A Lesson In Waiting Years To Finish A Project, Carport Edition

Things have been going smoothly on the carport completion…until this morning. And the problem that we ran into this morning was totally my mistake. This carport was started back in 2018, and as I’ve already mentioned in a previous recent post, I had the crazy idea at the time that I wanted them to do just so much, and then I’d finish the rest.

What part did I want to do myself? Installing the lighting, installing the ceiling, trimming out the posts, and all of the caulking and painting. Ridiculous. I have no idea what I was thinking.

I stayed busy working on other things, and kept procrastinating because that’s a big job that I didn’t really want to do. So five years later, the carport still looked like this…

So a few weeks ago, I finally decided that I didn’t want to do these jobs, so I hired it out, and the guys have been here working on it since Monday.

When you look at the picture below, you’ll see two wires hanging down by the door…

Well, in the back entry of the studio, I have a three-gang switch. The middle switch on the dimmer is the back entryway light (the one I’m planning on gold leafing).

So in my mind, I remembered the other two switches going to those two wires hanging down outside the doors in the carport. I was going off of my five-year-old memory of this project. So I told the guys that they could use one of those wires to power the eight flush mount lights that would be daisy chained together. That wire would come from the house, power these four lights on this side…

…and then go across to the other side of the carport and power the four lights on the other side. These are all on Wire #1, which I remembered going to one of the switches in the back entry of the studio.

And then Wire #2, which I thought went to the third switch in the back entry of the studio, would go from the house, straight through to power the fan, and then continue on to power the flood light on the back of the carport.

And you can see where that wire comes out here on the back of the carport for a flood light to be installed. Again, that’s Wire #2 — the wire that I thought was on the third of the three switches.

Well, as I headed out to the carport this morning to see the progress, I started to panic. I suddenly remembered that one of those three switches is for the light in the storage closet at the back of the studio! And if that’s the case, then what the heck does that other wire in the carport go to?!

Nothing had been hooked up in the breaker box yet, but they had just about finished all of the work. Everything was wired up. The ceiling was installed. Everything was caulked. They were just about ready to start painting when I broke the news that I had been wrong about the wiring. I was absolutely sick to my stomach.

The only explanation that I could think of is that one of the wires went to the switch, and one of the wires went directly to the breaker box. So the wire that went directly to the breaker box would always be hot. There was no turning off that line. So if lights were hooked up to it, there would be no way to turn the lights off unless I go to the breaker box and flip the breaker.

So we decided to hook up the two wires that were loose in the breaker box and test them to see what happened. My stomach was tied in knots. I could just imagine having to undo everything they had done and start over.

There were two wires hanging down in the breaker box that weren’t hooked up, and they’ve been there for years. So I’ve assumed all these years that those two loose wires in the breaker box were the same as those two wires hanging down in the carport.

So he hooked up the first one, and…nothing. Absolutely nothing happened. Long story short, I figured out that that wire is the one that powers the front wall of my studio, which also had never been hooked up. Which is why I’ve never shown you a picture of the pendant lights on the mural wall turned on. They didn’t have power yet. I still need to hook up two more outlets on that circuit on the side wall of the studio before it’s safe to turn that circuit on and keep it on.

So we had one remaining loose wire in the breaker box, but two wires in the carport. So he hooked up the second and final loose wire in the breaker box, and that one worked. But that one wire and that one circuit breaker powered all of the lights in the carport. Both lines. Everything on the pink line (Wire #1), and everything on the blue line (Wire #2). But mysteriously, only Wire #2 (the blue line with the ceiling fan and back flood light) turned on and off with the switch.

Wire #1 (the pink line) stayed on and couldn’t be switched off with the light switch inside.

Now keep in mind, I’m the one who determined how everything was wired, and would be wired. So whatever is going on here was my decision back in 2018. I clearly wanted certain things to be powered all the time, and others things to be switched off and on. But how were these two lines being powered by one circuit breaker?

The only explanation is that Wire #1 is spliced into Wire #2 somewhere in the attic. So they’re both being powered by the same wire in the same breaker, but somewhere in the attic, Wire #2 splits off and goes to the light switch, while Wire #1 goes directly from the breaker box to the carport.

And because it’s been so long, and because I didn’t make any notes for myself, I have no idea why I chose to do it that way, or what my original plan was. After panicking for a little bit (but pretending to be completely calm on the outside) and imagining the worst (having to undo the ceiling and all of the wiring), we finally came up with a solution.

The daisy chained flush mount lights that were originally being powered by Wire #1 (the wire that went straight to the breaker box and bypassed the light switch) have now been spliced into Wire #2 (the wire that goes to the switch). And making that change only required removing one partial piece of beadboard from the ceiling. But now I have a hot wire that isn’t being used to power anything. So a junction box will have to be added, and those wires will be capped off, and the junction box will have to have a solid cover on it so it doesn’t show.

But now everything…everything…is powered by one switch. All eight flush mount lights, the ceiling fan, and the back flood light. Everything comes on when the switch is flipped. It’s not ideal, but it’s not horrible, either. Since there’s a ceiling fan involved, that means that I can never put the flush mount lights inside the carport on a dimmer switch, because having a ceiling fan on a dimmer switch can be a fire hazard. But that seemed better than never being able to turn the lights off, and having eight 5000K flush mount lights on 24/7.

So it has been a hard lesson in waiting so long to finish a project. At the very least, I should have made some very clear notes and kept them somewhere where they would be easily accessible. I should never have relied on my memory for a project that took years to complete.

The ideal solution would have been to keep a home journal of some sort. I always consider my blog to be a home journal, and I’ve had to refer back to things in old posts on a fairly regular basis. But on some things, like what specific wires to go what things, my blog just isn’t detailed enough. A home journal filled with all of those uninteresting details would be ideal.

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  1. I’m sorry you had to go through all of this now. I read your blog for several reasons: 1. to see what you are doing with your house; 2. to learn how to DIY things; and 3. most often I read it to see what I should leave to professionals. 😊 As I get older, I leave more to the professionals but I admire those of you who DIY. The dimmer switch would have been nice, but I’m sure most of the time it will be just fine! Glad you are getting your carport finished!

  2. So in my past industry this was common. Then the clients each can up with their own convoluted wiring label system. My favorite is wrapping the wire in colored electrical tape. They chose a color for tech and #of bands for location. You could do something similar as in the space is color, and the other is function (plugs/always on-1, switch light-2, dimmer-3). What you got the always on seems to be for plugs, with one switch for fans/light.

    When getting new cables(computer/TV) I wrap near the ends in different random color combos to help see where they go to/from.

  3. As you said, it could have been a lot worse I guess! But what a way to start a day! So, what color are you thinking of for the ceiling? If it were me, I would go dark – black is what I’m thinking. You would be less likely to have nesting critters, and if you did, you would see right away, and be able to deal with them. Or you could do the southern thing of “Haint Blue,” but it would show dirt easier. Something to ponder, if you have not already settled on a color.

  4. I learned that lesson the hard way with drapes. I made 2 and left the third one for a month. I had to take down and re-measure my previous one, because I “thought” I would remember. Nope

  5. Oh, I feel your pain. After 45 years in the same house (and a couple of remodels) we’re finally just labeling our breakers! And we have one outlet that simply does not work and has mystified every electrician who has tried to solve it.

  6. at 72, I find I need a note walking from room to room!
    But a journal will serve you well and I don’t think you’ll
    ever regret making notes this way!

  7. Well it may not be ideal, but at least its workable. And, big lesson learned to keep detailed notes. Glad its coming together for you anyway.

  8. A home journal is a perfect idea!! Keep us posted as you go along and I’ll make mine at the same time. Thank you!!

  9. 2 things springed in my mind while reading this:

    1) There are small, not expensive devices that can check the continuity of an electrical cable. Don’t remember what exactly they are called, but I bought one several years ago. You clip the connectors to the wires at one end of the cable, go to what you suspect is the other end, and clip the other part of the device. If it makes a sound, you found the other end. If not – keep looking for your cable.

    2) Even if the ceiling is already done, you might be able to wire it either with new lengths of cables, or you could pull out these ones, if they are not fixed to the beams. You can buy another tool, which is several flexible thin rods, that can be screwed to each other to provide the length you need. In your case, you can push the rode through one of the light holes and push it all way to the next hole. Then attach a new cable to that end and pull the rode back dragging the cable in the ceiling void. If you don’t want to bother with this, you can call an electrician, he or she should have all these tools, they are quite common. Also the electrician might know some other tricks of the trade for such situations.

  10. I thought it might be some major disaster, like rotten timber or some structural issues. This is frustrating but most likely can be sorted out. You don’t need to succumb to wiring design you don’t like. I wrote some suggestions in my other comment.

  11. Lessons sure come in all forms, I’ve sure had my share. While I’m trying to convert to downloaded PDFs of manuals, other online links, inputting documentation & notes in to Evernote so I can dump paper, I have multiple 3 ring binders of info for the 3+ decades of work, updates, materials & items in my home. They are life savers when I do new projects, need parts, paint colors. They transport to the store easily, facilitate contractor & repair folk conversations and more. The book of swatches, chips, samples, + phone photos make decor shopping more fun, cohesive, less mistakes & trips back to the store.

    There is just so much info to keep track of, remember. Journalling, noting a furnace filter size, light bulb brand or size appliance & equipment models, paint color/type, etc. into my phone contacts, even some photos sure saves time. I recently made a paint mistake when I ran out, not color, but finish type. Didn’t even notice until I had finished a wall. Forgot my info in the color, was in a hurry to get back at project . Broke my own guidelines. Silly. Now if only colors were more accurate or I could have a better quality/size perception of online decor items I purchase.J

  12. So sorry for your wire issues. This was a yukky way to begin Friday the 13th.
    Gee, I wish my son didn’t live so far away. He is an electrician and can fix any electrical problem that homeowners and businesses have dealt with.
    I’m with you on that home diary….it’s a good thing to do regularly, and saves lots of “I wonder what I was thinking of when I did that” when you need to remember something right now.

    1. Wanted to thank you again for taking time to take photos of your wood shades from the outside…and the explanations too.

  13. Forgotten wiring is a true pain! My husband is an electrician and we have just been working on a section of our 20s/50s/70s house which all needs renovation. There were 6 switches and we didn’t know what 4 of them did. It took a whole weekend to trace everything in the attic and where the wires ran both in & outdoors, then rewire/reduce in a way that made more sense – we had to ruin the nice pine wood paneling on that section of wall in the end because small patch removal was not enough access to the illogical mess of dead ends and stapled wires.

  14. I’m glad you go things worked out. It’s a good lesson for me because part of why I love your blog is the design of your home and part of it is how well your instructions for doing it are. I guess some little things don’t make the blog though. When I’ve got multiple wires not yet connected to something, I add a piece of masking tape on which I write what it is and if necessary, where it goes. I have terrible memory for things like this.