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I just uninstalled a ceiling fan with the intention of installing an IKEA light in its place:

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After removing the ceiling fan I noticed that the wire in there looks like regular 14/2 lumex to me, but it is red, I'm used to seeing white lumex:

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Here is the breaker for this circuit, the one in the off position:

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Here is what the switch looks like, there is NO red-sheathed wire connected to it:

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Here is the plate of the (now removed) ceiling fan:

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The previous owner seemed to have no intention to use the ceiling fan light, as that blue wire was cut short and not connected to anything. Does regular lumex come in red as well as white? Is that all this is? Is it safe to hook up my IKEA light using the red wire (red sheathing I should say) in the ceiling?

Apparently red-sheathed 14/2 romex is actually a thing in Canada (where I am). Is it possible the white-sheathed romex coming out of the light switch wasn't long enough and the previous owner spliced a red-sheathed onto it as that's all he had available?

According to my voltage tester, black is hot and red is neutral. Multimeter is showing 120V between black and red wires in the ceiling box, but black to bare ground wire is showing 3V? Shouldn't black to bare ground be showing 120V as well?

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    Your world location might be important. Black and red are more old UK colours. US does not use red or black as neutral, both are hot colours Your breakers and the light box looks more US type. If in the US you would need to change that cable.
    – crip659
    Commented Dec 23, 2023 at 23:33
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    Apparently this stuff is a thing in Canada. Description says it's for baseboard heaters; I'm guessing they are usually 240v on a dedicated double pole circuit? I would guess someone had some leftover and used it for the light fixture. Why it doesn't appear in the switch box is a mystery. I'd look for a junction box (possibly buried in the wall/ceiling) where the black and white gets extended with this red and black stuff. If the gauge is right then it's technically "safe", but not to code.
    – CactusCake
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 1:52
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    Is there an attic above where there might be a junction box? We’re all concerned that there’s a strange splice somewhere that is actually dangerous. And to reiterate, you should find out what voltage you have on those wires with a multimeter. Black to red, black to a known ground (use an extension cable in a good outlet), red to ground, both with the switch on and off. Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 15:00
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    Red is French for black and black is metric for white. In Canada there are "Candy Cane" cables with sheathing that changes from red to black along the length. That's why you don't see the other end. You'll be fine in the end. Why would anyone need a fan in Canada? Of course you're removing it. Sheesh. :) Merry Christmas.
    – jay613
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 18:00
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    Hot (black in this case) to ground will read low if the other end of that ground wire doesn't have a path all the way back to the panel (basically just a random piece of copper terminating nowhere in particular).
    – CactusCake
    Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 3:14

3 Answers 3

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The previous installer used the wrong cable

Unfortunately, the previous installer ran out of regular 14/2, so they used some of the Canadian black/red stuff instead to complete the job. This, while not unsafe, is incorrect and means that you have to use a multimeter to puzzle out which wire is hot and which is neutral, or at least verify that the fan was wired correctly originally. Once that's done though, hooking up the light fixture should be straightforward.

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  • Well the fan was working, black with black, red with white, green with bare.
    – PaulG
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 18:19
  • @PaulG -- do want to double check that the previous installer didn't get hot and neutral swapped though (wouldn't stop the fan from running but would pose a shock hazard) Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 22:33
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    The voltage tester says black is hot, red is showing no voltage so I guess that that one is neutral. Multimeter is showing 120V between black and red, but 3V between black and bare. Shouldn't black to bare (ground) also be showing 120V?
    – PaulG
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 23:35
  • @PaulG -- this is a 120V circuit, so black is your neutral and red is your hot :) Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 5:26
  • That's likely correct if there's also 120V between the red and bare wires. If those are also showing ~0V between them, then the bare wire is disconnected and floating (which indeed is bad, @PaulG, at least insofar as it's useless for grounding). Commented Dec 25, 2023 at 16:48
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A 120V light needs hot and neutral. Neutral is always white, but white is not always neutral.

Very commonly a black/white cable will be used for a 240V appliance (e.g., water heater) with the white marked black or red on each end, and that's fine. But the reverse - marking red or black as white for neutral - is not allowed except at very large sizes.

A picture of the wires going to the switch would be helpful in figuring out what is going on, though the only code compliant fix is to replace the cable.

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  • Thanks. I updated my question with some pictures of the switch wiring. I see no red sheathing in there and no red wires. I am in Canada btw.
    – PaulG
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 0:19
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    Which is very strange. Which means the black/red cable goes someplace else besides the switch. Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 0:29
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EDIT: Since you were able to show the ceiling fan nameplate and we see that it's 120V, that means the red wire is the neutral, grounded conductor. Since there's no red conductor in the switch box that controlled the fan, that means that there's a splice somewhere. Hopefully it's not a hidden splice, but given the use of the red conductor as the neutral, which is a big no-no, it wouldn't surprise me if there was a hidden splice somewhere.

Anyway you should go to the hardware store and get some white electrical tape, and mark the end of the red conductor with it. It won't make it code-compliant but it will make it easier for the next person in the future to know what is going on. Then you can connect the white wire on the IKEA device to the red conductor and continue on as normal. Don't forget to connect the bare grounding wire to a grounding screw on the box (it's not connected to the box in the photo).

Assuming the ceiling fan was working correctly before, I would assume that this is actually a 240V circuit. It would not be impossible to have a ceiling fan motor that ran on 240V instead of 120V.

That means a couple of things: your photo of the breaker that is "off" is only half the circuit, either one of the red or black wires is still live and connected to the breaker just below the duplexes that are off. Please be careful. Only one half of the circuit would have to be off in order for the fan to stop spinning, so I could see how one could make the mistake of thinking the circuit is off when it still has a live leg (and this is also how the switch could work).

You could confirm that with a multimeter: measuring the voltage between the red and ground should read zero, as should the voltage between the black and the ground, when the circuit is completely off and the switch is on. There should be no voltage on either side of the switch.

As to what to do about it -- you need to confirm this theory as either true or false, and then you would need to work inside the electrical panel to change things around. If you aren't comfortable with that, then please hire an electrician. If you are comfortable with that, then let us know and we can provide further guidance. You'll need to shut off the main breaker if you are going to be working in the panel.

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    Can you somehow incorporate the black and white switch wiring into your 240V theory?
    – popham
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 4:02
  • I probably could, yeah, but it would start to get contrived. What the poster is showing doesn't make a whole lot of sense, just trying to point out what the most likely situation is. That's why I'm asking to see the nameplate of the ceiling fan. Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 6:29
  • My voltage tester is showing that there is nothing flowing through either the red or black wire. One comment above suggested that maybe the previous owner spliced the white-sheathed wire coming from the light switch box to some red-sheathed as that may be all he had available. Might be true as there is NO red-sheathed wire connected to the light switch box. I will use a multimeter to see what voltage I get.
    – PaulG
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 15:13
  • Also, I have updated my question with a picture of the sticker plate from the ceiling fan. Thanks a lot for your help.
    – PaulG
    Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 15:31
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    That would appear to be the case. I would not have thought a licensed electrician would ever do such a thing - mis-labeling a neutral is one of the biggest yet simplest no-nos in wiring. It can make for some huge mistakes (like broken neutral on a circuit). The last time I saw bad job done by a licensed electrician, I used the local AHJ to find out who pulled the last permit so I know to avoid that person. I live in a small town so when I saw the name of the electrician, I knew who it was. Commented Dec 24, 2023 at 19:12

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