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I've been replacing outlets in a bedroom in the house I just bought. The outlet near the floor, near the light switch in this bedroom has 3 hots, 3 neutrals, and 1 ground run to it. It's an older outlet with 12-gauge wiring and 2 hots and 2 neutrals are pushed into the back quick-connect spots and 1 of each is on the corresponding terminal screw on either side of the outlet. Ground is, of course, attached to the ground terminal screw.

That being said, my new outlet back push-in terminals only accept 14-gauge wire, so I can't hook it up the same way. That being said, is this the correct approach?

  • 3 neutrals and neutral pigtail to wire nut; pigtail to neutral terminal screw
  • 3 hots and hot pigtail to wire nut; pigtail to hot terminal screw
  • 1 ground to ground terminal screw

There are no switched outlets in the room, by the way.

Thanks!!

  • 1
    Off topic: You'd be advised to not use the push-in (stab) connectors even when they do fit. They're known to be unreliable. – isherwood Dec 6 '16 at 20:02
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    I'd call that "on-topic" and I'd agree, even with correct wire size, those stab connectors are a reliability nightmare and occasionally burn up a receptacle. Strip a little more wire, bend it into a shepherd's crook, and use the side screw terminals. Or use better outlets with "screw and clamp" where you stick it in a hole directly behind the side screw, then tighten the side screw to clamp it down. handymanhowto.com/electrical-outlets-side-wire-versus-back-wire – Harper Dec 6 '16 at 20:55
  • Just to be clear - is it 12AWG copper wire? – J... Dec 7 '16 at 2:40
  • Yes, that's the correct approach. The question that remains is, is it a tamper-proof (AFCI or GFCI - if required) receptacle? As I understand it, pretty much every 'new' outlet in your house has to be, or be protected by a breaker, that's one or the other and be a tamper-proof outlet. – Mazura Dec 7 '16 at 4:22
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Whenever you see neutrals pigtailed, leave it that way. The circuit might be a MWBC or "multi-wire branch circuit".**

Here, the more likely reason is they're using this box as a junction. It's a good practice, and most receptacles don't have 3 attachment points. (you can use the back wires, OR the screw terminals, not both at once.)

In fact, don't use "back stabs" at all (where you push the wire in and it grabs). The mechanism is cheap and horrible (there are 4 on a 60-cent socket, hello). They frequently fail, causing internal arcing, and they burn and melt the receptacles and the wire.

Do Not get clever and pigtail a 14 AWG wire to the receptacle. As long as all the wire in the circuit is 12 AWG, you can use a 20A breaker. If even a single inch of 14 AWG is part of the circuit, you must use a 15A breaker.

Actually you can go the other way and upgrade the receptacle to 20A. As a rule, those tend to be the higher quality receptacles in the $3-4 range.

enter image description here

And those better receptacles often have a feature called "screw-and-clamp". It has back-holes, but they are directly behind the side screws, and tightening the side-screw is the force that clamps the wire. These are fine. Here's a page on the difference.

(by the way, 15A receptacles are rated 20A internally by UL requirement; they are only constrained to 15A per socket).


** An MWBC is an efficient way to add a second 120V circuit with only one more wire; sharing neutral and ground. Since the neutral is shared, pigtailing is vital so changing an outlet doesn't interrupt the other circuit's neutral. New MWBC circuits must have a maintenance shut-off that disables all circuits; but "belt and suspenders" as they say.

  • ...as long as the wire in the circuit is 12 AWG copper you have a 20A circuit. If it's old wiring, 12AWG might very well be aluminum for a 15A circuit - doubly awful for the back-stab connectors, and definitely requiring careful and special treatment when reconnecting. – J... Dec 7 '16 at 2:39
  • @J... good point, but given the pop knowledge of the horrors of AL wiring, I tend to assume handy people are on the lookout and would mention it. 20A wiring in receptacle circuits doesn't surprise me though. – Harper Dec 7 '16 at 3:19
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That should be just fine. I assume that you have power dropping in from the switch box or elsewhere, and the circuit branches both ways to runs of outlets. Could also be that one pair is the supply to the light.

In any case, it's likely that what you're describing is a good approach. You could reduce the bundles to 3 conductors each if you make use of both outlet screws. Some folks don't like to rely on the tabs for continuity, but I've never seen a problem doing so.

  • you can't use the tabs for continuity on a MWBC – ThreePhaseEel Dec 6 '16 at 23:21
  • I guess I didn't have reason to believe that this is a MWBC, but thanks for the clarification. – isherwood Dec 7 '16 at 15:51

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