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UPDATE 01.01.22 - thanks everyone for the comments and feedback. I’ve tested the circuit and determined everything is fine. I.e. no dead neutral. I also tested bulb contact on the existing fixture (in the picture) with the switch on and off and determined that it wasn’t working. So I went ahead and replaced the fixture with the same type of fixture (open bulb, pull chain) just as a test. It works! Now, I’m planning to use my original plan of installing a new enclosed LED fixture with pigtails. If anyone has comments for me, please let me know. Thanks again. Have a happy and healthy 2022.

EDIT 12.28.21 - based on some comments, I'm interested in trying out a hard wired light fixture like this (LINK). I will install a LED bulb in the fixture.

I am new to electrical work but wanting to learn and DIY where possible. Here is my problem: An existing pull chain porcelain lamp holder, installed in a coat closet, no longer works. I want to replace this lamp holder with an enclosed LED lamp. Thank you in advance for any help! enter image description here

Here's what I've tried/learned:

  • I tested the lamp holder with different bulbs to no avail.
  • I've tested the hot wire (black) with a non-contact voltage tester. The hot wire has power.
  • The light holder is wired continuously. Yes, I am sure. I.e. The wires were stripped and wrapped around the terminals. You will notice that there is only one wire, not two, wrapped around the terminals.
  • Seems like the terminations are legit but old school (according to some folks via a Facebook electrical code group).
  • I've heard some concerns about the exposed terminations in the metal box, there may be potential for arcing/fire.
  • Some have suggested adding a pigtail.
  • I do not see a grounding wire. (Per the comments, this is because the conduit/metal box provides the ground - I just need to ensure I use a metal light fixture.)
  • According to NEC 410.16(B) this type of exposed bulb light holder is no longer up to code for a closet: enter image description here

Here's my proposed solution:

  • Switch off the power for this circuit at the breaker.
  • Test with a non-contact voltage tester to ensure the wires are dead.
  • Uninstall the lamp holder.
  • Cut the white and black wires in the middle of the exposed conductors.
  • Use 3-port wire connectors to connect the existing wires and a new pigtail wire (looks like aluminum wiring) from a new led pull chain lamp (alternate and more expensive option). --SEE EDIT AT TOP
  • Install the new lamp.
  • Turn the breaker on and test.

Any suggestions, comments, ideas, or objections? Again, thanks for the help.

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    I see a metal box. I see writing on your wires. That means those wires are THHN running through Conduit, assuredly metal conduit. That is the best ground available, since it fully encloses all wires with thick metal. Also the best for EMF, if anyone in the family cares about that. Typically this happens on many-unit condo developments, or NYC, or Chicagoland. Or maybe your builder was a crazy person like me lol. Dec 29, 2021 at 4:17
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    If the wire on the new fixture appears to be silver in color it certainly tinned copper. The writing on the wire will indicate something like UL1430, you can search that to determine specific wire properties. Dec 29, 2021 at 4:33
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    @NoSparksPlease Thanks for the tip. Dec 29, 2021 at 18:33

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DO NOT CHANGE STUFF

You are falling into a classic blunder of "It doesn't work, and I don't know why, but I want to change other unrelated stuff, and hope the problem just magically sorts itself out".

That won't work. That never works.

It does, however, add complications and make the original problem much more difficult to troubeshoot. This won't become apparent until you're in the thick of it.

Stick with the existing fixture until it works.

Troubleshooting the old fixture

I've tested the hot wire (black) with a non-contact voltage tester. The hot wire has power.

This tells us a lot, actually. It says power is present here, but isn't being returned on the neutral wire. I wish you could test it in-circuit with a good bulb in; I bet the neutral wire registers "hot" when the light is "on" and dead when the light is "off".

That would confirm a "dead neutral wire".

Now it's time to search the house for anything else that doesn't work. Circuits are most commonly run in daisy-chain. When the tail end of a circuit is dead, the problem is in one of 2 places:

  • The last outlet that works (its "onward" wire is disconnected)
  • The first outlet that is broken (its "supply" wire is disconnected).

("outlet" includes hardwired loads like this light).

With a lost neutral, it's a bit easier because if you have a load that works on the circuit, neutral "on the dead side" will read as hot/live.

"Backstab connections" are notorious for failing this way. Convert any backstabs to side screws. Torque the side screws to spec (or: Rather Hard).

Once you have restored the old fixture to operation and it's proving stable... then and only then upgrade the fixture.

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  • Great tips. I'll hold tight on replacing the fixture until further testing. I will test the neutral wire as outlined above and report back (later this week Thursday or so). If we have a dead neutral wire, I will proceed to test the remaining outlets on the circuit. One question: may I simply use my non-contact voltage tester for this or do I need something else? Thanks! Dec 29, 2021 at 4:38
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    @QuentinIkuta If you had a voltmeter there are some other tests possible, but a non-contact tester on the neutral will tell you a lot. If you can't get a reading in the hole, stick a plug halfway in on an appliance that is turned off. Neutral is the taller slot. Dec 29, 2021 at 4:53
  • I’ve gone ahead and installed a replacement light fixture after testing all the outlets on the circuit. They’re all fine. It’s the same pull-chain style type of fixture and it works! Everything else down stream and upstream works too. So I’m thinking I don’t have a dead neutral, thankfully. Seems like the old fixture simply wore out. Now is the point where I’m wanting to go to my original plan of installing a new, enclosed, LED fixture with pigtails. Any concerns? Jan 1, 2022 at 18:09
  • @Quentin sounds fine, once you are at a baseline of "everything works" changing fixtures should be fine. Jan 1, 2022 at 21:09
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As noted in Harper's answer, you do need to make sure the circuit is good first. If the circuit is good and the fixture is bad, replacing it makes sense. If the circuit is bad and the fixture is good, another fixture still won't work. The key test I would do is between the hot and neutral screws/wires with a multimeter. You should get ~ 120V - the same value you get with checking a regular receptacle with a multimeter - in fact, I would start by testing a receptacle so you know your multimeter is working and you know the expected reading. Assuming the circuit is good (or was bad and you fixed it) and the fixture is bad, replacement makes sense. If you find that the circuit is bad and you fix it and now the fixture works, stick a decent LED bulb in there (which will basically take care of NEC 410.16, though there are some specific clearance requirements, which would apply to a new fixture too) and you're all set.

The basic plan looks fine. A few comments:

  • As far as ground, the existing wires definitely point to conduit rather than cables. In fact, it would be practically impossible to connect "middle of a long wire to screw terminal" using cables because you would have to strip a lot of the cable sheath off to do that instead of cutting the cable and stripping the ends. Metal box + conduit + no visible ground all points to "metal conduit is the grounding method". If your new light has a metal case then metal case -> metal box provides the ground. If it does not have a metal case then you will need to connect a ground wire from the light fixture to the metal case with an appropriate ground screw.
  • Pigtails are the way to go. That makes any future maintenance easier, and also allows you to disconnect this light fixture and cap the wires but still have the rest of the circuit function properly.
  • Speaking from personal experience, I am not a big fan of Commercial Electric's LED pull-chain fixtures. I had two (different model, same brand, also pull-chain LED, inexpensive, 5-year warranty, looked like they'd be great). I have since replaced one with a hard-wired better-quality fixture (purchased at Home Depot using the credit from returning the original fixture, but a more established manufacturer) and the other one has a messed up (but still functioning for now) pull-chain and I'll replace the fixture when it inevitably fails, because the pull-chain switches on these fixtures are clearly not designed to be replaced.
  • Ideal would be a wall switch instead of a pull-chain. Unfortunately, that would be quite a bit of additional work. (In my case, I had a ceiling switched receptacle, so changing to a hardwired light was not a big deal, but you would have to run new wires for a switch.) Plus pull-chains are relatively "normal" for closets. But I would go a step up in quality.
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    A lot of work partly because if the existing work was conduit, that's probably because it's legally required, so the switch run would have to be also. Dec 29, 2021 at 4:19
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica I figured that would likely be the case. But even if it doesn't require conduit, it would require either going through the wall and ceiling or running wiremold around. A lot of work for a little closet light. Dec 29, 2021 at 4:59
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So the black wire is hot, but have you checked that you have 120 V at the center contact where the bulb goes? (Switch on, of course.) This will show whether the pull chain switch is working.

A few years back I had six of these pull chain ceramic bases fail, after only a year or a few years in service, due to the switch failing. These were major name brand but labeled made in China all bought by me at the same time.

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  • I'm planning to obtain a multi meter to test the switch itself, great idea. I'm such a newbie to electrical - which lead do I place where? Dec 29, 2021 at 18:36
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    First try your non-contact tester. The center contact inside is supposed to be hot when the switch is on and not hot when the switch is off. If the center contact is switch on hot, then it could be the center contact is not making contact with the bulb. With long use sometimes these center contacts get bent down and don't make contact. If that is the case, you can pull it up slightly with a small crochet hook or pry it up slightly with a small screwdriver to restore firm contact. BE SURE THE POWER IS OFF before sticking a metal rod in there. Dec 29, 2021 at 21:57
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    To use a multimeter to test for voltage in a screw base fixture select the a/c volts function. (Be sure it's not on amps or ohms!)Touch one lead to the center contact and the other to the screw base. Be sure not to short the center contact to the screwbase. Dec 29, 2021 at 22:08

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