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I have two ceiling lights running off of a switch. When I replaced the first light I found that the neutral wire bundle was joined with the ground line. If the ground wire is removed from the the neutral bundle then none of the outlets on that circuit will work. What is going on? Is this right/safe?

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    Sounds like the last guy had a problem wth his neutral wire so he bootlegged neutral from ground. It's neither right nor safe. Troubleshoot further then fix it properly. Jun 4, 2018 at 15:57
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    Which cable does the bootlegged ground go into? Is it the same cable that has the odd white-among-blacks? I think I know what he did. Jun 4, 2018 at 18:45

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It sounds like the neutrals for the lights and receptacles, which should be all combined (they are) and have one wire going back to the main panel, don't have that main wire working correctly. It could be cut somewhere, but most likely it is disconnected either at the last receptacle or light on the circuit that works or the first one that doesn't work. If NOTHING on the circuit works then it could be disconnected at the panel.

So somebody got smart and said "neutral and ground are bonded at the panel anyway, so what's the difference? I'll just combine them here and everything will work."

There are two problems (aside from it being against code):

1 - There are situations where something could go wrong such that this extra connection between neutral and ground will result in a very dangerous condition, where instead of ground acting as a protection in one location it ends up causing dangerous levels of current to be present elsewhere.

2 - The ground wire is a bare wire (not good for normal neutral) and may not be the same gauge as the neutral is supposed to be. If it is thinner than the neutral is supposed to be then there could be a situation where all equipment is working properly (no short circuits) and the total current is below the circuit rating (15A or 20A) so the breaker doesn't trip, but over time the ground-as-neutral overheats and causes a fire, which is not a good thing. I am not an expert on the code requirements - a quick search shows 14 & 12 gauge for 15A and 20A circuits for ground, which would be the same as neutral. So I could be wrong on this specific problem, provided the ground wire is the correct size, but fix it anyway for all the other reasons.

This must be fixed. Disconnect the ground from the neutrals. If you know the wiring sequence from the panel out to the receptacles and lights, start with the last one that works and check each connection. If you don't know, check them all. If you can't find the problem anywhere then it may be at the panel - in which case you may be better off calling in a professional (which is what I would do - I'm not an electrician and my skills at the cover of the panel).

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    Exercise caution - someone may have tied the neutral to the ground wire because they have lost a neutral somewhere and they are using the ground as a bootleg neutral. So when you make the repair check through your system and make sure all of your circuits are working properly. Good luck. Jun 4, 2018 at 21:43
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    @RetiredMasterElectrician Not "may" - did - "If the ground wire is removed from the the neutral bundle then none of the outlets on that circuit will work." Jun 4, 2018 at 22:03
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    The neutral was lose in an outlet further in front of the light. After digging into it more, the ground lines further down the circuit were almost completely green from oxidation and the screws holding in the other light were completely rusted. Reconnecting the lose neutral fixed the issue.
    – Clark
    Jun 6, 2018 at 14:43
  • @Clark I'm glad you figured it out. If the outlet with the problem uses backstabs then (if you haven't already) switch the wires to the screw terminals. Jun 6, 2018 at 14:47
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    @manassehkatz No it was in the outlet but it was from the branch that went to the other room. The neutral was loose from the join.
    – Clark
    Jun 7, 2018 at 4:43

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