Polarity of outlets on 2 conductor wiring (old) homes

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Old 06-09-15, 03:15 PM
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Polarity of outlets on 2 conductor wiring (old) homes

Hi all. Well this story could stretch for paragraphs and paragraphs, here is the question with a brief explanation.
My mom passed on last year at 94, she had been in the family home for 70+ years, and had a great life (was driving til she was 93!).
So we are selling the house and of course the old homestead is all 2 conductor.
Potential buyer had an inspection done (it is an estate sale so there are a lot of exceptions made as far as what needs to be disclaimed, etc is what I was told, can be sold as-is).
But a lot of the inspection is really nonsense.
One thing I think is nonsense is they claim some outlets are reverse polarity, can there even be reverse polarity on a 2 conductor wiring system? I assume they plugged something in to the individual outlets, but if you plug something in (two prong in to 2 prong), it works either way so is there a possibility to hook the wires up backwards and have it come out reverse somehow? I imagine it would be a simple fix if it is reversed, just swap wires.
 
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Old 06-09-15, 03:56 PM
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It is possible and mistakes are made everyday regarding wiring of receptacles.

Purchase some 2 prong receptacles, they are available. When installing, hot wire (black) will go to brass or darker terminal (shorter slot looking at front).
Neutral wire (white) will go to silver or lighter terminal (longer slot looking at front).
 
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Old 06-09-15, 06:22 PM
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Thanks Brian, I guess the question is, technically, does it matter if they are hooked up reversed? Since a 2 prong plug can be inserted either way and the device (lamp, can open, any old item with 2 prongs) will work just fine, does the polarity matter?
 
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Old 06-09-15, 07:15 PM
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If your receptacles have a long and short slot, it does matter, occasionally, but you don't want to experience that occasion. Old appliances could have one side connected to the metal chassis. When reversed, that's 120 volts on the chassis of that old appliance.

But it is a simple fix, for you or the new owners and since the new owners will probably remodel with all new wiring, let them decide.

Bud
 
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Old 06-09-15, 07:17 PM
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I guess the question is, technically, does it matter if they are hooked up reversed? Since a 2 prong plug can be inserted either way and the device (lamp, can open, any old item with 2 prongs) will work just fine, does the polarity matter?
Yes, it matters for reason of safety. Even in ungrounded receptacles you can have polarized plugs on devices such as lamps. That is for safety so the shell is connected to neutral and the tab to hot.
 
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Old 06-10-15, 06:39 AM
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Yes it does matter if you have polarized receptacles, but I doubt the home inspector tested the receptacles with the proper procedure to be able to tell the difference. A plug-in style tester cannot determine polarity on a 2 wire circuit. To correctly determine, you need to drag around a grounded extension cord from a known-good ground, usually wired right off the main panel. Then you can use a multimeter to test between the receptacle slots and the known-good ground from the extension cord to verify proper polarity. The wide slot on the receptacle should be at or close to zero volts from the cord ground, and the narrow slot should be at or close to 120V from the ground.

If all of the receptacles are 70 years old, they may not be polarized in which case it does not matter which side is hot and neutral. If you do replace any of the very old receptacles with new NEMA 1-15 (ungrounded two-wire) receptacles, it will matter to get the polarity right.

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Old 06-10-15, 04:49 PM
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I guess that was the point I was not stressing and didn't fully understand how to even explain, yes these are really old outlets and are not the polarized type, both openings are the same size.

Being more of a car guy I guess AC circuits are a bit befuddling, how can you plug in something either way and have the same result? With cars, something simple as a light bulb will work either way, but any type of radio or electric motor you are looking at major problems when you hook things up backwards!
 
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Old 06-10-15, 05:00 PM
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After you have fixed the other action items, minus the working non-polarized 2 prong receptacles with the same shade of brass screws on both sides, report back on what was fixed. In that (preferably written) report, you declare that the receptacles are now correctly wired which they are.

AC electronics and appliances will function correctly regardless of which way the plug is inserted, when the plug fits. The safety hazard from being plugged in "backwards" is very small. Even the socket shell of a light fixture is not (should not) be easily touched. (Some audio electronics in some homes may give off less undesirable hum and noise if you reverse the plug in the receptacle.)
 

Last edited by AllanJ; 06-10-15 at 05:16 PM.
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Old 06-10-15, 05:29 PM
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There are no action items, the inspector we think must be new at it (or maybe never inspected a house this old), brought up a lot of dumb things that made no sense, this being one of them. House is part of the estate and the legalities are pretty different in most states, but the prospective buyer (who made a offer on the house already at a reduced price) wanted the inspection done, we think in an effort to get it even less. We aren't budging, we have others interested in the house so if the buyer doesn't like it, they can walk and we keep the earnest money.
As far as what needs to be disclosed and any type of warranty, all goes out the window in an estate sale, it is sold strictly "as-is", so there are a LOT of things that meet no code but do not need to be brought to code at all in an estate sale.

The family really thought it was entirely possible someone might just buy it for the lot it is on (and raze the house and build new), it is a desirable area and this was one of if not "the" oldest homes in a few block area. My mom was smart, when she bought it the lot was huge and actually sold off 3 lots to pay off her own mortgage, and her lot is still bigger than any of the other lots, has a home and big back yard and detached garage (which was actually built right after WW2, she decided to have it finished inside to be used for housing for returning GIs on the GI Bill going to college so that was another income source for her. She lost her husband in WW2 and was struggling to make ends meet with 3 young girls (my older half sisters), it was really hard for her but has a happy ending when she met my dad.

PS it's a desirable area NOW, back in the 40s it was next to the town dump, LOL
 
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Old 06-11-15, 03:01 AM
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Just a question. If they took it down, would the remaining lot be big enough to be subdivided? Just a selling point.

Bud
 
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Old 06-11-15, 04:00 AM
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You need to remember, the inspector is the agent of the buyer, and his job is to find as much as he can to assist in reducing the selling price. What he probably didn't know was the estate sale clauses in your area. I would not let the receptacles be a stumbling block, nor a worry. It worked just fine for 70 years, let the new owner rewire the house to bring it up to code if they want. What may happen, code wise, if you go into the wiring for any reason, it could be grounds for YOU to bring it up to code, so leave it alone.
 
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Old 06-11-15, 04:37 AM
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Yes, you have the right to not fix anything and let the buyer make the next move. You have not backed out of the deal by not fixing things. If an inspection report was not satisfactory to the buyer due to items that are not truer, the buyer would not have the right to back out of the deal for that reason.
 
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Old 06-11-15, 06:35 AM
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how can you plug in something either way and have the same result?
In an AC circuit (alternating current), the direction of the current flow reverses direction 60 times per second unlike DC where it always flows the same direction. Because the current is always changing direction, it really doesn't matter which line is which from an electrical circuit point of view. From a safety point of view there is some improved safety from having the neutral on the correct pole due to technical reasons regarding the way residential services are grounded.
 
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Old 06-11-15, 02:22 PM
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The buyer decided to drop the request for any repairs (still think it was a ploy to get the price dropped but my sister did not budge), closing June 30!
 
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Old 06-11-15, 04:07 PM
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Excellent! Thanks for letting us know.
 
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