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I am installing track lighting and have uninstalled the old florescent lighting. I am now left with:

  • 1 white wire
  • 2 black
  • 1 yellow

And what looks to be an exposed copper wire.

I understand that the white is my neutral and the black are my hot wires. I’m confused about the ground. Is the yellow wire or the exposed copper my ground?

I really appreciate any help and insight.

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  • Two additional questions: I don't see a bare wire in your photo: where is it? Are the wires in a box or just coming out of a hole in the ceiling? – DoxyLover Sep 24 '20 at 18:07
  • Is the "yellow" wire the one on the right of this picture? If so, that's also white. The housing may have yellowed somewhat, but it's really white. Also, ditto on the bare wire - I'm not seeing it either. – FreeMan Sep 24 '20 at 18:14
  • Sorry! It was such a mess when I took it down. And I was feeling confident! The yellow wire is the one of the far right. It is very faded. The bare copper wire is just barely poking out above the first black wire from the left. – N Caulfield Sep 24 '20 at 18:21
  • The wires are just coming out of the hole in the ceiling. – N Caulfield Sep 24 '20 at 18:22
  • If in Australia, look more carefully at yellow wire to see if there is a green stripe. This is important info. – Polypipe Wrangler Sep 25 '20 at 3:13
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Odds are excellent that you have an additional bare wire and cable sheath out of sight up the ceiling. And that your "yellow" wire is actually "White, but old and yellowed."

This is a crappy install, in that the cable sheaths should have been coming all the way into the "old fixture as junction box" and if they don't make it to the hole, that obviously wasn't happening, and the next thing in line wasn't grounded, (and I doubt the first thing was given how short that ground wire is cut,) unless that cable has just retreated into the hole after you removed the fixture. Bare copper or green are grounds.

It's marginally possible but highly unlikely that the ballast in one fixture was running a tube in a separate fixture (where yellow would be a reasonable likelihood as a real color.) If so, you're going to need to replace that wire anyway.

For cables used in North America, the conductors are black, white, bare, then black, white, red, bare, etc - i.e. you won't find a yellow wire in a normal household cable. You might in a conduit. But the yellowed/aged white wire is a much more likely case.

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  • I see what looks like an old fabric sheath on the two wires at right. It may not have a ground wire. – isherwood Sep 24 '20 at 19:37
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    Yeah, I couldn't figure that mess out, you might have the correct guess on it. I'll stick with "it's a crappy install" for 1000, Alex. – Ecnerwal Sep 24 '20 at 19:39
  • Thanks for the feedback! Does this mean I don’t have a grounding wire? – N Caulfield Sep 24 '20 at 19:55
  • @NCaulfield There is a ground wire, you highlighted it in your pic. (Thx, that was hard to see.) There is no guarantee, though, that it's properly connected to the grounding in the circuit breaker panel, though. You'll have to test for that. – FreeMan Sep 25 '20 at 13:50

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