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I'm updating a bathroom in our old house (circa 1935) that still has some fabric-sheathed 2-wire (hot/neutral, no ground), but also has some new wiring mixed in here and there.

Our bathroom wall fixture had this set up: romex from below, fabric-sheathed from above. The most noteworthy issue is that only one wire from the romex is being used: the hot wire. The ground and the neutral are clipped off. IF you look closely at the yellow nut, the hot wire is attached to the grounding wire on the fixture.

So it would seem then that the fabric-sheathed wire is the only one actually providing power to the fixture, and the romex is serving only as a ground wire that was added later, correct? But why would the hot wire from the Romex be used and not the ground wire if that's the case?

The fixture has worked fine for the past several months that we've owned the home, and presumably for years prior (it looks pretty old). I don't understand this set up at all, but would it be a terrible mistake to replicate this set up with a new fixture?

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  • My guess is someone wanted the outlet on the fixture grounded. No clue why they picked the black wire tho. – Tyson Apr 7 '17 at 21:37
  • Can you find the other end of this NM? – ThreePhaseEel Apr 8 '17 at 1:29
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This is a common hack for ungrounded outlets. Sometimes you see just loose wires, sometimes like this someone will use a new cable. The worse I've seen is someone stringing lamp cord around to use as an add on ground. The lack of a junction box is another issue.

For safety this should be replaced by a professional. A new grounded cable should be run from the main service panel and a GFCI protected outlet to replace the outlet on the light. The cloth wiring does not get better with age.

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    The use of a loose wire for retrofitting a ground is legal under 2014 code provided it's terminated to either the source panelboard's ground bus or another suitably sized EGC off that panelboard. The lack of a box should definitely be rectified though! – ThreePhaseEel Apr 8 '17 at 2:35
  • Done right it is legal, but if you have to run a single ground wire all the way back to the panel it is probably best to run a full cable. Loads in bathrooms have increased, and the cloth covered wire will need to be replaced sooner or later. – mfarver Apr 8 '17 at 14:00

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