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I keep finding outlets in my house that are wired in ways I've never seen.

Today's find is an outlet in a bedroom with 4 hots and 4 neutrals. All connected to one outlet using the push-in connectors. It's not a switched outlet, so all one circuit.

Is this bad? Acceptable?

If acceptable, how should I put in the new outlet but not have to rely on push-ins? Can I twist two of each together then attach those pairs to each post? Should I pigtail?

My hunch is that this particular outlet is being used to branch circuits into the bathroom next door.

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Please supply more info: What is the gauge of the wires? What kind of box are the cables in? Add a photo if possible. –  Jeremy W. Sherman Sep 9 '12 at 3:06
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1 Answer

up vote 8 down vote accepted

The receptacle manufacturer should document how many wires can be put where. In general, if there are screws, you can use at most one wire per screw. For quickwire/backwire holes, you can only use one wire per hole, and further, that one wire can only be 14 gauge. Previously, 12 and 14 gauge were allowed for quickwiring, but not any more. The only kind of receptacle where you can directly attach a whole bunch of wires are those where the screws tighten down a bar onto another bar. Then, you stick stripped wires between the two bars and tighten the top one down to clamp them between the two bars; you can run quite a few through there.

Another limiting factor is box sizes. Boxes have a fixed wiring volume, and there are rules for working out the minimum volume box needed to accommodate a given number of wires, devices, and clamps. Assuming you're working with 14 AWG grounded cable, I'd expect the box to accommodate 4 hot + 4 neutral + 1 device + ground wires, so 10 wire volumes, and 14 AWG is 2 cubic inches per wire, so you'd need a 20 cubic inch box. That's a bit on the large size for a box holding a single receptacle, but there are boxes and box configurations (box + mud ring) that would accommodate that many wires, so it's not unreasonable.

As for wiring everything together, you should pigtail everything and then hook up the pigtails to the receptacle. The pigtail presents a single wire for slipping under the screw terminal. Remember to wind the J-hook you'll slip around the screw in the direction that you'll turn the screw to tighten it, so down on the left side and up on the right side.

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If the box is too small to be safe, it could be replaced with a double box of the right overall dimension. Old work boxes can be inserted and secured in existing walls fairly easily. Then a second outlet could be added, giving four points to plug in. Much safer that octopus adapters. –  bib Sep 9 '12 at 2:08
    
Thanks Jeremy. Everything was 14 gauge (15 amp circuit). These are decent outlets I'm using to replace (leviton) so decide to go ahead and put 4 on the posts, 4 on the push-ins. It'll do for now. If we stay in this home long enough, I think that bath will be gutted and I'll then run a separate circuit for the bath. –  DA01 Sep 9 '12 at 5:48
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Modern code requires a dedicated 20 A bathroom receptacle circuit. That way, if your mondo hair dryer trips the GFCI or overloads the circuit, you don't lose your lights. Also, any receptacles within 6 ft of a bathroom sink, even through walls (so raw 6 ft radius ignoring partitions), should be GFCI protected. –  Jeremy W. Sherman Sep 9 '12 at 20:56
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