I've replaced dozens of outlets in my life without incident. This time, when I pulled the outlet away from the box, I found something odd. The white (neutral) wire was as it should be. But, you know how the back of the outlets have two holes where you can insert the wires? One for the top outlet and a separate set for the bottom if you decide to wire in series or do something with switch outlets...?

Well, the black wire was inserted into the top hole and the green wire was inserted into the bottom hole, not attached to the green ground screw. When I hooked up the new outlet, I fixed this.

But here's the weird side effect... NOW the other outlet in the kitchen has stopped working. I've tested everything else in the house. It's just this one other outlet 6feet from the first one.

I haven't pulled it out yet, but I'm guessing the green wire must not have been acting as a ground...? It must have been running power to the other outlet?

I'm asking here before I go any further just in case there's something an expert knows that I am overlooking.

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    It certainly does sound like your assessment that someone repurposed a green wire is correct. Open up the other and tell us what you see there. Possibly the black wire between was damaged and someone improvised. Being the kitchen GFCI’s should be involved, but you haven’t mentioned them, is there a GFCI protecting?
    – Tyson
    Jun 29, 2018 at 16:25
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    He may have had a problem with the black conductor not conducting. The #1 reason for a conductor to not conduct is being terminated in a backstab connection. It is better hooked over the side screws in the normal way, or using the clamp-with-screw method on finer receptacles. Backstab cannot be reused, once you pull the wire out they will not hold reliably. Jun 29, 2018 at 17:38
  • Harper, thanks for the info on the backstab. I guess I always thought they were the more "professional" way to use these things even though they are actually a pain in the butt. Tyson, they are not GFCI, but the circuit breaker in the basement that powers them IS. House was built in 1976, I think these are original. I have yet to pull out the other outlet. 1) I was waiting for some feedback, and 2) whenever I do electrical stuff, I kill power to the whole house. I know you can just do the circuit you are working on, but I'm overly cautious. In 95 degree temps, my wife will kill me. Thanks! Jun 29, 2018 at 18:47
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    I have seen this where a diy repurposed the ground for a 2nd hot or MWBC, defiantly a code violation but would think this is what was done. Back stabs are the least professional in my opinion. Only kill the power to the circuit you are working on and test, test test.
    – Ed Beal
    Jun 29, 2018 at 18:54
  • I second @Ed Beal on not turning off the power to the whole house. Do you have test equipment? Jun 29, 2018 at 21:04

2 Answers 2


I ended up putting it back the way it was wired when I opened it all up, just with new outlets. I think I'm supposed to put this info in a comment, but I can't see an easy way to add the requested images to comments.

First socket

This is the first socket I opened. In this pic I have it wired to the new outlet. My wife tells me that the wire I assumed was green is actually dark gray. (I'm mildly color blind.) When wired like this, the outlet works, but the second outlet does not.

Second Outlet

Here is the second outlet (original) pulled out.

Inside of second box

Inside the second box there's a black and red wire twisted together. I'm not sure where the red goes. There is an outlet above the stove that the range hood is plugged into. And another outlet for the gas stove. Neither of these two outlets were affected during this. They are not on the same circuit breaker. At some point in the house's history the stove was switched from electric to gas. So I'm not sure if the outlet for the stove was added then or what.

In the end, I went with the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach.

  • 1
    Self answering your question like this is fine. It's not a great answer, because it doesn't explain what is going on, but it's still a perfectly fine answer. Aug 7, 2018 at 15:03
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    The pictures help make much more sense of this. The second black wire in the first picture (the one you thought was green) apparently is the hot wire to the second outlet. When you moved that to green, then the second outlet was no longer getting power. You almost created a safety hazard, if you had hooked the live hot wire (the black one that leads back to the panel) to the green screw, then you'd have energized the chassis of any grounded device plugged in there. (the GFCI would probably have protected you, but why take chances).
    – Johnny
    Oct 9, 2018 at 6:17
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    Two other points, when screwing down a wire (like the one on the green screw), the wire should wrap around the screw in a clockwise direction (so as the screw turns, the wire stays wrapped around it). And, if this were my house, I'd redo that wire nut where a quarter inch of the white wire is exposed -- only the insulated wire should extend outside of the wire nut, bare wire should not.
    – Johnny
    Oct 9, 2018 at 6:22
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    For future reference, you can click the 'edit' button on your original post to add the pictures there. Pictures can't be in comments, but editing them into the original post is allowed and encouraged.
    – Nate S.
    Aug 5, 2019 at 19:35

Generally, when you see a weird problem like this, you cannot look at it in isolation. You need to look at the whole circuit, or at the very least the first stops upstream and downstream from there.

Normally cables are used, and cables come in standard colors (black-white or black-white-red), and concessions are made to deal with that very serious limitation. However, wires have coarse color codes.

  • Green, green/yellow or bare for ground. If conduit is involved (this looks a bit like conduit), and the conduit is metal, ground wires are not required because the conduit metal is an acceptable ground.
  • White or gray for neutrals - in cables, white can be re-marked to be a hot if needed, and this marking is usually forgotten. In conduit, you're supposed to use the correct color wire, unless it's a cable in conduit.
  • Any other color for hots.

Your box

I suspect your wiring may be done either with conduit or metal-jacketed cable, where the metal is providing the ground. That is normal and healthy, and you don't need to give grounds any more attention.

When you see 2 black wires on a receptacle but only one white, look for a nearby pigtail where 2 whites get joined to a pigtail. I see that in this box.

Putting 2 wires on a receptacle (with the receptacle tab not broken) is simply an alternate way to do a pigtail splice. The methods are equivalent.

Why would the whites be pigtailed but not the blacks? Possibly this is a multi-wire branch circuit where neutral is shared; neutrals are required to be pigtailed so removing a device doesn't break neutral for the other half-circuit. If it's like that, keep it that way.


The one other thing I would say about grounds is that if the metal "yoke" of the receptacle (that the mounting screws go through) doesn't make hard clean metal contact with the steel box, then current Code requires you run a green or bare ground wire from the receptacle's ground screw to the grounding screw on the receptacle. That will be a #10-32 tapped hole in the back of the receptacle; you can see it in your photos, it's the somewhat smaller hole.

They sell green ground screws (with or without pre-attached pigtails) at the building supply. You don't need to use green ones, but it has panache.

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