I have a very specific, and very strange issue that I'm hoping someone with more knowledge can help me with.

In my bedroom, the majority of outlets (all on the same circuit) work just fine, and test fine. ~120v hot to neutral, ~118v hot to ground, less than 2 volts neutral to ground.

However, I noticed that a single outlet has issues. It appears that someone ran 3 wire electrical wire (I dont know why) from Outlet 1 to Outlet 2. Outlet 1 tests fine, just like the rest of the room. When testing Outlet 1 to Outlet 2, here's what I found:

  • Continuity passes from black to black
  • Continuity passes from red to red
  • Continuity fails from white to white

The white wire leaving Outlet 1 feels broken/loose, not sure how else to explain. So, as a test, I used the red wire on both ends to connect neutral, and black for hot, and capped off the white wire. Both sides are grounded. Outlet 1 tests fine, but here's what happens then on Outlet 2:

  • Hot to Neutral tests at ~120v
  • Hot to ground tests at ~30v
  • Neutral to ground tests at ~90v

With Outlet 1 disconnected, the only impacted device I can find is Outlet 2. But it seems as if the "broken" white wire in Outlet 1 is being used somewhere for ground, though I fear the problem is buried in the walls.

Is there something I can do here short of capping this off and running a new line from a good source?

  • How were the three wires connected into each outlet? Was the red simply capped off or connected to terminals? Maybe some pix would help. – HoneyDo Feb 16 '20 at 2:57
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    Also what does "has issues" mean? Take readings at the problem outlet, hot to neutral, hot to ground and neutral to ground. – HoneyDo Feb 16 '20 at 3:02
  • What do you mean "feels loose"? Is it loose on the screw, have you tried tightening the screw? Is the whole screw and wire moving together? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 16 '20 at 5:10

With an open neutral at some point it would not be unusual to see a phantom voltage close to line voltage. The reason to have a black and red hot to an outlet is to have a switched outlet (when there are only 3 + ground) the jumper on the receptacle/ outlet needs to be broken for it to work but this is normal.

I would check and see if there is a bit of slack at the location you thought the white could be broken because I believe your neutral is open and the hot wires in close proximity to to your open neutral is creating a phantom voltage to ground.

  • Neutral was open, and I closed it by using the red wire that was capped off previously. – dan_12345 Feb 17 '20 at 15:34
  • I thought that was your problem. Please get some white tape or fingernail polish and re identify that red wire as white. This is not really code compliant but once re identified as a neutral it will be obvious what you did. Thanks are nice but an upvote or accepting the answer will help others find a solution. – Ed Beal Feb 17 '20 at 16:16

I'm not really sure that I understand what you are saying? I'm reading it as: Using the existing wire already in place, you have connected the active and neutral from Outlet 1 to Outlet 2. You have left the 3rd wire unconnected. You say that "both sides are grounded", but you don't say how?

You say that you have tested Outlet 2 to earth, but don't specify how? Are you testing against a known good earth, or simply testing at the Outlet?

If I have read this correctly, then it sounds like your 2nd outlet is not properly earthed. As such, any measurements to earth using the outlet will be inaccurate, and that outlet is also dangerous.

You need 3 good wires to connect an outlet. Active(Hot), Neutral, and Earth (Ground.) (Some of your colours are not to spec, but you can fix that with some coloured tape.) Point is that you need 3 good wires. If you cannot get good conductivity on all three, then you need to either run another cable, or remove the 2nd outlet.

That said, it's rare for cables to fail (unless they are super antique) and most problems occur at joins and junctions, so recheck all your terminations carefully.

Please correct me if I have misunderstood the circumstances in any way

  • Thanks Floyd. I was testing against the ground wire within each box. Outlet 1 ground tested fine, and the cable running to Outlet 2 had its ground tied to Outlet 1. Testing Outlet 2 hot/neutral to ground in Outlet 1 came back solid, and so I think you're spot on. It appears that the cable from Outlet 1 to Outlet 2 is pretty damaged, with both the neutral and ground wires severed. The problem is that upstream from Outlet 2 is a switch for my lights, and a hardline to my smoke alarm. So all of these things lack proper ground, as they are all ultimately tied back to Outlet 2. – dan_12345 Feb 17 '20 at 15:41
  • Out of Outlet 2 is one unused cable, which I believe goes to the fan. The fan is currently hardwired (not sure from where, but on the same circuit) and tests good on all fronts. So I'm thinking if I pull the fan off the ceiling and the unused line is there, I can tag power and ground from there back to Outlet 2 and disconnect the cable from Outlet 1 to Outlet 2. Hope this all makes sense. – dan_12345 Feb 17 '20 at 15:41
  • The Fan, Light, and Smoke Alarm, are they all wired through the ceiling? Do you have access? I really hate seeing things "daisy-chained." Each person adding thinks "it's ok I'll just run the power from 'X'," but you end up with this huge chain that can be difficult for a subsequent person to diagnose and repair. If you can get access to them, then I'd suggest re-wiring, with correct cable, from a good clean source, with junction boxes as required. In regards to this extra cable, I assume you have tested it, and it is currently dead? – Floyd Feb 18 '20 at 3:46
  • I don't, there is no attic. So it's this, or tear apart the walls. Neither is really ideal. – dan_12345 Feb 18 '20 at 17:37
  • FYI, within a cable Black/Red are standard colors for hot wires, white is a standard color for the neutral wire and bare copper is standard for the ground wire in US (at least). There was no mention of a a bare wire for the ground, so it could be in conduit in which case the conduit itself is the ground. Your use of "Active" and "Earth" instead of "Hot" and "Ground" indicates you may not be from the US... – FreeMan Jul 15 '20 at 18:15

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