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Furry Without A Clue
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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I have a pull-chain light in the basement that "jammed". The chain no longer pulls, but is locked in place. I picked up a new one (the entire light fixture).

If I trace the wiring to the circuit and shut it off, is it safe to work with? This is old wire. Some kind of black insulation, I haven't crawled up there to see exactly what it is. Should I check with a meter to be sure power is off?

I'd be tempted to replace the wiring, but have no desire to play around in the breaker box. I can do simple wiring, but the main box scares the beejeebers outta me!
 

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Yes it's safe to work with once you are sure that the power is off. To verify this, you should use at least one of these two methods, preferably both as neither is 100% reliable. First, check the wiring coming in to the box with a Non-Contact voltage detector aka "tick tracer". It may chirp once as you bring it to the wire but it should not chirp continually. Check both sides of a romex style cable. Then once you have the light removed, use a neon tester to actually touch the wires you will be working with to double check.

Since you are dealing with old wiring make very certian that the insulation is in good condition and try not to bend the wires too much as you make the repair. Old insulation is often brittle, particularly behind light fixtures where it has gotten hot and it can crack & fall off leaving bare wires which would be a fire hazard. If you do encounter bad insulation you will need to cut the wire back until you find good insulation, which may requie installing a junction box and splicing the cable.

If you have any doubt about whether you have the power completely killed at the box you are working on, just turn off the main breaker and work with a flashlight. Or if you don't have the testers I described in the first paragraph and can't afford them, tripping the main before working will make sure it's safe.

Good luck!
 

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Furry Without A Clue
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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
The only tester I have is my dads little square meter things. Has 2 wires (pos & neg) that you touch to the corresponding wiring. I can get the exact type it is, if it helps...It's down in the basement.

My dad did quite a bit of electrical work, but didn't have a lot of gadgets for checking things...He did a bit with live wires :eek:

I'll try pushing on the chain, but have doubts. It's a fairly old fixture.
 

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The only tester I have is my dads little square meter things. Has 2 wires (pos & neg) that you touch to the corresponding wiring. I can get the exact type it is, if it helps...It's down in the basement.

My dad did quite a bit of electrical work, but didn't have a lot of gadgets for checking things...He did a bit with live wires :eek:

I'll try pushing on the chain, but have doubts. It's a fairly old fixture.
I know it isn't rational, but I have no faith in those testers. I keep thinking if I stick the ends onto live wires, I will go up in a shower of sparks.

If I know 100% which circuit it is, I just shut off the breaker. If there is any doubt at all, I shut down the main breaker and work with flashlights as cfabe suggests.
 

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Furry Without A Clue
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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
Found it. It's a Cen-Tech Digital Multimeter. Not sure how to use the various setting. No matter, since the wires have been misplaced.

Tried pushing the chain. No go.

I know I can trace the wire to the breaker. Everything is exposed. The insulation appears to be ok. It's some kind of black woven stuff. Fairly large in diameter compared to standard wire. I think the outside light may run off that line as well, but not sure. Is there something I can safely mark the lines with as I trace them, to make them more visible?

I'd hate to have to shut down the entire house, but I could do it. It makes it hard because there is no one here with a lick of sense for holding a flashlight for me.
 

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Furry Without A Clue
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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Doesn't say much about your choices for associates, does it? :D
Well, my mom is a "given". She's never been much help on such things, no matter how minor. My friend and roomy is, for a guy, one of the most "handyman challenged" people I've ever met. No common sense and, even without touching the wiring, would most likely end up zapped. Lord knows what would happen to me if he was helping!
 

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Furry Without A Clue
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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
I think I got it right.

Traced the wire, shut off the breaker (are push button breakers old or more updated?), and re-did the light. Everything seems to be working ok...As long as the house doesn't burn down!

I even put up the carbon monoxide detector I gave my mom several years ago (she just had it on a table) and put a fresh battery in the smoke alarm.
 

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You didn't zap yourself, and the light works- most likely 100 per-cent successful.

What I do in these situations is attach test wires to the new fixture , test it in a live outlet to see it light up- then the wires that I have "broken " the power for to see it not light, and then a live outlet a second time to be sure I have the power off.
 

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de oppresso liber
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I'm a bit paranoid myself when it comes to working with electricity. What I do is throw the breaker, use a volt/multi meter to confirm the line is dead then I carefully disconnect the existing fixture w/o touching any of the bare wires. Before I put the replacement fixture on I rub the exposed wires together, just to make sure.

FYI, if you aren't sure which breaker works which light you can use a ******* circuit tracer: two 1500 watt space heaters or one heater and a hair dryer plugged into an outlet and turned on to throw the breaker.
 

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Good job on getting the light fixed! Yes the push button breakers are pretty old.

Plugging something in or turning on a light is a pretty good method to see if you've gotten the right breaker turned off. There are instances where more than one circuit could power up a box though, so always good to double check.

Overloading the circuit to trip the breaker however is not a good idea. If the breaker malfunctions and fails to trip you could cause an electrical fire.
 

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Furry Without A Clue
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Discussion Starter · #13 ·
I'd never try to trip a breaker on purpose, though have done my share of accidental trips. This was a single line/wire out. I found it also runs the outlet that the chest freezer is plugged into. I'll have to start marking the breakers.

After tightening the screws on the wires, I put a piece of electrical tape over each screw, to prevent any unwanted contact. Was this ok to do?

My dad was supposed to change the box and breakers years ago, but never got around to it. I guess push buttons are better than fuses, though. Only the well pump has a fuse box.

Oh, I solved the "flashlight" problem by using a head lamp I forgot I had. :D
 

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Yes the electrical tape is okay - not at all required though.

I would actually say that old breakers are no better than fuses. Breakers are mechanical devices and can malfunction. Fuses are thermal and are actually much more reliable in preventing overloading. The main problem with fuses was people replacing them with the wrong size or defeating them somehow (penny in the socket, etc). There is a certian make of breakers, Federal Pacific, that is well known to have a common problem where they will overheat and start a fire. I don't think that's what you have, just an example of a type of breakers that you would definatley want to replace if you had them.
 

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Furry Without A Clue
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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
I'll keep that in mind. The whole house really should be rewired, but the money just isn't there.

I appreciate all the help and advice. Thanks :)
 
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