Outlet wiring, need quick help loose neutrals.

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  #1  
Old 11-15-13, 03:17 PM
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Outlet wiring, need quick help loose neutrals.

I was trying to replace a 2 prong outlet. Pulled it out of the wall (with power off to that circuit) and noticed it had 2 neutrals and 2 hots connected to it. There was another hot wire passing thru the box. (I should have realized it was a multiwire branch circuit).


When I pulled the outlet out the 2 neutrals came right out of the backstab holes, very loose. Power to an adjacent circuit went out. I quickly turned that breaker off as well and proceeded to install new outlet.

I pigtailed the neutral wires to the new outlet and connected the pigtail to one screw. I then connected each hot to the two brass screws. (I did not pigtail the hots).


Hopefully I didnt damage anything on the other circuit when the neutrals came loose. THe TV and computer that were plugged into that other circuit shut off. After I restored power they appear to be fine.

Should I have pigtailed the two blacks as well or is this sufficient?

What was going to be an easy outlet changed quickly became more involved
 
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  #2  
Old 11-15-13, 03:46 PM
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I would have pigtailed the blacks as well, but what you did is fine.

You didn't cause any problems because you had one breaker off of the multi-wire circuit. If you had them both on and you opened the neutral you would have surely burned up some stuff.
 
  #3  
Old 11-15-13, 03:59 PM
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So the hots on each screw are passing thru the outlet so if that outlet came out of the circuit while live (obviously I wont be doing that) I would lose power on just the circuit its on. But since the neutrals are pigtailed, in that case I wouldnt loose power or fry the other circuit?

I hope I did this correctly, I never anticipated this happening changing a simple outlet.
 
  #4  
Old 11-15-13, 05:17 PM
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I hope I did this correctly, I never anticipated this happening changing a simple outlet.
It sounds like you did fine. If this is where the two circuits split, I believe the NEC requires the neutral conductors to be pigtailed.
 
  #5  
Old 11-15-13, 05:37 PM
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Thanks for the words of encouragement. I have never had to make a pigtail connection anywhere besides in light fixtures.

I used an ideal yellow wingnut, spliced 3/8" off each wire as per the directions on the package. Did not pretwists (package said I was ok there too). I twisted very hard until my wrist hurt and formed 3 spirals on the wires. Tugging the nut seemed secure.

Now that I realize that connection supports the power in half of my house pretty much and the fact that those neutrals are shared I am very nervous.


PS--

Would I have gotten shocked if I touched the loose neutrals as I removed the yoke from the box?
 

Last edited by rards; 11-15-13 at 06:51 PM.
  #6  
Old 11-15-13, 06:56 PM
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Would I have gotten shocked if I touched the loose neutrals as I removed the yoke from the box?
Possibly you could have if anything on the other circuit had been turned on. The neutral being common to both circuits means it is the common return of current for both circuits.
 
  #7  
Old 11-15-13, 07:35 PM
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Possibly you could have if anything on the other circuit had been turned on. The neutral being common to both circuits means it is the common return of current for both circuits.
Well im very fortunate then, like i said i had a tv, pc and lamp switched on the other circuit.

Im even more freaked out now.

Is it sloppy work that I didnt pigtail the hot conductors when rewiring?
 
  #8  
Old 11-16-13, 03:11 AM
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It is not sloppy. You can pigtail the hots if it would make you feel better.
 
  #9  
Old 11-16-13, 04:44 AM
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I was using a functional non-contact volt test to check the wires before touching them. How come it didnt detect voltage on the neutrals when I had the TV and other stuff running on the other circuit?

Tolyn said I didnt damage the TV since I had the one circuit off. THe TV did shut off when the neutrals were completely disconnected, why? Lower voltage, higher voltage?

As loose as neutrals were in the outlet backstabs I did not see any signs of arcing on the device. I wonder why that is?

If I didnt find this connection, what would have likely occured (symptoms etc) if I left it unchecked?
 
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Old 11-16-13, 06:10 AM
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Non contact testers work best on the ungrounded conductor (hot). In general though non contact testers are not reliable. They often can show power when in fact there is really no power. A multimeter, preferably analog, is much better and can be bought for $8-$15. A cheap digital multimeter can look sexy but may not be able to reject induced voltages.
 
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Old 11-16-13, 07:18 AM
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Tolyn said I didnt damage the TV since I had the one circuit off. THe TV did shut off when the neutrals were completely disconnected, why? Lower voltage, higher voltage?
Because you opened the circuit. The TV lost the return path to the panel. No complete circuit, no work.

If I didnt find this connection, what would have likely occured (symptoms etc) if I left it unchecked?
Sooner or later the circuit would have failed on its own and opened. Bad thing is loose connections are what cause heat and fires. Back-stabbed devices are infamous for loose connections.
 
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Old 11-16-13, 07:36 AM
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As loose as neutrals were in the outlet backstabs I did not see any signs of arcing on the device. I wonder why that is?
Consider yourself fortunate that you had no evidence of arcing. Arcing could have happened with a higher load; the more load you have, the more arcing and increased severity of the arcing that could occur. Arcing generally is sparking and sparking starts fires.
 
  #13  
Old 11-16-13, 08:16 AM
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Can someone explain to me the reasoning that NEC calls for the neutrals to be pigtailed in a multiwire branch circuit but its not neccessary for the hot conductors? ... like the way I wired it.

I didnt put the hots into a pigtail as I thought it would be easier 'for me' to get it back into the box neatly the way I did it....
 
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Old 11-16-13, 09:12 AM
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The reasoning is that a "real" splice is more reliable then a relying on a device for the splice. If a neutral fails on a multi-wire circuit you will have 240 volts across the circuit. If a hot fails, that circuit just doesn't work because it is not a complete circuit.

These type of wire connectors help when pig-tailing devices: In-Sure™ Push-In Wire Connectors
 
  #15  
Old 11-17-13, 05:55 AM
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THanks, I understand now.

Everything appears to work fine. THe only thing I still have anxiety about is the splice (knowing how important it is esp. in this situation).

Ive been reading that pretwisting the wires before inserting the nut is the perfered method, I didnt do that though.... I did follow the directions on the package that was it. Should I be redoing this connection with pretwisting since its a multiwire branch circuit??

I did the following:

I used an ideal yellow wingnut, spliced 3/8" off each wire as per the directions on the package. Did not pretwists (package said I was ok there too). I twisted very hard until my wrist hurt and formed 3 spirals on the wires. Tugging the nut seemed secure.
 
  #16  
Old 11-17-13, 06:13 AM
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I always pre-twist but it is not required.

By your description of how you made the splice, and checked it, it sounds like your splice is solid. I think you can rest easy.
 
  #17  
Old 11-17-13, 07:07 AM
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I always pre-twist but it is not required.

By your description of how you made the splice, and checked it, it sounds like your splice is solid. I think you can rest easy.
Thanks again for the encouragement. (and for not telling me to open the boxes again and redo the splices with pretwisting). Ive never twisted wires before with pliers so I feared I would weaken the conductors if did so here. So inexperienced homeowners are the ones that dont pretwist and the electricians are the ones that do.... that doesnt make me feel any better.

This whole situation caused me alot of anxiety this weekend, my intentions were good though, I wanted a grounded outlet and surely what I did to fix it was better than leaving the two backstabbed neutrals to fester in the back of a 50 year old outlet. There was a moment there when I saw the 4 wires connected to it that I almost pushed it back into the wall to take care of it at a later time.
 
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Old 11-17-13, 09:48 AM
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There is no need to pre twist before installing a wire nut.
 
  #19  
Old 11-17-13, 11:14 AM
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Your surely thinking that I am nuts now, but I have a few more questions....

Im 99% positive this was a multiwire branch circuit.

However, what would occur if it was instead a split recepticle. 2 circuits (2 seperate neutrals/hots) connected to this?

The breaker would have tripped immedietly when I restored power to the new outlet, right ?

The reason I am confused, I was looking at the old outlet. It was a 2 prong Hubbell circa 1950. It only had 1 (one) screw on each side and 2 backstab holes on each side. I dont see a tab and I thought, I hope it wasnt removed and this was a split outlet!!! I would guess this old recepticle wouldnt have that option since there is only one terminal screw (but 2 backstabs)?

Also, in regards to multiwire branch circuits.... seems I have a few in the house.

If I ever had to shut down one circuit of a multiwire branch circuit in a pinch, its still OK to use the other circuit right? Or would both circuits have to be shutdown?
 
  #20  
Old 11-17-13, 03:41 PM
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Both hots should be shut off to eliminate any current on the neutral. Current code calls for linked breakers to ensure both are off.
 
  #21  
Old 11-17-13, 04:58 PM
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Both hots should be shut off to eliminate any current on the neutral. Current code calls for linked breakers to ensure both are off.
I understand about the breaker ties for the unsuspecting etc and making sure both are off if your going to open the neutral for maintence. However, say there was an issue on one of the circuits that called for me to turn it off until it could be repaired.

Can the other circuit continue to be used with the other one off?

also,

Looking further into my setup, I believe most of the 120 circuits in my house are multi wire branch circuits.

Should I think of this as a deficiency?

If you been following along, is there any wiring configuration where I would have made a novice mistake and that this is not a MWBC?

(again in the box there was 2 whites, and 2 hots at outlet. Hots deenergized with one breaker off. There was a third hot in the box passing thru (not spliced in the box) and that was on the other circuit. WIth only one breaker off disconnecting the neutrals/whites from the outlet shut off power on the other circuit..... I rewired with the two neutrals pigtailed to new outlet and the 2 hots as orginially connected to old outlet. )
 

Last edited by rards; 11-17-13 at 06:24 PM.
  #22  
Old 11-17-13, 07:34 PM
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I do not consider a MWBC as a deficiency. The are effective and save material. Your house service is one large MWBC.

If both breakers are linked they would both be off. If one wire was removed from the breaker or they were not linked the circuit would work.
 
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Old 11-17-13, 08:28 PM
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If I ever had to shut down one circuit of a multiwire branch circuit in a pinch, its still OK to use the other circuit right?
Yes.

As was already stated, when you start to work on that circuit, turn off the other circuit sharing the neutral too.
 
  #24  
Old 11-18-13, 06:05 AM
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Care to venture a guess if maybe I have overthunk this situation and its not a MWBC?

Since I have all MWBC's, should I be looking into the other boxes around the house for multiple neutrals on outlets and pigtailing those as well?

Is it uncommon that the bundled neutrals were in a device box instead of a junction box without a device?

There was one other outlet I changed on the 3 wire circuit in question, it had 2 neutrals connected to it. I think it was just feeding them thru in the standard way. I went ahead and pigtailed the neutrals there as well since I am freaked out by what I am reading about damage from loose/lost neutrals.
 
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Old 11-18-13, 06:50 AM
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Is it uncommon that the bundled neutrals were in a device box instead of a junction box without a device?
A device box is a junction box, no difference.
 
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Old 11-18-13, 07:00 AM
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Care to venture a guess if maybe I have overthunk this situation and its not a MWBC?
Perhaps a little.

Since I have all MWBC's, should I be looking into the other boxes around the house for multiple neutrals on outlets and pigtailing those as well?
The only ones really necessary to be tied are where the two circuits split. If you can find them, it wouldn't be a bad idea to pigtail those neutrals.

Is it uncommon that the bundled neutrals were in a device box instead of a junction box without a device?
My opinion is that it would be more common and preferable to find these neutrals in a device box. In planning and laying out the wiring in a house, I would try to eliminate all junction boxes from the attic that eventually would be covered with insulation and nearly impossible to ever find again.

There was one other outlet I changed on the 3 wire circuit in question, it had 2 neutrals connected to it. I think it was just feeding them thru in the standard way. I went ahead and pigtailed the neutrals there as well since I am freaked out by what I am reading about damage from loose/lost neutrals.
IF this is after the two circuits have been split, it is perfectly acceptable to feed through the device with both hot wires and neutrals, that is why there are two screws on each side of the device and also why 15A rated devices are rated for 20A feed-through. In a perfect world the wires would be pigtailed at all device boxes and that would be the best practice, but that would rarely be found in a home. Residential work, whether it be electrical, plumbing or carpentery is extremely competitive. A competitive contractor cannot wrap up a lot of extra labor that isn't required in every job he does.
 
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Old 11-18-13, 07:29 AM
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Care to venture a guess if maybe I have overthunk this situation and its not a MWBC?
Perhaps a little.
"Perhaps a little"? Please explain.
 
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Old 11-18-13, 08:10 AM
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Care to venture a guess if maybe I have overthunk this situation and its not a MWBC?
Perhaps a little.
"Perhaps a little"? Please explain.
Perhaps you have overthought this whole thing a little more than necessary.
 
  #29  
Old 11-18-13, 08:47 AM
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casualjoe wrote:

Perhaps you have overthought this whole thing a little more than necessary.

I was refering to the circuit, not my inquiries in general. But OK, I can understand this. I guess my concerns are just second nature to someone experienced with wiring such as yourself.

My intentions in posting was just make sure I have a safe situation here and didnt make mistakes doing something I have never done before... I hope I didnt breach any standard etiquete on this forum.

Thanks again to everyone.
 
  #30  
Old 11-19-13, 05:26 AM
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I probably shouldnt post again but I want to understand how this is wired.

In addition to the box where the connection was, there are 2 other outlet boxes in the room which both only had 14/2 in them. There is also a ceiling light which I didnt take down. It appears the two outlets get wires from the ceiling (or elsewhere) as opposed to feeding thru to each other.

How is the room likely wired?

What I was asking before about overthinking the situation was I wanted to assure this was indeed a shared neutral (MWBC) and not miswired (or correctly) some other way that I may not have realized.
 
  #31  
Old 11-19-13, 05:40 AM
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Older homes were wired from ceiling boxes down to the receptacle. Today it is more common to see everything wired in a daisy chained manner.
 
  #32  
Old 11-19-13, 05:48 AM
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Thankis pcboss, so the junction for those other two outlets are in the ceiling likely...


Im still wondering if I missed something else and this setup I describe might NOT be a multiwire branch circuit?

Or the simple fact that 2 neutrals were backstabbed. With the power off to one circuit, removing the neutrals turned off power on another circuit prooves that is?

Is that necessarily a multiwire branch circuit?


Again thanks for the bandwith, I appreciate all of your time.
 
  #33  
Old 11-19-13, 07:45 AM
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You might have had a circuit that had both a constant hot and a switched hot or a MWBC. Either way breaking the neutral disrupts the complete path needed for the circuit to work.
 
  #34  
Old 11-19-13, 09:30 AM
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You might have had a circuit that had both a constant hot and a switched hot or a MWBC. Either way breaking the neutral disrupts the complete path needed for the circuit to work.
When you say "switched hot" I assume that means a split recepticle with power from different circuits at each outlet of the duplex (by removing the tab between the two). Although the recepticle was ancient (and had only one screw per side but 2 backstabs per side... I dont see a tab to remove!) I dont think that was the case...

There was no power to either hot on the outlet with only one circuit off. A 3rd ungrounded conductor (which was live with only 1 circuit off)passed thru the same box. Because it wasnt spliced in the same box is why I am so confused if this was a MWBC or not....

Have I worn out my welcome yet?
 
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Old 11-19-13, 09:39 AM
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The switched hot could still be part of the same circuit as the constant hot. The only difference is there is a switch to control the one leg.

The red that splices through could be part of a MWBC if it uses the same neutral as another circuit.
 
  #36  
Old 11-20-13, 05:47 PM
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I was thinking about this again today (yes still thinking)....

If there was only two white/neutrals connected to the outlet, does that mean that outlet would be the only one "sharing" a neutral?

Or should there be 3 neutral conductors in this equation?.. the one going to the panel and one for each of the two circuits?

I really would appreciate some assistance sorting this out once and for all. And as always, thanks for your time in reading.
 
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Old 11-20-13, 05:59 PM
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Two whites at a receptacle along with two blacks would most commonly be power in and power continuing out to another part of the circuit.
 
  #38  
Old 11-20-13, 06:17 PM
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If this was the junction where a MWBC split the neutral, there would be 3 white conductors then I think? 1 to panel. and 1 for each shared circuit?
 

Last edited by rards; 11-20-13 at 07:00 PM.
  #39  
Old 11-20-13, 06:58 PM
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The best way to see if this is a MWBC is to see if one cable has both a black, a red and a white all in the same sheath. The same could be true on a conduit leaving the panel.
 
  #40  
Old 11-20-13, 07:11 PM
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The panel is below this box fed with conduit.

In that pipe, there is a ungrounded red passing thru the box from the panel that feeds one circuit. There is another black from panel (different circuit) going to outlet in the box. The other black on the outlet goes up to the ceiling fixture that feed the other outlets in the room.

There is also a white in the conduit from the panel with the both ungrounded conductors. It is connected to the other neutral that the red wire feeds.

So essentially, the outlet in this one box has 2 black wires from one circuit, a white that is connected to the other circuit and another white going back to the panel.

I apologize, this thread probably makes no sense (that is if anyone is even following along!)
 
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