and attach the lamp's black wire to that pigtail, and attach the white lamp wire to the pigtail for the two white wires that is already there. What do you think?
Expert:  Kevin replied 2 years ago.
Thanks for the replies.
1) I'm saw the lone white wire as well and I'm not sure why that is present.
2) Let's try this. Set your meter to the AC voltage setting and the 200 volt range. With the breaker in the ON position, have an assistant help you. Have an assistant toggle the light switch ON & OFF while you are at the ceiling box measuring voltage from any of the black wires to a bare copper ground. There should only be one single black wire that will have a 120 volt measurement when toggling the switch ON & OFF. When the switch is in the ON position, you will measure 120 volts. When it is OFF, you will measure 0 volts. This will confirm which black wire is the switched loop.
3) The 2 other black wires in the ceiling box may be being used as the hot circuit feed into the ceiling box and then spliced to another black that feeds the switch.
4) While you are at the ceiling box, measure and see if any voltage is present from either of the 3 black wires to that lone single white wire. Possible the lone wire is a neutral, but not sure?
Reply back and let me know how you make out and we can take it from there.......Thanks........Kevin!
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
I am trying to replace a single fixture in kitchen ceiling. You will recall that in that fixture I have 3 black wires which had previously been twisted but which I had separated to photograph. Before starting your suggestions I switched the breaker back on and discovered that the fluorescent tube fixture (the one I'm not replacing) would not switch on. However, when I retwisted those 3 black wires and turned on the breaker the fluorescent fixture DID work.
Again, I know nothing about electrical wiring but what that seems to tell me is that this fluorescent tube fixture receives its power through the wiring in the junction box of the fixture I am replacing. This suggests to me that no matter what, I will need to twist those three black wires together in order to maintain function in the fluorescent. Given that, is there any way that I can avoid simply connecting the black wire of my new fixture by twisting it together with the 3 pre-existing black wires in the fixture?
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
Well, I went ahead and twisted all three black wires together with the black on the light fixture and connected white to white. When I switched the breaker on, the new lamp lit but the switch would not turn it off. This is a puzzle to me because I KNOW those 3 black wires were twisted on the prior installation.
Customer: replied 2 years ago.
I didn't have an assistant available to work the switch and won't today until this evening. Then I'll follow your instructions and report back. No need to reply until I do, okay? Thanks for your continuing help.
Expert:  Kevin replied 2 years ago.
Thanks for the replies.
1) If you have a single pole switch and the light fixture only contains (1) one black hot wire and no other downstream light fixtures that are controlled by the same wall switch, then only (1) one of the ceiling house wires will be spliced to the light fixture hot wire. The other 2 blacks must be a 120 volt hot circuit feed either into the wall switch or they are feeding other wall receptacles or switches.
Since the switch did not turn the light OFF, you did not have the switched loop wire connected to the light. The wire was a constant 120 volt hot wire and not a switched loop wire. Therefore, all 3 blacks could not have been originally spliced together.
All 3 ceiling black wires could not have been spliced together since the switch would not turn the light OFF.
Just reply back to me when you have an opportunity. I will be logged on here this evening and will get back to you.

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