Previous owner "special wiring" and a tip for hanging stuff in drywall

Ryan Mooney

Staff member
Williamette Valley, Oregon
Replacing a fixture today and I go to undo the ground wire, it was crimped to the house ground with this ?thing?. I bumped it and the fixture ground just fell plump out of the "crimp". I dunno where they got it or what they were thinking using this, there was a ground screw on the fixture they could've reached easily or a twist nut is under $0.50. Baffling.


For the tip, if you're hanging things with drywall anchors having a VERY thin (this is maybe 1/48" or about half a mm wide) sharp wire like this can be real handy for double checking stud locations. It makes an almost imperceptible hole in the wall and doesn't take any electrons. I do use a stud finder and the magnet trick but for double checking location in tight spots this is a real nice option.

Crimp on ground sleeve. Had the best luck using them on all solid wires, stranded has too much movement and give to them.
Well it sure didn't work here (the amount of crimp wasn't great either which definitely didn't help).

I was taught to always tug on wires when you fasten them however and in this case they obviously didn't do either.
My present house seemed to have been "unmodified" when I bought it. It did need new breaker panels and a service upgrade from fuses and 60 amp service to panels with breakers and 200 amp service, but I was aware of that at the time of purchase. Once we moved in I set about replacing the service and fuse panels. It helps to be a licensed electrical contractor and EE, though now retired, so I did this all myself. Since then I have found several "surprises" hiding behind light fixtures, and corrected them, which made me pull down every light fixture in the house, looking to see what other surprises might be hiding there. The guy who wired my house seems to have done a great job, even to upgrading all of the wiring to the outlets to 12 gauge during installation. It had to have been the previous owners who created these surprises for me to find.

One of the surprises was a ceiling light in the middle of the family room ceiling. The light, or fan, was no longer there and a flat metal cap had been placed over the box. We didn't need a light or fan in that position, so it was several years before I opened that cover. Surprise !! There wasn't even a box in the ceiling. The wires had been taped with a couple of wraps of friction tape and then shoved up into the ceiling loose. I found them and installed a new box and cover, so now the wire ends are in the box and properly terminated with wire nuts on their ends, and a new flat cover installed with fixture bolts, as it should be. Both the box and cover are metal and are now grounded too. This surprise is what prompted me to open up all of the light fixture boxes in the house. If the light fixture was original to the house it was wired fine. If it had been replaced, it held surprises behind it.

The new (old) house is a mess of wiring disasters. I’m planning up pull every plug and fixture and not a few wires in the place. Plus I think I’m going to move the panel.

It’s an 1890s farmhouse, they didn’t actually electrify it until the early 70s though so the original wire that went in looks actually fairly decent. But similarly there’s been a lot of modifications over the years that are a bit of a problem. The previous owners sin in law considered himself “handy” and did a fair bit of really questionable stuff (and I’m not really happy with the work I know they had hired out and inspected either to be fair, less hazard and more “just not well done”). The panel also ended up in the kitchen and is behind a faux shallow cabinet which is kind of not great. There’s an under stairs closet on the other side of the same wall that’s large enough to be to code I’m pretty sure if I moved it to that location. Lots of taped off live ends (some just dangling in the crawl, another poking out of a roof mast head completely unprotected), unprotected splices, etc. A bunch of light fixtures were moved and they just nutted the wires together on the ceiling without a box around them (at “least” they also pulled the insulation back out of the way and left it so that was easy to spot anyway). The problem kind of ends up when you find stuff like that you can’t trust anything so you have to map and check every single connection.

I knew that (and the plumbing, and..,) was a mess going in though and we did get a decent price cut for it. We also have the mobile home to live in while I spend a year or so working on it.
My #2 son, bought a house across town 8 years ago. It had been built by the original family about 1950, then 2 bedrooms added onto one end some years later. I had been helping him when looking for house, trying to spot problems with each, but this one I got to see during a fast look at during a sweep of several house possibilities one afternoon without the chance of doing a detailed look. The next thing that I knew he had put money down on it and was buying it, without me getting to inspect it very well. Then the next time that I saw it was after he had become the owner. When I did get to look at it, I told him "push it down and start over".

It did have a 30 X 50' metal pole barn shop, and I think that made it high on his list, because he is a certified welder, electrician, and refrigeration tech, but the house had some significant problems. Every time I pointed something out, he would reply, "I can fix that". I had suggested that he push it down and start over, but he wanted no part of that.

Well, 8 years later he has ripped out all of the sheetrock, completely rewired the house along with a 60 to 200 amp service upgrade, removed the improperly installed chimney/fireplace, moved the front door and porch to where the fireplace had been, removed the oil furnace and ducting, all of the insulation, and closed in the carport on one end to make a Sun room for the hot tub. Insulation and sheetrock is starting to go back in at this point, and soon he and the neighbor (a HVAC contractor) will be putting ductless HVAC (several units) in the house. The electrical and complete plumbing re-do has been inspected, and new roof shingles have been installed. The original owner had built a basement under the two added bedrooms, but the walls were caving in, so a new foundation was needed. When he removed the concrete wall blocks he found that they had never even poured a foundation under them. So a complete new foundation under the two added bedrooms plus a properly installed block wall, filled with rebar and concrete, is now finished and the two bedrooms that had been held up with temporary support is now resting on the new block walls. All of the replacement windows for the house are due to be delivered next week. Though far from complete, he now agrees with me that he should have pushed it down and started over. He might actually be able to live in it by next year. He and his wife, and two cats, have been living in a 35' fifth wheel camper on the property since all of this renovation started (8 years ago).

All of the replacement windows for the house are due to be delivered next week.

Oh yeah they ripped out the original sash windows and did cheap vinyl retrofits (poorly..) .. so when I redo /fix the siding (needs .. more investigation..).. I'm planning to pull all of those and put in new-construction windows..

since all of this renovation started (8 years ago).

I'll be in trouble for sure haha. :cautious:😬

At least we have the mobile home to live in? :rofl:

then 2 bedrooms added onto one end some years later.

Oh yeah.. we want to add on a master-on main on the one end of the place as well.. Which has morphed into an entry hall (with a proper laundry space and move the hot water over there as well.. since we're redoing the plumbing anyway....), and a powder room off of the back entry plus the actual master suite (bedroom, walk in closet, bathroom, and of course.. the wet bar..). I'm going to contract out at least the majority of the rough work for that though although I'll do the finish work myself.
Even loosely twisted the splices together backwards, Scary !! It needs a box extension to protect the wood too. That looks like 12 ga wire, for a light? Difficult to work with, but it is safer than the rest of the installation.

My house was much safer than this, even though the previous owners had done a rotten job when they replaced ceiling fixtures, it was much better than this. If they had cut the insulation back that far, they would have needed to use a roll or two of friction tape for each splice. I had to remove plenty of friction tape covered splices, probably 1/2 roll per splice, but at least all had plenty of (friction tape) insulation covering the bare metal part of the wires. Though my house wiring had undisturbed wire nut connections everywhere that had remained original, there wasn't a single wire nut used by those replacing the light fixtures. They used friction tape, a lot of it. Friction tape becomes a brick after about 20 years and almost has to be ground off to remove it.

I never took pictures, should have.

That looks like 12 ga wire, for a light? Difficult to work with, but it is safer than the rest of the installation.
Charlie, note that not only is it 12 ga, it is underground cable!
I fixed all such issues, 6 ceiling fixtures, but did not run new cable. Figured it was overkill and therefore OK.
Rennie, I probably would have left the underground cable too, being that replacing it in existing construction would require extensive work. If just lights are on this circuit, the chances of overloading #12 gauge would be non-existent, so no chance of over heating due to loading. I couldn't see the stamped rating in the photo, but a good inspector would likely flag it. I can't remember ever seeing underground rated cable being used in house wiring.