I have red/black/white cable coming into barn to breaker box from main panel at house. With a tester to neutral bar each leg reads 120v and if two hot legs are tested, 240v.

I have a 20 amp breaker that goes to a timer that control a series of lights. When I turn on breaker for the lights, which are wired correctly, one hot leg drops to 0v and the other leg reads 240v when tested to neutral bar.

I have another breaker to outlet plug that reads fine until I energize the breaker for timer then it too loses voltage because of timer motor somehow shifting all volts to other leg. I've replaced timer with new brand new timer / replaced breaker with new one. I've even run extension cord to lights directly and bypassing breaker box and they work fine if timer/breaker box is bypassed.

Any suggestions where to look?

  • Do you have a bare or green ground wire in the cable as well? Nov 8, 2018 at 2:38

2 Answers 2


It sounds like you have a loose, broken, or disconnected neutral at some point.

Double check all terminations are tight, and contact the conductor, not the insulation.

Also check that you have the correct earthing/bonding methods. Do you have an earth/ground wire back to the house?

If so, you need a separate earth and neutral bar, with each wire connected to the correct bar, and no link between them.

If not, you need an earth electrode connected to the earth bar, the incoming neutral connected to the neutral bar, and a link between the two.*

* I believe the NEC no longer allows this approach; I'm not familiar with US code. It may be grandfathered in.

  • His installation may be grandfathered in, it is certainly not permissible now, and OP's situation is why. Not only are all the neutrals being lit up at 120V, so are all the grounds! Don't touch one and expect not to be shocked! Really they are 't even grounds in any proper sense. Nov 8, 2018 at 17:59
  • @Harper Not that the incoming feed to the house is wired in exactly the same way... Nov 9, 2018 at 2:30

The feeder neutral's toast

The wild voltage fluctuations you are seeing are due to a feeder neutral wire that cannot handle any significant current (effectively open). When this happens, applying a load to one leg causes the voltage across that leg to drop and the voltage across the other leg (an unloaded leg in your case, which explains the extreme magnitude of shift you see) to rise, due to the loads on the two legs forming a voltage divider.

In your situation, I would undo and redo the connections at each end of the neutral with the house breaker for this feeder off, torquing the connections screws properly at each end. If that does not correct the issue, then you will need to re-lay the cable, or use a small dry-type distribution transformer at the barn (something in the 5kVA range would be plenty adequate) to provide a new neutral point for this feeder.

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