# Why does netural wire on switch bypass circuit breaker?

I am switching out my old switches for automated one and in one of the bedroom I ran into an odd situation.

-The OLD switch had a: black, black, green wire -The new switch have a: red, black, white and green wire

I turn off the circuit breaker for that bedroom and confirm it was off. When I wired the new Switch, I connect all the wire BUT noticed that if I connect the White wire to the switch, it somehow bypass the circuit breaker and there is power to the switch...

If I don't connect this white wire then, the switch will work once I turn on the circuit breaker for that bedroom on again.

Note: When the power was on (and nothing was connected to it), the voltage tester show that there was only 1 wire that had power (and it wasn't the white one) so i assume that the white would be the neutral.

Anyone got any idea on why the white wire would bypass the circuit breaker?

Edit: It also appear that with that white wire, its now part of the masterbed room circuit...

In my case, all these switch have netural wire which is fine, as the rest of the house got changed over to these smart switch already and are working as expected.

It is only this one bedroom (lets call this "Bedroom A")light that it is interesting.

In which if the Netural wire in Bedroom A is used then it become part of a different bedroom circut (lets call this the "Master bedroom".

The only thing I would image this is that (as this was an older house) that for this Bedroom A... that whoever ran the electrical, just splice the neutral from "Master bedroom" to the "Bedroom A"

But I am interested in see what other think why using the Neutral wire in "Bedroom A" would cause that switch to become part of the "Master Bedroom" circuit..

You may want to pause to learn a little more about switches.

The first concept is that powered things need power. Power moves in loops, you you need two wires. It's perfectly possible to set up a power loop so it is hot-to-hot, in which case you really need to switch both wires. A great example is an air conditioning condenser in North America.

However that is more expensive, so neutral is a concept we established to make wiring easier. We set up neutral so it is near ground potential, so it's considered not hazardous. And so there is no need seen to switch it.

On an old fashioned light, the only thing that takes power is the light. So the switch is a simple mechanical human-powered device, and it only needs to interrupt (break) one of the wires. It's safer to interrupt the hot wire.

On a new fangled smart switch, the switch also takes power. So now you have two powered devices, and both of them need a full loop of both hot and neutral.

• The smart-switch needs always-hot and neutral so it can be always-ready.
• The lamp proper needs switched-hot and neutral.

Note that switches did not need neutral before, and suddenly now they do. That's a real problem for a lot of old in-house wiring. Sometimes you just can't install the smart switch.

There are also smart switches which do not require neutral because they use "the incandescent cheat", exploiting a fact about incandescent bulbs where they act like nearly a dead short until enough current flows to get them hot. The smart switch (on an incandescent light) can place itself in series with a turned-off bulb, and leak enough current to function itself. However the power supplies in CFLs and LEDs are designed as voltage devices not current devices, and respond to "the incandescent cheat" in strange and unpredictable ways.

There's one more concept that comes up a lot. Why doesn't neutral have a circuit breaker?

That concept entirely relies on the notion that hots and neutrals should be married monogamously. That is, every hot should have 1 partner neutral and use only that neutral to return current. The neutral is the same wire size as the hot. If this is done properly, the neutral cannot overload unless the hot is also overloaded in exact proportion. Since the hot has overcurrent protection, that will protect the neutral also. That's the concept.

Of course that does not account for people who don't respect that concept. I see circuits all the time where a device is wired with the intended hot, but any "neutral of convenience". The easiest way to detect this is by adding a GFCI/RCD to the circuit and putting a load on every outlet. The GFCI compares current flow on "hot" to "neutral" and trips if they are not equal.

• Thank you for the post. I have read up on various site on how a switches suppose to normally operate and how the they are wired (and why some uses/don't uses neutral wire and what the purpose of the neutral wire). In my case, all these switch have neutral wire which is fine, as the rest of the house got changed over to these smart switch already and are working as expected. It is only this one bedroom (lets call this "Bedroom A")light that it is interesting.
– Luu
Jun 5, 2017 at 17:23
• In which if the Netural wire in Bedroom A is used then it become part of a different bedroom circut (lets call this the "Master bedroom". The only thing I would image this is that (as this was an older house) that for this Bedroom A... that whoever ran the electrical, just splice the neutral from "Master bedroom" to the "Bedroom A" But I am interested in see what other think why using the Neutral wire in "Bedroom A" would cause it to become part of the "Master Bedroom" circuit..
– Luu
Jun 5, 2017 at 17:24
• What is correct is to take the neutral from the same circuit that the hot comes from. The usual way to do this is to keep hots and their partner neutrals together in the same cable. In the case of switch loops where there are only 2 wires (hot and switched-hot) in the same cable, it's best to replace the cable with a 3-wire cable. I am not mentioning ground, which should be a third or fourth wire, but bare. Jun 5, 2017 at 17:41