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Old 08-30-2009, 11:35 PM   #1
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


In one of my rooms there is 2 whites and one black going to a plug. In all the rooms some plugs are controlled by the switch, some half plugs are etc... so at first I figured it was this, except thought it was odd they split it on the neutral side. Then I realized the tab was not broken, so it could not of been that. So I just took mental note to wire the new plug normally and moved on.

Well I noticed there was 120v between the two whites and noticed the lights in the kitchen were not working. (I had originally shut off the whole power, but had to turn it back on as people arrived). So I decide to crocodile clip my vacuum to it to confirm that it's real voltage, but it was running low, then I realized this must of been a break in the kitchen light circuit so I put an incad bulb on it and it lit normally while the lights in the kitchen still did not work. I went to turn them all off and the incad shut off, confirming what I figured. I put the whites together then go turn on the kitchen lights and all was good.

I rewired the new plug and all works now, but has anyone seen a setup like this? I find it really weird that they'd be using the neutral that way. Note that the kitchen lights are on a different circuit then the room, so that circuit would have it's own neutral, why piggy back on that one? Second occurrence of this I see in my house.

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Old 08-30-2009, 11:52 PM   #2
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


I have see that kind of situation at least once a while.

I know some peoples make a boneheaded move when they steal one conductor from one circuit and steal from other circuit when I was doing the troubleshooting and it was kinda pain in butt to find it but got it fixed right and just once someone end up got 240 volts to the luminarie and blew the bulbs like camera flash.

That one reason why I always test with two diffrent tester escpally if in older homes some case you will see crossed circuit set up you may end up get two breaker off for one item.

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Old 08-30-2009, 11:58 PM   #3
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


could be that a neutral was missed or broken somewhere in the kitchen cct, and they are just picking up a neutral off that plug. Neutrals are all tied together at the panel, so you can use a neutral supplied from anywhere. The black is the only thing that is powered from different circuits, as each black feed to each cct is on it's own breaker, not so with neutrals.

I made a goof once or twice in my lifetime, and have run a 3 conductor instead of a four, and ended up needing to get a neutral from somewhere for the circuit. It is easier to pull one from the closest receptacle, or whatever, than to pull a new wire all the way back to the panel in a finished place.
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:25 PM   #4
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


You should never grab a neutral like bcsparkygirl suggests. A neutral, especially in a residential setting, generally carries the full load the hot carries. If you do the brilliant thing of grabbing the neut from another circuit that just happens to be on the same leg in the panel (ya got a 50/50 shot), you are now going to put whatever flows through BOTH breakers through the neut and quite possible overloading it. Neither breaker will trip though because they are only exposed to the current required by the load they are feeding.

Yep, it's another electrical fire only this one could have been prevented.

On top of that, it is just plain poor craftsmanship.

Now, if by chance you turn your bootlegged neutral circuit into a MWBC, you now (if you are on the 2008 code) have the requirement of tying the two circuits together at the panel with handle ties or multi pole breakers.
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Old 08-31-2009, 08:30 PM   #5
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


Kinda figured this was bad practice. I'll need to investigate it further and see if there's anything I can do to fix it. Not that there will be big loads on here, but best to be safe. As a "cheap" fix (aka without breaking all the drywall up and finding all the wires) would I be able to run a single wire directly to the panel and plug in to the neutral for that wire?
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:13 PM   #6
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


Quote:
Originally Posted by BCSparkyGirl View Post
could be that a neutral was missed or broken somewhere in the kitchen cct, and they are just picking up a neutral off that plug. Neutrals are all tied together at the panel, so you can use a neutral supplied from anywhere. The black is the only thing that is powered from different circuits, as each black feed to each cct is on it's own breaker, not so with neutrals.

I made a goof once or twice in my lifetime, and have run a 3 conductor instead of a four, and ended up needing to get a neutral from somewhere for the circuit. It is easier to pull one from the closest receptacle, or whatever, than to pull a new wire all the way back to the panel in a finished place.
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:21 PM   #7
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


Quote:
Originally Posted by nap View Post
You should never grab a neutral like bcsparkygirl suggests. A neutral, especially in a residential setting, generally carries the full load the hot carries. If you do the brilliant thing of grabbing the neut from another circuit that just happens to be on the same leg in the panel (ya got a 50/50 shot), you are now going to put whatever flows through BOTH breakers through the neut and quite possible overloading it. Neither breaker will trip though because they are only exposed to the current required by the load they are feeding.

Yep, it's another electrical fire only this one could have been prevented.

On top of that, it is just plain poor craftsmanship.

Now, if by chance you turn your bootlegged neutral circuit into a MWBC, you now (if you are on the 2008 code) have the requirement of tying the two circuits together at the panel with handle ties or multi pole breakers.
Well said!
Quote:
Originally Posted by BCSparkyGirl View Post
I made a goof once or twice in my lifetime, and have run a 3 conductor instead of a four, and ended up needing to get a neutral from somewhere for the circuit. It is easier to pull one from the closest receptacle, or whatever, than to pull a new wire all the way back to the panel in a finished place.
Just because it's easier doesn't make it right!

I'm not trying to be rude, but if you're going to give advice (especially on a DIY forum) please make sure that it's code compliant, safe, and non-hacktastic!

Last edited by EBFD6; 08-31-2009 at 09:23 PM. Reason: spelling
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Old 08-31-2009, 09:36 PM   #8
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


Quote:
In one of my rooms there is 2 whites and one black going to a plug.
So, I guess I don't follow. Is how many cables are coming into the box? How many wires are in each? Is there a black wire that isn't used?

Otherwise, you maybe could have a mulitwire circuit, say a 14/3 enters, and a 14/2 leaves, and the black gets connected to the recept. and the red gets connected to the other circuit's black wire. Then the whites supposed to be pigtailed but they're not. Not saying that is how it is, but maybe a possiblity...

A pic would be nice...
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Old 08-31-2009, 10:19 PM   #9
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


Quote:
Originally Posted by junkcollector View Post
So, I guess I don't follow. Is how many cables are coming into the box? How many wires are in each? Is there a black wire that isn't used?

Otherwise, you maybe could have a mulitwire circuit, say a 14/3 enters, and a 14/2 leaves, and the black gets connected to the recept. and the red gets connected to the other circuit's black wire. Then the whites supposed to be pigtailed but they're not. Not saying that is how it is, but maybe a possiblity...

A pic would be nice...

nope not a multi wire (or split) plug. I thought of this too when I first saw it, but no tabs were broken. It almost looks like they just tapped off the neutral. That neutral is for a different circuit.

This could have actually been a hazard as that plug had no power to it, but when I removed the two neutrals there was power between them, and it was not direct, but a break in another circuit, so I would have completed the circuit to several high wattage bulbs! The order in which things happened pretty much saved me from getting a nasty shock.

I originally shut off the whole power to make it easier, but then my mom arrived and needed power, so I turned the power back on and wired the vacuum to the plugs and went to flip all the breakers until I hear it stop. Then I tested all the plugs with my multimeter to make sure all of them were controlled by that breaker but came accross the two whites which read 120. It's odd that it raid 120 and not something lower though, as it was simply a break in a light bulb circuit, not a direct feed. But with experimenting I realized it was just a break in another circuit. If I had originally just shut off that one circuit I probably would not have bothered to test the wires after removing the plugs.

It's back how it was now, but really odd it's like that and probably not safe if I decide to put lot of load on that.

Oh and guess it would help if I specified which side. The whites were both on the neutral side of the plug while the black was on the other side.

Last edited by Red Squirrel; 08-31-2009 at 10:27 PM.
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Old 09-01-2009, 08:55 AM   #10
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


Were the white wires in question really white or was one accidentally spray painted when the walls were painted?

Neutral and accompanying hot must occupy the same conduit or cable.

If two hot wires should enter the same outlet box or junction box, their accompanying neutrals are not tied together there. Each neutral is tied only to the loads served by its respective hot.

(some off topic stuff follows)
Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Squirrel View Post
Well I noticed there was 120v between the two whites and noticed the lights in the kitchen were not working. ... So I decide to crocodile clip my vacuum to it to confirm that it's real voltage, but it was running low,
If you really did have the kitchen lights' neutral running separately though here now you have the vacuum cleaner connected in series with a (presumably properly parallel connected) group of kitchen lights resulting in about 60 volts (more or less depending on the wattage of those lights switched on) feeding the vacuum.


Quote:
Originally Posted by Red Squirrel View Post
then I realized this must of been a break in the kitchen light circuit so I put an incad bulb on it and it lit normally while the lights in the kitchen still did not work. I went to turn them all off and the incad shut off, confirming what I figured. .
Now you have the incand. test light in series with the group of kitchen lights. The kitchen lights turned on at the time had a larger total wattage altogether and the result is the test light gets more voltage. The kitchen lights might have been glowing dimly during your test. (It's a long story, you need to understand Ohm's law and some electrical engineering to know why.)
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Last edited by AllanJ; 09-01-2009 at 09:12 AM.
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Old 09-01-2009, 08:59 AM   #11
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


I'd have to check for continuiety with ground but I'm pretty sure they are in fact neutrals. If they are hots then I don't think the plug would work, or I'd be getting 240 volts on it! Then again you never know what kind of screw up people can do, maybe the black is actually neutral lol. I'll have to check.
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Old 09-01-2009, 01:20 PM   #12
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


[quote=nap;322027]You should never grab a neutral like bcsparkygirl suggests.


Lordy guys, it was not a suggestion. I do not advise this. What I was doing was offering a possible explanation as to what he was seeing and why it was possibly done. I did not say, go and do this.
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Old 09-01-2009, 04:44 PM   #13
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


If you didn't advise it, why did you bring it up in the first place? (lolol)

....don't take all our comments to heart, around here a lot gets said with plenty of "attitude" so sometimes it's just better to grin and bear it.


oh...i think the guy is looking at the reversal of colors for the switch leg. I see two whites in a light box every now and then.
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Old 09-01-2009, 06:35 PM   #14
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


[QUOTE=BCSparkyGirl;322349]
Quote:
Originally Posted by nap View Post
You should never grab a neutral like bcsparkygirl suggests.


Lordy guys, it was not a suggestion. I do not advise this. What I was doing was offering a possible explanation as to what he was seeing and why it was possibly done. I did not say, go and do this.
it wasn't? You do not advise doing such?

You specifically said you do things like that. You also stated it doesn't matter where you get the neutral from.

Quote:
Neutrals are all tied together at the panel, so you can use a neutral supplied from anywhere.
Quote:
I made a goof once or twice in my lifetime, and have run a 3 conductor instead of a four, and ended up needing to get a neutral from somewhere for the circuit. It is easier to pull one from the closest receptacle, or whatever, than to pull a new wire all the way back to the panel in a finished place.


sure sounds like advice to me.
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Old 09-01-2009, 07:06 PM   #15
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Weird thing I noticed while changing plugs


[quote=nap;322477]
Quote:
Originally Posted by BCSparkyGirl View Post

it wasn't? You do not advise doing such?

You specifically said you do things like that. You also stated it doesn't matter where you get the neutral from.







sure sounds like advice to me.
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