There was a cap in the middle of the ceiling in my living room that I had always assumed was hiding an old light fixture or something. There is a also a light switch that doesn't do anything in the room. The room has no other lights except a stand light my kids love to knock over so I looked under the cap to see if I could install a new light.

Here is what I found: lots of wires

And a few more pics

Why are there three sets of wires? I can guess one is from the light switch and one is from the breaker. What is the other one? And how would I go about wiring a new light fixture to this? Or do i back away slowly and pretend I never removed the cap.

  • 1
    It's possible that one of the cables feeds through to downstream devices. It's impossible to say for sure what's what, without probing the wires. Working with the old cloth insulation can be a pain, even for professionals. It's even worse if the insulation is cracked, and/or crumbling. It doesn't look too bad from the photos, but it's hard to tell without actually touching it.
    – Tester101
    Feb 16, 2014 at 17:01
  • Thanks for the comment. I will say the wiring in this house is wacky. The breaker that protects this fixture also protects a couple of basement lights, a light in the dining room and something on the second floor.
    – Mateo13
    Feb 16, 2014 at 18:42
  • There's no rhyme or reason to how they wired homes in those days. I've seen wackier layouts. This is why it is often risky adding things like new lights to older circuits. Feb 16, 2014 at 22:06
  • BTW, love the tin ceiling. It's nice to see it still in place. Feb 16, 2014 at 22:07

1 Answer 1


Personally, I would put the cap back on and back away slowly. IMO your only option is to call an electrician to come and replace that old iron box and strip back on the cable to expose fresh insulation (not always a sure thing though). Those old "boxes" give you no place to attach a modern fixture safely, and have absolutely no room for the wiring. They took into account that old fixtures had huge canopies that would contain the wiring.

  • I think I am going to just pretend I never looked behind that cap but if I change my mind, could I remove that box and add a modern one myself? And then add the fixture?
    – Mateo13
    Feb 17, 2014 at 2:09
  • 1
    If you are familiar with electrical work, and own a Roto-Split type tool you should be able to do it. Old BX/AC cable can be tricky to strip, especially without the proper tool. Feb 17, 2014 at 2:24
  • 1
    @Mateo13 I would recommend not doing anything with that wiring by yourself. It appears to be cloth covered cable, which has probably deteriorated over time. If you touch it, you may end up having to replace more than you expect, much more. Feb 17, 2014 at 4:55

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