Is this InterNACHI graphic correct?

I ask because it seems to be saying that the neutral is not hot. I thought of the three wires–hot, neutral, and ground–that the hot and neutral both were hot all the time. I’m thinking “the neutral wire” should be “the ground wire.”

The neutral is also call the grounded conductor.

The neutral is the grounded conductor and is not “hot”. There is no “ground” on the drop from the pole. All grounding on the line side of the service disconnect is accomplished by a connection to the neutral conductor. The graphic is correct but would be better if it also included the main bonding jumper.

So in the InterNACHI graphic, it appears to be saying that there are two hot wires in addition to the neutral. What are the two hot wires?
Although I have never been a licensed electrician, my granddad, dad, and three uncles were. I was always taught that “neutral” is a misnomer because it is hot, i.e., it carries current just like the “hot” wire.
I found the text in the attachment in a book by the American Power Conversion Corporation, apparently now called “APC by Schneider Electric.” It certainly seems to say to me that the neutral is a live “hot” wire.


The two hots are the incoming 120 volt legs off the transformer.

The neutral does carry current, but it is called the groundED conductor. You can receive a shock from a disconnected neutral.

Do those two hots have a name? I learned hot, neutral, and ground, and was taught not to touch a bare hot or neutral because they carry current, i.e, the two hots I learned were named “hot” and “neutral.”

Both of the 120 legs are called ungrounded or hot conductors.

So are there five wires, then? The two hot conductors, the hot, the neutral, and the ground? Something’s just not making sense here.

A normal overhead service consists of two hots and a neutral.

Grounding is done at the service panel. The utility also grounds their equipment, but this has nothing to do with a home inspection.

The graphic shows the drop with 3 conductors which is all that is needed for a 1Ø, 120/240 volt system to work. There are two “hot” or ungrounded conductors and one grounded or neutral conductors.

Now explain 3 phase������

Three hot legs and a neutral.

Yup, could be 3Ø WYE {208Y/120} or 3Ø, 4W Delta {240/120} or also a 480 volt system.

Look at the transformer drawing presented by Michael Larson. The 2 outside wires are the UNGRONDED conductors. Each has 120 volts on it. For the time being we will them L1 and L2. The two 120 volts are out of phase so if you measure from L1 to L2 you get 120 *2 = 240.

The middle conductor is the neutral and is usually grounded. However electrical current travels from a source, through the load (appliance, light bulb, etc), but must return to the source. The neutral is the return path. That why we call it a circuit: the path must be complete to have a current flow.

A bird sitting on a single hot wire with both feet (L1) will not get a shock because current does not flow through the bird. If that bird then move one foot so it comes in contact with the neutral, the bird will be cooked by 120 v. If instead, the bird had put his other foot on L2 he would have been cooked faster by 240 v.

If the neutral is the return path, then it is hot, correct?

The neutral carries current, but it is not referred to as a hot. It is grounded and serves as the reference to the hot legs.

Finally, someone admits that the neutral carries current and is not referred to as a hot. As I told my Clients for many decades, “neutral” is a misnomer because it certainly is “hot.”

The neutral is at ground potential in reference to the hots. It is not considered a hot as it is at ground potential. Measuring between ground and neutral should be zero volts. Measuring between hot to ground or hot to neutral should be 120 volts.

It difficult explaining all this without some sort of graphic aid. While the neutral is connected to ground it is not considered hot. If it were to break while you were holding it (and depending on which side of the break you are on), you may be in to an unpleasant experience, because the electric current needs to get back to its source and need a complete circuit (path) to do so. You holding on to the wrong side of the neutral just provided that path…through your body.

The use of the term a “hot conductor” means that it will have a potential to ground so if you touch a hot conductor while you’re grounded then there is a shock potential. Although the neutral is a current carrying conductor under normal conditions it is not a “hot conductor” because it’s potential to ground is zero and not a shock hazard. Realize that “hot conductor” is a slang term.