We recently bought a little old house with a detached garage that had been converted into a study or studio. There's a great sagging bundle of cables running from the main house to the studio. Some are obviously phone lines, some look like coax cable. None are obviously power lines, but there's definitely electricity in the studio.

We don't have a landline and when we set up our cable they ran a new cable line, and I assume that if we ever wanted a landline they'd start that from scratch, too. So I'd really like to cut these cables, but I obviously don't want to go out with my wire cutter and snip the power line.

Where the power lines come into the main junction box from the street they run through porcelain insulators. I haven't figured out where the power for the studio actually runs.

I've tried to trace them to their respective sources, but at various points they've been painted over and it is really hard to sort out where each wire is coming from or going to.

So my question is: how do I ensure that I won't electrocute myself before I cut any particular wire?

  • 4
    Post a picture of what you want to cut for better info.
    – Tyson
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 21:59
  • 2
    Individual power wires may "look" like coaxial cables, from the outside. Round wires look much the same. I'd suggest relaxing about the "great sagging bundle of cables" until you trace where the power actually runs, first. Odds are pretty good it's 3 or 4 of those cables. Words of whiz-dumb for the day: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 2:44
  • 3
    If you're not sure what you're doing, then the risk of electrocution is not worth taking. Hire a qualified electrician. Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 2:54
  • 1
    Well I mean, if you wear thick gloves, shoes, cover your skin, and chop away, you're not going to electrocute yourself. Start a fire or do some damage maybe, but electrocute yourself, no.
    – Jason C
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 4:13
  • 1
    Right, I should have mentioned that there are more risks than just electrocution that are not worth taking. If you don't want to set fire to your house, and don't want to kill yourself, then for the love of God, hire a qualified electrician. No offence to anyone who might answer this question, but you absolutely should NOT trust the advice of a bunch of strangers on the internet to keep yourself safe. Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 4:28

2 Answers 2


If you go over to Amazon and search "voltage sensor" you can find several quality sensors for less than fifteen bucks. Once you have it, you can place the probe near the wires in question, and the probe will signal if there is any hazardous voltage present. This is an item that should be in any Do-It-Yourselfer's tool box.

  • I don't need to puncture the insulation to check for live currents?
    – Amanda
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 20:50
  • 3
    "Non-contact voltage tester", "voltage detector", "voltage tester". Any of these search terms should work.
    – Tester101
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 21:08
  • 9
    Make sure to test the NCVT on a known-live power wire (even a switched-on lamp cord will do) before using it to test unknown wires. Don't want to be fooled into a false sense of security by a faulty tester or dead batteries.
    – mmathis
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 21:43
  • 1
    Also be aware that some voltage testers will both light up and emit a sound when voltage is detected, but the sound may be muted by holding the power button when turning it on. I was working in another room when a first time user only paid attention to the sound, but since he was unaware that he muted it he incorrectly assumed the wire was dead. Sparks flew, but luckily he was not electrocuted.
    – llogan
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 0:23
  • 1


Like everybody is saying, get an electrician.

But, if you aren't going to do that, here is a checklist.

  • use a voltage checker to find power lines. Mark them.
  • turn off or unscrew any fuses that may or may not be relevant.
  • check that the power is indeed off in the area.
  • wear your rubber gloves and boots and other protective equipment.
  • cut the non-power wires.
  • isolate the ends of each wire.
  • turn fuses on again.
  • in case of fire, turn fuses off again before trying to put out fire.
  • call electrician to fix the mess you made.
  • for the longer term "isolate the ends of each wire" is the most problematic one. It should be done and marked properly.
    – Rsf
    Commented Feb 28, 2017 at 9:59

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