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Old 03-25-2018, 10:01 PM   #1
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Electrical Outlet Wired Wrong?


I took it upon myself to install a gfci outlet in my apartment so that the outside outlet would have gfci protection. The current outlet is grounded but does not have any gfci.

I turned off the circuit which powers the outlet which I thought was most likely wired to the switch which controls the outside outlet. Sure enough, I opened the circuit and saw that there were two circuits wired to the outlet and though that I was correct in guessing that this outlet feeds the power to the switch. I clipped the wires from the old outlet and before wiring to the new outlet, I turned back on the power to check which circuit was line and which circuit was load. Well, I checked the black wires on both circuits with the little pen tester and it indicated that BOTH black wires were hot. I pulled out the multimeter and indeed both black wires to each respective neutral wire is 120V AC.

I looked at the back of the outlet and saw that the punch outs were not removed. Does this mean that before I removed the circuit 240V AC was going across the outlet by mistake? I reconnected only one of the circuits to the old outlet and both the top and bottom plug of the outlet have power. I left one circuit off for now until I could determine why two hot circuits were going to one outlet.

Wouldn't this wiring scenario have tripped the breaker before? Or if not, started a fire? Is there any way that it was wired correctly before and I'm missing something? Is it possible that two hots are two wires from the same circuit? It seems that the same breaker shut off both circuits. I'm afraid to mention it to the apartment management company as they may think I am doing something dangerous or that I have caused the problem.

What should I do?

Edit: I forgot to mention that this circuit from the breaker is pretty extensive. It does several lights, and wall plugs, and even the TV/audio equipment in the living room. If it was wired incorrectly, would there not have been some symptoms by now, or would the incorrect voltage only be at the one outlet?

Last edited by cazeus; 03-25-2018 at 10:05 PM.
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Old 03-25-2018, 11:01 PM   #2
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Re: Electrical Outlet Wired Wrong?


Stop and call an electrician, Please.

Installing a GFCI involves more than changing a receptacle.
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Old 03-25-2018, 11:46 PM   #3
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Re: Electrical Outlet Wired Wrong?


I am not quite following what you are saying, but I am thinking a possibly here and only a possibly, is that something feeding off this circuit beyond the receptacle. You would have a hot black wire into the receptacle and a hot black wire going out of the receptacle to feed the next thing on the circuit.

Apartment Management Co? Please don't tell me that you are a renter that is working on the electrical. That would be a sure way to get evicted. Could also get you in a heap of legal trouble if something were to happen. You should call an electrician as already advised if you are not 100% confident in finishing the task.
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Old 03-26-2018, 12:27 AM   #4
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Re: Electrical Outlet Wired Wrong?


Quote:
Originally Posted by cazeus View Post
I took it upon myself to install a gfci outlet in my apartment so that the outside outlet would have gfci protection. The current outlet is grounded but does not have any gfci.

I turned off the circuit which powers the outlet which I thought was most likely wired to the switch which controls the outside outlet. Sure enough, I opened the circuit and saw that there were two circuits wired to the outlet and though that I was correct in guessing that this outlet feeds the power to the switch. I clipped the wires from the old outlet and before wiring to the new outlet, I turned back on the power to check which circuit was line and which circuit was load. Well, I checked the black wires on both circuits with the little pen tester and it indicated that BOTH black wires were hot. I pulled out the multimeter and indeed both black wires to each respective neutral wire is 120V AC.

I looked at the back of the outlet and saw that the punch outs were not removed. Does this mean that before I removed the circuit 240V AC was going across the outlet by mistake?
No, definitely not. You would have measured 240V from hot to "neutral" if the receptacle were mis-wired for 240V. You also would have burned up anything you plugged into it.

Now, the top and bottom halves of a receptacle can be connected to different hot legs, which would read 240V from the top hot to the bottom how. There's nothing wrong with doing that. But if the "punch outs" you're talking about are the tabs that connect the top and bottom halves of the receptacle, then the two halves could not have been connected to different legs or it would have tripped the breaker instantly. Also, you did not describe turning off a double pole breaker.

Quote:
I reconnected only one of the circuits to the old outlet and both the top and bottom plug of the outlet have power. I left one circuit off for now until I could determine why two hot circuits were going to one outlet.

Wouldn't this wiring scenario have tripped the breaker before? Or if not, started a fire?
Yes. Immediately. That's one way you can tell it definitely wasn't wired as you describe.

Quote:
Is there any way that it was wired correctly before and I'm missing something?

Is it possible that two hots are two wires from the same circuit? It seems that the same breaker shut off both circuits.
Yes. Everything you say indicates pretty clearly there is only one circuit involved here.

You did not say whether the two hot wires are in the same cable or not, and if they're both black or not. If they're in the same cable or are different colors, then probably one of them is intended to be switched. Did you check for this? If the hot-side tabs are not broken on all switched receptacles, then the switching will not work and both sets of wires will be hot all the time - like you found.

Quote:
I'm afraid to mention it to the apartment management company as they may think I am doing something dangerous or that I have caused the problem.
Well, you really shouldn't be doing electrical work (or any other construction) on an apartment you don't own. It's almost certainly a breach of your lease and also local law. But I have installed GFCI's (and much more) in apartments I didn't own... I definitely can't advise that you do it... but you already started... so...


Quote:
What should I do?
What you SHOULD do is put it all back together the way you found it and ask the landlord to install GFCI protection on the outdoor receptacle since it's a real safety hazard without it.

But that's probably not going to happen. If you're going to DIY this, I'd do it the easy way and install the GFCI in the outdoor receptacle.
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Old 03-26-2018, 08:23 AM   #5
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Re: Electrical Outlet Wired Wrong?


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I'm afraid to mention it to the apartment management company as they may think I am doing something dangerous or that I have caused the problem.
My advice and probably 99% of the other giving you help here will say - Put everything back the exact way it was before you started. Once you determine it is exactly the way it was before you started then contact the management stating you would like the outdoor receptacle protected with a GFCI if it is not already. Just because the outlet or receptacle is not a GFCI does not mean it is not already protected by one somewhere else in the apartment. Did you even test the outlet before opening it to see if in fact it is protected.

You as a renter have no business doing any electrical work on your apartment - it is not your property. Reason is "Liability". If anything were to happen you would be responsible including if there were a fire. All on you then!! This is probably even in your lease somewhere. Even if you were to call a licensed electrician in to do the work you must get "written" permission to do so as most management companies want to only use their pre-screened electricians to work on their properties.
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