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thought my house was haunted - electrical weirdness

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  • Feb 19th, 2019 10:17 am
[OP]
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Nov 22, 2018
220 posts
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Mississauga - ON

thought my house was haunted - electrical weirdness

demo'ing my basement. ripping out all the old redundant wiring (aluminum) which isnt even connected to the panel box.

Found one going up through the floor joists with an end dangling behind drywall we'd ripped out. Tested it with a voltage tester pen - beep beep beep. shit, it's live

Went to the panel. started pulling fuses until we found one that turned it off. went back to the dangly end and now the ceiling drywall has been removed we could trace it - all the way back to about 1 foot from the panel box where it was abruptly cut. what the hell

we could now see both ends of the wire, yet the thing was activating the pen detector. We could trace the wire all the way - no junctions

we pulled the fuse and started pulling the wire out - sure enough, the entire cable end to end was uninterrupted. Just about to declare the house haunted and put it up for sale

I suspect, as it was running very close to another wire (which was controlled by that fuse) that it was somehow being energized. No idea what voltage was being transferred but that was a bit concerning
14 replies
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Feb 11, 2007
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Yes, probably induced voltage from running next to live wires.
If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy.
[OP]
Member
Nov 22, 2018
220 posts
94 upvotes
Mississauga - ON
just goes to show how a cheap pen detector can fool you (although as I said, I dont know what kind of voltage it was carrying)

Glad to have found and removed it
I dont like the idea of clean cut (no screw plugs) cabling just flopping around
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Nov 16, 2011
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HAMILTON
I reno'd and old place that had tons of wallpaper... wallpaper on wallpaper on wallpaper. When I finally got the last layer and pulled, out came some electrical wire that had some brown tape on it.
Thought was weird but was over a faux fireplace so figured was for old wall sconces. Got odd feeling bout it and tested and sure enough was live.

Bout 5' over found the same thing. Ended up 2 live wires covered with a bit of brown tape on them. When I pulled the wallpaper, the wires came too because of the wallpaper paste.

Odd what people do......
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Jan 28, 2007
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engineered wrote: Yes, probably induced voltage from running next to live wires.
X2 this.

Had similar circumstances happen myself with those pen sensors, and if I'm sure that I've pulled the fuse, I'll actually take thes wires and short them together just to ensure. I've seen and fixed some rather bizarre wiring hackjobs done by people who don't have a clue what they are doing ... and no where near what code requirements are ... light switches/receptacles and ceiling lights are the worst.

Having a high quality multi-meter is also handy, but often can't be bothered ...
I'd rather be outdoors camping, kayaking, and mountain biking ...
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Dec 27, 2009
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luckystrike1 wrote: I reno'd and old place that had tons of wallpaper... wallpaper on wallpaper on wallpaper. When I finally got the last layer and pulled, out came some electrical wire that had some brown tape on it.
Thought was weird but was over a faux fireplace so figured was for old wall sconces. Got odd feeling bout it and tested and sure enough was live.

Bout 5' over found the same thing. Ended up 2 live wires covered with a bit of brown tape on them. When I pulled the wallpaper, the wires came too because of the wallpaper paste.

Odd what people do......
Wow, that is insane. People are idiots.
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Jun 21, 2003
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There's a reason most electricians call a pen tester a "dummy stick". They should never really be trusted. The proper and safe (and time saving) way to figure things out is with a multimeter. As an electrician I consider my meter my most important tool and safety device and must trust my life with it.

Pen testers on their own lead to wasted time and frustration as was clearly the case for OP. It's not uncommon to get a false voltage reading from induced voltage and end up wasting time trying to figure out why your cable is live when it really is not.
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Jul 31, 2017
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Toronto
ChicoQuente wrote: There's a reason most electricians call a pen tester a "dummy stick". They should never really be trusted. The proper and safe (and time saving) way to figure things out is with a multimeter. As an electrician I consider my meter my most important tool and safety device and must trust my life with it.
Not really disagreeing with you, but as long as it is only giving false positives and not false negatives, it's a useful tool for a homeowner. Hardly any amateur is going to spend time buying a multimeter and learning to use it properly, so at least the contact tester gives someone a quick and easy way to see if they are working with a live wire or not. Compared to the last way I found a live wire (wet hand while mudding a garage) i'll take a dummy stick over nothing!
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Jan 28, 2007
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BoatyMcBoatface wrote: Not really disagreeing with you, but as long as it is only giving false positives and not false negatives, it's a useful tool for a homeowner. Hardly any amateur is going to spend time buying a multimeter and learning to use it properly, so at least the contact tester gives someone a quick and easy way to see if they are working with a live wire or not. Compared to the last way I found a live wire (wet hand while mudding a garage) i'll take a dummy stick over nothing!
X2 ... I also question the validity of any electrician who says this, as all the electricians whom work for me have carried them in their pockets.
One if the most handy uses of a pen tester, is to also determine where behind drywall wires may be located when trying to trace circuits
I'd rather be outdoors camping, kayaking, and mountain biking ...
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Jun 21, 2003
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Jojo_Madman wrote: X2 ... I also question the validity of any electrician who says this, as all the electricians whom work for me have carried them in their pockets.
One if the most handy uses of a pen tester, is to also determine where behind drywall wires may be located when trying to trace circuits
I'm not disputing that most carry them as I do as well but I rarely if ever hear another electrician refer to them as anything but an "idiot stick" or "dummy stick". The most recent "required tool list" I received at a new job actually listed "dummy stick" on it. They have their basic uses but trusting them on their own is a fools errand. The OP's original post specifically points out exactly what I'm saying. The idiot stick told them a dead wire was live and time was wasted trying to figure out why. If they knew it should be dead and had thrown a meter on it after the idiot stick gave the false reading they would have immediately realized the circuit was in fact off and safe to work on.

As for your second part. There is no way a dummy stick is finding a live wire through drywall. There is no chance of that unless we're talking much higher voltage than 120V in a home, paperthin drywall and the cable is lying directly against the drywall . A non-contact voltage tester really means it is non-contact with electricity but still needs to typically be within mm of the live wire. The description for most Fluke non-contact testers even says "just touch the tip to a terminal strip, outlet, or supply cord". It's just not possible to use one the way you're claiming. It is not the right tool for that.
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Jan 28, 2007
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ChicoQuente wrote: I'm not disputing that most carry them as I do as well but I rarely if ever hear another electrician refer to them as anything but an "idiot stick" or "dummy stick". The most recent "required tool list" I received at a new job actually listed "dummy stick" on it. They have their basic uses but trusting them on their own is a fools errand. The OP's original post specifically points out exactly what I'm saying. The idiot stick told them a dead wire was live and time was wasted trying to figure out why. If they knew it should be dead and had thrown a meter on it after the idiot stick gave the false reading they would have immediately realized the circuit was in fact off and safe to work on.

As for your second part. There is no way a dummy stick is finding a live wire through drywall. There is no chance of that unless we're talking much higher voltage than 120V in a home, paperthin drywall and the cable is lying directly against the drywall . A non-contact voltage tester really means it is non-contact with electricity but still needs to typically be within mm of the live wire. The description for most Fluke non-contact testers even says "just touch the tip to a terminal strip, outlet, or supply cord". It's just not possible to use one the way you're claiming. It is not the right tool for that.
We've done it for years thru 1/2" drywall for 120v using Gardener Bender testers ... try it sometime.
I'd rather be outdoors camping, kayaking, and mountain biking ...
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Apr 6, 2008
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Only guys I see carrying these dummy sticks are the resi guys. Anyone working around industrial or commercial (higher than 240v) is not going to trust their life with a 10 dollar device. It's made for homeowners that just need a simple way to tell if something is live but as you noticed, they are super sensitive and not that accurate most of the time.
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Nov 17, 2012
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Was reading this, and my printer (wifi) started running through some sort of cycle. Figured it was a regular thing to perhaps avoid nozzles from drying up. Then a piece of paper was run through, with no ink on it.

Your ghosts are at my place it turns out.
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Jan 28, 2007
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fusion2k2k wrote: Only guys I see carrying these dummy sticks are the resi guys. Anyone working around industrial or commercial (higher than 240v) is not going to trust their life with a 10 dollar device. It's made for homeowners that just need a simple way to tell if something is live but as you noticed, they are super sensitive and not that accurate most of the time.
I don't think anyone is saying to trust their life with it ... however, my electricians deal with up to 600V, and even when everything is locked out, they still will wave it past the wires before touching them, and if it beeps out comes the multimeter.
I'd rather be outdoors camping, kayaking, and mountain biking ...
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Jun 21, 2003
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Jojo_Madman wrote: I don't think anyone is saying to trust their life with it ... however, my electricians deal with up to 600V, and even when everything is locked out, they still will wave it past the wires before touching them, and if it beeps out comes the multimeter.
In proper practice with something like 600V a meter should come out after lockout every single time. I would never even bother with a dummy stick on 600V and go straight to my meter 100% of the time after locking out, checking phase to phase and phase to ground on every line.

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