I'm stumped

The house is 50+ years old. The 60 amp service was updated today to 100 amp. The distribution wiring was not replaced, but with the exception of one receptacle on the 2nd floor, all tested grounded. 4 receptacles in the house were reversed polarity, which indicates to me that a non-pro had his hands in some “upgrades”.

When I tried the ceiling fixture in the 2nd floor bedroom the lights didn’t work. Thinking that the bulbs were both blown, I removed the glass diffuser, and tested the bulb sockets with a non-contact voltage tester. Sure enough they were powered… but so was the metal light fixture. No problem - I’ve seen this before. Maybe the ground in the fixture wasn’t used / properly used. Maybe the installer used electrical tape rather than Marr connectors and friction wore through the tape to electrify the fixture. I turned off the light switch. Power to the bulb socket off… fixture still hot. Maybe the switch was wired to the neutral wire, and power was being sent to the fixture first…on a whim, I tested the screws holding the cover plate on the switch. It too was hot - no matter whether the switch was in the on or off position. An anamoly no doubt. Write it up and move on…but no.

I found exactly the same situation in the ceiling light in first floor bedroom, the closet light in the second - first floor bedroom. Fixtures and light switch hot no matter what position the switch is in.

1 of 4 ceiling lights in the basement (pull chain switch) had the same characterists.

And here’s the weird one. In the kitchen there were two ceiling fixtures. Between the two was a decorative chain with the electrical wire strung through to links to connect to the second fixture. Kitchen fixture one was live, but kitchen fixture two was not.

I defered responsibility to a licenced electrician, but I’m pulling my hair out trying to find an answer that will set my mind at ease.

Anybody got any suggestion?

Oh, also this house had a 12 by 25 addition build on the back with no foundation (and obvoiusly no permits). I dug down below the wall a foot or so and along it for 2 feet and the only thing I found under the completely rotten sill plate was dirt. So the handymen reigned at this house.

Can anybody comment on the electrical - I’m truly stumped.

Thanks, Joe

sounds like a neutral problem
if you did not use a digital meter on the fixtures your glow stick may have reacted to light neutral load.
just one direction to look
I have seen branch circuits where they switch the neutral and tie all the hots together. this application is before my time and do not understand


I have to ask this…what method of wiring was in this dwelling…AC Cable, K & T ( hey its possible ) or older style romex…

many times in the older homes they hit the light with the HOT…and it would then send down a “Switch Leg” the switches…thus a hot would be always at the light regardless…

ON the fixtures being live, if they are old and lets say old as the house…I would defer them to be evaluated…I have seen MANY old houses with the surface mount luminares and no box behind them…the bulb housing wears and makes contact with the fixture housing…

I would not let it stump you…I get calls like this all the time and I never TRY to solve it…UNTIL I get to the job…so many possible factors that Electricians really have to DIG into and see…may be fine…may not…but you are making the right call…if something just does not seem right…defer and if they are not working period…you defer.

Hey Paul

Thanks for your reply.

It’s not knob and tube. I see that stuff all of the time and there was no evidence of it here.

The distribution wiring was a mix of 60’s to 90’s cable. Some had plastic sheathing, some woven. With the exception of the ungrounded circuit in the 2nd floor bedroom, the rest of the house had grounded circuits.

The fixtures were not original to the house - they were installed in the last 15 years or so.

The client insisted that he could “taste” the electricty in the air. He said that it felt like licking a 9V battery. And he mentioned this before I found the anolomies with the lights… weird.

Anyways, I did defer, but for my own benefit, I’d like to understand what I found.