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  #1  
Old March 6th, 2006, 08:47 PM
chadg chadg is offline
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Using Ground as Neutral

OK, so switch lincs require a neutral. In two of my switch boxes I have no neutral. Just the load wire comming in and out. So, I connected the switchlinc neutral to the copper ground wire. It works just fine.

The copper grounds and the neutrals are both terminated to the same bus in my breaker box, so it does not seem like a bad idea? Seems like a hack, but how dangerous is it really?
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  #2  
Old March 6th, 2006, 08:58 PM
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Jim Doolittle Jim Doolittle is offline
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I am getting really good at providing just the info needed to do a good google search. I put in a few keywords and got http://www.epanorama.net/documents/g..._separate.html as first hit. I only started reading but will finish now.
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Old March 6th, 2006, 09:02 PM
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gcyeaw gcyeaw is offline
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Chadg,
It is quite dangerous.
If the ground wire were disconnected somewhere between the switch and the breaker panel (like when you are installing another switch or perhaps a poor connection or other fault) all of the grounded outlet boxes and terminals on the switch side will be connected to the hot side through the switch. Yes, the ground and common wires are terminated in the same place in the panel, but they have entirely different functions. The common wire is a current carrier and is insulated. The ground wire is for safety and should not carry current except in the case of a failure.

So, it will work, but you have set the stage for a potentially serious accident.

Gardner
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Old March 6th, 2006, 11:59 PM
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Madcodger Madcodger is offline
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So... What about a traveler wire?

I completely agree - using the ground is a VERY BAD idea and completely unsafe. But this brings up another question that applies to those of us moving to, say, Insteon and having certain types of 3-way switches. I don't mean to hijack this thread, but I think most everyone would agree on not using the ground as a neutral. So...

IF:
One needs a neutral at each switch (as is the case with all Insteon devices currently in production)
AND
Conversion of existing 3-way circuits results in the switch that carries the load (i.e., the "second" switch) having a white-color "hot" wire and a black-color return (a fairly common situation)
AND
the traveler wire (often red-color) is now essentially doing nothing

THEN

Why couldn't the red traveler wire (which runs directly from switch box one to switch box two) be repurposed as the neutral wire?

It seems logical to me, but I fried a new Insteon switch doing it, and can't figure out how. I ended up using an RX PLC X10 switch, one of the few that requires no neutral. I would rather go with Insteon on this circuit, however...

Ideas welcome! and Thanks.

Joe
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Old March 7th, 2006, 11:32 AM
chadg chadg is offline
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Humm... I see what you mean. Anyone have an easy way to correct this then? Looks like power goes to the light then just one two pair wire down to my switch. Do I have to run a new three wire from the light to my switch to get the neutral? Or can I run a wire from the socket below it, even though it is on a different circuit?


As for using the red traveler for a neutral, I don't see why not. You should label it as such though. Why I blew out your switch does not make sense. Are you sure you hooked the other end up to a neutral?

Last edited by chadg; March 7th, 2006 at 07:37 PM.
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Old March 7th, 2006, 10:11 PM
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gcyeaw gcyeaw is offline
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Chadq,
Using the neutral from a different circuit still presents a dangerous situation. Say someone trips the breaker on the second circuit, then opens the circuit to install a device. Once again, since the switch has active components, the HOT from the light circuit will energize the neutral lead through the switch. You or the unsuspecting electrician will be at risk. It is also against any electrical code. Your best bet is to run a new three wire cable from the light switch.

I know it stinks to have to go to so much trouble, but shortcuts can put you and your family at risk, and that just isn't worth it.

Gardner.
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  #7  
Old March 8th, 2006, 05:18 AM
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Madcodger Madcodger is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chadg
Humm... I see what you mean. Anyone have an easy way to correct this then? Looks like power goes to the light then just one two pair wire down to my switch. Do I have to run a new three wire from the light to my switch to get the neutral? Or can I run a wire from the socket below it, even though it is on a different circuit?


As for using the red traveler for a neutral, I don't see why not. You should label it as such though. Why I blew out your switch does not make sense. Are you sure you hooked the other end up to a neutral?
Well, there's always the chance that I goofed on something, but I'm normally very careful and I remember triple checking it with the meter. This one really has me stumped. I've done a lot or wiring over the years and I've never run into something that seems so simple yet just doesnt' seem to work. And I completely agree on the labeling - it's a pet peeve of mine when people don't do it. The hot wire coming into the second switch in question was NOT labeled as such, and gave me a fit for a minute or two because of it. There's some electrician out there that needs a thumping!
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Old March 8th, 2006, 09:53 AM
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Looks like you have gotten good pointers already.


From what I have learned when I installed a sub panel, you cannot bond neutral and ground in more than one place. That one place should be in your main panel.
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  #9  
Old March 8th, 2006, 05:16 PM
chadg chadg is offline
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Thanks, I guess it's off to Home Depot for some sheet rock and mud!
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  #10  
Old March 9th, 2006, 02:30 PM
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Ground & Neutral from Different Circuits?

I'm so glad I stumbled upon this thread since I have like four of these switches and I can't use them in the "new" house because the wiring is "old" - no neutrals in the switch boxes. But before I go buying the switches that don't need a neutral...

In several cases there is a switch with no neutral sharing a junction box with an outlet that DOES have a neutral. However, the outlet and switch are on different circuits. It would seem to me that, like bonding the ground and neutral, using the neutral from another circuit would work but be a bad idea. However, I cannot seem to figure why this would cause a problem.

The only problem I can see is if I trip the breaker for the switch circuit in order to do some wiring, I'd have to know to trip the other as well. But in the case of multiple circuits in one junction box, I'd never work in the box without all breakers off anyway.

Thoughts?

Thanks,
Jared
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Old March 9th, 2006, 03:22 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mycrobyte
Looks like you have gotten good pointers already.


From what I have learned when I installed a sub panel, you cannot bond neutral and ground in more than one place. That one place should be in your main panel.
Erm, you cannot bond neutral, also know as return or the black wire, to groud or earth in any place.

The neutral can carry the full mains voltage, the point of the earth or ground is the should an appliance go faulty it will cause it to blow the fuse. The other miner afterthought about having an earth is so you don't electricute yourself. where should we send flowers.

NEVER USE THE EARTH/GROUND AS A RETURN it don't pay off in the end Mate.
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  #12  
Old March 9th, 2006, 03:29 PM
Chiba
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gogs
NEVER USE THE EARTH/GROUND AS A RETURN it don't pay off in the end Mate.
I fully appreciate that, but it was not my question. Mine was - can I use the neutral on a DIFFERENT circuit than the switch?

Cheers,
Jared
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  #13  
Old March 9th, 2006, 04:08 PM
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sdanks sdanks is offline
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I'm going to make a statement, and you can correct me if I'm wrong.

My house is wired with three conductor wires. They are:

Black - Hot = 120 Volts
White - Neutral = ground potential
Bare - Ground = ground potential

When wiring the switches on an Insteon,
Insteon Bare Copper = Bare ground wire from wall
Insteon Black wire = Black wire from wall
Insteon White wire = White Neutral wire from wall
Insteon Red wire = Connects to the light(s)

Then the other wire to the light(s) connect to the white Neutral wire from the wall.

The way I remember it is, if you open up a wall or outlet box, the bare, white, or green wires are safe. All others can carry electricity and can hurt you. Provided that the outlet was wired right in the first place. You can buy a plugn device at most home improvement stores that will tell you if your wiring is right when you plug it in.

So, if you have 3 wires, Black, White, and Bare, you should be able to use the Insteon switches. Most newer homes in my area (like since the 70's) have been wired with Romex. Most have this wiring as standard in my area. Your mileage may vary.
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  #14  
Old March 9th, 2006, 07:02 PM
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gcyeaw gcyeaw is offline
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Just another note.
If there are ground fault devices in either circuit, they will probably trip if you use the wrong wires. What could be worse, maybe they wouldn't when they should. Another thing to consider is electrical code. Failure to comply cauld cause problems collecting insurance in the event of a resulting fire.

And even another situation, if the two circuits are on different phases in the panel which results in 220 volt differential between the two hot leads, or possably the hot and neutral in a box along the miswired circuit.

I understand the temptation, and I have done some pretty dumb things to make something work. But I always go back correct it as soon as possable. I'm in no way suggesting you do the same (small print fast talking disclaimer)

To repeat Gogs,
Where do the flowers get sent?

Gardner
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  #15  
Old March 9th, 2006, 07:21 PM
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Michael McSharry Michael McSharry is offline
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Chiba,
I don't know about the code, but I believe you are OK with this electrically. I'm not licensed to provide this advice so you are on you own.

n essence what you have done is run two hot lines with a single neutral. You will derate your two breakers so that either will trip on 50% of the expected load so not to overload the neutral. The next owner will be upset with the breakers tripping and will install a full-rated breaker unknowing that your wiring is not up to snuff on the two circuits.

If you started with 12Gauge/20Amp then you will need to change your breaker to 10Amp. Of course if you are using near 10 Amps on either of these circuits then you will be tripping breakers.

What makes more sense is to carry both the hot and neutral rather than just the neutral from your other location.
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  #16  
Old March 9th, 2006, 07:27 PM
Chiba
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Ok - points are very well taken. It's either a no-neutral switch or I rewire to bring in a neutral.

Thanks for the feedback!

- Jared
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  #17  
Old March 9th, 2006, 09:49 PM
kepartin kepartin is offline
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You can only (by code) share the neutral with two hot wires if the two hot circuits are on different phases. I had an inspector out and he caught me on this. Fortunately that was not what he was there to inspect, so he just mentioned it to me and let it go (after I promised to fix it).

This is actually not an uncommon situation. In my situation I was running 12/3 with ground - a red hot, a black hot, a shared white return, and ground. I had both hot wires terminating into 20 amp breakers on the same phase -- potentially subjecting the return to 40 amps of current. I guess derating the breakers would reduce the risk, but it would still violate the code.
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  #18  
Old March 9th, 2006, 10:21 PM
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gcyeaw gcyeaw is offline
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Michael,
You are correct in the fact that it will work. The issue is the safety of anyone working on the electrical system and potential hazards. If you ignore the electrical code you introduce conditions that may put people at risk of shock or even death. The person responsable for the situation may have passed on, and the new person (maybe your wifes new boyfriend?) could be seriously injured by the unpredictable design. (maybe you would approve of that) However, The main concern is that the built in safety of GFI circuits, etc could be compromised. I would hate to hear that one of your children was injured due to a failure of a GFI circuit, say in the bathroom.
The final lesson here is, don't fool around with the safety of your family for something as unimportant as home automation.

I know, I sound like I am preaching here, but i am fully aware of the consequences of ignoring published safety standards, and it isn't worth the consequences.

Gardner
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  #19  
Old March 10th, 2006, 02:01 PM
General Patton General Patton is offline
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I know that a lot of older construction does not have a neutral in the switchbox but how common is this in new construction? Is it common practice now to have a neutral in the switchbox.

We are going to be moving this year and will probably be going the new construction route.


Thanks,
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Old March 10th, 2006, 03:11 PM
chrkov chrkov is offline
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Well, it all depends. Most electricians only run what need to be run. So a basic switch doesnt require a Neutral so to a switchbox that is not a junction point, you very well might not get a neutral. My brother had a house built last year and wants to do the automation stuff. So I told him to tell his electrician to run neutrals to every box in the house. They did do this and it was really pennies to do.
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