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In laws are coming into town and are seeing our house for the first time. As you can imagine my honey-do list is a mile long! We just finished up painting our entire upstairs (about 1000 sq ft) and now are on to the final details. One of which is replacing an old florescent light above our sink to pendant lights. Here is my issue. (see attached kindergarten picture from MS paint)

Above our sink there is a piece of 1/4" plywood that matches our cabinets and underneath that there is about a 3/4" gap before reaching the soffit (which is closed in on the bottom). So I it seems I am unable to install a junction box into the soffit nor get reinforcement above the plywood. I have no idea what the best course of action is. Please help!

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    Do you know what's behind the plywood? More specifically, would you be able to cut into the plywood to install an "old work" box? – poorplanning Feb 2 '18 at 16:02
  • My assumption would be either lath and plaster or drywall from the soffit. But with that 3/4" gap between the plywood and the soffit it would be tricky to install any junction box. (I wouldnt be able to get to the rafter through the soffit). – Aaron Rowsell Feb 2 '18 at 16:17
  • You shouldn't need access to a stud, that's why I mentioned an "old work" box. These are designed for installation after the wall or ceiling is in place. As an example: lowes.com/pd/… – poorplanning Feb 2 '18 at 16:41
  • I had thought of these, but would still run into a problem. This junction box would be put up inside the soffit which would still leave me with the 3/4" gap from the box to the plywood. Should I just get longer screws for the pendant bracket? – Aaron Rowsell Feb 2 '18 at 16:48
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    You could add an extender lowes.com/pd/… – poorplanning Feb 2 '18 at 17:09
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When I remodeled, and moved my kitchen from one side of the house to the other, I installed an electrical outlet above the stove for a microwave. The inspector said that was fine, however I had to use an extender to get the box into the cabinet. He didn't want to see a cut out in the cabinet and the cord going through to the outlet. So I installed an extender to get the box into the cabinet. He said it was perfect and signed me off. So I say install an old work box in the upper older soffit and install an extender on that to get it out to the plywood. Another option, if you have a junction box now, you could install external pendant lights that swag and hook to the underside. Just would need to wire both into the central box you have now and swag the cords to where you want.

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You must use an electrical box unless the lighting is low voltage. Very likely, there will be some sort of support (i.e. a small "stud") available to you at some point along the soffit beneath the drywall. If you get lucky when you cut the holes in the plywood and drywall and there are studs directly behind where you wish to install the pendant lights, then you can screw an electrical box directly into this support. As far as options, they make "pancake" boxes that are very thin for lighting applications where there is minimal depth of ceiling material - you just have to make sure you do not exceed the box's wire fill capacity. However, with 3/4" of plywood and likely at least 1/2" of drywall, you are minimally looking at a 1 1/4" deep ceiling junction box (most likely listed under "new work" at the store where there are screened through the back of the box for securing to the stud) and wire fill for your pendant lighting fixtures is probably okay.

Otherwise, if a stud is not accessible once you cut the holes for where you want the pendant lights, you should use an old work box that has an extendable brace attached (example) or is otherwise UL listed for ceiling fixture support. A lot of old work boxes without braces are not listed for ceiling fixture support, so please verify this before installing and potentially later having your lights fall down- most state this inside the box or in the packaging as it is a selling point of the old work box if it is listed for ceiling fixture support. Again, many manufacturers make boxes of different depths to account for situations such as this. The example I linked has different depths of boxes available.

Another option is to use a short depth "pancake" ceiling box mounted directly to the plywood (assuming the 3/4" plywood is fastened securely to the soffit) and then surround it with a circular piece of wood trim that has the same depth as the ceiling box (e.g. buy a round piece of trim and cut a hole in the middle of it for the junction box). Or, a similar option is to get another sheet of trim plywood (probably only needs to be 1/4" or 1/2" plywood max) and cut its dimensions to match the same dimensions of the existing 3/4" plywood and try to stain it to match the cabinets. Then you can cuts holes in the new sheet of plywood where you want your pancake junction boxes to go and secure the new sheet of plywood to the ceiling. This will allow the pancake junction boxes to be fastened to the 3/4" plywood and still have the lights sit flush with the ceiling.

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