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See image below. This is a 3ft brick pillar at the street in a house I just bought. It was built around 20 years ago. A few weeks after moving in, the breaker for this circuit flipped. Found the cause here. There is (possibly?) romex running underground from the house to the pillar, and up through the center of the pillar. Hard to tell in the image below, but the black wire here got worn down and/or corroded and broke right at the top surface of the brick. It was actually still barely connected when I touched it (but the insulation was long gone in that area). I wiggled it back and forth once or twice and it snapped, the copper was presumably destroyed from rainwater getting in here? Also looks like the romex sheath was cut back a little too far... it might have protected the black insulation better if it extended out of the pillar further.

I've not tried pulling on this end of the cable, but I somehow doubt it will go anywhere if I do. Afraid to break the white end too.

Is there an easy solution here that does not involve digging?

pillar

Adding some more info as requested. About the image below. Green == earth (dirt/lawn, not cement).

  • What I know for sure, i.e. things I can observe with my own eyes and actions. Inside the house in a random room is a wall switch which actually controls the pillar lights. Outside the house pretty near that switch is an outlet. Plugged into that outlet is a large transformer box that supplies low voltage lighting to the yard lights. This outlet and the indoor switch are on the same breaker circuit, but the switch only controls the pillar lights. If I turn the switch on, the breaker will flip (because of the short at the pillar) and the yard lights lose power also. If I leave the switch off, I'm able to use the yard lights since the circuit and outlet stay powered. There is heavy duty wire (feels like Romex to me, but I don't know) in the thin crack between the driveway and sidewalk (the red line in the image, it enters the dirt immediately past the crack so I can't see exactly where it enters the pillar, but a small dig would certainly reveal that). I know this setup worked for 20 years before I moved in.
  • What I don't know. How are the posts connected to the house. I suspect post 1 is wired underground to the switch/outlet wall. I presume with a conduit? I suspect these are line voltage since they are not powered by the low voltage transformer on that same wall. I don't know where the wires enter and exit the pillars, but I assume not too far under the dirt somewhere. I don't know if the wire in the driveway crack is ok, but I presume it's there because these were installed after the driveway and they didn't want to tear up cement (and there is no earth-only route from house to post 2).

layout

A photo of the driveway and street.

driveway

Two photos of the might-be-romex in the crack:

romex1

romex2

The outside wall with the transformer box and outlet mentioned above:

outdoor_wall

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    Hopefully you are keeping breaker off. If it was done right, it should be in conduit and you can pull new wire.
    – crip659
    Aug 19 '21 at 20:16
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    Please provide more pictures 1) of the entire brick structure and the ground around it and 2) of the place on the outside wall of your house and/or the basement wall where this wire enters or leaves the wall or is connected to something else.
    – jay613
    Aug 19 '21 at 20:27
  • Is that pillar hollow? Would you be able to enlarge that hole the wires exit through into something significantly larger?
    – brhans
    Aug 19 '21 at 21:46
  • @jay613 added a bunch more photos and text, thanks. The spots shown are the only place I can for sure see wiring.
    – The111
    Aug 19 '21 at 22:58
  • Is there a paper wrap between the wires and the jacket in this cable? A closeup shot of where the cable/wires exit the pillar might help Aug 19 '21 at 23:19
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There are 3 possibilities here as to the type of wire:

  • Romex

Ordinary Romex (trade name, but understood to mean "non-metallic sheath cable for indoor use") can't be used outside. So hopefully that isn't what you have here, because if it is then you are going to have to replace it. Which will mean digging and replacing with conduit + individual wires or with UF cable.

  • UF Cable

If you really see a sheath in there, then this is probably what you have, not Romex. UF is rated for underground usage. The problem is that any splices normally have to be in an accessible junction box. So depending on how it was run, you might be in "replace it all" mode or you might be able to replace just part of it - e.g., if there is a junction box at the base of the pillar.

  • Conduit

This is ideal. With conduit, you run individual wires through the conduit. That has the advantages that (a) if a wire is damaged, you can replace it without digging and (b) if the conduit is large enough, you can add additional circuits and/or upgrade circuits for higher capacity. Obviously (a) is the issue at hand.

The first step is to figure out what you are working with. See if there is a junction box near the base of the pillar. If there is, open it up and see what is in there - could be a pair of cables, two sets of wires, one cable and one set of wires or one set of wires just passing through.

If there are no junction boxes near the pillar, go to the other end - the breaker panel - and see what kind of wire/cable is connected to the circuit and follow it until it exist the house in case it transitions to something else.

In either case, pictures please.

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  • Thanks for the detailed info. I added some more photos and text. I suspect there is a conduit underground, only because it has worked for 20 years until this short in the post? Not sure though. I know there is exposed wiring in the driveway crack, maybe you can tell which of your 3 categories that falls into?
    – The111
    Aug 19 '21 at 22:59
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Go Solar

EDIT: I'm moving my "alternate" suggestion to the top because I think this is what I would do. Fixing the wiring now becomes my secondary suggestion. Search up "Solar LED Post Lights". Here is a delightfully cheesy one. There are plain and more majestic ones too.
Cheesy looking solar LED post lights
The switch in the house stops working but if that's important there are remote control solar LED lights. But generally they are automatic which is great.

Or try to fix the wiring

  • Caveats There’s a lot of guessing and hoping in my answer but you should start with this approach regardless. Adapt if you have to. Guessing the damage is in Post 1. Guessing, since there’s NM or UF between posts, that the same kind of cable is run from the house to Post 1. Not conduit. This answer depends on this guess. Hoping the brick column is hollow. Hoping that inside Post 1 there is a splice joining the feeder to the cable for column 2 and a to a short cable or perhaps just those loose wires coming out the top.
  • Cables: Romex is a brand of NM (non metallic) cable, and NM cable is meant for indoor use. UF (underground feeder) is similar but meant for direct underground burial and sometimes sunlight resistant (if marked). What you have there might be any of those. None is meant to be jammed between rocks, driven over with cars or to be molested by lawn mowers or animals. Now to your question.*

Hopefully work through the top

Strongly tie a strong string/twine/whatever to the bit of wire sticking out the top. Run a good 20 feet of string with plenty of slack down to the ground and tie it to a tree or a brick. This will prevent the wire from falling down the hole.

Break off the round topper and if necessary drill a large enough hole in the top of the column that you can look in with a flashlight and fish wires. I wonder if that round piece is a hasty repair? It looks out of place. Maybe you can take the opportunity to replace it with something more suitable. If the round piece comes off in one piece you can carefully remove the string, extract the brick, and replace the string.

With any luck you’ll have access to a splice. My guess is it’s not in a junction box and it’s just wire nuts bricked up inside the column. Should you take this opportunity to re-do it properly? You should … see rough guide at the end of this post. But let’s imagine you just repair in place, replace the short spliced cable running up through the top with a few feet of new UF, keeping the jacket intact as it passes through the brick and into your fixture. At least use waterproof wire nuts and provide strain relief with a junction box or zip ties.

... but maybe through the bottom (and the top)

Hopefully the splice is accessible and there's enough slack for you to work on it. The splice might be all the way at the bottom of the column and without enough slack for you to pull it up. In that case … if the column is hollow you can dig up the existing UF cable and hopefully rescue enough of it to be able to run it up the back side of the column, surface mount a waterproof junction box near the ground, and from there drill a hole into the column and fish new cable up inside it.

... or maybe not

The worst-case scenario is: The UF cable is cemented into the base of the column, if you cut it there won't be enough to come up the side a ittle and the splice is inaccessible. Then you either need to learn to do an underground splice (which I know nothing about) or dig the whole thing up.

Post 2

If the damage is in Post 2 you just need to adapt a bit. There won't be a splice inside the column but hopefully there's enough slack that you can pull the cable up, or create a splice inside the column to extend it.

A vague map to doing this right:

Dig a trench, run new conduit from the house to Post 1 and up the back of Post 1, put a waterproof junction box there and then cable through the post and up the middle, or conduit up the back of it and along the top to a new waterproof junction box on which you mount the light. From Post 1 run a conduit under the driveway. There's a tool that can do that without breaking it up.

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Direct burial UF cable is sunlight resistant and lacks space for water in the jacket. We don't know what you have, so that discussion is over.

It is likely that wet mortar was allowed to rest on the wire which will damage UF as easily as it will Romex. Given the limited view, we don't know what happened, so that discussion is over.

Conduit is good for wire protection. You don't have it and we don't know if the 'easy way' is to install conduit, so that discussion is over.

Step 1: Remove the top round block. Use a chisel and try to get it off in one piece because we might want to put it back. Once that is done, then this conversation can continue with added knowledge and a few more inches of wire.

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From the photo, that cable looks like it has a grey sheath, which means it's probably UF (rated for direct burial). But as others are pointing out, you can't just splice a new piece in; any junction boxes must remain accessible.

Try removing the fixture on the other post. Perhaps the cable from the house goes there first, and if it's clean, you only have to replace the wire going from the good post to the bad post. And if you're going to do that, do your future self a favor and put it in some conduit :)

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