Electrical wire caps are the safe, efficient, and code-compliant method of dealing with electrical wires that are cut at mid-point and which must remain live.
One byproduct of removing a wall or taking down a ceiling is the stray electrical wires. All walls have electrical outlets; ceilings have at least one ceiling light; both walls and ceilings can have wires that are traveling to other locations. This means that you really cannot avoid stray wires. What should you do to safely and easily deal... with them?
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Electrical Code: Cap All Loose Wires That Remain Live
The answer is fairly simple: you leave the wires in place, capping them with wire nuts. Then you enclose the ends of the wires in a junction box that is covered with a solid face plate. This action is compliant with most electrical codes.
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Wrong Way To Cap Electrical Wires
There are many wrong ways to cap electrical wires. Homeowners and electricians alike frequently run across wires that are improperly spliced and capped. Junction boxes might be hidden behind ceiling or wall drywall. Even worse, stray wires might be secured with electrical tape and then hidden behind the wall.
All wires need to be contained in junction boxes. All junction boxes need to be at the level of the finish surface (wall, ceiling, etc.), so that they can be seen and accessed.
Tools and Materials Needed
- Junction Box
- Wire nuts
- Electrical tape
- Cable ripper
- Wire stripper
- Screwdriver (Flat and Phillips)
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Turn Off and Seal Over Circuit Breaker
Before taking down the wall, you must shut off the circuit breaker. Increase your margin of safety by laying electrical tape across the circuit to prevent anyone--even you--from accidentally flipping on the breaker.
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Cut Box Opening in Drywall
Since you've removed the wall, you don't have anywhere to put those wires now. You'll need to find the closest available spot in existing wall or drywall to place those stray wires. This means looking backwards in the wire run.
Once you have a location, cut an opening in the drywall with your jab saw, reciprocating saw, or RotoZip. Make sure the opening is a close fit.
Old-Work Junction Boxes
In many installations, there is no way to fasten a conventional junction box, The solution is to use what is called an old-work or remodeling box, which attaches to the drywall with "wings" that grab the back of the drywall. Because the wire is Romex (NM), you can use a plastic box.Continue to 5 of 14 below.
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Test-Fit Box in Drywall Opening
If you did this correctly, the box probably will not fit on this first go-around. The reason for making this a tight fit is because these old-work boxes don't have a lot of tolerance for error: just two narrow tabs at top and bottom hold the box into place on the front side.
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Shave Off Excess Drywall From Opening
If the hole is too small, use your jab saw to shave off excess drywall. If you plan to do a lot of drywall work on your home, it will be worth your while to purchase a drywall shaver. This metal tool, which looks like a cheese grater, is very effective at grinding down small sections of drywall.
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Fit Wire Into Old-Work Box
Pop open one of the access holes and pull the cable through that access point. For metal junction boxes, wiggle out the metal tab with a screwdriver and then screw a restraint strap in place.
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Screw Old-Work Box Into Drywall
With your manual Phillips screwdriver or cordless drill, screw the old-work box into place. This forces the "wings" to pull forward and cinch the box tight in the opening.
If using a drill, set the drill's torque low as it is easy to strip these screw heads or break the wings.Continue to 9 of 14 below.
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Rip Casing From Cable
With your cable ripper, pull outward three or four times to create light scores in the cable casing.
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Strip Casing From Individual Wires
You don't have to expose the wire ends if they won't be powering any devices. But if you know that you will be attaching a device before long, you can do yourself a favor and strip the wires now.
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Cap With Wire Nuts and Tape Together
Cap the wire ends with wire nuts. Tape each nut onto its respective wire with electrical tape. Tape the two wires together.
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Test Power With Voltage TesterFlip the circuit breaker on again and, with your voltage tester, make sure that power is still flowing to the box.Continue to 13 of 14 below.
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Fold and Push Wires Into Box
Turn the circuit breaker off again. Carefully fold the wires into the box.
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Screw Face Plate Onto BoxScrew the box's face plate into place.