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Old 11-17-2010, 10:52 PM   #1
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Hot and neutral switched


I'm sure I can figure this out, but is there a systematic way of sorting out how to get hot and neutral right?

The easy answers aren't there. White and black are connected correctly on two outlets where the tester indicates they are switched. Another outlet on the same circuit reads correctly, and black goes into the hot at the circuit breaker and white into neutral bus.

One outlet which is wired backwards according to the tester looks to be the last in the circuit as it has 1 white and 1 black going into it. The next outlet... well, it has 3 white going into it and 2 black (one white pushed in, the other 2 on screw terminals).

The outlet which doesn't read as wired backwards has 2 white going into it and 1 black. The 1 white goes up to a light through a surface mount raceway which then has a surface mount raceway going to a switch.

The entire house should be rewired, but there are bits and pieces that are okay... And in between are many mysteries.

This is in the kitchen, and I'm guessing I need to sort this out to get working GFCI added.

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Old 11-18-2010, 06:34 AM   #2
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Hot and neutral switched


Not sure what your skill level is, but sounds like a novice. Black is hot, white is neutral, bare is ground...........usually. On outlets, black goes on the brass screw, or small slot of a polarized outlet. Neutral goes to the large slot, or silver screw. Bare(ground) goes to a ground screw if there is one. The only place bare and neutral touch is in the main panel. NEVER connect them anywhere else. A switch loop can have both white and black and both can be 'hot'. An outlet with the white on the brass screw and black on the silver screw has reversed polarity. There are some good books on residential wiring at home and hardware store libraries. Does this help???

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Old 11-18-2010, 10:18 AM   #3
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Hot and neutral switched


I'd say my skill level is more than novice, this isn't by any means my first electrical project, but most of my work has been new hookups. Maybe I did a poor job of explaining.

Starting from the beginning, this is for a house we bought in August and we're nearing the point we're ready to move in. I've done a complete tearoff including rafter rebuild in 2 sections over dormers on the roof, added ventilation, redone siding, insulated, replumbed gas supply lines for a water heater and gas range and roughed in second floor wiring for lights and hard wired smoke detectors. That's since August, previously I've wired workshops, a garage, built a complete second bathroom, put in an above ground pool including wiring the pump and putting in a pool heater.

Having done as much as I have on this house, I think I'm getting a little burnt out so at this point, I'm looking at the mess that is a wiring situation that's evolved over 93 years in this house and finding it hard to get past the fact that it's a mess and if I had the time and money, I'd just start ALL over on the wiring, but I don't have the time and money...

Anyway, before we bought the house, the inspector noted polarity is reversed on 2 wall outlets in the kitchen. He made the determination with an outlet tester with the 2 orange and 1 red light, I have the same type of tester. Last night, I wanted an "EASY" project, so I openned the 2 outlets.

Wiring to the outlets is romex with plastic insulation, so it's newer where I can see it in the outlet box. Lots of wire is older cloth covered romex, there has been some wire in flexible conduit and there has been live knob and tube. So being that this is a newer wire, and knowing that a newer professionally installed 100A panel is in the house, I have some confidence that the newer wiring in the house is probably more okay than say the stuff upstairs wired with knob and tube.

I was expecting to take the receptacles out, find that black was wired where the neutral should be and white was wired where the hot should be. Then I could fix it by switching them, then be done. Nope, black was on hot, white was on neutral, ground was on the green screw. This was the case on the first outlet I openned which was at the end of the run.

The second outlet also had black and white placed correctly, except it had 3 white (neutral) and 2 black. Also in the same box are switches for a light and the garbage disposal, I have not yet gotten them out to see what's going on.

At this point, I checked at the circuit breaker to see if wires were switched, which they were not... First, of course, I had to identify which circuit was controlling these 2 outlets in the kitchen so I could start trying to find which outlet was first in the circuit, identify whether it had polarity reversed and either correct the problem or continue downstream until the problem is found.

The circuit breaker was labelled as "utility room/garage". I knew of one more outlet that would be in that circuit, it did not show as polarity being reversed. I openned this outlet, and white went to neutral and black went to hot. The tester had not shown open ground, but there was no ground wire to the circuit. It was screwed into a metal box, and showed open ground when it was pulled out of the box. Also, the white and black wires were spliced into 2 black wires, and another white wire went up a surface mounted raceway.

That's as far as I got.

I *could* just connect the white wire on the 2 reversed polarity outlets to the hot and the black to the ground and call it fixed, but I'd know that I had not fixed the real problem... The questions I'm facing are:

Is it better to fix the reversed polarity or leave it reversed until I can fix it right?
Can someone lay out a diagnostic roadmap I can follow so I don't have to spend my short evening staring at wiring in a state of being at a loss for words? I know that I am capable of doing this, but as I said I'm feeling a bit burnt out at this point.

And I'd rather do this as a repair than a replacement, at least for now, because I need a few months for the finances to recover to the point I can lay down the cash it will cost to pull permits, and I just wouldn't feel right rewiring completely until I'm ready to do it under permit. I've added up the fees on rewiring the whole house the way I'd like to (upgrade to 200A, move panel to the utility room instead of the bedroom where it is) and it's $500 - I can get materials in smaller chunks, but $500 at once isn't happenning until we get past the holidays - possibly not until tax return time.

Have I mentioned wiring something that isn't already there is a lot easier than fixing something somebody else did? I think I'm getting a new level of appreciation for electricians and what they must go through.
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Old 11-18-2010, 11:30 AM   #4
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Hot and neutral switched


Are these protected by a GFI upstream?
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Answers based on the National Electrical Code. Local amendments may apply. Check with your local building officials.
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Old 11-18-2010, 03:34 PM   #5
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Hot and neutral switched


Definitely not, it's one thing I want to do sooner than later. There is only one GFCI outlet in the house - good point, I forgot that there were any, but I just popped it with the test button and the kitchen outlets still work.
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Old 11-18-2010, 04:15 PM   #6
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Hot and neutral switched


Quote:
Originally Posted by WillK View Post
I'm sure I can figure this out, but is there a systematic way of sorting out how to get hot and neutral right?
If the neutral is connectted to ground in the main panel,
Then you can turn off the power and check with an ohm meter
which wire is connected to neutral,
usually its the white,
But check it any way.
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Old 11-18-2010, 09:39 PM   #7
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Hot and neutral switched


K, today in the crawlspace I saw... <insert 5 minute pause while I try to think of the right word or words to insert here>

Okay, coming from towards the kitchen, 2 black wires consistent with the knob and tube wiring came towards where I was looking in the crawl space, let's call this (where I was looking) point A.

Coming towards point A from the other direction was an older cloth romex wire from the general area where the service panel is.

Another wire goes off towards the utility room.

So this is consistent with the circuit on which the kitchen, garage and utility room are wired.

ALL of these wires come together inside a big ball of electrical tape, NONE of these wires are stapled to the joists anywhere within a 5' radius, all of these wires are hanging down and laying on the ground. In this general area, there is a lot of fallen fiberglass batt insulation.

This is the kind of crap that just makes me sit there an entire evening staring at it in disbelief. But I'm guessing somewhere there's a ball of tape where these knob and tube wires are spliced to romex, and the black wire that attaches to neutral got attached to the black wire in the new romex and the black wire that attaches to hot got attached to the white wire in the new romex.

But regardless, I should run a new cable from the service panel to a new junction box at point A, replace the old knob and tube wire at the very least with new cable and run that cable to the first outlet in the kitchen where I will replace the receptacle with a GFCI, then if I reuse the other cables I should at least replace the first receptacle with a GFCI.
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Old 11-19-2010, 02:14 PM   #8
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Hot and neutral switched


First off, if this is a 3-story building that used to be 8 apartments on a relatively-low-income street in Western Maine, SELL IT AND GET OUT, that wiring is evil in more ways than you know.

Of course, since your sidebar over there says you're in Michigan, I suppose you're not renovating my former, now-condemned apartment - but it does sound VERY similar.

I'm going with your guess, as I've seen it a dozen or more times. Somebody, somewhere, wired up some outlets with that new-fangled romex and couldn't figure out which of the knob&tube conductors was hot and which was neutral, so they just hooked it up any which way. 50/50 chance right? And hey, the toaster gets hot either way, so who cares?

The way you describe it is NOT safe, at all, so, assuming you're not interested in re-learning old-fashioned practices and techniques so that you can properly reinstall/repair the k&t, you probably want to start at the bad area and remove it in both directions until you get to something that looks sane (ie, NOT in a taped-up ball on the ground!), then see what you killed and run new cable to those devices. I'd call this a minimum. You do NOT want to just live with the clusterflugen!

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