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Why a Neutral Electrical Circuit Wire May Be Hot

Power went out in bathroom and I checked the circuit breaker, and the GFCI and it seems fine. When I investigated power and wiring in light switches and outlets, I found…


Causes of Neutral Wires to Have 120 Volt Readings

Question: Power went out in bathroom and I checked the circuit breaker, and the GFCI and it seems fine. When I investigated power and wiring in light switches and outlets, I found the ground (copper wire) and the neutral (white) has 120v.  Everything I have checked seems ok, even making sure the ground into the house looks good. What could be causing the copper ground and neutral wire be hot? Is there anything I need to check?

This electrical question came from: Daniel, a Handyman from Mount Vernon, Washington.
See more about Home Wiring for Washington

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical question Daniel.

Understanding Neutral Electrical Wires

Daniel, depending on the circuit wiring and the circuit components, it is common to get a 120 volt reading on a neutral wire that is tested to ground. Such is the case with a lighting circuit where there are fixtures with standard incandescent light bulbs. A 120 volt reading will be noticed if voltage tester leads are placed between either two hot wires or two neutral wire when the circuit is on and under load. (It is not recommended that this procedure is performed unless you understand what you are doing, because getting in the middle of any live circuit can cause an electrical shock which could be fatal.) Readings of 120 volts on a neutral may also be due to one leg of the electrical service or a circuit that has been lost, therefore a voltage feedback is occurring through other devices with the electrical circuit. When such conditions have been detected, it is best to contact a qualified electrical contractor who will identify the problem and then perform the necessary repairs.

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