A splice of NM cable made outside of a junction box.

Electrical Code Violations: Where’s Waldo of Bad Wiring

 

Can you spot even more electrical code violations in this video?

Back in the 1980’s my 1860’s two-story home was retrofitted into a dental office.  The walls and ceilings were originally finished with plaster and lathe, but during the remodel some of them were covered with ½” drywall and some were just covered in wallpaper.  The ceilings seemed to have gone through two changes: at some point they cut into the plaster to run wiring and then covered everything with ½” drywall.  At some point later they ran more wiring, and simply hid everything with a drop ceiling.

I removed the drop ceiling ages ago and at least the wiring it hid was accessible, but when I removed the drywall and plaster and lathe it exposed a whole host of dangerous electrical code violations. Let’s take a look.

Electrical Code Violation 1: Splices Outside of a Junction Box

An electrical code violation found in my ceiling. The image shows a Romex cable splice outside of a juncton box.

This splice violates the National Electric Code by being made outside of a junction box.

Here’s the first problem:  someone made a splice outside of a junction box. The problem should be obvious: if a short occurs or the splice fails, there’s nothing between your hot wire and a bunch of combustible material like the dried-up lathe covering the walls and ceiling, and the corn cobs stuffed in the ceilings by rodents over the last 150 years.  Yeah, that’s totally a thing here.

Now this isn’t just good practice, it’s in the National Electrical Code, specifically code 300.15 which states that all spices in nonmetallic sheathed cable (the type you use for most household wiring) must be installed in a junction box.

 

Electrical Code Violation  2: Hidden Junction Boxes

This image shows a hidden junction box in my ceiling. It's an electrical code violation because the splices are hidden away and can't be accessed for maintenance.

This junction box violated code because it was hidden inside the ceiling and made inaccessible for maintenance.

The second problem that I discovered was that, above the drywall and plaster and lathe, there were a metric crap-ton of hidden junction boxes. You might not consider that a problem.  After all the splice is protected, so why get your panties in a bind over it?

A hidden junction box isn’t as much a safety concern as it is a maintenance problem.  Sometimes splices fail, and when they do, would you prefer the splice to be accessible, or would you prefer it to be hidden under drywall that needs to be cut, replaced, and refinished in order to make what should have been a simple, cheap, and fast repair? How about 10 years down the road when you don’t remember putting that junction box up there in the first place? The hidden junction box is an electrical code violation because it turns a cheap and obvious repair into a major issue.

The plethora of hidden junctions have already bit me in the butt numerous times in this house.  I’m not the one who installed them so locating them often required following wires out of the panel and into either the itchy, insulated space of the eaves, or into the claustrophobic, creepy crawlspace. I’ve spent entire days tracing wires in my house because someone took a shortcut 20 years ago.

Once again this in the National Electric Code, code 300.15.A if you’re curious.

Electrical Code Violation 3: Knob and Tube Wiring Cut Off and Live in the Ceiling

This image shows an electrical code violation I found in my ceiling. Not only was this knob and tube wiring junction not in a junction box, it was cut off and left live in my ceiling.

This Knob and Tube wiring was fine, until they cut it off and left it live in the ceiling.

And then there’s this.  This is some old knob-and-tube wiring. Now this isn’t a problem just because I found it.  Knob and tube gets a bad rap not because it’s inherently unsafe, but because it can break down with age, and because of the way it can interact poorly with modern upgrades to the home.  For example code 394.12 states that it can’t come into contact with insulation because it creates a fire hazard, but plenty have people have retrofitted with blown insulation without much regard to what might be within the wall or ceiling.

But as I said the problem here isn’t the mere existence of knob and tube.  It’s the fact that it was cut off and left live in my ceiling.  How this place never burned to the ground is beyond me. This single find illustrates a number of electrical code violations in a single junction!