I've got a non-working outlet that I can't seem to fix.

It's got two black wires, two white wires, and no ground wire.

I bought a new outlet (shown) and attached the black wires to the screws on the right, and the white ones to the screws on the left. (I didn't understand why there were two of each kind of wire, but read on this board that that's not uncommon. I still don't understand why there is no ground wire.)

When I turn the circuit back on, the outlet does not work, and I detect no current in either the hot side or the neutral side. BUT the ground screw IS hot. Yet as i say there is no ground wire to attach.

This is a weird circuit, tied in to a dishwasher and another light. The light works when the circuit is on, but the outlet and dishwasher do not. An appliance guy said he was getting current on the hot wire on the dishwasher, but not the neutral wire, and thought replacing this broken outlet would fix things. But I can't make the outlet work.

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The original outlet. It was installed upside down; I shifted the black and white wires in order to install the new one in the normal orientation. (Maybe that matters?)

I learned the outlet was hot by accident. Assuming it was all dead (having tested the black and neutral wires and screws with a two-pronged voltage detector, and since the outlet wasn't functional), I started to screw it in before seeking help here or from an electrician. There was a significant spark. I then used the voltage tester on the ground screw, and the light went on.

Despite the tile, this is nowhere near water; it's decorative tile on the opposite side of the kitchen from the sink.

Original box, showing the two black and two white wires. AS mentioned, the previous outlet was installed upside down, with black on the left and white on the right. No evident ground wire.

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  • What are you using to test the ground screw and determine it is hot? For what you have shown us here, that should be impossible. If you are measuring it correctly, then the only way you would read hot on the ground screw in this configuration is if the HOT wire is sheathing damaged and touching the metal box, or if you are not using a proper neutral and the ground (through the box) is working. Please disassemble the wires from this outlet immediately. Do not reconnect them until you can determine the proper hot and neutral wires. You currently have a fire hazard risk.
    – noybman
    Sep 16, 2017 at 18:09
  • 1
    With the wires all disconnected, take a photo of the inside of the box and the wires, and tell us what was determined as HOT. We will also have to determine which wires are switched hot (for the light), and then if the whites are actually both neutrals. They may not be. Also, please share a photo of the old outlet.
    – noybman
    Sep 16, 2017 at 18:11
  • Can you post a photo of the actual insides of the box? Sep 16, 2017 at 18:12
  • Also, is this circuit protected by a GFCI? Looking at the picture you've provided (with Tile), it should be
    – noybman
    Sep 16, 2017 at 18:20
  • How was it wired before with the broken outlet? Daisy chains are common and the box being metal could be the ground.
    – Ed Beal
    Sep 16, 2017 at 23:29

2 Answers 2



It's not metal conduit, those are Romex clamps.

The first problem is that you have power on the receptacle somewhere when you expect not to. So keep using that voltage tester. There are lots of ways to use a voltage tester wrong, but this for sure: it should never light up on a dead circuit. if you have turned the circuit off, and it is not dead, it is now very important to find out which other breaker you must turn off to make it actually dead. It's likely these two breakers together form a multi-wire branch circuit, which share a neutral in an engineered way which works. However there are certain rules MWBCs must follow, and if they do not, they become nightmares, with symptoms like these. We need to know if 2 breakers feed that circuit so we can work that issue... if it's an issue.

Looking at that melted neutral, it would also matter to know exactly where in the service panel those two breakers are. That super matters.

It would also be good to know if this installer was habitually using white for hot and black for neutral. (Maybe he was British?)

It would also be good to get a length of wire so you can get a reliable ground from some place like a sink, spigot, water pipe etc.

Aside from that, screws shorting against the metal box could contribute to the problem. Wrap the receptacle with tape edgewise to stop that from happening.

  • Unless I'm off base in some obvious area (and I dont believe I am) everyone is ignoring or missing the OP said the ground screw is hot. I'm willing to bet this is not accurate, because IF it is, then the box HAS to be hot as well, if it was grounded, the breaker SHOULD pop. Since it isn't, IF the box IS hot, the outlet "would" be working, but OP says it is not. So one must presume the outlet is DOA, or the NEUTRAL shown is not neutral. (although the neutral does look a bit melted).
    – noybman
    Sep 17, 2017 at 3:51
  • I think people are skeptical of his claim since he hasn't described the testing method by which he reached that conclusion. I for one suspect a magic 8-ball (the legends on a 3-lamp tester) was involved. Sep 17, 2017 at 12:47
  • I fully agree @Harper, but these answers can't be right. The outlet would be working as pictured. So we need answers to quite a few questions before we note answers
    – noybman
    Sep 17, 2017 at 13:48
  • It was not a three-lamp tester, but a voltage detector. (Apologies for the scattered responses; still learning the ropes on this forum.)
    – C. Shea
    Sep 17, 2017 at 15:02
  • Ok good, so you can reproduce this with the voltage detector. I would turn off one breaker at a time (or several at once and narrow it down) to see which breaker(s) must be on for the ground screw to be hot. Also test if any other screws on other switches or receptacles are hot when this one is. Start with the one for this circuit. If it's the breaker for this circuit, try the "wrap with tape" option and see if it goes away. Sep 17, 2017 at 15:11

Is the grounding screw "hot" when the new outlet is shoved up in the electrical box and screwed in? If so one of the screws for the black wires or one of the black wires themselves is most likely shorted to the electrical box. The screw could be touching or the black wire could have a bare part or break in the insulation.

The reason that you see two sets of blacks/whites on an outlet like this is that one set feeds in power from upstream and the other set branches out to some other part of the circuit downstream. The outlet doubles as a joining block to bridge the black to black and the white to white.

  • I think we need more information to make this determination. The neutral or the hot for the downstream circuit could be connected elsewhere and not even in this box while a portion of the outlet could have been switched, even along with the light. I mean, if the hot is shorted to ground, and the ground was true, then the circuit breaker should pop and or the light would not be working. Also, If the ground is not true, the outlet would be working
    – noybman
    Sep 16, 2017 at 18:19
  • OP says there is no ground in the box. This is why this box could be hot and not pop the circuit breaker.
    – Michael Karas
    Sep 16, 2017 at 18:54
  • then as wired, the outlet would be working.
    – noybman
    Sep 16, 2017 at 18:56
  • And while there is a statement of no ground in box, the box itself could have been grounded (while it probably isn't) we dont know without more pictures. Also, no grounds means this box is already a hack, or split off a 240. (This is why on other topics on the site I despise split 240's), we just don't know enough for this to be the answer (yet) and it certainly doesn't explain why the outlet doesn't work
    – noybman
    Sep 16, 2017 at 18:58
  • @noybman multi-wire branch circuits? You just need to get to know them. They are actually efficient and rather handy, except for the GFCi facfor, and that only bothers me becaise I dislike GFCI receptacles. Sep 17, 2017 at 12:46

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