Angie_DIY et al., wiring question X post

EAM44May 9, 2013

Angie - I've been following williamsem's thread and realized you're someone i know (virtually) who has wiring expertise. Could you share a little knowledge with me?

I was certain we had our washer/dryer in the coat room when I was a kid, but I couldn't locate an electrical outlet there now. I need an outlet to connect the alarm system panel, so... I poked a hole in the drywall and found the metal box connected to a 2" x 4" with wires capped with nuts, a properly tied off circuit. I'd like to connect an electrical outlet, then repair the drywall. Seems pretty straight forward.

My only concern is whether I've found the wiring for the washer (normal) or the dryer (240 A), and I can't find my multimeter so I have to run out and buy a new one. Barring any surprises there, I'm good to go, n'est-ce pas?

Thanks. E

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gpraceman55

For a 220V outlet, I would expect to see three wires (red, black, white) plus a ground wire. For a 110V outlet, I would expect to see a black, white and ground wire. I only see what looks like two white wires and no ground wire in your gang box.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 12:11PM
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gpraceman55

I would recommend that you get one of these non-contact probes. They are great for testing if a circuit is live or not. You just touch it to the outside of the hot wire and it will show a red light and beep if it is live.

Non-Contact Voltage Tester

RE: Angie_DIY et al., wiring question X post

Not sure what happened with my last post. It won't even let me edit it. Here is what I mentioned.

Here is a link that might be useful: Non-Contact Voltage Tester

RE: Angie_DIY et al., wiring question X post

I poked a hole in the drywall and found the metal box connected to a 2" x 4" with wires capped with nuts, a properly tied off circuit.

Let me take the opportunity to make a PSA: if this is indeed still powered, it is NOT a properly tied off circuit. You are not allowed to cover a junction box that has live wiring in it. (Not that it hasn't been known to happen!)

So, it is possible that these wires are live, or it is possible that they were disconnected somewhere "upstream" from this box.

You said "x-post," but I don't see a message from you on the wiring forum. I would definitely consult the wiser folks there!

(EDIT: I found your question on the bottom of another thread. I would start a new thread on that forum, including the picture you showed us.)

Roger what gpraceman said. Let me expound a little. I cannot quite tell what is going on in that box, either. To me, it looks like only 2 wires. I see one white one and one that was formerly red or formerly black. It is conceivable that there is a third one, but am not sure with the shadows, etc.

My understanding is that the metal jacket was used, in the bad, old days, as the ground wire. I would hazard a guess (as I think gpraceman implies) that you probably have found the 120 V circuit.

The safest thing to do would be to use the non-contact probe that gpraceman references. If it is live, you could determine the circuit breaker that turns it off. Then you could turn it off while setting up the next test, and turn it back on after getting set up. Or just be very careful =8^)

If you had a voltmeter, you should (carefully) test the AC voltage:
A-between the white wire and the box
B-between the black wire and the box, and
C-between the white wire and the black wire.

If it is a 120V circuit, you should get A=0V, B=120V, C=120V.

If it is a 240V circuit, you should get A=120V, B=120V, C=240V.

If it is an old 240V circuit without a neutral conductor, don't use it. Call an electrician.

This post was edited by Angie_DIY on Thu, May 9, 13 at 14:37

RE: Angie_DIY et al., wiring question X post

Thanks so much both of you for your input. It is indeed a 120V with white=neutral, purple=live, and as they are so fond of doing in the midwest, box=metal, as is conduit all the way back to the panel that is grounded = ground, so no ground wire.

That non-contact probe looks so cool. Alas, Lowes did not have it. I bought a really cute little multimeter, tested the wires, and attached a 15A outlet today. The readings are as they should be, no reversed polarity, ground is grounded. All looks good. Tomorrow I skimcoat the drywall, then sand and paint. Alarm guy comes Saturday.

One more question - there has to be a 240V (not A, forgive me) in that wall somewhere. I really thought that this outlet was capped off properly. The wires were capped, they were in a box, and there was 1" plywood over the box opening to keep someone from nailing into it. I would guess the 240 was handled the same way - is that a problem? The X post was on the wiring forum where the op was instructed to cap off an unused outlet in exactly this way.

If I do have to dig and deal with this, I will call a pro. This is out of my league as I have no idea how to kill a live wire.

Thanks again.

RE: Angie_DIY et al., wiring question X post

If they dead ended the wiring in the old gang box for the dryer, I would think that they also dead ended the breaker panel end as well. You should definitely verify that.

Does the house still have an electric dryer?

RE: Angie_DIY et al., wiring question X post

The problem wasn't the way the wires were capped; that was proper. The problem was covering up the junction box and drywalling over it. You need to retain access to j-boxes that have live wiring over it. I think it should be clear to you right now (!) why it is a problem to cover it up! The post on the wiring forum was implicitly saying this (in addition to the instructions about capping the wires inside the box).

gpraceman: it sounds like they did not disconnect the 120V circuit before covering it up. I see no reason to believe they disconnected the 240V circuit!

If you need to find the circuit, I think an electrician will have a tool that allows him or her to trace the wires. I have never used one, but have seen it used once. They attach a device to the wire to be traced, say at the circuit box end. I presume it puts a high-frequency signal on the wire. They can then follow the wire with a receiver device. (Hmm, If that is how it works, I wonder if it works with armored (metal-jacketed) cable....?)

RE: Angie_DIY et al., wiring question X post

So this box with capped wires should have been covered with a metal plate that sits proud of the drywall, not filled with wood and drywalled over. Got it.

What a drag if they did that with the 240 as well. Yes we still have an electric dryer that is now in the basement. Maybe they re-routed the wiring for that?

I could just pop the drywall off the entire wall and look. If there is more wiring, I could get the cool non-contact probe and a proper box cover that I drywall around. Would that be correct? I don't mind patching and skimcoating, but hate drywalling, and it sounds like I've got more of it in my future (grumble, expletive deleted).

Thanks again so much.

RE: Angie_DIY et al., wiring question X post

They probably left that 120V circuit live since there were other outlets on that circuit. Still, they should not have buried the junction box behind the wall.

If you still have an electric dryer, then they likely disconnected the end of the old line at the breaker to install the new line. I do think that you should try to find the old junction box and make sure it is done proper.

Some rental places may have one of those snake cameras that you can use to explore inside your walls by just drilling a small hole in the drywall. That would save you some patching work.

RE: Angie_DIY et al., wiring question X post

gpraceman: Ahh, I see -- you are probably correct that they are much more likely to have disconnected the 240V circuit. It is not like there are scads of 240V, high-current breakers sitting in your breaker box.

EAM: Following that argument, I would look in the area of your breaker box (dist. panel) for remnants of the old 240V circuit. Usually, it is a PITA to reroute wiring, so you just disconnect it and leave it in place. You may find a loose or cut-off end near the breaker box, or you may find capped wires in the box itself.

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Here is a link that might be useful: Non-Contact Voltage Tester

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 12:23PM
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gpraceman55

Not sure what happened with my last post. It won't even let me edit it. Here is what I mentioned.

This post was edited by Angie_DIY on Thu, May 9, 13 at 14:37

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 12:25PM
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Angie_DIY

I poked a hole in the drywall and found the metal box connected to a 2" x 4" with wires capped with nuts, a properly tied off circuit.

Let me take the opportunity to make a PSA: if this is indeed still powered, it is NOT a properly tied off circuit. You are not allowed to cover a junction box that has live wiring in it. (Not that it hasn't been known to happen!)

So, it is possible that these wires are live, or it is possible that they were disconnected somewhere "upstream" from this box.

You said "x-post," but I don't see a message from you on the wiring forum. I would definitely consult the wiser folks there!

(EDIT: I found your question on the bottom of another thread. I would start a new thread on that forum, including the picture you showed us.)

Roger what gpraceman said. Let me expound a little. I cannot quite tell what is going on in that box, either. To me, it looks like only 2 wires. I see one white one and one that was formerly red or formerly black. It is conceivable that there is a third one, but am not sure with the shadows, etc.

My understanding is that the metal jacket was used, in the bad, old days, as the ground wire. I would hazard a guess (as I think gpraceman implies) that you probably have found the 120 V circuit.

The safest thing to do would be to use the non-contact probe that gpraceman references. If it is live, you could determine the circuit breaker that turns it off. Then you could turn it off while setting up the next test, and turn it back on after getting set up. Or just be very careful =8^)

If you had a voltmeter, you should (carefully) test the AC voltage:
A-between the white wire and the box
B-between the black wire and the box, and
C-between the white wire and the black wire.

If it is a 120V circuit, you should get A=0V, B=120V, C=120V.

If it is a 240V circuit, you should get A=120V, B=120V, C=240V.

If it is an old 240V circuit without a neutral conductor, don't use it. Call an electrician.

    Bookmark   May 9, 2013 at 2:25PM
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EAM44

Thanks so much both of you for your input. It is indeed a 120V with white=neutral, purple=live, and as they are so fond of doing in the midwest, box=metal, as is conduit all the way back to the panel that is grounded = ground, so no ground wire.

That non-contact probe looks so cool. Alas, Lowes did not have it. I bought a really cute little multimeter, tested the wires, and attached a 15A outlet today. The readings are as they should be, no reversed polarity, ground is grounded. All looks good. Tomorrow I skimcoat the drywall, then sand and paint. Alarm guy comes Saturday.

One more question - there has to be a 240V (not A, forgive me) in that wall somewhere. I really thought that this outlet was capped off properly. The wires were capped, they were in a box, and there was 1" plywood over the box opening to keep someone from nailing into it. I would guess the 240 was handled the same way - is that a problem? The X post was on the wiring forum where the op was instructed to cap off an unused outlet in exactly this way.

If I do have to dig and deal with this, I will call a pro. This is out of my league as I have no idea how to kill a live wire.

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 12:45AM
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gpraceman55

If they dead ended the wiring in the old gang box for the dryer, I would think that they also dead ended the breaker panel end as well. You should definitely verify that.

Does the house still have an electric dryer?

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 12:56AM
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Angie_DIY

The problem wasn't the way the wires were capped; that was proper. The problem was covering up the junction box and drywalling over it. You need to retain access to j-boxes that have live wiring over it. I think it should be clear to you right now (!) why it is a problem to cover it up! The post on the wiring forum was implicitly saying this (in addition to the instructions about capping the wires inside the box).

gpraceman: it sounds like they did not disconnect the 120V circuit before covering it up. I see no reason to believe they disconnected the 240V circuit!

If you need to find the circuit, I think an electrician will have a tool that allows him or her to trace the wires. I have never used one, but have seen it used once. They attach a device to the wire to be traced, say at the circuit box end. I presume it puts a high-frequency signal on the wire. They can then follow the wire with a receiver device. (Hmm, If that is how it works, I wonder if it works with armored (metal-jacketed) cable....?)

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 8:53AM
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EAM44

So this box with capped wires should have been covered with a metal plate that sits proud of the drywall, not filled with wood and drywalled over. Got it.

What a drag if they did that with the 240 as well. Yes we still have an electric dryer that is now in the basement. Maybe they re-routed the wiring for that?

I could just pop the drywall off the entire wall and look. If there is more wiring, I could get the cool non-contact probe and a proper box cover that I drywall around. Would that be correct? I don't mind patching and skimcoating, but hate drywalling, and it sounds like I've got more of it in my future (grumble, expletive deleted).

Thanks again so much.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 9:28AM
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gpraceman55

They probably left that 120V circuit live since there were other outlets on that circuit. Still, they should not have buried the junction box behind the wall.

If you still have an electric dryer, then they likely disconnected the end of the old line at the breaker to install the new line. I do think that you should try to find the old junction box and make sure it is done proper.

Some rental places may have one of those snake cameras that you can use to explore inside your walls by just drilling a small hole in the drywall. That would save you some patching work.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 12:27PM
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Angie_DIY

gpraceman: Ahh, I see -- you are probably correct that they are much more likely to have disconnected the 240V circuit. It is not like there are scads of 240V, high-current breakers sitting in your breaker box.

EAM: Following that argument, I would look in the area of your breaker box (dist. panel) for remnants of the old 240V circuit. Usually, it is a PITA to reroute wiring, so you just disconnect it and leave it in place. You may find a loose or cut-off end near the breaker box, or you may find capped wires in the box itself.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2013 at 1:45PM
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