I have wall sconces similar to the one pictured below in my apartment:

enter image description here

The only difference between this and the picture is in addition to containing the switch, there is a power outlet in the bottom of the fixture. So, instead of having a light, then underneath it a switch controlling the light and an outlet somewhere else, it's all in one unit.

Long story short: I hate hate hate hate these sconces. The light they give off is terrible, mainly because of that translucent glass "shade" that covers the bulb.

My intention is to replace these with a standard sconce, then below that a switch to control it. So I don't lose the outlet, I was going to add an outlet further down the wall not controlled by the switch. I set about digging into the plaster.

What I expected to find was BX that I could cut with a metal blade. Instead, I found what looks like iron pipe. I've seen this once before in my kitchen, but it was going into the ceiling. This appears to be headed towards the floor (because I discovered it below the existing fixture).

What are my options here? What is this pipe made of? Can it be cut? Do I need to rip the whole thing out of the wall? Where does it end?

I live in a high rise building in UWS Manhattan NYC. The building was built approximately 1957. FWIW, the walls are a combination of concrete (hooray) and plaster on metal lath (which is what this wall is made of). It's a horrible mess dealing with that stuff, and I'd rather a) not do any more demolition and b) not my efforts so far count for nothing.

My inclination is to dig out just enough more plaster so I can get a pipe cutter around that pipe, just above and below where the new switch box will go. Thus the remaining pipe will continue to armor the cable. But obviously I've never done anything like this before.

Recommendations on specific tools and techniques are most welcome. Also, feel free to tell me if it sounds like I'm in over my head here.

Picture of the pipe:

enter image description here

  • It's hard to judge scale from the picture, what is the diameter of the pipe? It seems rather large, which makes me think you'll find more than just the wires for this circuit in there.
    – Tester101
    Jun 26, 2013 at 10:55

1 Answer 1


Do not cut the pipe. It may not be electric but water or gas (it looks like it may be black which is standard for gas).

A much simple approach is to drop a new line from the box behind the current sconce. This box obviously has one always on circuit. You can tap into this to run another circuit down the wall to a new outlet. You also can add a pair of wires between the hot lead to the current light and a switch mid wall.

This requires using wiring that meets both local code and any restrictions your building may impose. In many jurisdictions this is non-metalic cable, but check.

If there are no hollows in the concrete (there would be if it were concrete block rather than solid concrete), you will need to cut a channel in the concrete to do this.

An alternative is to use surface mounted metal raceways and boxes, such as these.

metal raceway

surface box

Your inquiry suggests that you have very little experience with this type of project. Working alongside someone with more experience is highly desirable whn learing to work with electricty. I would urge an experienced helper, or turn to a pro.

  • Thanks. I'm inclined not to cut the pipe. That means do as you suggested, give up or hire an electrician. However, FWIW, I can see down the pipe from the light's box and am certain it's all electrical. No idea where it starts/ends. Also, as I said in my post, I've seen this kind of thing before during my kitchen renovation. The demolition team broke down a wall with a light switch. Once the wall was gone, all that was left was a single pipe hanging from the ceiling with a switch (in a box) hanging off it. It was very strange. Jun 27, 2013 at 14:10
  • Historically, in some jurisdictions, armored cable or metal raceways, such as pipe, were required indoors. This is much less common now except for exposed circuits such as the raceway described for surface mount. Thinwall pipe is still used for outdoor circuits. But cutting into an existing electrical pipe that carries wires is very risky. When building such a system, the wires are fished through after all the pipe is cut and as each section is assembled or after assembly.
    – bib
    Jun 27, 2013 at 14:17

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