Ground & Negative Wires Reversed

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  #1  
Old 04-26-06, 08:41 AM
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Question Ground & Negative Wires Reversed

(Note: I'm pretty much clueless with all things electrical, so keep that in mind.)

I just replaced a light over the sink in my kitchen, and found that the installer had the ground (copper) & negative (white) wire from the box in the ceiling connected together with the negative (white) wire from the light fixture (that only had 2 wires: 1 black & 1 white).

The new fixture has 3 wires (hot/smooth-wire, negative/rough-wire, & ground/metal-cable). So, I hooked it up the way the instructions said: black to smoothe, white to rough, and copper to metal-cable.

It didn't work.

I then tried hooking the light's negative/rough wire to the ceiling/box copper wire, and the light's ground/copper wire to the ceiling/box white wire. It worked, no problem.

So, I figure (could be wrong??) that the installer reversed the negative & ground wires in the ceiling/box. Right??

So, question is: how much of a problem is this? Is it dangerous? Is it perfectly safe, but against some regulations or anything? Is it better or worse to hook up the ceiling white & copper wires both to the light's negative wire (the way it was before switching out the fixture)? (Then what to do with the light's ground wire?)

I hope I described everything OK -- I'm new to this stuff -- it's my first home, and I've never changed a light fixture in my life!

Thanks for any help you can provide.
 
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  #2  
Old 04-26-06, 08:56 AM
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First, do not use the term negative. There is no negative wire in an ac (alternating current) system. The proper term is neutral.

What happened is this. Somewhere on this circuit there is an open neutral. The neutral wire is disconnected somewhere, or the cable is damaged in the wall. Rather than fix the problem, the person who installed this simply connected the neutral wire for the light to the ground wire on the circuit. This works because the ground wire and the neutral wire connect to the same place in the main electrical panel.

The person who did this is lazy, stupid, ignorant, or all of the above, and should not be doing electrical work.

However, this is extremely dangerous. The ground wire in the cable, under normal conditions, is not supposed to carry any current. In your case the ground wire is carrying current whenever the light is turned on. This means that any place the ground wire is exposed on the circuit is a potential point of electrocution. This would be at any grounded receptacles (the ground terminal) or at any hard wired lights (the exposed metal of the light).

You need to find and fix the problem. Work backwards on the system. Do this with the power off. First check the light switch. Then check whatever else is before this on the circuit. Since you probably do not know the exact wiring of the circuit, you may have to check everything on the circuit. I hope that you know what is on this circuit. (Everyone should know what is on every circuit in their house or apartment.)

Somewhere on the circuit (hopefully) you will find the neutral wire disconnected. As you are checking, open and remake each and every neutral wire connection. If you have any receptacles on the circuit, move any back stabbed connections on the receptacles to the screw terminals, as backstabbed connections are a very common point of failure.

You can check for power at a particular point by using a two wire tester between the hot wire and the neutral wire, with the power on of course, so be careful.

If you find that the neutral is broken in the wall somewhere then you will have to replace the section of cable where the neutral is broken.

Good luck.
 
  #3  
Old 04-26-06, 09:47 AM
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Talking

Wow. Thanks! That helps a whole lot. I actually called them back out to look at it, and the electrician just hooked it back up the wrong way. Grrr. I'll check the receptacals and fix the backstabbed connections. If it ends up being a wire in the wall, then I'm going to call them back out to fix it right. It's a new house, still under warranty, so they should fix it right.

Thanks again for your help!
 
  #4  
Old 04-26-06, 09:50 AM
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If an electrician really hooked it up wrong then report them. What he or she did wrong could electrocute someone and should not be tolerated.

In fact, have them come back out first. Tell them that you know that hooking the light up wrong is against code and dangerous. Make them fix it right.

If they refuse, call your lawyer.'

Do not back down on this and do not let them get away with this kid of crap.

Good luck. Home warranties are generally useless for just this reason.
 
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Old 04-26-06, 10:02 AM
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Wow. Where would I report them? I certainly will, if possible.
 
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Old 04-26-06, 10:06 AM
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Start with the codes enforcement department of the town, city, or county you live in.

I would first give them the opportunity to do it properly. You can hint that if it's not done right you will report them and call your lawyer. That ought to get it done properly.

Since this is a new house, I am thinking that the problem may very well be wire damaged in the wall. If there is a wire damaged in the wall then you definitely need it fixed properly. You do not want a damaged wire in the wall.
 
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Old 04-26-06, 10:42 AM
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The proper term is neutral.
Actually the proper term according to the NEC is grounded conductor.

A true "neutral" is the grounded conductor that carries the unbalanced current in a multiwire branch circuit, or feeder.

Chris
 
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Old 04-26-06, 10:55 AM
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Originally Posted by raider1
Actually the proper term according to the NEC is grounded conductor.

A true "neutral" is the grounded conductor that carries the unbalanced current in a multiwire branch circuit, or feeder.

Chris
Yes, you are right. However, most people prefer neutral or return, since they often don't understand grounded verses ground or grounding.

Clearly neutral is better than negative, which is wrong no matter how you slice it.
 

Last edited by racraft; 04-26-06 at 11:24 AM.
  #9  
Old 04-26-06, 11:19 AM
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Clearly neutral is better than negative, which is wrong no matter how you slice it.
You are correct, and I agree that the term "neutral" is the common term used for the grounded conductor. The problem comes when someone reads the code book and dosen't understand the term "grounded conductor", or as you point out the "grounding conductor".

Chris
 
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Old 04-26-06, 12:03 PM
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Not really wanting to start a hijack, but I'll say that I also use the term neutral when speaking to non-electricians, but prefer grounded conductor for technical purposes.
 
  #11  
Old 04-26-06, 02:49 PM
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Wouldn't it be unusual for a newly constructed home to have a light fixture witout a grounding wire? Also, shouldn't backstabbed device connections (where the wire is simply pushed into the hole and held in place by a spring clip) be disntinguished from backwired connections (where the screw on the side of the device tightens the wire with a clamp), inasmuch as the latter are acceptable. And I agree -- if the "electrician" did simply just connect the grounded and grounding conductors together at the fixture, that is appalling.
 
  #12  
Old 04-26-06, 02:56 PM
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A light fixture that is all plastic does not have a ground wire, as it has no where to be connected.

Backstab connections will not be discintinued as long as they remain UL and NEC approved/allowed. Some electricians will continue to use them.
 
  #13  
Old 04-26-06, 03:01 PM
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I understand on backstabs. I just wouldn't want the homeowner to unnecessarily re-do backwired (as opposed to backstabbed) connections (although as a practical matter backwire devices (other than some GFCI receptacles) are rather new (aren't they?) and wouldn't be likely to be used by a home builder in any event).
 
  #14  
Old 04-26-06, 05:46 PM
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Update & Question:

I took off all the receptacles (I think) and found one that was "backstabbed" instead of screwed in. Ironically, perhaps, it was the switch to the same light over the sink that had the neutral wire hooked up to the ground.

So, I fixed that switch, but it still doesn't work.

So, now I'm checking all the other light fixtures on the same circuit, and found one that was like the original fixture over the sink: it has a hot/black & neutral/white wire, but no ground. On this one, though, they just left the ground wire from the ceiling/box disconnected.

Is that OK? I don't see anywhere on the light fixture to put the ground wire, so I'm not sure what else you could do with it.

Thanks,
--Kip
 
  #15  
Old 04-26-06, 08:15 PM
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The ground wire always gets connected to the box, if the box is metal. It also gets connected to the light fixture, switch or receptacle if there is a place for such connection. There will be on newer switches and receptacles. If there is no place to connect the ground wire then simply push it to the back of the plastic box.
 
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