Opinions on this wiring

plumeriavine_2010February 13, 2010

This is 120 volt undercabinet lighting wiring. The contractor removed the light after it popped and scortched. Can you help tell me what I am looking at and whether or not it is to code and salvagable?

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Sure there is not a transformer somewhere and that is a 12 volt feed? That wire would not be to code/ approved connection for 120 volts. What is going on with that triple box? Looks like they did not know to sheetrock around the ring opening, not the whole box. Or perhaps the tile was removed to access the entire box. No regular plate will cover up the 2" gap to the sides of the devices.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 9:33PM
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I suspected the undercabinet lights are not to code. There are three more under cabinet lights on the other side of the kitchen, and all four are controlled by one dimmer. The bulbs on the remaining three say on them 120 volt 20 watts. That does mean high voltage, no transformer, right?

Would the splicing on the other three lights pass an inspection?

The tile man chose to not tile around the outlets and said he'd come back after the electricians were done. The outlets wiggle around. Will I expect that the electricians will be able to stop the wiggling?

To fix the undercabinet lighting, the contractor talked about putting in low voltage lighting and a transformer. He also talked about putting the transformer in the wall near the outlets where it is open right now. I've read on GW that some people put the transformer in the basement.
From what you see, do you think low voltage lighting could be put in with the transformer in the basement? Would the cabinets have to come down temporarily to access the wall?

By the way, is it hazardous to have the wires on the undercabinet lights exposed as they are where the puck was removed?

Does anyone know what the brand "RU" is on the puck?

    Bookmark   February 13, 2010 at 11:10PM
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Ron Natalie

The whole job both electrical and tile looks to me to be shoddy.

As spencer points out the whole electrical job is currently ILLEGAL and DANGEROUS.

Even with LV wiring, the electrical tape installation was a hack job. You shouldn't need a sloppy electrical tape covered splice inches from the lighting puck.

I hope your electrician has a clue because neither the GC or the tile guy sees to have a clue about their specialties.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 10:53AM
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From Wikipedia:

The Recognized Component Mark is a type of quality mark issued by Underwriters Laboratories. It is borne on components which are intended to be part of a UL listed product, but which cannot bear the full UL logo themselves[1].The general public does not ordinarily come across it, as it is borne on components which make up finished products.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 11:00AM
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It looks like the fixtures are already 12 volt so they are probably using them as 120 volt fixtures illegally perhaps leading to the light not behaving correctly. At this point, feeding the entire portion of the installation that is wired with lamp cord with a 12 volt transformer is the only legitimate option. The lamp cord can't be in the wall or anywhere installed with full 120 voltage. To re-feed all with 12 volts, they would have to feed a power feed out of the switch box as well as a low voltage feed to the transformer location. Perhaps locate it above or in the upper cabinets, or fish a wire down the basement. The transformer certainly can not be just thrown in the wall, they fail from time to time and are required to be accessed for service/ code issues.

If you really want to bust their bubble, turn the breaker off controlling those GFCIs. Willing to bet that the under counter lights are illegally on the counter top receptacle circuit. If that is the case, a feed from an existing lighting circuit or a new 15 amp circuit needs to be pulled for the lights.

As to the tile, they obviously have not done much work before. Piecing in around the box is going to leave you with unnecessary cuts where all the pieces are already cut now. The plate will only cover up right around the GFCI and dimmer so there will be all kinds of extra grout lines. Plus, there is nothing to attach tile to since they didn't bother to sheet rock around the box opening.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 1:21PM
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Great information! The best info I have had yet!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2010 at 1:54PM
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Update on this situation - - the general contractor is trying to get the job signed off. He wants me to approve this idea that he says is OK with the city. He wants to put the transformer BEHIND the sockets in the box with the dimmer and the outlets. He insists there is plenty of room for a small transformer there. Then, he is going to install LED lights. Is there anything in NEC that addresses this? The existing lamp wire would be used. Not sure if the LED undercabinet lights are on the same breaker as the small appliance circuit. Is that a NO-NO with NEC?

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 10:42PM
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Should be fine, just make sure he uses a transformer and dimmer designed to work with LED lights. It should only take a really small transformer as the LEDs use little power. That is a relief if the city is really involved (not just saying that? no permits?)

If the lights are on the small appliance circuit, that is a direct violation and I would make him correct that. They might be on the right circuit, I'm just guessing that he is doing the electrical work himself or has a shade tree electrician (based on the under counter lights). A real electrician might of been involved as it would be rare for non-electrician to use that commercial type box with a 3 device mudring. Or maybe they just happened to yank it out from the demo of a different job (: OK, I need to quit typing all the thoughts in my head.

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 11:25PM
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Yes, the city is involved. All of the permits were pulled piece-meal - - the project did not go to plan check like we expected and there wasn't a global permit. Instead, there were permits for x number of outlets in this room and x number of outlets in that room. The under-cabinet lighting does not specifically show up on any of the permits. I wonder if this is just one more "oversight" now that I think about it.

Do undercabinet lights, once they are low voltage, need a permit?

As far as the qualifications of the people involved - - the first three tries at doing the electrical for the kitchen were dismal failures at the hands of the unlicensed "forces" of the general contractor. Finally, we insisted that a real electrician do the wiring as nothing that was done was correct and the "forces" were telling big lies about how things were wired. The whole kitchen was on 2-3 circuits instead of the needed 7 +.
So, the real electricians came and they yanked all the wiring in the whole kitchen except on one untouched wall. They couldn't trust anything that the GC's forces had done either. They then rewired everything on the correction notices EXCEPT they didn't touch the puck circuit because it wasn't on the correction notice. One of the things the real electricians did was consolidate the three gangs that were spaced out into one box.

Now, the strategy is:
1) correct the undercabinet light wiring (it is still 120)by changing it to low voltage
2) rip out a section of the tile on this wall - probably 8 inches by 12 inches or so
3) add drywall/mud
4) retile it

One more question - - the box itself wiggles badly when I try to plug something in. There is an anchor on only one side and I was told that one anchor on one side is NEC and will pass inspection.

I was also told that once the tiling is done and the plate is screwed on, the outlets will no longer wiggle.

However, the GC wants to be released from the job ASAP.

He wants me to get my own tile man to do the drywall and tile.

Will the box pass inspection without a plate?

Should I insist that the box not wiggle BEFORE the GC is released?

What do you think?

    Bookmark   February 17, 2010 at 11:50PM
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Isn't a partitioned box required for something like this, to keep the low voltage and line voltage separate? I'd want the transformer in the basement or perhaps inside a cabinet, where it's accessable for service. They aren't infallible.

That wire they used - I can't be absolutely sure from the pictures, but it looks to me like zip cord. (Anybody else think so?) If that's what it is, it's not approved for concealed locations. Not code compliant to fish zip cord through walls or cabinets.

In my book that's not a workmanlike installation.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 12:16AM
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One family member says they think it is lamp cord - -is that essentially similar to zip cord?

The possible lamp cord runs through cabinets and is embedded unsheathed in the walls.

Presently, it is still high voltage. If it is changed to the proposed transformer wiring, does NEC allow the lamp cord to run through the wall unsheathed as low voltage?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 12:39AM
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Ron Natalie

You may NOT have hardwired lighting on the kitchen small appliance circuit, whether it is 120V or 12V. You might get away with that with a cord and plug mounted transformer, but what you have is ILLEGAL.

The boxes are still ILLEGAL. They need to extend out to the finished surface.

Lamp cord / Zip cord is all the same thing. It's not listed for this running through the framing/cabinets. LV lights typically use there own wiring to maintain the UL listing. The existing lamp cord is as pointed out, unsafe, unprofessional, and illegal. As are the hideous splices he made to try to joint it to fixtures that aren't designed to accept it.

I assume you mean that the LV transformer is mounted in a three gang box of it's own (they're typically larger than a single "switch" size).

Anchoring a box to one side is legal and normal. The box wiggling is NOT. It means that your amateur hour contractors screwed that up as well. I'd have them rip that whole wall out and start over and insist on the person doing the
electrical work be someone actually legally trained and certified to do it.

Frankly the tile job is CRAP as well. I'd have stopped that before they even got to the grouting.


    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 8:28AM
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No - the LV transformer is not installed yet. The GC wants to change the dimmer and pucks from high voltage to low voltage and store what he describes as a super small transformer in the box behind the dimmer and outlets. He says we could access the transformer by unscrewing the actual outlets and dimmer from the box and finding the transformer then tucked into the back side of the metal box.

He says it is OK with the city inspector and that the inspector is his friend and will pass it. He implies that I am the problem.

As the lamp cord runs in the wall behind the cabinets, I am thinking that:
1) the cabinets have to come down to take the lamp cord out and run proper wiring in the wall.
2) the tile job, which is indeed TOTAL CRAP, needs to be removed and the three gang box needs to be reseated with a partition for the low voltage pucks and put into the right plane

Next issue: the GC wants off the job. His work is crap, his worker's work is crap. He hired a subcontractor electrician to correct the wiring to this point - - it was even worse before.

My issues: the subcontractor electrician hired by the GC hunted around for unpermitted electrical work in our property - found some work done in the 90's in the garage and filed a complaint about it with the city which led to correction notices for us. Needless to say, I don't want that subcontractor electrician to come back.

The contractor himself is not qualified to do the work and I can't trust him.

The contractor wants me to find an electrician to do the work, but my issue there is that the contractor will then say that it is no longer his problem because I had someone I chose to do the corrections. Plus, I am not confident that the GC will pay any subcontractors for the work to be done and I don't want to incur a lien from an unpaid subcontractor.

Plus, there's going to be a bill for whoever removes the cabinets and has to remount them, and then there is the cost of drywall repair, and the cost of retiling.

Any advice?

    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 11:00AM
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Ron Natalie

No, No, no. He can not just cram that transformer in the back of the box. First off, I think he's deluded. They aren't that small. Second, even if they'd fit, there are limits to how much stuff you're allowed to put in a junction box. Third, unless it's specifically designed for, it should not be in a box with the other wiring.

Regardless of what the inspector can be bribed into accepting, you ought to be able to insist on legal code-compliant wiring.

I agree with you. New wiring needs to be run and run properly. Properly is NOT with a partition. You need to get a LEGAL LV transformer and mount that somewhere. I guarantee you it will not fit in a triple or even quad box with three other switches.

I'd sue the contractor and not let him do *ANY* more work. Of course he's probably judgement proof. These idiots are only one step away from bankruptcy at any given time. If the electrician liens you, I'd file complaints with the licensure board in your state and take him to court.

Sloppy is one thing. Illegal and unsafe is another (and unlike tile jobs, neat and workmanlike manner is a legal requirement for electrical work by code).

    Bookmark   February 18, 2010 at 2:13PM
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This is my contractor's latest response:

"Regarding wiring, the previous high voltage mini lights were a UL listed item and sold in a kit, including the wire that you are referencing to as lamp cord. To my knowledge, once voltage output falls below 30volts , NEC would rate this wiring as Class 2 Low Voltage similar to a doorbell or alarm system wiring."

Any thoughts about this?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 1:37PM
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"To my knowledge, once voltage output falls below 30volts , NEC would rate this wiring as Class 2 Low Voltage similar to a doorbell or alarm system wiring."

He has omitted the power limit for the circuits.

The puck light LV systems rarely meet the limit, since even e small 'electronic' transformer is rated at 60 watts, well over the 20 V-A limit for low voltage control wiring.

The LV rules are not as tight but tape wrapped splices are shoddy.
At the very list they should be crimp splices.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 2:04PM
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Oh my poor brain! I am not sure I understand the relationship between the transformer wattage rating and the 20 volt limit for low voltage control wiring. Could someone expound on this?

    Bookmark   February 19, 2010 at 8:24PM
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Sure thing.

20 VA limit, not 20 V limit. We tech nerds rarely throw in letters that aren't needed, so please don't "correct" us by removing letters or characters you didn't expect.

VA. Volts times Amps. May not be more than 20, or it is no longer control wiring.

At 12V, that's 20/12 = 1.6 amps.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2010 at 3:06AM
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Oh, and for the sake of discussion, VA = Power (Watts).

They are infact different, but since we're talking incandescent lights or LEDs, it does not matter.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2010 at 9:14AM
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Pardon me for being dense but I am still not really clear on things.

1. Can the uninspected lamp cord in the wall stay there? We don't know where it runs. Is there any danger if we hit the lamp cord with a nail or screw if it is running high voltage? Low voltage?

2. Is there something important about the fact that the lamp cord wiring did not come as a set with the proposed LED lights that the GC intends to retrofit onto the lamp cord?

    Bookmark   February 20, 2010 at 11:53AM
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"Can the uninspected lamp cord in the wall stay there?"

Lamp cord is not rated for use in concealed locations as part of permanent wiring.

If it is part of plug in wiring it still cannot be used inside a wall.

This is one of the issues with low voltage wiring.

In concealed locations inside a wall it still must be an approved wiring method, and that does not allow lamp cord.

Lamp cord can be run exposed on the bottom of the cabinets, but not inside a wall.

I usually use Pegasus low voltage pucks and power supplies.
A receptacle is placed behind the cabinet with a matching cutout in the cabinet back.
You could also use box extenders and get the receptacle flush with the back of the cabinet, but the plugs will now take up more room inside the cabinet.

A dual power supply from Pegasus will supply two 60 watt 12 V circuits.
That means you can install 3 20 W pucks on each side of the dual supply unit.
The supplies are small enough to go on the bottom of the cabinet and still be hidden.
Try to keep the wires to all the pucks about the same length so their color remains the same. Longer wires will produce more voltage drop leading to dimming of the lights and a redder tone.

The cords for the pucks are run under the cabinets and brought up through a hole into the cabinet.
After trimming the wires to length the plugs are installed and plugged into the receptacles in the cabinet.

These receptacles cannot be on the small appliance circuits feeding the wall mounter counter receptacles.

Since none of the wiring is concealed or inside walls you can use the leads from the pucks to hook up, and the plain zip cord to then power up the small power supplies.

You can attach the wiring to the bottom of the cabinet using small plastic cable clamps (many use a single nail or you can find a small screw).

Remember to position the pucks so that you can see well enough to replace the bulbs.
I try to have them as far forward as possible under the cabinet, with the small bulb socket inside the puck facing forwards also.
If you touch a halogen or xenon bulb it will fail very quickly (and sometime with a pop) from the oils your fingers leave behind.
Wrap a layer of paper napkin around the bulb to handle it.

If you do touch one, clean it with denatured alcohol or vodka, dry it off without touching it again, and then install it.
Bending over to seat the bulb is easier if the bulb sockets face away from the wall.

The 120 V pucks have a very fragile filament and will quickly burn out from the normal vibration of putting things into the bottom of the cabinet.
12 V filaments are a lot stronger and are not bothered nearly as much (one of the reasons for all the 12 V bulbs on vehicles).

    Bookmark   February 20, 2010 at 3:31PM
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Thank you for being so patient with me.

It sounds like one way or another, the lamp cord needs to come out of the wall. I imagine we can't just simply pull on it to get it out as there may be splices with tape along the way that would be pulled apart, I am guessing. Don't know if it is held in place here and there either.

And, the dimmer has to be on a different circuit than the outlets after the lamp cord is removed.

And, the dimmer needs to be partitioned from the outlets if the dimmer is low voltage.

Can the low voltage wiring be concealed under a light valence? A light valence is like a board with a molding edge that gets attached to the bottom of a cabinet. I'm guessing that it gets routered out so there's a channel for the low voltage wiring.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2010 at 8:26PM
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Ron Natalie

Get this partition thing out of your mind. There are no dimmers that work on the LV side nor have integral transformers. The ones that are sold for use with LV lighting still work on the 120V, they are just designed to be able to function with a low voltage transformer as the load.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2010 at 8:38AM
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Hmm - ronnatalie - - - so the dimmer is OK in the same box, then, even if it is controlling low voltage lighting.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2010 at 12:17PM
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The GC continues to insist that the lamp cord is fine in the wall and that the LV transformer can stay in the electrical box with line voltage:

His response:

Regarding wiring, the wire that is currently in place is rated for high voltage and we will be running low voltage so it will meet or exceed code ratings.

Regarding transformer in outlet box, this is the common approved practice for this transformer. The transformer is Class 2 rated and is UL listed with built in short circuit and over heat protection.

Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   February 22, 2010 at 1:09PM
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Make sure the AHJ is aware during the next inspection, and if the inspections are completed call them back.

The GC is full of himself.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2010 at 4:14PM
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Here is the proposed transformer:


    Bookmark   February 22, 2010 at 8:52PM
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Ron Natalie

I know you are just the customer trying to understand this, but get the hell away from these clueless morons.

I don't care how ULTRASMALL that transformer is, you can NOT stuff it in the three gang box with three other devices. First, it's illegal. Second, it's unsafe. Third, if you do it anyhow, you'll be sorry. I guarantee that the thing will (especially if crammed in their tight with a dimmer) will over heat and start cycling on and off it's little internal thermal protection causing your pucks to intermittantly go on and off.

Second, there is NO such thing as a LOW VOLTAGE dimmer that installs AFTER the transformer. They all go on the 120V side feeding the transformer.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2010 at 4:17AM
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Thanks, ronnatalie, I truly want to get rid of these morons as every single thing they have done is substandard and Mickey Mouse, but in this state we have to give dudes with licenses (to steal), dummies or not, a chance to fix the problem.

Worst of all, he is trying to get me to agree on e-mail to his unsafe and Mickey Mouse fixes so he can place the blame on me.

Thank god for this forum. Y'all have helped me understand what questions to ask.

Funny thing is, the first handyman-employee-of-the-licensed dude who started my entire electrical wiring fiasco told me that he was sure I had no clue about electrical wiring so he wouldn't waste his time answering my questions about the washer/dryer dedicated circuit.

I've got some very credible electricians from another town (not buddies of his) coming to assess my electrical installation.

I had no idea our city inspectors were not impartial until now. There may be some action I need to take there when the dust settles.

Again, you have added to my understanding. Thanks again. I really want this whole lamp cord ripped out and a correct undercabinet system (low voltage) put in.

And, now that I have an inkling that flex in notches is also wrong. That's gonna be a battle, too.

    Bookmark   February 23, 2010 at 9:34AM
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