Short Circuit Shocks

I got short circuit shocks at a friend’s when I was changing a ceiling tile in the basement. As I was lifting out the damaged tile, I got a shock when I touched the metal tracking. I checked all the electrical boxes for loose wires or open covers but I didn’t find anything until is used a $2 voltage tester.

We found the ceiling track was “hot” to ground. To check this, carefully, and not on an aluminum ladder, touch one lead of the tester to a ground and the other to some bare metal on the track. Do not touch the track with your bare hands while performing the test. The tester showed electricity.

Then we checked with the lights turned off and the track was not hot anymore. This test helped eliminate other basement wiring from being the problem. Now the problem was to find which light had the bad wiring. There were four fixtures in a row on the same switch.

Split the problem in two. First, turn off the circuit at the fuse or breaker box. Then disconnect the wiring leaving the second fixture as it travels to the rest of the fixtures. Turn the power on and the ceiling is hot again. Now we know the problem is in the first two fixtures.

Since they were fluorescent fixtures with a ballast, a transformer that increases voltage so fluorescent bulbs will illuminate, we pulled both to make checking them easier. As it turns out, a ballast was shorted out internally and sending high voltage to the fixtures metal box. The fixture was attached to the metal suspended ceiling, making the ceiling track hot. Ron wanted me to add that the socket the bulb plugs into, could have been the cause of the short.

If the fixtures were properly grounded, the fuse or circuit breaker would have tripped disconnecting the electricity. It was a newer home, but the prior homeowner must have added this wiring without pulling a permit. If an electrical permit was pulled, there would have been an inspection of the wiring. It is then that an inspector would have caught the lack of proper grounding and saved Paul from a possible tragedy.

When it comes to electricity remember to be very careful, and always think safety first. If you mess up some plumbing, you will get wet, but mess up some wiring and it could be fatal. Do not attack wiring projects without professional guidance, and have your work inspected.