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I'm trying to replace a flush mount with a pendant light in my old Chicago apartment. Have replaced some more straight forward light fixtures before, but realized I’m a little out of my depth. Would love for someone to take a look and help me figure out what’s going on before I electrocute myself. Hoping the solution is painfully obvious and I’ve just missed it. :) All of the uncapped wires are hot except for the white bundle.

  1. I can’t find a ground screw—is there somewhere else I can attach my ground wire?
  2. I know the white bundle goes to the neutral fixture wire, but should I attach both of the hot wires to the black fixture wire? Only one was connected previously, but I can’t figure out what to do with the other.

wiring in box

Before disconnecting old fixture:

Old fixture

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    So was the other red wire just capped by itself when you removed the old light? Does the light switch control both of those red wires or just one?
    – JPhi1618
    Nov 12, 2021 at 18:09
  • Before: imgur.com/a/tjxIycw That’s what I’m having a hard time figuring out. I took a picture before I started undoing the old fixture, but I can’t see where the other red wire was before/if it was capped or attached to anything. If it was capped by itself then I’m short a cap somehow. They were both hot with the light switch turned off.
    – user143779
    Nov 12, 2021 at 18:18
  • Ok, I edited the question to add your new before picture. It's also hard to tell from that picture where the other red wire was. If the light switch operated the light before, then one or both of the red wires should be switched on or off with the light switch. You may need an actual volt meter to take a reading if you are only using a non-contact voltage detector.
    – JPhi1618
    Nov 12, 2021 at 18:21
  • One of your red wires has paint on it all the way to the end and the other one does not. In the before picture, the red wire connected to the black clearly doesn't have paint on the end, so that's one clue, but it doesn't tell us where the "paint on the end" wire was. Also, in the before picture I see two red wire nuts, but the after picture only shows one.
    – JPhi1618
    Nov 12, 2021 at 18:23
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    I think that you really do need a volt meter to figure this out all the way. The non-contact meters are made to detect any voltage for safety, but they can be bad at testing individual wires for troubleshooting because they are so sensitive. It's a good thing when you want to make sure all the power is off, but frustrating when you need it to be more selective. With a volt meter you will be measuring between hot and neutral or hot and ground to get a voltage reading.
    – JPhi1618
    Nov 12, 2021 at 19:31

2 Answers 2

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In the future, take a picture before disconnecting any wires from fixtures/switches/etc.

I can’t find a ground screw—is there somewhere else I can attach my ground wire?

That's because you're in Chicago and they have a shortage of ground screws :-)

Well, no shortage of ground screws. But in Chicago you use conduit, and metal conduit connected to metal fixtures means you have ground without doing anything provided you have metal fixture case/yoke to metal box contact. If the new fixture is all plastic (ugh!) and you have to ground via a wire then it is possible but gets a little trickier, especially working above your head.

I know the white bundle goes to the neutral fixture wire, but should I attach both of the hot wires to the black fixture wire? Only one was connected previously, but I can’t figure out what to do with the other.

Something is very wrong if you have more than one "really hot" wire here. My guess is you either have some phantom/induced voltage on all but one of the "hot" wires, or one of those is a switched hot and that if you check with the switch turned off you will get only one hot wire. In fact, if that is the case then the wire that changes when you flip the switch is the hot wire you should connect to the fixture.

Aside from the neutrals and the switched hot, generally speaking all the other wires (should be one hot, one or more not hot) should be connected together.

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  • Thanks for your help! I’ve learned the hard way before that old chicago apartments come with some quirks. I’ve added a picture of my hardware—should I just use the long screw from the old fixture to attach it and then I’ll be grounded? i.imgur.com/kYSZHmn.jpg I also double checked and one of the wires only seems to be hot when the light is switched OFF—should that be the case?
    – user143779
    Nov 12, 2021 at 19:24
  • It should be "hot when switched ON". Is it marked "ON"/"OFF"? Or is it a 3-way switch (2 switches in different locations) and just thinking "UP" = "ON", because a 3-way switch doesn't actually work that way. Yes, ground wire screwed to metal case, metal case secured to metal ceiling box should do the trick. Nov 12, 2021 at 19:35
  • Had to stop working on it because we realized when the breaker was flipped back on that several overhead lights throughout the apartment hadn’t come back on, even after flipping the breaker on and off again. Any advice appreciated as I’m increasingly out of my depth here 😣
    – user143779
    Nov 12, 2021 at 23:05
  • What probably happened is that you separated the actual incoming hot from the wire going to the switch and from several other hot wires that serve other switches/fixtures. It gets back to: Need to figure out true incoming hot, switched hot, hot to switch, and then you can put it all back together. And a real meter will help to do that. Nov 14, 2021 at 0:46
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If you haven't already called the apartment management to get them to take care of this for you, since working on electrical in a rental without being an electrician is illegal...

  • Pigtail the white bundle of neutrals from the "before" picture to the neutral white on your new fixture.
  • Attach the one red hot from the "before" picture to the black hot wire on the new fixture.
  • Attach the green/bare ground from the fixture to a ground screw screwed into the proper hole in the back of the box because the metal conduit/box is your ground "wire".

Which red wire in the "after" picture is the one hanging out of the box in the "before" pic is up to you to determine. Also, you'll need to reconnect the other red wire in the "after" picture to whatever it was disconnected from in order to reestablish the lighting that now doesn't work.


Now's a good time to call the management and have their electrician come fix this up.

The reason the average Joe (of which I am one) is not allowed to DIY electrical work in a multi-family dwelling is that if you manage to burn the place down with faulty wiring, you're impacting a lot of families. If I do it in my house, I'm only impacting my family. (At least, that's my understanding of the rationale - I could be wrong...)

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