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I'm renovating a pantry. There was a light in there that didn't work. We were told after purchase that it had been "deactivated". Before I moved the box I tested the wire and it in fact had power just that the exposed black wire end was cut off. Why would they do this to a perfectly good light? I wondering if they did it because it was unsafe somehow. How would I check that the wiring is safe? I rigged up a light and touched the black wire to one terminal. By accident the ground wire touched the other terminal and the light came on. Is that normal or does that mean they were using two wire as three wire? enter image description here

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The white and bare copper are neutral and ground , they go back to the same place in the main panel but are for different things. The wire nut should be on the hot or black. If there was no switch and the fixture a pull chain failed some are afraid of electricity and I have been called many times for simple fixes just like this because they did not know what breaker to throw.

So it sounds totally normal. If you use the metal box when you reinstall a fixture the metal box needs to be attached to the bare copper.

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