A friend of mine took down a ceiling fan to put up a light fixture. He was unable to get the light to work so he asked me to take a look. There is a 12/2 cable and a 12/3 cable coming into the junction box in the ceiling. I tested all of the wires, and there does not seem to be a neutral wire present. I took a pigtail light and touched it to all of the possible wire combinations and cannot get it to light up. If I touch one of the pigtail wires to a ground wire and then touch the other wires, all of them are carrying enough power to make the light work. I tested all of these wires with my multimeter and the black and the white in the 12/2 cable carry 120 volts, and in the 12/3 cable a white and a black one carry 120 volts and the red carries approximately 68 volts.

What could be going on here? I'm an experienced electrician and this doesn't make any sense to me.

Additional information: There are 3 different ceiling lights total on this switch circuit. There are 2 3-way switches and 1-4 way switches. I tested the switches and they all seem to function just fine. My friend said he did not mess with the other 2 lights or any of the 3 switches. Flipping the switches doesn't change the voltage at the ceiling box. He said the ceiling fan worked fine before he took it down.

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  • 3 way should be easy for an electrician there are some possibilities but you should be able to figure this out. Hint is there a voltage or resistance on the 12-2 Switch legs can be confusing if not properly identified.
    – Ed Beal
    Mar 16, 2021 at 21:23
  • If the power came to the light first, there would be a hot and a neutral wire. I can touch any or all of the wires to together in the ceiling and it does not cause a short. Mar 16, 2021 at 21:23
  • Ok then I gave a hint did you check the resistance , with a 3 way the feed from that location ??? Or to a light fixture. Thus check resistance since you stated you are an electrician you should be able to figure this out. In some cases flipping a switch will provide another clue.
    – Ed Beal
    Mar 16, 2021 at 22:15
  • "electrician" is a word to describe someone who has been through trade school and a several-year apprenticeship, and has received their license to work solo as a contractor. Mar 16, 2021 at 23:05
  • Can you post photos of the inside of the box for the switch that controlled this location? Also, have you tried turning off the breaker for the circuit, then using your multimeter on continuity to find which of the white wires has continuity to ground (via the main panel N-G bond)? Mar 16, 2021 at 23:36

1 Answer 1


There was no neutral path present at the junction box in the ceiling. I went over all 3 switch boxes and the other 2 ceiling light junction boxes in this lighting circuit and was never able to determine the source of the trouble. I wound up pulling a new cable (always-hot, neutral, and ground) to power the circuit and supply a neutral path.

Additionally, there were 3 extra wires in the junction box in the picture that did not serve any purpose for the lighting circuit (both the black and white in the 12/2 cable and the red wire in the 12/3 cable). I capped those off and tucked them up into the junction box.

There appears to have been a lot of DIY wiring done in this home over the years leading to very irregular wiring. This made troubleshooting the issue challenging.

  • Be sure to come back and click the check mark, as well!
    – FreeMan
    Mar 19, 2021 at 12:35

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