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I installed 4 Lithonia LED recessed lights on my living room 15 amp circuit. Everything was working great yesterday when doing final testing. I left the breaker off overnight as I was planning to do final closing of junction boxes and drywall patching today.

Last night at 2am the fire alarm connected to my inactive ADT home security panel starts chirping. I go to the ADT motherboard in our coat closet and start disconnecting the low voltage wires attached to the motherboard trying to get the thing to shut up. It ended up being a stupid battery problem on the fire alarm unit itself...but I realized the wires going to the ADT motherboard are hot as a red and black touched and gave a spark, so I leave them disconnected and wire nut them all off. It was 2am and I didn't think much of it.

Today for final install of the LEDs I stupidly forego one last test (because I did it yesterday and everything worked great) and push them all up into the drywall using the spring clamps. When I go to turn on the breaker it immediately trips upon multiple attempts.

I have tried the following which have not fixed the problem of the breaker immediately tripping:

  • turned off and back on all breakers for the house...Nope!

  • unplugged all appliances and turned off all light switches on that circuit and retried breaker...Nope!

  • reset GFCI on a different circuit that may be in between breaker and the tripped circuit...Nope!

  • unplugged and wire nutted off all low voltage wires going into the ADT motherboard...Nope!

These are some potential variables that may or may not be relevant:

  • The 4 LEDs are connected to a Lutron Maestro low voltage dimmer switch. It is not a traditional on/off knob but a flat low profile click if that makes sense. To be considered 'off' do I need to disconnect the wires going into it? Anything else about the switch that might affect my attempt to reset a short circuit? The wires are all intact and no burning or discoloration.

  • There is a motion detector and a door contact in the room with the LEDs that are wired back to the ADT motherboard in a different part of the house. I assumed since I disconnected all those wires from the motherboard this would eliminate this from being a factor?

Any tips or things I can do to narrow this down is much appreciated!!!

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    Does the circuit breaker have a TESt button on it? Nov 13, 2019 at 8:54
  • Yes, what make and model is your breaker panel for that matter? Nov 13, 2019 at 12:42
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    Disconnect the feed to your new lights and try to reset the breaker If it holds, then the problem is in your lights. You might have dislodged a wire closing everything up.
    – JACK
    Nov 13, 2019 at 13:41
  • Since you had the power off when buttoning things up I agree with jack, I have skinned a wire in a box before and had it short out, my current apprentice put in a light and the next day it shorted as the wires relaxed. If you pull the power to the lights and the breaker holds you know where to look.
    – Ed Beal
    Nov 13, 2019 at 14:57
  • There is no test button I can see on the panel. It is an old Sylvania, I am unsure of the exact model. I pulled out the light switch and disconnected everything. The breaker still immediately trips.
    – vash1422
    Nov 14, 2019 at 4:41

1 Answer 1

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Shared Circuit

Assuming this isn't just some crazy coincidence, I'd bet on:

  • The alarm and the lights are on the same breaker
  • When you left the breaker off for an extended period of time, the battery on the alarm started to get low, which caused the chirping as a (correct) warning
  • Red and black on the alarm are battery connections and not incoming AC power. A typical alarm system has a converter (either a wall wart or built in to the main alarm panel) to convert from 120V AC to 6V or 12V DC. That AC wiring will, in the US, almost always be black & white (hot & neutral). Black & red is, however, typical for battery power. A battery, even when relatively low, can make quite a spark when shorted.
  • Sensors, bells, etc. connected to the alarm have nothing to do with the current (pun intended) problem.

So what is going on? Anything is possible. But since the breaker is tripping immediately, the likely scenarios are:

  • Something came loose & shorted when you put the new wires, dimmer, etc. back in the box. To test this, open up the box and disconnect the hot & neutral from the dimmer and see if the breaker can be reset. If so, you know the problem is somewhere in: dimmer, lights, connections between dimmer & lights.
  • Something came loose & shorted when you messed with the alarm. Not on the low voltage side. You need to find the incoming power - either to a wall wart or into the main alarm panel - and disconnect it and then try resetting the breaker.

If you can't find the problem in one of those two places then you have to disconnect each light or receptacle on the circuit until you find the problem. There is a small but non-zero possibility that somewhere in the circuit something else (e.g., a bad backstab connection) went bad coincidentally with the new work.

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  • I appreciate the thorough reply. I disconnected the dimmer switch and the breaker still immediately trips. I looked into the wiring for the ADT panel and traced the low voltage wires back to a regular wall electrical outlet in the ceiling of the garage. They are going into some converter looking thing that plugs into the standard wall electrical outlet. I unplugged both of those and the breaker still trips. Is my next step to remove that entire wall outlet?
    – vash1422
    Nov 14, 2019 at 4:42
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    Found the short in one of the electrical outlets...the one we use a lot for the vaccuum 😎 thank you @manassehkatz-Reinstate Monica for the helpful and thorough troubleshooting steps!
    – vash1422
    Nov 14, 2019 at 5:25
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    The ADT converter thing was actually on a different circuit and seemingly not causing the problem.
    – vash1422
    Nov 14, 2019 at 5:28
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    Yeah maybe just an odd coincidence that the battery was low...? Anyways I'm glad I at least understand the ADT wiring now and finding where that converter is plugged in motivated me to replace a few really old outlets in the garage
    – vash1422
    Nov 14, 2019 at 6:00
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    You were right, I mixed up the upstream and downstream. All is working now, sorry for reopening this thread!
    – vash1422
    Nov 15, 2019 at 6:16

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