Neutral Wire Becomes Hot


Old 08-12-13, 08:27 PM
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Neutral Wire Becomes Hot

I have 2 outlets in my bedroom that stopped working. I found that the one outlet uses a pigtail and runs to the final outlet as there is only 1 white and 1 black wire at that outlet. I have power at the black wires. I at first thought I had a bad neutral connection so I decided to just replace the first outlet that was not working. After replacing I found that when I plugged in a lamp, it appeared to work, although flickering. I went to the second outlet and plugged in a clock radio and the time worked. I then proceeded to tape the new outlet connections with electrical tape. I then found that the outlet no longer worked again. I still had power at the black wire but when something was plugged in, I also had power at the neutral wire. I'm at a lost how power is coming in at both wires and not tripping any screw in fuse. Any suggestions?
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Old 08-12-13, 08:47 PM
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The flickering indicates likely a bad connection somewhere, either in that box or in an 'upstream' box.

How are you testing the hot/neutral for power? Your best bet is to use a neon tester and not a non-contact tester.
Old 08-12-13, 08:57 PM
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I'm using a non-contact tester. Why would a neon tester be better?
Old 08-12-13, 09:25 PM
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Welcome to the forums.

A non-contact tester only tells you whether ungrounded potential is present or not. It does not, and cannot, tell you anything about the condition of the grounded conductor (the neutral). Rather than your non-contact tester or the neon tester suggested earlier, you need to use a meter to determine what is really going on with any electrical circuit. An inexpensive analog multimeter is more than adequate and will not pick up induced voltage the way many digital meters will.

I'm at a lost how power is coming in at both wires and not tripping any screw in fuse.
When a circuit is closed and a load is connected, Potential is present on the grounded conductor, or neutral. We say power comes in on the ungrounded (hot) conductor and returns on the neutral but it actually flows each way on both of them, changing direction 60 times per second.

Screw-in fuses don't trip. They blow. Circuit breakers trip. Which do you have?

It sounds like you have a loose neutral connection. As Zorfdt said, it will be at the first dead receptacle or the last working one. See Troubleshooting a dead receptacle or light...
Old 08-12-13, 09:30 PM
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A non-contact tester was designed for only one purpose...... to let you know that there is dangerous voltage present.

In your case the non contact tester is telling you that you have power (hot) present. That we know to be correct. However... the non contact tester can't tell you that you don't have neutral. It doesn't recognize neutral.....only hot power.

You need an actually device to physically check for neutral. A neon tester would work but could give false results. An inexpensive analog meter or an inductive tester is really what is needed.

You will measure voltage from neutral to ground if the neutral is open or partially open.
Old 08-15-13, 08:52 AM
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If the neutral is broken upstream of the affected receptacle and something is plugged in and turned on further downstream on the circuit daisy chain, then the neutral at the affected receptacle can register as hot relative to ground.
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