I own/live in a brownstone (build in 1900) apartment (split off in ... 1960's?) that's been worked on by many clueless DIY or incompetent electricians so I'm slowly but surely untangling (pardon the pun) the mess that's here. I'm about to replace all the cabinets in my kitchen and it seems like a good opportunity to correct many terrible mysteries that lie there.

While taking inventory of the number of circuits that run to the kitchen now, I came across something of a puzzle. There is a 12/3 armored cable that comes out of the wall that was direct wired into a dishwasher that was here (that I got rid of) and there was 12ga black and neutral, and ground wires coming out of the cable. However, on the panel, that conduit has 12ga black, red and neutral going into it. The circuit breaker that the red is connected to does not seem to control/effect anything.

Is there a way that I can track down where the red hot wire ... uh ... leaves the conduit? It's certainly possible that the conduit goes through some junction box along the way and we will be opening the walls behind the cabinets when they are removed, but for planning purposes it would be helpful to know now whether the hot red wire is somewhere in the kitchen or not.

In case it helps, here are some pictures:

panel bottom conduit leaves

old direct DW wires

  • Cut back some of the armor on the cable in the second picture and see if there is a red wire in it. If not they switched to two wire somewhere along the way.
    – ArchonOSX
    Aug 20, 2017 at 19:13
  • how far back is likely practical? and is there a way to find where along the way the red wire is? (I suppose I can just abandon it and run a new circuit up to the kitchen but my calculations show that if I can use the other circuit in this conduit, I may have enough separated power in the kitchen. Aug 20, 2017 at 19:47
  • 1
    An inch to find the wire, 6 inches to use the wire. It's illegal to make a junction box inaccessible; any must be reachable without dismantling any of the building, i.e. you should be able to access the junction box without any tools and put the building back the way it was without any tools. So there shouldn't be any buried junction boxes. Aug 20, 2017 at 21:24
  • ok, an inch down there is no evidence of another wire. Since there is another pair of similar MWBC (that is what this is, right?) coming from two circuits and going to two separate parts of the kitchen being controlled by two breakers with no junction box apparent anywhere, I suspect some shenanigans :( Aug 20, 2017 at 21:49
  • Yes, it sounds like they made a splice somewhere without a junction box. The confusion this causes is the exact reason this is a Code violation.
    – ArchonOSX
    Aug 21, 2017 at 8:06

1 Answer 1


The only sure way to hunt down missing wires, without taking forever, without disturbing the walls, ceiling, or floor is to use a circuit tracer. I use a Mastech MS6818. It comes with a transmitter and a tracer and can be used on energized and unenergized circuits. It may be worth a homeowner to have one if he owns a house like yours and you are determined to track everything down. You might find a local contractor who also has and uses such a device, but I wouldn't let him in unless he has one in his hand when he comes to the door.

If all of that is too expensive your only other option is to verify that it is not a switch leg or some such and doesn't go anywhere. Then just wire nut it off and leave it in the box, then at least keep a mental note as to where it is in case you find something not working.

Good luck and stay safe.

  • Procured one, thanks! This will help with multiple other mysteries of this place :) Aug 22, 2017 at 11:35
  • I'm having a tough time finding the wire with the tracer - would that be appropriate for a new question? Sep 5, 2017 at 12:03

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