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Surprise gas line behind wall sconce

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JH3550
JH3550 Member Posts: 20

Our electrician came to replace 2 wall sconces on the 2nd floor hallway of our 1924 house. Behind the old fixtures he found a surprise: old gals lines for gas lights. We had no idea the house ever had gas lighting. There is still a little knob and tube wiring that we assume is original (only for a few lights; kitchen, baths, and appliances are updated wiring).


Problem is, he can’t fit the knew scones over the gas line. Any ideas or suggestions? Can we remove the part of the line that sticks out? The house does not have gas service. Oil heat, electric appliances. No gas meter.

I’m also surprised that someone had gas lighting installed in 1924. Wasn’t electric dominant at that point? Seems equivalent to buying a Betamax in the year 2000.

HandyKen
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  • HVACNUT
    HVACNUT Member Posts: 5,874
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    I would go full reno. At least to run new electric. Because I couldn't sleep knowing that wiring was in my walls. A good mudder could make it look authentic.

    My house was built in 1972 with aluminum wiring. There's not a trace left. I bought in '02 and did an addition and full reno at the same time so that was a no brainer, but that frayed cloth insulated wiring is not good IMO.

    JH3550Mad Dog_2SlamDunk
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,554
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    But in direct answer to the question — yes you can cut the gas line out.

    If that existing wiring is in armored cable — BX — I'd leave it be, although you could test the insulation with a megger (not just a regular multimeter) if you felt paranoid. If you do decide at some point to replace the old wiring, replace it with BX. Romex and the like is easier to work with, I'll grant you, but particularly the more recent (last 10 years) the insulation seems to have been changed and is now very attractive to little critters who roam in the walls and chew on it… with electrifying results.

    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    JH3550
  • PC7060
    PC7060 Member Posts: 1,204
    edited June 1
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    what @Steamhead said. Old lathe and plaster wall bases had a 3/8” mpt (or similar mount). Removed plenty in renovation of my house. Tough to remove without damaging plaster.

    Some of the boxes had adapters to convert to standard 1/4 light mount thread.

    Edit: looks like your light has the adapter to 1/4” thread. Any light that can mount with a 1/4” thread light rod should work. Just need to make sure you have enough space under light base to house the wiring.

    JH3550Alan (California Radiant) ForbesJustinTheCarpenterAlbany Chris
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 1,390
    edited June 1
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    I asked the maid in a dulcet tone
    To order me a buttered scone;
    The silly girl has been and gone
    And ordered me a buttered scone.

    Sorry, but my boring oatmeal breakfast and your post made me think of scones. I now know what I'm getting next time I go to the bakery.

    Agree w Hvacnut, that wiring insulation is not good.

    Replacing the breakers for those circuits with Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) may give some additional protection, but the best solution is new wiring and AFCIs. You may have several phases of getting the electric in your house up to date, but got to start somewhere.

    https://www.ecmag.com/magazine/articles/article-detail/systems-debunking-six-afci-myths

    Electrical upgrades to your home may be eligible for a rebate, which was allocated in the Inflation Reduction Act (no comment on the name) of 2022.

    To date, New York is the only state to have its funding application approved by the DOE.

    Other states that have submitted applications for DOE approval so far include Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington,
    and Wisconsin. California, Hawaii, and New Mexico are currently next in line for funding.

    Here is a map. Click on your state for details on your state's program.

    https://www.energy.gov/save/rebates

    I DIY.
    JH3550
  • PC7060
    PC7060 Member Posts: 1,204
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    @JH3550 ”I’m also surprised that someone had gas lighting installed in 1924. Wasn’t electric dominant at that point? Seems equivalent to buying a Betamax in the year 2000”

    My1928 house originally had gas lamps along with knob and tube. The house was built by a well know architect at the end of his career and I think just did things the way he was used to. Sometime in the 1930 or 40s additional lighting and outlets were added using BX cable. I expect the gas lighting was abandoned at the time.

    The workmanship of the K&T and BX wiring was very good. It was all the stuff done in the later years that was a mess.


    JH3550
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,554
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    It could well be a fixture stud. Common enough. I have dozens… as noted, they can sometimes by modified to take a modern flimsy fixture instead. Why are y ou replacing the correct period sconces in the first place, may I ask?

    In an ideal world, i might be inclined to agree with @HVACNUT and @WMno57 . Replace all the wiring with modern BX. Replace the fuses with AFCIs.

    And spend the next 30 years paying off the resulting second mortgage. Having gained almost nothing except the ability to get home insurance for the place.

    I once had that project priced out by a licensed electrician friend (for free) when I was doing battle with the tax assessor for Cedric's home. The estimate cane out in the low six figures…

    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ttekushan_3
  • PC7060
    PC7060 Member Posts: 1,204
    edited June 1
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    We totally rewired this house during the renovation to bring up to 2015 NEC code. Used lots of AFCI breaker and quite a few GFCI and AFCI/GFCI combo units.

    Reuse of the holes from the old K&T insulators was a big time and drill bit saver. It took well over 2000 foot of wire just for the original portion. I found it interesting how many 15 amp lighting circuits I ran just to power a bunch of 7 W bulbs.

    JH3550
  • JUGHNE
    JUGHNE Member Posts: 11,093
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    In replacing K&T in the past, I have noticed that the use of GFCI and AFCI devices may be impossible.

    Often the hot conductor for say the stairwell lights, comes from the first floor circuit and the neutral may come from the 2nd floor circuit. The hot leg is not necessarily the switched side, could be the neutral side.

    Early systems fused both hot and neutral because the neutral was not grounded.

    K&T #14 gauge could be fused at 20 amps as the conductors were suspended in free air. Blown insulation changed that. Many were fused at 30 amps anyway.

    Circuits added to K&T were not always soldered, simply wrapped and would loosen over time and get hot. This was compounded by being buried in insulation.

    Now at my last continuing Ed electrical class it was noted (IIUC) that lighting circuits could be run with #16 gauge romex….not available in my area….and protected by 10 amp CB……not available either.

    PC7060
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,554
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    It's worth noting that in general if you don't touch it, you don't have to bring it up to modern code. If you touch it, however, you do. Some things really do need to be touched, however — knob and tube, for instance, really isn't safe — even if it didn't get buried in insulation or fused incorrectly. I personally am very suspicious of older Romex, as I've seen an amazing amount of rodent damage even in relatively recent construction (last forty years of so). On the other hand, even very old — 100 years — steel BX has been in good shape, unless it rusted through (I've seen that too).

    As @JUGHNE said, too, grounding may be a problem. Older codes allowed the use of the jacket of BX — properly terminated in metal boxes, of course — to be used as a ground. Newer ones do not. Also as he mentioned, you may find some remarkably creative wiring with regard to light switches, especially three way ones.

    Switchgear is another matter — again, if you touch it, it must be brought up to code. That said, there is nothing wrong or unsafe about fuses, provided they were done correctly in the first place. What gets a bit tricky is the tendency of people to put in fuses which are larger than was intended. Fortunately, it is still possible to get adapters which can be used to make it so that only the correct rating fuse can be screwed in. Get them. With increasing numbers of very poorly educated people with lots of appliances, putting in a higher rated fuse doesn't seem to register as a problem.

    There is a temptation to completely rewire. Even in a full gut renovation — such as in the pictures above — this may not be in the budget. It is also important to remember that such a job — while up to code today — may very well not be up to code in a few years (such a job a decade ago, for instance, would not have used AFCIs).

    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    ttekushan_3
  • JH3550
    JH3550 Member Posts: 20
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    Thanks, everyone! @Steamhead and @PC7060 i didn’t know about the metal metal fixture stud. Seems Iike it could be that.

    @Jamie Hall just a matter of taste. We bought lights from an online shop that does a kind of modern take on 1920’s styling. Well made stuff, hand blown glass. I may ask them if they have a way of mounting their lights to a fixture stud.

    We’ve only been in this house for a year and a half. Rewiring is on our potential projects list. I always have our electrician hang fixtures that are on the old wiring so I at least have experienced eyes to notice if anything is amiss (other than the fact that it’s very out of date). The house was upgraded to 200amp service and the kitchen and appliances are on modern wiring and circuits. It’s the fixture and some of the baseboard outlets that are still K&T. Although someone ran wiring for window ACs to each bedroom at some point (house now has central air so those are empty and useable). At least the steam system works well thanks to all of the advice on this site 🙂

    PC7060
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,915
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    I had the same thing. 1920's house eastern isl of long. Southold town had gas service before electric. They used the gas piping to hold the box! These Yankees get creative.

    CLambPC7060JH3550
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,948
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    They did that in Baltimore too. Towards the end of the gaslight era, builders would install knob-and-tube wiring along with gas piping, so when electric service became available, they didn't have to tear out walls to run wires- all you needed to do was cut off the gas and install electric fixtures. But later, they had to install receptacles, so surgery was needed for that.

    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
    Oil & Gas Burner Service
    Consulting
    PC7060JH3550Miringanes
  • bburd
    bburd Member Posts: 926
    edited June 2
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    Early electric light fittings were designed to be attached to gas pipes, because they were already there in most buildings. To this day, fixture mounting straps have a hole in the middle that can be fastened to one of those studs, which mimic the old gas pipes. You might need to find an old-fashioned hardware store in a neighborhood full of old homes to get the right parts, but it can be done.


    Bburd
    PC7060JH3550ttekushan_3Long Beach Ed
  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,842
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    I think some had electricity that was unreliable and had gas fixtures to use when the power was out.

    K&T should separate the neutrals by circuit so they can be protected at the panel with a gfci breaker. If circuits are mixed on the neutral you have no way of keeping it from being overloaded. I thought the 12 awg k&t was limited to 15 a by decree somewhere. The 30 a fuses were improper size fuses installed by unqualified people.

    Cloth and rubber wire isn't inherently dangerous, some of it is perfectly pliable, others crumbles when you touch it. It is probably somewhat safer in k&t than old bx or romex because it has secondary insulation either from the knobs and tubes or from the loom at outlets.

    JH3550JakeCKttekushan_3delcrossv
  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 1,401
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    I removed the the old gas lighting lines from my kitchen when I remodeled it years back, house was built in 1928. In fact there is still part of the line stuck up in the ceiling that I couldn't pull out since I saved as much of the old sheet plaster that I could. This house had a combination gas and electric light(hey its a hybrid!) since power was available during the day but shut off at night.(seems bass ackwards doesn't it?)

    I agree with mattmia, k&t isn't inherently dangerous. It is when idiots mess with it like adding improper splices, and overload it with larger fuses. There is also the degrading of the wire insulation. If/when it degrades is largely determined by how hot it gets, or if moisture gets to it. I would argue k&t was actually safer in terms of fire risk than todays romex simply by virtue of the hot leg being physically separated from neutral. And as was already stated they were suspended by knobs and insulated by tubes when going through the framing. And of course the loom when going from the knob(and splice) to the boxes. Their biggest weakness was the general lack of ground. I'm consistently impressed by the workmanship of the original wiring in my house when ever I open up a wall. Those guys took pride in their trade. Lets see how romex holds up after 100 years, or rather the wire nutted splices vs soldered.

    In my house I'm down to just two circuits left of k&t. Both on a 15 amp breaker. One only has a single receptacle and chandelier on it, the other is most of my upstairs, including the bathroom. I have not done any major reno upstairs so it is staying until that happens. When I reno'd the kitchen, the impetus was in fact the horrid state of the electrical. The wife decided she hated the backsplash(rightfully so, it was some ugly Homey Depot crap slapped up by the sellers) and we started discovering bad things... Really really, like REALLY bad things. All of it related to someone elses electrical "improvements". Its amazing this house isn't a pile of ashes because if it.

    PC7060JH3550ttekushan_3
  • Jamie Hall
    Jamie Hall Member Posts: 23,554
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    Sounds familiar, @JakeCK . except that all the knob and tube in Cedric's home was taken out just after WWII and replaced with BX — by a truly dedicated and excellent craftsman. I never fail to be amazed by the quality of his work.

    We did do all new wiring when we remodeled the kitchen (the only part of the house which was remodeled, not restored) around 2003. The fun there was routing the new cabling… figuring out where holes could safely be made in the joists, but more in… drilling the holes at all. The timbers were 250 year old chestnut (recycled from a barn about 1870). That stuff is NOT friendly to modern tools — went through an amazing number of drill bits…

    Br. Jamie, osb
    Building superintendent/caretaker, 7200 sq. ft. historic house museum with dependencies in New England
    JH3550ttekushan_3
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,764
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    As @JUGHNE mentioned 16 gauge romex and 10 am breakers are a coming thing especially with the high price of copper wire. I just sold a little copper scrap and got $3.69/lb.

    The 10 amp circuits is driven by the LED lighting that draws very little amps.

    Knob & tube is fine until you mess with it and don't do it properly. The insulation is mostly rubber and if it has not been overheated the insulation is still ok. Burying it in insulation is a problem and for that reason alone it attics and outside walls it can be a problem.

    My brother has an 1830s house which still has a little K & T (very little left). It's down to cutting open walls and ceilings to get rid of the rest.

    As some have mentioned you can always protect a K & T circuit with a GFCI they do not need an equipment ground to work.

    AFCIs are still a major problem and causing a lot of nuisance trips.

    Check the electrical forums if interested. Many of the new appliances with their all electronic controls do not get along with AFCI. Most electricians hate them due to call backs and it is not their wiring it is the appliances.

    There is even some talk that they will take AFCIs off the market.

    I doubt that will ever happen.

    The electrical code is the minimum standard. In the past the code making panels did the right thing. But now they seem to be controlled by the equipment manufacturers who do studies saying how AFCIs will save x # of lives, yet they send this unproven technology to the market.

    PC7060ttekushan_3
  • PC7060
    PC7060 Member Posts: 1,204
    edited June 2
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    the AFC breakers I installed in 2000s were much more prone to nuisance tripping than the current generation.
    In this current house which probably has 30 or more smart breakers, we really only have trouble with one combo AFCI/GFCI tripping when we plug the vacuum cleaner or high amperage motor device (e.g miter saw) onto that branch. And the problem follows the breaker to whichever branch it’s moved.
    Funny thing is I bought a replacement breaker, but I’ve never installed it because the other one only pops once a year or so and it’s on the laundry circuit.😝😂

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,842
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    it takes field experience to work out all the weird boundary conditions. GFCIs of the 70's were very prone to nuisance tripping. Modern quality GFCIs almost never nuisance trip. The only AFCI i have trouble with nuisance tripping currently has a single receptacle on it and had nothing plugged in. It only trips at some point occasionally when the power goes out or comes back on. It may take a few more revisions to work out all the bondary conditions.

  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,764
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    There even having problems with GFCIs now tripping with some of the new refrigerators. It has only been in the last few years that the code has required refrigerators to be on GFCIs. And not all states are using the 2020 or 2023 code yet. MA always adopts the newest code as soon as it comes out. Connecticut as an example is usually at least 2 code books behind.

  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,842
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    are you sure those fridges don't have legitimate ground faults?

  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,764
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    @mattmia2

    Yes and no. Some appliances have minor amounts of leakage current, but it is enough to trip a 5 milliamp GFCI. I read it on Mike Holt's forum. If I can find it I will post it

  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,764
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    @mattmia2 From Mike Holts Forum

    "Hey guys this is not a GFCI issue, its a nation wide manufacturer issue, the compressors for many new brands are all made in the same factory and leak current on the equipment ground. We worked on a new 12 unit retirement complex that was to be furnished, and every single fridge eventually tripped the GFCI, I have been reading fridge posts on here to get ideas because they kept sending me there to swap the GFCI, try a GFCI breaker ..... The factory service fella is going nuts says he is replacing "junk with better junk" owners are now involved in a class action suit against the manufacturer. They have replaced two fridges with older models from a used appliance store.

    Many videos on U tube about the problems.

    GFCIs are required for condensing units, stoves and dryers in addition to refrigerators and all the other stuff. Almost anything in a new house has to be AFCI now along with a lot of GFCI.

    Very expensive afci/gfci breakers ar around $60 for a single pole. Stoves , electric driers and condensing units need 2 pole

  • JakeCK
    JakeCK Member Posts: 1,401
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    Sounds like a good reason to get lawyers involved. Sue everyone and see what shakes out. Maybe these expensive requirements with questionable results will go away and how/why they got mandated into code in the first place revealed.

    mattmia2
  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,764
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    @JakeCK

    Seems like the code making panels have lost their way. They are drinking the kool -aid the panel and circuit breaker MFGs are selling.

    Just like they do with cars they put out some unproven technology before it has been field tested.

    GFCI have been around for 55 years give or take. But the requirements for GFCI were originally for personal protection. Tools plugged in outdoors, a hair dryer falling into a sink or bathtub or the toaster gets knocked into the kitchen sink. and as time went along GFCIs were required outdoors and in bathrooms then came basements and garages and kitchen counter tops, swimming pools. That is all fine.

    It has only been in the past few years that they are starting on appliances, refrigerators, stoves, dryers, air conditioners and microwaves.

    Some of this equipment has probably never been tested with gfcis. A refrigerant compressor the windings are immersed in oil and freon. Bound to get a little leakage of current to ground

    JakeCKttekushan_3
  • DCContrarian
    DCContrarian Member Posts: 217
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    My first house was built around 1872. It was plumbed for gas light and didn't get electricity until after WWII. In places the old gas pipes had been used as conduits for the wiring. The oldest wiring was BX and the newest Romex.

    I once met a man who had lived in the house in 1941, he was on his way to visit his sister in the old folk's home down the block. He said when he lived there they had no electricity and gas was expensive so they used kerosene lamps for light and burned coal in the fireplace for heat.

    JH3550jim s_2
  • ratio
    ratio Member Posts: 3,676
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    @EBEBRATT-Ed , While no doubt mfgrs are happy to sell us things we didn't even know we needed, I think the overreach of government agencies is at least in part due to the popular demand that we be 100% safe. As long as the tautology that "all accidents are preventable" passes for reason, we're stuck going down this bubble-wrapped rabbit hole.

    ttekushan_3jim s_2
  • JH3550
    JH3550 Member Posts: 20
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    A possible further clue that my house had both gas and electric as many have described here: we have this white capped pipe next to our water main. I assumed it was an old water main but perhaps it was a gas line? Above it in the ceiling (circled in white) there is part of a disconnected pipe that looks like it could have been a gas line.

  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 1,390
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    That may have been for coal gas (sometimes called town gas). It was made from coking coal and had a large percentage of carbon monoxide.

    I DIY.
    JH3550
  • WMno57
    WMno57 Member Posts: 1,390
    edited June 3
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  • mattmia2
    mattmia2 Member Posts: 9,842
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  • EBEBRATT-Ed
    EBEBRATT-Ed Member Posts: 15,764
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    That is or was a gas line.

    mattmia2JH3550Long Beach Ed
  • Steamhead
    Steamhead Member Posts: 16,948
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    All Steamed Up, Inc.
    Towson, MD, USA
    Steam, Vapor & Hot-Water Heating Specialists
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    ethicalpaul
  • pecmsg
    pecmsg Member Posts: 4,915
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  • flat_twin
    flat_twin Member Posts: 352
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    During that period there were also gas lighting systems called "hollow wire" which was essentially a tank of pressurized white gas that supplied fuel for multiple lighting fixtures. The fixtures had generators and required pre heating like pre 1930 Coleman lanterns and lamps. https://terry-marsh.com/hollow-wire-lighting/

    WMno57JH3550
  • Miringanes
    Miringanes Member Posts: 13
    edited June 6
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    I have a house in North Eastern NJ 30 mins outside of NYC built in 1927 and I found one of those cast iron mounts behind a flush mount in a bedroom. I have the same cloth buffered rubber BX in my house where it hadn’t been replaced during renovations by the previous owner.

    I wound up removing the cast iron mount (mine had no connected gas) and replacing it with an old work fan box and romex back to the switch. I know this isn’t to code but did check for ground and I have it (yes I’ve read the story’s of high resistance grounding on BX causing it to glow like a toaster coil when there’s a fault) and I also replaced the breaker with an AFCI. I didn’t like the idea of having the BX leads in their condition living in the canopy of the fixture attached to a mount that wasn’t designed to carry the fixture. I was laminating my ceiling so I wasn’t concerned about damage, I appreciate that your case is likely different than mine in terms of total work.

    What I found interesting is I removed a portion of the BX from that circuit and once you got 6 inches or more from the fixture end of the circuit, the leads were in really good condition below the sheathing. The rubber was very pliable and didn’t crack when you bent it. There was also was what appeared to be a very light gauge bonding strip inside the sheathing so I’m not sure if this wiring was circa 1927 or newer


    I would say if yours isn’t connected to gas, I’d remove it and see if you couldn’t get the wiring into a metal old work box, use a anti short bushing, and check for ground continuity.

    JH3550
  • garfieldsimons
    garfieldsimons Member Posts: 14
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    I found a gas light fixture that had an endcap that formed the holder for the light when it was upgraded to electricity. Been removing gas lines from the attic that were all disconected so I did not think twice about removing this one. Guess which gas line was still connected.

    MiringanesratioJH3550
  • farmwi
    farmwi Member Posts: 19
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    There is another alternative possible, such as a low power circuit foe lighting. If running an ethernet cable would be easier or other similar in class low voltage solution.

    Here's an overview. There are several levels of POE, adapters and hubs which may work for your low wattage situation. Some advantages could be automation and maybe network control, though often just power. Some systems have electronic intelligent safety in the circuit. Mostly, designed around businesses so far.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Power_over_Ethernet

    I was curious about creating a low voltage system for lighting that seemed more appropriate than a high voltage higher amperage circuit for such a small low voltage load. On a clean install, it worked out to be more expensive. In a retro fit situation where you can fish tape low voltage wiring to a place where you have an adapter to save walls might be good.

    Many modern devices could run essentially on a USB circuit.