I have an older home (1959) that I'm working on replacing the all the 2-prong outlets with GFCI (ungrounded). When I opened this particular 2-prong outlet I found something I don't understand.

The black (presumed hot) is wired on what I'd expect to be the line terminal, whereas the white (presumed neutral) is wired on what I'd expect to be the load terminal. I've attached pictures.

Why would this be done? Is it a mistake by the previous electrician/owner? Does it represent any greater hazard than 2-prong outlets already present?

I noticed that the metal plate under the terminals is a single plate, effectively joining the two terminals (you can see this on the attached picture of the black wire), does this mean there is no concept of line/load on old 2-prong outlets (or at least on this one)?

hot/black side neutral/white side

2 Answers 2


Normal receptacles don't have "line" and "load". That is not a thing. That concept is only associated with GFCI and AFCI where the "Load" provides a protected zone to additional outlets (that are properly wired).

On a normal receptacle of any vintage, the dual side screws are simply a convenient splicing feature to allow two wires to be spliced to each other and also to the receptacle.

It is more compact than a 3-wire pigtail, for instance. You are welcome to use that, the pigtail or any splicing method you please. All do the exact same thing and are interchangeable.*

On newer receptacles, you can delete the "convenient splicing feature" and exchange it for the ability to feed each socket independently. This is done by breaking off special "tabs" that jumper the screws together. When changing receptacles you must check for broken tabs, that is the #1 mistake.

* A few situations, such as MWBC, require a pigtail or other scheme that lets you remove the receptacle without breaking the supply wire to downstream outlets. In those cases, using the receptacle as the splice is outlawed.

  • 1
    While using both terminals on each side is more compact than using a pigtail and is electrically equivalent, a pigtail allows you to remove/replace a device (outlet in this case) without disrupting any circuits downstream. I believe pigtails are not merely considered good practice but are required by code, at least in some jurisdictions.
    – user689
    Oct 29, 2018 at 11:53
  • 3
    I’ll just add: “that is not a thing” means that in a circuit diagram, any two things that are connected, without something between them, are always at the same voltage. (There are some exceptions, like if there are very long lengths of wire, but off topic here.) Oct 29, 2018 at 12:01

Line/load terminals are only on GFCI outlets, not on conventional outlets, 2 or 3 prong. On conventional duplex outlets, one side is hot and the other is neutral. The reason for two screws on each side is to be able to separate the two outlets, typically to make only one switched. Yours seems to have a solid plate between them but most instead has a metal tab connecting the top and bottom. Breaking the tab/jumper allows them to be isolated.

If you're unsure of what you seeing I’d suggest stopping what you are doing and getting some education or else hiring a professional to do the work.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.