What's the worst wiring you have seen?

dan1554March 17, 2011

I just bought a house, and have found the living room ceiling fan has an unswitched hot wire going to it, and the neutral is switched, and is connected to another circuit. Also, while the wiring is newer (within 10 years) all 3 bedrooms had the lights and outlets on the same circuit, which also had the bathroom light and outlet, hall light, porch light, kitchen and dining room light, and living room light. Also I have seen a dryer line that started out as copper, and was spliced directly to aluminum.... lots of corrosion on that junction. Needless to say, my electrician will be busy. I was just wondering what are the worst wiring mistakes you have seen ?

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Ron Natalie

Mike Holt's website has the scary pictures on it.

I was jogging one day and right next to the sidewalk there was a pole with a meter base (without the meter) set at about three feet above the grade. Nah, I thought, they didn't. I came back a while later and tested it. Yep, right there where some inquisitive kid could touch it was an open live meter socket.

My daughter and her husband are looking to buy their first house and they've had me along to do some "before we even get emotionally attached" inspection. The first house I told them to not only consider. Not a single legitimate grounded circuit, ITE panel, nightmare "amateur" job. And get this, while not electrical, written in large letters with a magic marker on the side of the return air duct was:


I suggested they probably wanted to skip that one.

Oddly enough in a area of 1950-1960's era houses, most of the rest of them have reasonable wiring jobs. Grounded circuits, copper wiring, retrofit GFCI's when appropriate, usually Square D (did have one BR panel). I guess Silver Spring MD had some reasonable electrical trades on the home construction of that era.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 8:58AM
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Probably hack jobs on knob & tune to connect up additional receptacles.
Cutting the 'main' lines and then using wire nuts in the open to re-connect them with two splices and feed the new receptacle with NM is pretty shoddy.

At least the old guys would have properly spliced, soldered, and insulated the K&T.

'Borrowing' a neutral to put in a 3-way switch circuit using two wire is another disaster.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 10:01AM
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How about a 60A (range plus 4 circuit) fuse box that required no fuses at all? Removed the box cover and found 3 large wire nuts.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 10:18AM
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Additions to branch circuits using 16ga lamp cord... behind the walls!

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 10:23AM
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A friend's house (built in the 50s) was originally constructed without grounds at the outlets. Someone subsequently changed all of the two-prong outlets with three-prong outlets, and provided a ground using steel wire (very small gauge) snaked through and over the walls. If tested with an AC outlet ground tester, all was well.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 12:54PM
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Bootleg grounds on grounded outlets with the hot and neutral reversed at an upstream junction box, making the ground hot.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 2:24PM
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Several years ago we were staying in a small, seaside motel with my kids. The 8 year-old came out in the morning from the bedroom and said there were sparks in the baseboard heater. I threw the breaker and checked it out. Beneath the heater there was a foot of Romex coming out of a hole in the sheetrock; it had been extended with zip cord and electrical tape, and ran past the heating elements to the connection terminals. The insulation on the zip cord was baked and falling off and the bare wires were exposed. I went to the front desk and the manager told me they used to have a handyman that did a lot of repairs that "weren't quite to code." He said that all the rooms got new baseboard heaters a couple of years ago and that the Romex needed to be extended because the connections were in a different location than the original ones. He claimed he was unaware that the change wasn't done properly and said he would have it checked out by an electrician. He asked if we wanted a different room. Needless to say, we checked out immediately...but not before I examined the other room, which had the same death-trap setup. I tried to report it to the local fire department when I got home, but it was all-volunteer and I could never get anyone to answer the phone.

Oh, and I had seen the new "handyman" the previous day at the swimming pool: he was drunk, staggered around, fell down on the concrete, and got blood all over. I'm not making this up...

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 2:50PM
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My uncle's barn had a 220v circuit for the milker which had no fuses except for the main cartrige block at the farm's meter. The circuit had been wired to the hot side at the barn's fuse panel.
Also, the pump was powered by a branch circuit at the main disconnect, on a pole in the barnyard, but this circuit also fed two bedrooms and a porch in the house, with no fuses or disconnects at the house.
No wonder I now always 'test before I touch'.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 7:28PM
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Wow, I can't believe some of these situations ! I also discovered that there used to be a floor outlet in the dining room, as was common in older houses. This room now has ceramic tile with a 3/4 inch subfloor.... and you guessed it, they just went right over the outlet. I found it in the basement, still live, still with the outlet in the box, but subfloor and ceramic over it. This all proves what I have always said - just because you touch 2 wires together and the light goes on, does NOT mean you did it right.

    Bookmark   March 18, 2011 at 9:34PM
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I'm not a pro, but in years of looking at and buying old houses, I've seen some doozies. Some of my favorites -

1. An old lake cottage wired mostly with 18-2 zip cord and clamp-on insulation-piercing receptacles. Most of the zip cord was stapled to the baseboards and run through holes into the cellar, where it was twisted together and taped, then plugged into a tap screwed into a light socket. The folks living there were powering a toaster (among other appliances and lights) with this lashup. The fuse box had 4 branch circuits, all "protected" with 30a fuses.

2. Electric range on an ancient 60a fused main panel was connected to lugs on the LINE side of the main and thus totally unprotected. Fortunately the house was using a gas range.

3. Receptacles wired with 16-3 SJ cord, twisted onto 12-2 NM and taped up. The splices were inside a studbay, no box, no solder, no wirenuts.

4. NM run across the back of a closet and fastened with nails through the center of the cable.

5. An outbuilding 500' from the house supplied through 12-2 NM. Part of it was buried about 6", but mostly it had just been laid on the ground across a horse pasture.

6. Heating system cold air ductwork nailed over existing knob and tube, with the rubber insulated wire brought out through holes poked (not even drilled) in the galvanized to be fed with newer NM. There were no ceramic tubes, no loom, nothing at all to protect the wires.

7. A main panel with the cover missing. Several branch circuits were brought in and connected to the breakers through the front rather than through knockouts.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 12:36AM
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Two, uncapped wires (red and white) coming out of a piece of flex behind a dishwasher. Turned out the red one was energized. I cursed a lot after that one. :-)

An A/C condenser fed from the line side of an old 60-amp service panel. Not uncommon but you'd think they'd at least throw in a fused disconnect so the condenser could be safely serviced...

A hot green wire running through a service panel. Never did quite figure out where that went.

A older home where the foundation walls and begun to collapse inward. After the collapse someone had installed a new circuit. When the walls were fixed and pulled outward, the conduit was 3" too short. That was kind of interesting to see, 3" of exposed wire. Obviously there was enough slack in the wire because everything worked (albeit without a ground).

    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 8:15AM
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When I bought my house (1980) it turned out that there were _no_ outlets on the third floor. They had just put those adapters in the ceiling lights and run extension cords over to a hook and down the wall. That wasn't too bad.

On the first floor there were what looked like regular ungrounded duplex receptacles. But in the cellar you could see that they too were just extension cords run through the wall and down to adapters in the basement light fixtures.

Turned out that there were only two legitimate outlets in the house - one "four prong" single outlet by the kitchen table that was probably original to the house. And one duplex outlet for the refrigerator that was tapped into the knob and tube wiring.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2011 at 2:48PM
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Wire with yellow insulation used as neutral, blue for hot... at the first receptacle, blue got BACKSTABBED to the neutral lugs, yellow to the hot lugs... discovered 'cause user was getting shocked trying to change light bulb in table lamp w/ properly polarized plug (I guess BS cardboard insulation broke down/wore thru in lamp socket...?)

J-box contained only switch and switch-loop, no neutral, no problem, no violation... until some slacker decided to add a second switch and power a new light fixture from there... where to get "neutral"? Why from the EMT conduit, naturally! How to attach? Why put it under the yoke screw of the new (double) switch, of course! Hey, it "worked", so it must be the "solution".

How well installed and wired was the new light fixture mentioned in the previous paragraph? Why it was fully the equal in quality to the switch it was connected to, i.e. no brace, NO BOX (wire nut junctions made in open ceiling space), and mechanically just hanging from a bar sitting across the hole in the plaster, fastened to nothing really, just "pinched" in place by its canopy screwed snug against the ceiling... hurray for diamond lathe... :roll:

Outdoor wiring, wet location, SALT SPRAY exposure, with INdoor type covers/plates, no silicone caulk, chintzy wire nuts... results: ugly, green, arc-y and sparky.

HVAC attic air handler with proper AWG10 TW wire to 30A fusible disconnect, but then final "whip" used only AWG12... in FLEX... routed THROUGH drain pan, where it OFTEN got submerged... instead of just running it UNDER the drain pan. Brainiacs everywhere.

Murray main panel with every NON-Murray brand of breaker which fit that form factor... and dang, there's a LOT of 'em.

... and cue Pharkus, LOL! How can that boy resist a thread like this? Should I just post links to his "Redneck Elektrikal Service" threads? ;')

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 1:52AM
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J-box contained only switch and switch-loop, no neutral, no problem, no violation... until some slacker decided to add a second switch and power a new light fixture from there... where to get "neutral"?

The whole "pull neutral from wherever" really yanks my chain.

I was tracing some circuits in my house recently and I couldn't figure out why this one circuit took the path it did. It went out of its way to junction in the hallway light.

Lo and behold, the three ways for the light were wired with 14-2 between them and the neutral was pulled from a different circuit. The 14-2 from the second switch to the light had its white conductor taped off in the box and the light.

I can't even blame any of the previous owners since this was work original to the house. It seems like a lot of extra work to save what ends up being a few feet of 14g conductor.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2011 at 12:11PM
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Many years ago, while I was volunteering with a group that was trying to revive an old planetarium, we were sorting through some dodgy wiring and found that someone had routed power through some ribbon cables. And the scariest part is, there was low voltage data on other conductors in the same ribbons!

    Bookmark   April 24, 2011 at 2:15AM
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