Why did I get zapped?

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by Verdeboy, Feb 8, 2008.

  1. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Messages:
    2,051
    I replaced a light fixture in the kitchen of an old, funky house. The wires were a mish-mash of old, cloth-insulated Al wires and new, CU wires with plastic insulation. I marked the wires coming out of the ceiling to be sure I would install the new fixture the same way as the old one. There was a red CU wire, which was hot when the switch was turned on. This red wire was wire-nutted to the black wire of the old fixture. There were also a bunch of white wires, some AL and some CU, all wire-nutted together with the white from the old fixture.

    At some point in the installation, I got zapped. I determined that one of the white wires was always hot, even though the switch was off. I got smart and turned off the main breaker for the rest of the installation.

    My question is: why does the new light work, even though it has two hot wires going to it? I always thought that in order to have a circuit only one wire should be hot.

    Keep in mind that the old fixture was wired up this way for years with no problems.
  2. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    Given the red wire, you probably have a multiwire circuit with a shared neutral. When you unwrapped the neutrals which were connected together, then YOU became the return path for current coming through anogther load on the other side of the multiwire circuit.
  3. Chris75

    Chris75 Electrician

    Messages:
    608
    Location:
    Litchfield, CT

    I dont think its a multiwire branch circuit, and I also dont think he broke the neutral splice...
  4. Speedy Petey

    Speedy Petey Licensed Electrical Contractor

    Messages:
    1,015
    Location:
    NY State, USA
    The red was likely switched, the black of that cable was likely constant hot. A white may have been a switch loop.

    How did you determine you had two hots? This is definitely NOT the case since the light works.

    Also, WHY did you not turn off the breaker FIRST, and then TEST to make sure it was off????????????????????

    I hate to be so blunt, but considering the questions asked, and the description given, I would leave the electrical work to a pro.

    Folks always say, it's not rocket science. No, it's not, but you still need a pretty good clue to do even the smallest job. Even changing a light fixture can be a challenge under many circumstances.
    This is why my blood boils when I see some handyman advertising "minor electrical".:mad:
  5. Alectrician

    Alectrician DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    689
    It is impossible to telll where the voltage came from just from your post.


    I think it was somewhere between the mish and the mash.
  6. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Messages:
    2,051

    I'm no electrician. But I am a pro, since I charge for my services. I've installed many hundreds of light fixtures, etc.. etc.. but never encountered this before. And, yes, I should not have allowed myself to be zapped. It's only happened a couple of times to me. And, I'm sure it's happened to you, too.

    The reason I called the white wire "hot" is because it has juice all the time. When I touch it to the other white wires, it completes a circuit and allows the kitchen outlets to work. The red, as I mentioned, is only hot when the switch is on, and it's not a 3-way switch. I do not see any black wires.

    BTW, This is the same guy who uses all that cable tray, since he gets it for free, so doing electrical work for him is always an adventure.
  7. Speedy Petey

    Speedy Petey Licensed Electrical Contractor

    Messages:
    1,015
    Location:
    NY State, USA
    HA! Nice try at justifying yourself.
    That logic is so flawed it's scary.

    There is also the chance that you are breaking the law.
    Are you insured to do electrical work?
    Are you licensed to do electrical work for $$$?
    Does the local AHJ know you are doing electrical work for $$$, while being unqualified to do so?


    Just getting paid to do something does NOT nearly make you a "pro" at it.
  8. Cass

    Cass Plumber

    Messages:
    5,980
    Location:
    Ohio

    The AL and CU should not be just wire nutted together, even if you use "no ox" .

    The only way to safely determine if you had 2 circuits would be to turn off each breaker 1 at a time until either both went dead with 1 breaker or you found 2 controlling them. It is most likely 1 circuit like Speedy Petey said..

    Occasionally I have found 2 circuits in one box and if they happen to be breaker ed on the same incoming leg you will get 120V on each but 0V across each other. If it was the other incoming leg you would obviously get 240V.
  9. Bob NH

    Bob NH In the Trades

    Messages:
    3,317
    Location:
    New Hampshire
    It is possible that some wizard wired up a light using a switched neutral. Does the house have Knob & Tube wiring anywhere? In some "funky" installations you can't always count on the white being a grounded conductor.

    It is possible to make a light and switch work if you connect the hot to the fixture and connect the other side through the switch to any convenient neutral (maybe not even the neutral associated with that hot conductor). It's often done in automobiles but not legal per the NECode.

    You could have all kinds of strange connections if it was once connected as a 3-way circuit where one of the switches has now been abandoned.
  10. BrianJohn

    BrianJohn DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    151
    Location:
    VA
    Was this a 3-way switch controlled fixture, could be a "hot set" of 3-ways, also called a "Lazy Suzy" and a variety of other names. No longer utilized in the trade.
  11. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Messages:
    2,051

    The lowest paid and poorest performing major league ball player is still considered a professional, by virtue of the fact that he is being paid to perform.

    My customers love me. I could give them your phone number, assuming you lived close by, and tell them you are a fully licensed and insured electrician. I could tell them you would work for the same $20/hr that I make. They would still call me.

    Why: I removed an 8 ft fluorescent light fixture from their kitchen ceiling. Filled 6 large holes in the hard plaster due to large toggle bolts. Matched the texture perfectly with my patented mesh and vinyl spackle technique.

    Installed their new light fixture.

    Fixed their leaky drain under the sink.

    Secured their loose gutters.

    All for less than any one of these things would have cost if they hired a "pro" like you.

    Thanks to the rest of you who gave advice in a non-patronizing and non-condescending way.
  12. Speedy Petey

    Speedy Petey Licensed Electrical Contractor

    Messages:
    1,015
    Location:
    NY State, USA
    Well, considering you took a customer's light fixture down and had to come on here to ask how to hook it back up because you did not even know how to decipher the wiring, I worry for your customers. :rolleyes:
    You might want to consider that insurance I mentioned.

    $20 an hour?? You must be proud. :rolleyes:
  13. Lakee911

    Lakee911 I&C Engineer (mostly WWTP)

    Messages:
    1,328
    Location:
    Columbus, OH
    I would stick to those things that you know like spackling and fixing gutters and avoid the electrical work. If you can not decipher the wiring and you are electrocuting yourself you're likely to end up dead, not to mention be a liability for the homeowner. Did you use a proper and listed connector for the Al and Cu wiring? They can't just be nutted together.

    I don't think anyone is intending to be rude, but this can be dangerous stuff in the wrong hands. If we overlooked the fact that you're unqualified and practicing dangerous techniques (like leaving the CB on and not testing wires for voltage with something other than your body) then this isn't setting a good example to other readers of this forum. There are real professionals who go to school or enter the field as an apprentice and are properly trained for this kind of work.

    Jason

    PS. By the way, drywall compound (vinyl or otherwise) isn't the best repair method for plaster holes. Many do it, but you're likely to end up with cracks between the two mediums because they expand and contract at different rates. Not that its much of a big deal on the ceiling, but the dry wall compound isn't as durable as the plaster. It's much too soft. Hey, what's your patent number?
  14. Alectrician

    Alectrician DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    689
    Verde, you have to understand and visualize a complete circuit.

    The simple version is that the power comes in on the black and goes back on the white. If it is seperated at any point the electrons will not flow.

    If the hot circuit to the kitchen outlets is hooked up and the referigerator is plugged in, the current is flowing in on the hot, thru the refer and headed back on the neutral.

    When you separate the neutral and interupt the path, the juice is still there trying to get back to "ground" and will take whatever path is available, including thru you.

    Also, for future reference, you need to be very careful when separating energized neutrals. There are cases that, by simply separating the neutrals, you can cause 240V to go to the 120V outlets and do some major damage.


    That said, I think, except for a few exceptions, only electricians should be doing electrical work.
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2008
  15. frenchie

    frenchie Jack of all trades

    You & I have been down this road before, and I'm not looking for a re-run, or to pile on with the electricians - but I have to argue with your definition of "pro". Being paid to do it doesn't make you necessarily a "pro", it can also make you a "hack". "Pro" implies a certain level of know-how, training, etc.

    So, while I don't care that you're unlicensed to do this work, in a state that requires it - I am going to tell you again, that I think you don't take the hazards of electricity seriously enough.

    You got zapped because you take chances. You could've gotten killed, instead of just "zapped". And you could've started a fire (at the time, or much later because of something you did at the time).

    Seriously, Eric: lose the attitude, understand how much there is to learn compared to what you know, and start learning it. Get some books, read them. Download the NEC, and study it. Lurk around the pro sparky websites, read their discussions and arguments, learn the hows & whys & therefores...

    Stop gambling with your & your customers' lives. The next time you might not be so lucky.

    Oh - and buy yourself one of these, in the meantime:

    Attached Files:

    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 9, 2008
  16. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Messages:
    2,051
    Thanks for the continued advice and constructive criticism.

    Yes, I know how a circuit works. No, I don't need help installing this fixture.

    Just had a question about the funky wiring scheme. I've not run across four neutrals of dissimilar metals all wire-nutted together to a light fixture before. That's all. Was stupid of me not to check for juice in these neutrals or turn off the main breaker, (since the neutrals were from separate circuits).

    Like the dog who was hit by the car and lived to bark another day, I'll not make that mistake again.
  17. Verdeboy

    Verdeboy In the Trades

    Messages:
    2,051
    Vinyl spackle is made for drywall, plaster, wood, brick, and stone. It is nothing like "mud". It dries hard and doesn't crack. I love the stuff.
  18. Bob NH

    Bob NH In the Trades

    Messages:
    3,317
    Location:
    New Hampshire
    There is a general principle that you should apply.

    When you run into a "funky" circuit you must assume that proper circuit principles may have been (were probably) violated. There are a couple of things you should do after you make that discovery.

    1. Since it is a "funky" circuit it is probably non-standard and nobody here is going to be able to tell you how it is really connected.

    2. Given the Situation #1, your only solution is to trace it out or figure it out, and draw it on paper, until you KNOW that you understand it. You MUST verify your paper diagram by measurements and by verifying the sources of the power and neutral wires. You must understand how it works as installed. If you must disassemble a circuit to check it out, you MUST label all wires so you can put it back together.

    If you aren't prepared to do #1 and #2, then you shouldn't mess with the circuit.

    If you want to just disconnect the black and white wires of an old light fixture and connect the black and white wires of a new fixture, and leave any old errors in place, then you can do that. However, you must realize that if there is a problem and the customer or the insurance company or the fire marshall bring in a licensed electrician they are going to want to know who last worked on the circuit.
  19. I charged $20/hour in 1989, 19 years ago.


    No license, no insurance, no credentials to speak of.


    Accountant told me back then, "Son, why are you in business?"


    I didn't understand that all the money I was bringing in which wasn't much, in the big picture at the end of the year didn't add up to jack squat when the numbers all came together.

    To each their own and you control your own destiny, can't argue that.


    My insurance for my plumbing company does not allow me to touch anything electrical in regards to anything non-plumbing related.

    I can hook up/wire a pump but only connect a dishwasher, disposal or water heater but I cannot touch the light switch in a bathroom, a ceiling fan in a kitchen. Just because there is plumbing in that room doesn't mean I can do all connections, just the ones that pertain to function and necessity involving key components related to plumbing.

    That's why there are licensed electricians, not plumbers taking on the electricians job.

    People always want the work cheaper when you multi-task in the trades.

    That same clientell that will expect you to even work less when there is considerable work involved.

    And if you have a callback?


    There was no profit margin there to begin with....no harm no foul I suppose. :confused:

    I abandoned this customer base completely because they expect me not to make a living off them, just help them out for a few 20's and you shouldn't be making that much how dare you cost me money.


    I'm paying $3.55/gallon for diesel fuel right now, burn at least $120 of fuel a week.
    Last edited: Feb 10, 2008
  20. Alectrician

    Alectrician DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    689
    One wire, hook it up.

    Two wires, look it up

    Three wires, F##k it up

    Four wires, roll it up




    For me, $20 bucks was the going rate for side jobs in 1974. Wages were $6.
Similar Threads: zapped
Forum Title Date
Electrical Forum discussion & Blog Getting zapped by DC Voltage Dec 19, 2007

Share This Page