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I was looking to add an outlet near my light switch in the garage. When I opened the box for the switch I noticed that the neutral is wired to the ground. In the picture of the switch, the top wire screwed to the switch is the only hot wire in the box. Its hard to see but it comes from bottom right corner and the neutral from that same wire is wired to the ground. The wire at the top was stabbed all the way in to the back of the switch and i pulled out to test it which is why it is out. The second picture is the garage light. Two sets of wires coming in to the box. Have never seen anything like this. Did some reading on this site and couldn't find the same scenario. Any help on explaining why this is set up this way is appreciated.

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  • So I did finally figure this out. The black lead stabbed into back of the switch feeds hot over to another light switch on inside wall of garage for an outside light. It then feeds back into this box through the white wire at top right of picture which feeds out with the black hot wire at bottom right going up to the light fixture. So two switched hots going up to the light. One (black) for the light itself and other (white) to get hot out to the outside light. Return for neutral from inside garage light is through ground. I put black tape on all hot wires to identify the, – Zukes Jan 13 at 17:19
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The ground wire is ONLY for emergencies. The 'return' from an appliance or light MUST be a separate neutral wire. Re: "Any help on explaining why this is set up this way" is very simple: THEY WIRED IT UNSAFELY IN VIOLATION OF THE ELECTRICAL CODE!

Yes, you need to run more wire. People do all sorts of crazy things. The NEC exists to prevent fires and electrocution.

You can look up the current electrical code at NFPA.org (free registration required) but there's no search function. Read about grounding and bonding in Section 250.

I'm not quite clear what wires go where, but the outside light needs a switched hot, and a neutral to return from that. In previous versions of the NEC, you could have the hot and neutral come to the box holding the light, and lead the hot from the light box to the switch then back to the light. IIUC, this is no longer allowed.

The only way to do it now is to have hot go to the switch, then to the light, and run a neutral from the same branch circuit to the light. Typically this runs with the switched hot wire.

So-white (neutral), black (hot) and bare ground to the switch box, black to switch, neutrals connected together, grounds connected together (but not to neutral) then white (neutral), black (switched hot) and bare ground to the light. If you don't have enough conductors for this, you need to run more wire.

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    You can still run a switch loop, you just need to have a "spur" neutral in that switch loop (i.e. using a /3 cable instead of a /2) – ThreePhaseEel Oct 17 at 3:52
  • Yup, that's right. I was trying to keep it simple. Understanding why the neutral has to be from the same branch would have been a problem for the people who used the ground as a handy neutral. – VWFeature Oct 17 at 4:08
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    I suspect the ground-as-neutral idiocy was the work of a prior installer, not the OP... – ThreePhaseEel Oct 17 at 11:42
  • Hello, and welcome to Home Improvement. Thanks for the answer; keep 'em coming. And, good on ya' for taking our tour before posting; few newbies do... – Daniel Griscom Oct 17 at 12:18
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Is the supply a 3 wire black, white , bare copper if it is the neutral connected to the ground at this point is a code violation. The only place the 2 are tied together is in the main panel. I would remove the neutral as this is not safe.

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    Ed - thanks for your help. Yes the supply is 3 wire (black, white, bare copper ground). There is no neutral going up to the overhead light. They were using ground as neutral. So if I disconnect the ground On both ends from neutral I have no neutral at overhead box. Only way I can figure to fix it is to run new wire. – Zukes Jan 13 at 20:56

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