3

I want to turn my 2 hot and 2 neutral wires into a pigtail for my outlet. Since I don't have any extra wire or black wires, what kind should I purchase? The wires in my receptacle are copper.

  • Same as the existing wire. It's probably #14 or #12 solid, but I can't tell from here. – isherwood Jun 21 at 17:36
  • 1
    Any reason why? Outlets generally offer enough screw connectors for your needs. – isherwood Jun 21 at 17:39
  • @isherwood it's true that some outlets (not GFCI, not tab-broken, not some others) have a feature that allows them to also be used as a splice, pigtailing paints a much clearer picture for novices, so I prefer it. – Harper Jun 21 at 17:51
  • 2
    But that's not why I pigtail; I pigtail from the ergonomic comfort of my workbench, rather than be up a ladder/in a stress position trying to fidget 5 wires onto a receptacle. Me, 3 wirenut twists and I'm outta there :) And since I use many colors (wire or tape) I pre-color the pigtails for what they'll be joining: in the stress position orange-orange, gray-gray, done. – Harper Jun 21 at 17:53
  • How many receptacles are you planning on pigtailing and why are you doing it? – Jim Stewart Jun 21 at 19:29
9

Depends.

If you're using "screw-to-clamp" type receptacles

Then your "go-to" is #12 stranded THWN-2. These are sold as individual wires. Also #12 solid bare or green ground wire. (ground wires need to be pigtailed regardless, so you may already have this.)

  • The stranded wire is much easier to work with (push the pigtails into the back of the box and the receptacle will slide in like a dream), but its downside is it's difficult to attach to screw terminals without a lot of practice, and catastrophically dangerous to use on backstabs. I actually saw this fail once.
  • Stranded wire wire-nuts just fine to solid wire. No pre-twisting, just line them up evenly and twist like the dickens.
  • #12 is the "universal donor" that will work on both 15A and 20A circuits. It's a little stiffer -- oh wait, it's stranded!

If you're using screw terminal type receptacles

In that case, ditto ditto ditto solid wire. Which will be stiffer, but cake to put on screws.

However, if you want to buy all of them in one single SKU, buy "#12 Romex" aka NM-B type cable. Buy 2' lengths at a time and cut into three 8" long sections (or four 6" sections), then carefully exacto-knife off the sheath by cutting directly down the ground wire (so you don't nick the insulation on hot or neutral). Voilá, pigtails.

  • The disadvantage of NM-B is it's not legal outdoors. For that, slicing up UF cable is challenging, so I'd go back to THWN-2 wires.
  • The individual wires are not marked, so you cannot use them for conduit runs.

Don't ever buy #14 for pigtails, because at best you have an "orphan" you can only use on 15A circuits, and at worst you accidentally use one on a 20A circuit and have a problem.

If you're using backstabs

Stop. They are unreliable and cause most dead-circuit problems.

  • I am not new at changing out outlets. I am at adding pigtails. I'm a 68 yr old widow on a fixed income who must do this on my own. So I did add one pigtail. Now the problem is finding out which outlet on the daisy chain from the breaker is giving me the ground/reverse problem. Since I have eight outlets and my arthritic fingers won't let me do more than 3 at one given period, will a multimeter tell me which outlet is the bad one/ Thank you all for your advice? – Joan Leitherland Watson Jun 22 at 18:10
  • 1
    What you are describing does not require you to pigtail anything. Just a flashlight and looking at the back of the outlets and switches. Shut the circuit off, and check them all. Black goes to HOT (or the smallest slot), White goes to NEUTRAL (or the larger slot), and ground/green/bare goes to the chassis (often a green screw). – noybman Jun 22 at 18:48
  • Oh,one more comment on the color coding part of things, what I described is the general rule, if you have a outlet with two blacks or two whites (because someone made a switch loop for example), you can test with a meter from ground to neutral with the circuit off and get near 0 ohms but ideally the electrician used a piece of black or white electrical tape to indicate the purpose of the wire. – noybman Jun 22 at 18:59
3

For outlets I would go with 12awg even if on a 15 amp circuit it is ok to use a larger wire size. But if you purchase 14 and it is on a 20 amp circuit that would be a code violation. These are the 2 sizes for standard 120v outlets or receptacles used in the U.S.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

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