I am doing European electric in America! Or am I?
March 31, 2010 11:53 AM   Subscribe

I am trying to install a lighting fixture. It is 240v. I am in America. And also what is this electrical wiring weirdness coming from my ceiling that I am hooking it up to?

Okay so. I guess this is two questions!

1. I can install this 240v light in my American house, right? As long as I don't try to run like a 400 watt lightbulb in it or something? It shouldn't pull enough to overload the circuit it's on, right? (Although technically I think it's on a double circuit--two 120s or whatever. Although there are other things on the same circuit.)

2. So previously, a lighting fixture was installed here which I was told was also European? As evidenced, in part, by this wacko electrical cord that descends from SOMETHING inside the ceiling. Yes: I simply cut the wiring to the previous fixture and started splicing the new fixture onto it. (The wiring that comes out of the ceiling is the gray bundled thing; the black, black and yellow cords are the lighting fixture's internal wiring.) This weird electric cord seems to have one "green" line and two "clear" lines? NEVER seen it before in my life. I don't trust it. I can't image what exists hiding under the ceiling where it is hooked up.


(Private page on my Tumblr, sorry for the "self-link" of sorts.)

So what I've done so far is cut that wire that comes out of the ceiling, strip down its three components, and alternately try to attach them to the three different places to stick them. Clearly one of these things will be a ground. (Which is the yellow on the fixture's own wires.)

But is this a "European neutral" or a "European ground" or WHAT.

Thing is, I've tried 1/3rd of the permutations (3 cords, 3 sockets = 9 permutations, right? That's what math says) and so far, no dice. Will I succeed? Does this work? Should this work? Does my question make sense? What am I doing wrong? Also, is doing this going to kill me? Thank you!

(N.B. OBVIOUSLY I am not an electrician or even someone who knows what he is doing. Speak slowly!)
posted by RJ Reynolds to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
Please consider hiring an electrician.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 11:58 AM on March 31, 2010 [4 favorites]

2nding that you call an electrician.
posted by jquinby at 12:01 PM on March 31, 2010

I think what you want to do is remove that plate from the ceiling. Under that you'll find the junction box where, assuming your house is built to somewhat recent code, you'll find the wires (black, white, and ground. Possibly a red one too if it's on a two-way switch) that you want to splice into.


Please don't take this the wrong way, but from your description it sounds like you may be in a bit over your head. Home wiring can be safe if you know what you're doing and you take certain precautions (you did turn off the breaker and then double check that it was off with a volt meter or line tester, right? Good. Otherwise you could kill yourself) but you really should educate yourself before you attempt to do anything like this.

Before you do anything else, go down to Home Depot or Barnes and Noble and buy a copy of The Black and Decker Guide To Home Wiring. This is a great book with tons of very clear diagrams that explain exactly what to do is most common home wiring situations.

Most home lighting (in fact, in the US, all of it as far as I know) will be 120v, not 240v. Whether or not you're going to overload the circuit depends on what else is on it. The book I mentioned will explain the (very simple) math you need to know in order to figure this out. If you overload it and your breaker doesn't blow you could potentially burn your house down.

Home wiring isn't rocket science, anyone can do it with a few basic tools, but the cost of doing it incorrectly is huge (fire and/or death!) and both can be prevented with some very simple safety precautions and basic math (nothing beyond multiplication and division, I promise). You should learn these precautions before you attempt to figure out what color wire goes where.
posted by bondcliff at 12:06 PM on March 31, 2010 [5 favorites]

Agree with all of the above. Stop screwing around. You really, really don't know enough to do this, or even to guess which advice is right and which will make you dead. Hire a professional.
posted by jon1270 at 12:10 PM on March 31, 2010

Oh, you wonderful people are no fun. It's electric wiring! You turn off the power, you twizzle some wires together, you stand back while you turn the power back on, it works or it doesn't. You wear some rubber shoes whilst you do it. When I was a kid, everyone did their own electric wiring because who could hire an electrician?

But fine. Thank you all, seriously. I will take your advice.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 12:18 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

Or it blows a fuse (if you're lucky) or starts a fire in the wall someplace (if you're not).

Seriously, you can't do this if you don't know what you are doing. Lights are weird - there could be a reversed hot line due to some two-way switching, or there could be something seriously wrong altogether that you don't know about.

I did all my own electrical wiring from scratch no problem, but when it comes to mucking about with wires I'm not familiar with, which could be horribly messed up from a previous do-it-yourselfer, it's qualified electrician time.
posted by Aquaman at 12:24 PM on March 31, 2010 [1 favorite]

while you turn the power back on, it works or it doesn't

Be advised that circuit breakers and fuses are not designed to protect anything except the electrical equipment downstream of them - not the things that catch fire before they blow, and definitely not you.

You can learn this the hard way if you like, but I promise you it's true.
posted by mhoye at 12:29 PM on March 31, 2010

You might have more luck hiring a handyman than an electrician. It can sometimes be tough to get an electrician out for a small job and replacing a light fixture shouldn't require a permit or inspection. Any handyman should know enough to take the right precautions. The right one might even show you what to do so you can do this next time.

You're right, in that it really isn't much more than turning off power and "twizzling" (I love that word) some wires together. But what if the light switch is in the same junction box as a switch on another circuit and there's a short so when you turn off the "right" circuit there's still current going through? Unlikely, sure, but is it really worth it when a half hour at the library and a $10.00 voltmeter can prevent that situation?

I'm all about encouraging people to do home wiring. I'm not an electrician either, just another knucklehead homeowner with a multitool, but it was very clear from your post that you don't really know the first thing about not killing yourself. Not only that, but you don't know that you don't know. That's nothing to be ashamed of but it needed to be pointed out because it can be dangerous.

Rubber shoes won't help if the shortest path to ground is through one arm and out the other.

Good luck!
posted by bondcliff at 12:37 PM on March 31, 2010

FWIW, an incandescent bulb designed for 220V will never work properly on a 110V circuit, no matter what order you connect the wires in. A resistive load designed to draw 100 watts at 220V will only draw 25 watts at 110V. In other words, the best you can do here is get a fixture that is dimmed to one-fourth power. It will produce heat, but very little light. Read up on Ohm's Law if you want to understand why. You may have already wired the fixture as correctly as is possible, and not noticed that the light was on because it was so dim.

Furthermore, if you found some way to install an American / Canadian 110V bulb in this European fixture, it would draw the right amount of current to light the bulb, but the amperage would be HIGHER than the fixture was designed for, making an electrical fire a distinct possibility.

In other words, even a pro probably won't be able to help you.
posted by jon1270 at 12:47 PM on March 31, 2010

jon1270 has got some good points - if you really want to use a euro fixture in N. America, you should look carefully at the wires that are actually part of the fixture. It might be possible to replace them with heavier but cosmetically similar wire. But I think even a licensed electrician might not want to get involved with this one, especially if it involves a ballast or transformer of any kind.
posted by werkzeuger at 1:40 PM on March 31, 2010

And it's not just the wires - the socket too, btw. If it's the aesthetics of this fixture that you like, maybe a lamp shop could gut it and replace it with N. American wiring?
posted by werkzeuger at 1:42 PM on March 31, 2010

That plate pictured is crazy talk. Get rid of it. Start from scratch. Yes, electrical wiring is simple but if you aren't getting it now there's no way that anyone can explain it to you on AskMe. If you want to DIY it, go buy a book. And get rid of that crazy-ass plate with those bizarre connectors.
posted by GuyZero at 2:50 PM on March 31, 2010

It just hit me why that funky plate/connector setup is there. I'd bet that the old fixture that was there was a low-voltage fixture, and that there's a transformer in the box above the plate. I say this because terminal blocks like that are commonly used with LV connections because wire nuts aren't tight enough. If I'm right then those wires are probably only supplying 12 or 24 volts, which definitely wouldn't light up your 220v bulbs at all.
posted by jon1270 at 3:04 PM on March 31, 2010

Go find the lightbulbs from the old fixture and you should be able to figure out if they're 12V or 110V. Sounds like a good guess.
posted by GuyZero at 3:07 PM on March 31, 2010

Yeah, uh, I have wired many a home, office and theatrical stage, but I can'at figure out *what* the hell is going on there unless, as jon1270 says, this is some kind of low-voltage transformer arrangement.
posted by davejay at 5:13 PM on March 31, 2010

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