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I am replacing a bathroom ceiling light fixture. The house is pretty old and has cloth covered wire. The fixture I'm replacing is relatively updated but when I went to remove it, I noticed it was connected to the wires out of the ceiling using some kind of wire joining implement that I've never seen before. I lightly tugged on one the old black fixture wire and it came right out of this connecting device. The white wire won't budge. Since it was for the old fixture I'm replacing, I cut it.

What is this connector and is there some kind of release button/switch on it that I need to press to disengage the wires?

Pictures are below.

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  • It might be worth getting an electrician to do an complete E.I.C.R. on the property given the age of that cable - who knows what state the overall wiring is in – SpacePhoenix Dec 15 '19 at 21:30
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It's a push-in connector. Basically the splice version of a "backstab". Not the best connector, to be sure.

Do not cut. Firmly grasp the splice connector, then steadily tug and twist the --

-- Actually, forget that. The wires in the ceiling are already too old, short and fragile. Leave the connector alone and cut the modern, plastic black and white wires about 6" from the connector. If you dislike this plan because you plan to reuse the old lamp, then cut it at the halfway point.

Strip the ends of those wires you just cut, and wire-nut your new fixture to that.

Also these types of connector are single-use, so once you drag a wire out of a void, you have damaged the spring and can't use it again. This is also true even if you use a proper release mechanism. I would say "just cut" because it leaves the wire stub in the hole, preventing reuse; but wire length is precious and not to be squandered, that's why you have a short-wire problem today.

Note that the above part of my answer violates Code. The Code answer is the wires in the ceiling are simply too short. Loosen the cable clamp and see if you can pull extra cable length in. If not, replace the entire cable in the ceiling/wall. It must have 6" of length beyond the cable clamp, and 3" beyond the ceiling surface.

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    Wish I had read this immediately/not even messed with trying to remove the push in connectors. Twisted the little connectors off the wires, checked the voltage and, yep, something broke and now I'm reading 0V. Breaker off and electrician called :(. Should have just cut the wires. Appreciate everyone's help on this! – Nick Criswell Dec 14 '19 at 21:00
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    I'm getting Access Denied on your push-in connector link. – marcelm Dec 15 '19 at 22:23
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    @marcelm Changed it to Lowes. Normally, Home Depot just puts me into their Bangor, Maine store since it's nearest to my geolocation. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Dec 15 '19 at 23:09
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That is a push-in connector, it has a one-way spring inside that holds the wire. I think it's a Gardner Bender Pushguard. Ideal makes In-Sure connectors that are similar, Wago makes similar connectors, and I am sure there are other brands.

To get the wires out one at a time, hold the wire in place, steady light pull on the connector, and twist the connector back and forth. This will work it out in a few seconds, the wire kind of "unscrews" from the connector.

Caution: Be very gentle with that old wire, that insulation may be prone to crumble. If it falls apart, you'll have a much bigger problem to deal with.

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Fortunately the housing is clear so you can see the workings inside. It contains a springy "tooth" that grabs any wire pushed alongside it. There should be a small slot or round hole nearby for a small pointed tool to release the tooth while you tug on the wire. It works much like the quick-connects on the back of receptacles and switches. Normally they are designed for a certain range of wire gauge. I guess I should type my answer more quickly, to not attract copy-cats.

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(can't comment and this falls out of the scope for edits to, in this case, @Harper - Reinstate Monica's answer, thus ...)

As already stated by other this is a push-in type connector and/but if it were a WAGO connector you most likely could reuse it (search for reusable)

So the general statement

Also these types of connector are single-use

is just false.

This is stated more clearly on a German Wago page: "Tip: Reuse WAGO box terminals" (and a picture shows how to remove wires)

Disclaimer: I haven no connection to Wago except for being an occasional customer (and fan).

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