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I’m trying to replace a very old outlet in my kitchen. The garbage disposal and the dishwasher are plugged into this outlet. The top outlet is switched, but the bottom is always hot. Everything I’ve read about this type of outlet has both circuits sharing a single neutral, but this outlet is odd. It has a single neutral from one circuit plugged in on one side, then on the other it has the two hot wires with the broken tab (as you would expect). The weird thing is that there is a second neutral wired to the same terminal as the hot wire for the first circuit. [see below illustration]

My question is what is going on here? At this point I’m not even really concerned about replacing the outlet, I just want to know if it’s even safe to put it back like this?

Thanks!

           [ || ]—————-H2
           [
      ——N1-[ || ]======H1/N2
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    Hello, and welcome to Home Improvement. How do you know that the two wires on the (bottom-right) terminal are hot and neutral? – Daniel Griscom May 18 at 23:08
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    Helps to use a receptacle built to support 2 wires on one screw, such as a Leviton 5252. – Harper May 18 at 23:28
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    If it's wired to the hot side, it's not a neutral. Look up "switch loop" before you get yourself in trouble. – Ecnerwal May 18 at 23:30
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    This is a switch leg. The white has been re-purposed to feed hot to the switch, it returns from the switch as H2. – Tyson May 18 at 23:30
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    There’s no ground at all (old house). I think Tyson is right about the switch leg, so N2 in my diagram goes to the switch, and H2 is the return from the switch. So it’s a single ungrounded circuit, but the outlet is split so the top is switched and the bottom isn’t. – Will May 18 at 23:53
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That's not a weird neutral. That's a switch loop.

They are correctly using the white wire for always-hot, precisely to invoke that "WTH" response. By using white as always-hot, it assures the white wire will always light up a voltage tester. If white was a switched-hot, it might not always light up, and could be mistaken for neutral.

What they failed to do, however, is mark the white wire with black or colored tape, as is required today (also) to designate it as a hot.

You are welcome to retrofit grounds to help protect this circuit. However, better protection would be achieved with GFCI. You can't fit a GFCI+receptacle combo device here because they don't allow splitting. However you can fit one at a receptacle upstream if there is any, or a GFCI+circuit breaker combo device if there is not.

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Maybe I'm misunderstanding you. Are the tabs removed on both the hot and neutral terminals on the outlet? Could you take some pictures of it? I'm not understanding your diagram so I'm probably way off.

That would suggest that the switch is a DPST switch that switches both the hot and the neutral at the same time. A person might want to be extra sure that the garbage disposal isn't powered before putting their hand in there.

By using that kind of switch, you would also prevent any electric shocks coming from the neutral wire if the wiring got wet.

My old dishwasher used a DPST switch for the door that disconnected both the hot and neutral when the door was open, so it's probably not a bad idea to do that with other water connected appliances.

  • The tab is only removed on the hot side. – Will May 18 at 23:42
  • I would take pictures, but I’ve already undone the wires. – Will May 18 at 23:46
  • With the wires disconnected only two of the "hots" should be hot. Are these two hots on the same 1-pole breaker or are they on different 1-pole breakers or are they on a 2-pole breaker? – Jim Stewart May 18 at 23:56
  • I think Tyson is right above about it being a switch loop for the top outlet. So there is actually one one circuit, but the top outlet is switched. Is this safe give what’s connected to it (a dishwasher and garbage disposal)? – Will May 19 at 0:06

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