Question: A 3-wire socket (hot, neutral, ground) in my bathroom has stopped working due to a bad neutral wire. Can I safely disconnect the bad neutral wire completely, and move the ground wire to the neutral connector to get the socket working again? I have verified that there are 0.0 volts between ground and a nearby (working) neutral wire.

Background: I believe this failure can be traced to the installation of a new deck in the back of the house a couple of years ago, when the workers broke several cables between floors when they were pulling out beams from the old deck. The contractor brought in an electrician to fix the obvious failures, but I didn't notice that this bathroom socket (which is the last of a daisy chain of outlets) apparently ended up with a loose or broken neutral wire which causes intermittent failure, especially during prolonged rain spells. I'm speculating that the break is about 30 feet away from the socket, buried somewhere in the space between the floors and virtually inaccessible. I have considered installing a connecting wire from a nearby good neutral wire from the bathroom lights, but there is no easy way to do this without removing wall paper, sheet rock, etc. The first socket in this particular daisy chain is in another bathroom, and is a GFCI socket. Second question: Would the ground to neutral connection I am proposing trip the GFCI?

The intermittent failures (which can last for hours or days) are driving me nuts. Any other suggestions for how to fix this without breaking into the sheet rock would be welcome.

  • 8
    Heck no. Neutral is not ground. Abusing the ground as a neutral is dangerous for several reasons, one is that any fault in the grounding system will electrify everything that's supposed to be grounded, and you could get killed touching a light switch cover screw. You can retrofit grounds, but never neutrals; you must run hot+neutral together in the same cable or conduit. I'm not writing an answer as I expect this will end up duplicating another question. It's asked a lot. Jan 20, 2017 at 7:31

1 Answer 1


Don't walk, but RUN to your closest licensed electrician to fix this problem.

There is no workaround.

It simply needs to be fixed correctly.

This is a life-threatening situation. Until you get a contractor out to look at it, avoid all contact with that outlet.

  • 1
    Hi SDsolar, could I get you to elaborate on the reason for the danger, assuming that the only problem is a broken neutral, and that I do not do what I proposed? As I mentioned, the circuit is GFCI protected, and of course the circuit breaker is also working properly. Just curious as to what scenario you are envisioning. Many thanks!
    – user65397
    Jan 20, 2017 at 10:55
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    @clivedaw - If you continue to use the intermittent outlet there will be current flow through a connection that is only sometimes closed. Problem is that the intermittent closed connection is not a good solid join of the wires. Such connection will be higher than normal resistance and when current flows through it heat will build up to the point of causing the wire insulation and surrounding materials to catch fire. This is not something you want to happen so thus the urgent need to get it fixed. (Review the history - a good number of fires are due to electrical problems).
    – Michael Karas
    Jan 20, 2017 at 11:44
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    To expand on Michael's correct comment, you say the breaker is working, but that is a non-issue. The high resistance connection can flow current well below the breaker's rating and still cause a VERY hot connection. It's all about Ohm's Law. Jan 20, 2017 at 12:28
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    @clivedaw Just no. I'm skeptical of "why not" questions because usually the goal is to rationalize/justify doing the bad thing anyway. Not gonna happen. If there was a way, we'd give it, but there just isn't. Curious? OK, the craft is certainly learnable, but learn the craft, not random bits. It's deep enough you can't do it as a drive-by. There's a lot of "because code says so" until you get deep enough into it that the puzzle pieces come together. They will, trust me. At that point, the folly of the above will be obvious. Jan 20, 2017 at 16:41
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    Even more, misusing the safety grounding system as a current return defeats its entire purpose. Making a point to tie metal things to safety ground completely backfires when they become "hot" because of a subsequent problem with neutral or ground. Also it's madness to think the two surviving conductors in the damaged cable are intact. They could well be nicked or on the verge of shorting, make excessive heat and start a fire. And GFCI's don't detect shorts. Not that one would even work in this configuration. Jan 20, 2017 at 17:47

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