Two Different Gauges in One Receptacle


Old 02-10-09, 06:19 PM
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Two Different Gauges in One Receptacle

My wife and I recently purchased a new house that was built in 1960. It's definitely a fixer-upper, and one of the first jobs was replacing the switches and receptacles as we paint the house. We decided to move the refrigerator in the kitchen and found a receptacle with no plate cover which was cracked and, asthetics aside, obviously needs replacing. After I turned off the power and pulled it out from the wall, we found six wires connected to the outlet. Four are backstabbed, 12-gauge wires, and two are 14 gauge wires attached to the screw terminals. While replacing receptacles, we have been following the replace-the-outlet-but-hook-everything-up-the-way-you-found-it approach. I went to several home improvement stores and could only find receptacles that accepted 14 gauge backstabs. Further, everything I've read says that professionals do not trust the backstab approach. (One employee at a big box store suggested I just screw two wires to the same terminal! This can't be right, can it?) It seems to me that it would be functionally equivalent to splice the wires together so that I could attached all wires to the screw terminals. However, I wonder if it's up to code, or even safe, to splice wires of two different gauges together like this.

Should I:
a) splice two black wires (one 12 and one 14 gauge) together and attach the new wire to a screw terminal, and do the same with two white wires,
b) get a new standard receptacle, but reverse the connections I have now (backstab the 14 gauge wires and screw the 12 gauge wires to the terminals)
c) just call a professional and have done with it?

Another question. Is what we have even up to code? The funny thing is, I can't identify a ground wire (no green or bare wire is in the box and nothing is attached to the green screw on the receptacle), but testing the outlet with a receptacle analyzer indicates it's wired properly. (How can this be?)

Thanks in advance.
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Old 02-10-09, 06:45 PM
Tolyn Ironhand's Avatar
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First, look at the fuse/breaker of the circuit and see what amps it is rated for. If it is anything more than 15 amps it must be changed to 15 amp (or less) to comply with the circuit having 14 gauge wire on it.
Another option is to replace the #14 cable with #12. This may be better since it is in a kitchen and obviously not dedicated for the fridge.

Next connect all the black wires together with a pigtail lead. Connect receptacle to the pigtail to one brass screw. Now do the same with the white wire connecting that to the silver screw.

As for your ground, I'm guessing that you have a metal box. When the receptacle is connected to the box, it will get the ground through the attachment screw. However, the receptacle may not be listed fro grounding this way. Your options are to use self grounding receptacles. Or using a standard receptacle, attach a wire lead to the metal box using the threaded hole in the box (if present) and a ground screw, or use a lead and a grounding clip. Then attach that to the green screw on the device.

Your big box "helper" is wrong. Never put two wires under one screw.

It may have been up to code at the time but #12 back stab receptacles were not around very long because they have even more issues with them. Since there was only one wire per hole/screw it may have been OK but IMO not a very good way to wire.
Old 02-10-09, 07:30 PM
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Shoot. The circuit is rated for 20 amps.

Yes we do in fact have metal boxes throughout the house.

I figured the big box "helper" was off his rocker.

I guess we're calling an electrician . . .

Thanks again.

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