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I have discovered a loose live 14/2 NM cable. I know the right answer is to trace it back to the junction box and remove it. However, in this case the junction box is rather far away and removing the wire will involve more demolition than I have time for.

I am considering simply installing a junction box near where the wire is and running it in to the junction box. Inside it would be properly secured, coiled up (enough to leave room to work for the next person), and capped (probably with wire nuts). Is this a suitable solution? If needed, I could simply install an outlet box (with outlet of course) in this location. It's the ceiling of an unfinished basement.

Clarification

  • The cable is likely leftover from removing some previous outlet or junction box. No idea why it got left that way.
  • When I say it is live and loose, it has power and has about 18 inches from the end of the wire to the closest staple.
  • It is "terminated" using crimp-on butt splices and presents no immediate danger.
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    It is standard 14/2 romex.
    – Elros
    Mar 3 at 2:21

3 Answers 3

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Live wires terminated in a junction box with wire nuts (and a cover on the jbox) are perfectly legal.

The only alternative would be to disconnect the wire at the prior junction box and leave it dead and abandoned in the wall. You’d have to be absolutely sure you killed it for this to be a good idea. And plenty of people don’t like abandoning wires in walls, just in case something unexpected was connected.

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    And it absolutely sets of alarms if a contractor works on your walls and see that. He's going to possibly abandon your project or require a "danger fee". It's such a big alarm that only the shadiest contractors would overlook it.
    – Nelson
    Mar 3 at 13:25
  • @Nelson Perhaps clarify that your comment applies to the second paragraph of the answer, not the first.
    – nanoman
    Mar 3 at 19:38
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    Abandoned wires in the walls are a red flag, live or not. That's not supposed to happen when done by a proper electrician. The junction box is fine.
    – Nelson
    Mar 4 at 2:15
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    There is nothing wrong with dead wires in walls. Conduit is often stapled and you don't take out a wall to remove a wire. Yes it should meet at either end in a box and good practice is to cut it straight/dead so that no copper is exposed. If I found this in a wall in a house I wouldn't think about it at all. Now on the other hand I find live wires in walls ALL THE TIME that are capped... this is an issue. I would say 70-80% of the wires left capped in walls are still live.
    – DMoore
    Mar 4 at 18:30
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    @Nelson - that's just simply not true. I have a license to do work in certain areas. Where I don't I have a group of electricians that work. They have left dead wire in walls many many many times. Often if we finish a basement we run a circuit to garage or attic or both and leave enough to get to box easily. This provides homeowner (or us - maybe we didn't think of something or something was added) to connect two branches for almost no money without tearing apart half their house.
    – DMoore
    Mar 4 at 18:33
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You should not need to do any demolition. Two possibilities:

Only thing on the circuit

Turn off the relevant breaker. If you don't know which breaker controls this cable, do a binary search:

  • Turn off the main breaker and confirm the cable does not have power. If it still has power, STOP and ask for more help.
  • Turn on the main breaker and then turn off half the branch circuit breakers. It should be a 15A single breaker, but it is possible it is a 20A breaker (with some non-compliant 14 AWG cable) or a 15A double breaker if it is part of a Multi-Wire Branch Circuit. See if power is on or off.
  • If power is still on, turn on the breakers that are off and turn off the breakers that are on.
  • If power is off, turn on half the breakers that are off.
  • Repeat until you find the one breaker that controls this cable and turn it off.

Now see if anything else - lights, receptacles, fans, etc. is not working. If nothing else is affected, disconnect the cable from the breaker and you are done.

Shared Circuit

If other things are on the same circuit then you need to figure out where this cable is connected. It could be to any junction box on the circuit:

  • A light fixture or fan box
  • A receptacle box
  • A box that just has cables going into it and no fixture or receptacle
  • A switch box

It could also be spliced together with another cable inside the breaker panel, though that should be easy enough to determine.

Once you find it, disconnect the cable. Ideally push it out of the box so that nobody else will try to use a cable that has the other end not in a box.

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    Unfortunately, I know exactly where the junction box is. It is a place that would require demolition to get to. Maybe someone with longer arms could manage it, but I can't. Yes, I know that's yet another problem. Such is life in a 200 year old house.
    – Elros
    Mar 3 at 22:50
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the junction box is {in} a place that would require demolition to get to.

That sounds like a code violation right there, with no chance of being "grandfathered" under any jurisdiction.

Your safest answer is to do it right - find someone with long arms and request some assistance, or create some access.

Relevant: Does NEC require junction boxes to be accessible without tools?

Your 200 year old house was absolutely retrofitted with electricity at some point after it was built. Expect to find more violations like this, where fixing it is your only safe option. Fun times ahead !

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