I recently bought some nice track lighting to brighten a room who's only light source was buried in a corner. I removed the old fixture and found (to my horror) this:

It's just a hole!

Two wires, no ground, no box (and some alarming burn mark looking things).

I've done a bit of reading on this, and it seems that the boxes have three purposes:

  1. Provide structural support to help heavier fixtures hang
  2. Create a safety zone for sparks, preventing them from setting fire to your walls.
  3. (In the case of metal boxes) provide an easy ground

I'm not horribly worried about points 1 and 2. All of the connections for this light can actually be stashed inside of the fixture itself (see below) between a metal plate, and the exterior plastic box, and since these are track lights, there's not a lot of weight on the fixture point itself.

The fixture

The ground, however, is a little more worrying. Peering up into the hole, the only bit of groundable metal I can find is a small conduit, about 8-10 inches above my ceiling.

Soooo far away

I could get a small length of copper, wrap it around the conduit, and attach that to the ground, but I'd rather not cut a hole in my ceiling large enough to get two hands that far in.

So, my questions are:

  1. Given that I've been living without one, could I maybe just this once get away without a ground?
  2. Are my assumptions about not needing a box validated by the sort of exterior box I've rigged up here?
  3. Assuming your answer to (1) was "Of course not, what are you, crazy?" could I safely use the conduit as a ground?
  • Is the armored cable in the ceiling the cable that those wires are from, or is it some other cable that just passes by?
    – Tester101
    Aug 29 '14 at 23:25

If you can get enough access to install a BX connector on that armored cable, and if you can establish that the armor is actually a good protective ground (some armored cable only "floats" electrically), then you may be able to use a "remod box" to connect to the BX and claim your ground from the box. If none of those is true, then you really should do whatever it takes - cut access holes to be covered by the tracklight and install 2x4 remod boxes, whatever - to at the very least finish up that run with NM-B (Romex-type) cable. Given that this is for an overhead tracklight and you may not have any true grounds anywhere on that whole floor, and this house was probably wired long before grounding light fixtures became standard, you're probably legally covered.

I'm not as worried about spark containment as I could be, since the tracklight has its own termination box. Chafing of the wire insulation, though, is a bit worrisome; that's the largest reason for NM-B becoming standard. At the very very least, it'd be good to strip (without splitting) the outer sheath from a length of new NM-B and pull your two individual wires through it.

  • 1
    I think what I just read was "you should call an electrician". Thanks for all the info! Aug 30 '14 at 14:11

According to the National Electrical Code, you can replace the fixture without a ground as long as the outlet is GFCI protected.

National Electrical Code 2014

Chapter 4 Equipment for General Use

Article 410 Luminaires, Lampholders, and Lamps

V. Grounding

410.44 Methods of Grounding Luminaires and equipment shall be mechanically connected to an equipment grounding conductor as specified in 250.118 and sized in accordance with 250.122.

Exception No. 3: Where no equipment grounding conductor exists at the outlet, replacement luminaires that are GFCI protected shall not be required to be connected to an equipment grounding conductor.

As for actually connecting the fixture. If the fixture does have a built in junction box, that is designed for the use. There's no problem making the connections in the box. If not, you'll have to install a box in the ceiling, and make your connections there. If you have to install a junction box in the ceiling, you should be able to install one that will be easily hidden by the fixture.

My other concern is protecting the wires between the AC/MC cable, and the junction box. You might have to install a short bit of conduit, connecting it to the AC/MC cable using an appropriate coupling. The other end of the conduit will then connect to the junction box, and the wires will safely travel inside the conduit.

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