How Is This Even Possible?

Helping a friend replace some of her 50-year-old failing receptacles today, I ran across this one which showed a reversed hot and neutral on the tester. Most of the wiring was run when the house was new in 1972; but her DIY “builder” hubby decided to forego Romex with ground and opted for all 12/2 with no ground. Yet he used receptacles with ground plugs, and yes, he did install them upside-down in harmony with his other insanity. This one next to a bath lavatory was apparently rewired later with 12/2 exterior UV cable. They left barely enough wire to reach the terminals on my new replacement receptacle. Apparently they gave up on trying to stretch the bare ground wire to the ground terminal on their receptacle, so they added another longer bare wire (from who knows where) to the ground screw. So what did they do with the short bare wire from the UV jacket? They landed it on the same side of the receptacle as the hot lead (on the NEUTRAL side, that is); and the neutral wire on the other side’s hot terminal. How is this even possible? It was operating a blow-dryer and other appliances. Why wasn’t this a dead short?

Are you sure the “ground” in the cable wasn’t being used as a hot to feed a receptacle downstream (or serving as the feed from one upstream)? Were you able to verify that it went to the ground bus in the panel?

I tucked the longer bare wire back out of the way. My instincts told me that the bare wire in the sheathing was probably a good ground: someone was just too lazy or inept to land the difficult short wire on the ground terminal. My suspicion was corroborated by the plug-in tester’s “GO” lights minutes later. I checked the potential from the hot terminal to the grounded screw in the middle of the faceplate, too, and got a good 125 volts. That said, I WILL be checking the connections in the basement panel tomorrow when I rework more of the mess. It’s a big house with a lot of steps.

The wires on the terminal are wrapped around the screws the wrong way while you’re at it.


It’s not a dead short because the wire in question is not a ground conductor or a grounded conductor. The easiest way to check it without going to the panel is simply to isolate the errant wire. Use a wiggy or DMM to check the wire to ground. Voltage shows the wire is hot. No other combinations show voltage? the wire is open.

I know. That’s always a dead giveaway for a DIY or a rookie :rofl:

The Klein tester and my Klein meters show that the bare wire is a grounded conductor.

I had assumed, perhaps erroneously, that your second picture showed a bare copper wire to the HOT screw. If not, how could there be a dead short as your post implies?

The bare copper ground wire and the hot wire are in direct connection with each other through the breakaway copper strip that joins the two screw terminals (which strip has not been removed).

The black is still the hot wire. It is just hooked to the wrong side. The tab appears to be intact, and therefore the bare ground is also hot. That means the bare ground likely does not go back to the ground buss. Unless I am totally misunderstanding your posts.

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FYI, a receptacle can be installed in any direction. there is no upside-down.
But usually residential they are installed with ground down, Commercial usually installed ground side up. But it really does not matter, sideways is also good.

The tab sure looks like it is right there

You and Ryan are correct. It is a different camera angle.
So, the hot wire and the ground wire should present a dead short at that location.

David, post the type of wire/cable please. THHN/THWN - NMD- NM-B or UF.
Was the bare ground conductor on the green receptacle screw n the jacket/sheathing or separate. If a separate ground conductor were was the bond?

If there’s anything I’ve learned as an apprentice is not everything is what it appears in electrical service work, especially when DIY work is found. I’d be curious to know where the UF cable originates. That will probably tell the story.

There was not a long enough part of the wire to read, but it appears to be UF-B 12/2 with ground. A longer bare ground wire had been patched in from an unknown location and attached to the green ground screw on the receptacle. I unscrewed that wire, got it out of the way, and used the short bare ground wire in the grey cable as the ground for my new receptacle. I landed the black and white wires on their correct terminals, after testing to make certain all polarities were copacetic. All is well now, as the little baby face of the upper outlet suggests.

Think of that awestruck little baby face as a coincidental yet unintended acknowledgement of your bravery and your quest for electrical knowledge while on your path toward making the world a safer place for all.

A grounded conductor is the neutral. The bare conductor should be the equipment grounding conductor.

So to recap when you installed the new receptacle you used the three conductors within the cable, the black=hot, white=neutral, and bare=EGC? Replacement receptacles are required to be AFCI protected in areas that require AFCI protection.

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Not only is it a grounding conductor; it is a grounded conductor, as proven by the 125 volts potential from it to the hot wire.

The EGC and the neutral are bonded together at the service disconnect by the MBJ so the voltage measured between the hot and the EGC should be the same as the hot and the neutral. They are however two completely different conductors in both function and design.

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