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enter image description hereenter image description hereI have this old Depard switch box in my patio.

Originally, I wanted to 'add' a receptacle in my old Despard switch 'array' stack. Now I am puzzled and afraid of doing that because I found out that the original 'neutral' wire was tied/screwed to the electrical metal box, and of course, there was no ground wire installed.

Some outlets in my house are not grounded. (though I see long tails grounded wires coming off the house to the pipes outside of my house). I just don't know why isn't the entire house grounded.

Q1: Is it safe if I just leave the 'neutral' wire screwed to the box like before? (because I am afraid that I couldn't install a receptacle)

Q2: If I wire the 'neutral'(silver) and 'hot' (gold) to the new receptacle (bottom position), will it work?

Q3: If Q2's answer is yes, then do I need to ground the new switch?

Q4: Should I wrap that lonely neutral wire so it won't touch the metal box? I just couldn't figure out why would my previous owner 'ground' a neutral wire?

Thank you very much. right now, unless I fully understand what is going on, I don't want to install anything. My house is old, I don't want to start a fire.

enter image description here

Here is the inside of the switch box. enter image description here

  • “Patio” is a location that’s likely to require GFCI for any outlet. In the era despard was popular they did many weird things, for example, California 3-ways were very popular. I’ve never heard of “neutral grounding the box” but that well could have been one of the strange concepts of that era. Despard stacks are also hard to work with based on the number of conductors and box fill. – Tyson Sep 3 '18 at 9:12
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    Can you post a photo of the inside of the box? – ThreePhaseEel Sep 3 '18 at 11:14
  • I'm using my cell phone. Haven't figure our how to upload a photo yet. The patio is now covered by all around glass doors and used as a room full of light. :D. (storage room actually) – Handywoman wanna be Sep 3 '18 at 14:28
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    Dear all.. I've taken the inside shot of the switch box. 4 wires in total: 1) hot (black, if you can see, old dusty black) 2) white neutral (used to be tied to the box screw) 3) two very dark red for two lights That is all. I've tested the voltage: When the switch is in 'off' position. Fuse box is turned on. Black - white: 118 Black - 1st red - 106 ~ 83 (seems to be an up/down cycle) Black - 2nd red - 83 (seems to steadly remain in this number) – Handywoman wanna be Sep 4 '18 at 21:29
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I would use the white as a neutral

Based on what we can tell so far, the white is indeed a neutral wire, so that should be wired up to the silver screw on the outlet, with the brass screw on the outlet connected to a pigtail to the existing black hot, which is also pigtailed to the switches. It definitely should not be landed on the box, though!

And run a separate ground wire

From there, you can then run a separate ground wire (green #12 THHN or bare #12 copper works, provided it's not subject to physical damage) back to a suitable grounding point (i.e. another suitably sized equipment grounding wire, the wire that connects the panel to the grounding electrode system, or back to the panel, but not to a water pipe) to ground the box and receptacle.

As to the rest of the improper grounds...

To clean up the rest of the improper grounds, what I would do is take some 6AWG bare copper and run it alongside your cold water pipe from the point where the water pipe is connected to the panel to the end of the water pipe run. This will serve as an equipment grounding "busbar" or "trunk" of sorts. Then, I would use an Ilsco GTT-2-2 tap connector to connect the grounding electrode/bonding conductor (the wire from your water pipe to the panel) to your grounding bus wire -- the part that comes off and goes back on lets you slip the existing wire in there without having to cut it and splice it back together, while your new wire can go in the other hole, and both screws can get tightened down then. From there, you can use split bolts, or a similar sort of tap connector, to connect your existing grounding bus wire to the improper ground wires after disconnecting them from however they were attached to the water pipe.

  • Thank you for your answer. May I know of your opinion on this: 1) If I don't want to add the outlet with the switches anymore. Should I cap the neutral? It should be safer than leaving it attched/screwed to the box, right? 2) If I cap it, should I bother grounding it? 3) Also, another Q, why couldn't I ground it with a water pipe? (Omg, I did that on another outlet in my house.) I should remove it. right? Thanks a million!! – Handywoman wanna be Sep 7 '18 at 3:11
  • To 1) and 2) cap the neutral if you aren't going to use it for a receptacle...as to 3) using water pipes as part of the equipment grounding system is bad because you can't rely on the next numpty not to slap a length of CPVC or PEX in to replace a busted pipe, messing up your grounding. You'll want to run your grounding wires back to the fuse/breaker box, instead. – ThreePhaseEel Sep 7 '18 at 3:17
  • Thank you again. I will cap the neutral and leave them the way they were. Also, I will remove my ground wire tied to a water pipe. I will not use those outlets that have no groundings. (I have a tester that tells me if the outlet is grounded or not.) Safety first, especially for a 'non-electrician' kind of person. :D Thanks a lot. – Handywoman wanna be Sep 7 '18 at 3:24
  • @Handywomanwannabe -- the better solution is to extend those ground wires back to the breaker box whichever way you can. Given that they're working as grounds, I wouldn't run around unhooking them straight away, but instead go through and fix them up to be proper. – ThreePhaseEel Sep 7 '18 at 3:28
  • hate to admit it - I have no idea how to run a wire back to the breaker box. I have a very old breaker box. I am even more afraid of touching the on/off switches. I honestly believe they'll break one day. I need to educate myself before trying any daring thought of mine. It's interesting to learn but I am afraid of actually doing it. Thanks for your replies. – Handywoman wanna be Sep 7 '18 at 3:45

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