I was up in my attic a few days ago, and I noticed a pretty ugly electrical junction that wasn't in a junction box. Here's the pic: alt text

Is this up to code? FWIW I live in north Alabama, outside city limits. However I'm assuming there are general building codes that would govern this sort of thing nationwide.

At first I was horrified when I saw this, but then I remembered the home inspector had to have passed this several times when he was going over the house prior to our purchase. In fact, I SAW him walk right past where it was - I just stuck my head up in the attic while he went tromping around across the trusses. Am I just super OCD and this is a perfectly fine junction, or was it a major oversight on the inspector's part? Unless someone tells me otherwise, I'm planning on installing a junction box tomorrow, but I'd rather not waste my money/time if it's fine how it is.

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    I wouldn't say super OCD ... I'd say "playing it safe", especially when it comes to electrical things. One errant spark and your whole house could go up in flames. I wouldn't consider it a waste of money even if you have the faintest notion that it's not right. Junction boxes, wire nuts, wire and time are a monetary pittance compared to the peace of mind you'll get. If you're like me and you left it the way it is now ... every time you walked by that area you'd probably glance up at it, even if it's eventually covered.
    – user45
    Oct 4, 2010 at 11:27
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    Code or not, that's a disaster in the works.
    – awithrow
    Oct 4, 2010 at 12:15
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    @Scott Vercuski: In this case it should never be covered. Junction boxes are not allowed to be hidden (at least in any code I've seen), all electrical junctions must be accessible at all times.
    – Tester101
    Oct 4, 2010 at 12:17
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    You might want to look deeper into this, as whoever did this is mixing wire sizes. This could be just that that's what they had on hand, or that they are using a 20-amp circuit to feed 30-amp loads ,or a 30-amp circuit to feed 20-amp loads.
    – Tester101
    Oct 4, 2010 at 16:12
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    Hint, home inspectors are useless. They missed that a part of the wiring in my house is wrong and that park of the roof was caving in. Sep 14, 2017 at 3:39

4 Answers 4


At first glance, I see several problems:

  1. The junction should be in a junction box.
  2. Is there even an electrical nut on the live wires? Hard to tell under all that electrical tape, but it doesn't look as if there's room for one.
  3. Is the neutral from the red wire at top going into that tangle of lives? If it's carrying live, it should be tagged to indicate that.
  4. The red wire to the right shouldn't be running along the top of the ceiling joist. If you can, run it along the middle of one of the sides.
  5. Ideally, the yellow wire at bottom would pass through a hole drilled through the joist. Failing that, there should be furring strips either side to prevent you from stepping on it.
  6. The electrical tape on the neutral and ground wires isn't strictly necessary for code, but if it's there, it's customary to have it go around the nut to help hold it in place.
  7. Thanks to @tester101: different sheath colors indicates different gauge wires. Check that your circuit breaker has the appropriate amperage rating.
  8. Staples: if you run wires across the joists, they should be stapled to keep them in place between the furring strips (that you also need; see #5). You'll also need them along the length of the wires that run along the joists, and it might be a good idea to have one near where the wire drops down through the 2x4 header (given the quality of the rest of the job, whoever did this may not have used staples when running the wire through the wall cavity).
  9. It looks as if you might have a lot of slack in those wires. Wiring shouldn't be piano-wire taut, but you don't want enough slack that you can trip over it.

Just because the inspector didn't mention it, doesn't mean it's OK. They're human, so they can miss things, especially in an attic where the lighting isn't good.

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    gotta agree with Niall ... looks completely out of code and somewhat unsafe. IMHO having bare wires exposed is NEVER a good thing ... might be a ground, but then again it might not. Inspectors definitely do miss things (I can be a witness to that). I'd seriously consider fixing that up, putting it in a junction box and using quality wire nuts and tape before sparks start a flyin.
    – user45
    Oct 4, 2010 at 11:23
  • Also note that Yellow sheathed wire is 12 gauge, and Orange is 10 gauge, this could be a problem depending on the circuit amperage and the circuit loads.
    – Tester101
    Oct 4, 2010 at 16:20
  • @tester101: added to my answer, thank you. Also added a couple more points that occurred to me overnight. I think I'm done now...
    – Niall C.
    Oct 4, 2010 at 18:32
  • Regarding #5 above: if the joist shown in the photo is part of a truss assembly, DO NOT drill through it. It's perfectly fine to run wires on top of joists in an unfinished attic. A furring strip or similar protection is only required within 6' of the attic access opening. Oct 4, 2010 at 18:48
  • Also regarding #5: Make sure when boring holes to run wire they are at the appropriate depth (1.25-1.75" from the edge), and/or proper wire protection plates are used. I would put the hole closer to the top of the beam and protect it with a protection plate in this situation, to prevent a nail or screw coming up from the ceiling below and hitting the wire.
    – Tester101
    Oct 4, 2010 at 19:24

I'm amazed that your inspector didn't call this out. I suppose it could be just a random fluke that it was missed, but this is something that even the greenest inspector should have easily seen and noted.

I agree with all of Niall C.'s points, but would add that this looks like nothing a professional electrician would put together (and would certainly not have passed the electrical building inspection), and so is probably something added by a previous owner. If I were you I'd find out where these wires go and check out whatever's at the other ends. You may find a mess there too that needs to be fixed.


That is an epic goat rope of a splice job. Completely illegal. In a nutshell - any splice outside of an enclosure is a hack. You can debate the semantics of safety if that's just bonding a ground or whatever but that is crappy work regardless.

ALL splices must be in an approved junction box.

2008 NEC®©

300.15 Boxes, Conduit Bodies, or Fittings — Where Required.

Where the wiring method is conduit, tubing, Type AC cable, Type MC cable, Type MI cable, nonmetallic-sheathed cable, or other cables, a box or conduit body shall be installed at each conductor splice point, outlet point, switch point, junction point, termination point, or pull point, unless otherwise permitted in 300.15(A) through (M).

There is such thing as a "concealable splice" kit (made by AMP) but that is a topic for a separate thread.

I'm sure most of you are familiar with the term "code smell" - well this is an electrician's 'code smell'. :)

  • There is a variety of splice that can be done outside a box, when each cable goes into a specific kind of connector and the connectors then snap together; they're sorta double-insulated so apparently someone decided that they are equivalent to a box. Limited to simple junctions, but if that's all you need they are compact and easy. I presume code still requires a physical strain relief on each cable.
    – keshlam
    Nov 29, 2022 at 8:52

There's only one way it could be legal -- if it's wiring for a doorbell or thermostat or other low-voltage circuit. But if it's a regular 110/220v electrical circuit then it's definitely illegal.

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