There is one romex that runs from my box to the upstairs. This romex has 4 wires, black, red, white and green. The black wire goes to breaker 30, the red wire to breaker 32, the white wire to the neutral bar and GREEN TO BREAKER 22.
Breaker 22 is the mystery breaker, meaning I cannot find anything it directly powers.
Whilst 22 is on, outlets on 30 and 32 have reversed polarity, according to the plug-in tester.
If I then turn off either 30 or 32, it shows that ground and hot have been reversed on the one that was shut off.
My voltmeter shows 24V hot to neutral, hot to ground 90-100V and neutral to ground 120V.

If I turn 22 off, 30 and 32 show floating grounds. If I then turn off 32, 30's outlets go to "correct"

What I am thinking is that the green wire connected to breaker 22 was supposed to have been the ground.
It is very hard to get to the wiring, it does not go to the attic and down but rather up from the basement to the second floor. As such, I have not yet been able to find the other end of the romex to see exactly what was done with the green wire.
Is that what is going on here?

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    Yikes! Can you open up the outlets that are on 30 & 32 and get pictures of the wires? Jun 25, 2020 at 20:17
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    That's.. a creative and hazardous situation you have there. Sounds like it might be an attempt at a multi-wire branch circuit, plus another circuit. It would be useful to find the other end of the 4-conductor cable to learn how it fans out to the various outlets. If you can turn off all other circuits in the house except one of those that goes through this cable, you might get lucky and be able to trace the cable's path through walls using the live wire detector feature in a stud finder.
    – Greg Hill
    Jun 25, 2020 at 20:33
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    Can you please post photos of the inside of the breaker panel and of all boxes involved here, with the breakers in question off of course? (Note that normal NM cable has a bare ground, not a green one, so I suspect something further's up here...photos are going to be essential to figuring out the situation.) Jun 26, 2020 at 0:16

2 Answers 2


Omg turn off breaker 22 green can only be used as a ground . I believe someone had heard about multi wire branch circuits wired them wrong and tried to make them work. I would turn all 3 off until getting this corrected. Go up stairs pull the receptacles out white should be routed to each receptacle and attached to the silver screw. Green should go to each receptacle and go to the green screw, red and black are the hot(s) and should be split up black on the brass or gold screw and some with red on the brass or gold screw , if the tab is broken on the brass side red on 1 brass black on the other this will put 1 circuit on the top 1 on the bottom (I do this often) Move the green wire on breaker to the ground buss if the main panel the buss with white or green, This should get your receptacles working correctly. When you turn the breaker back on 30&32 they should have a handle tie or be a double pole (not 22).

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    Take a few pictures when you find the end of your 4 wire cable.+
    – JACK
    Jun 25, 2020 at 20:57
  • I gave you an upvote because this was a good answer and was basically what I did. When you say that 30 and 32 should have a handle tie or be a double-pole, is that because they share a neutral?
    – Ron Kyle
    Jun 26, 2020 at 10:09
  • Yes sharing a neutral is called a multi wire branch circuit. The breakers must be on opposite legs (L1-L2) many years ago handle ties were not required and they would get separated ending up on the same leg overloading the neutral. Code started requiring handle ties to prevent this and when working on 1 circuit since they share a neutral you can get a shock from the other using the same neutral as a return so handle ties solve 2 problems.
    – Ed Beal
    Jun 26, 2020 at 13:51
  • I tried to get a handle tie when I was at Lowes but they didn't have any and I was like, "It's cool, I'll just remember to always switch them both off." Later that day I went to finish replacing some worn out outlets on the one breaker and I forgot to switch them both off so I completely understand and agree with code requiring handle ties!
    – Ron Kyle
    Jul 4, 2020 at 14:21
  • But you accepted your own answer, without following the advice of a pro that you stated you did what was advised???
    – Ed Beal
    Jul 4, 2020 at 22:05

I found the outlet where the 4 wire cable comes in; SURE ENOUGH, the green wire was stripped and being used as the ground for both circuits (30 and 32). Went ahead and removed breaker 22 and connected it to the ground bar.
What blows my mind is that this must have been like this for at least 10 years. The only reason I looked into it was because when the cable guy came I walked out of the room and when I came back he told me that the outlet had just sparked.

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    I was thinking I should go into more detail about why I got the behaviors I did, but I'm not too sure if I have it right. I think that since I had 120V to hot with a neutral and another 120V to the isolated circuit of 30 and 32's grounds, the tester "misread" this as reversed polarity. When there was nothing going to ground and 30 and 32 had 120V with a shared neutral, this read, obviously, as floating ground. When I turned off 32, the tester then thought 30 was grounded and I don't really know why that is.
    – Ron Kyle
    Jun 26, 2020 at 10:33
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    It's a good thing the cable guy told you about it and you didn't find him (or a family member) just laying on the ground! Good job sleuthing, and, if it were me, I'd be checking every other breaker in the panel, just to be sure someone didn't go "creative mode" elsewhere!! Thanks for posting your solution, be sure to click your check-mark so others know this was the solution, too!
    – FreeMan
    Jun 26, 2020 at 11:28
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    Oh, don't I know it! The spark had left a burn mark on the wall about a foot long above the outlet; I'm probably lucky the guy didn't have a heart attack just from the surprise! What should have tipped me off that it was hooked up wrong and not from chewed wires or something was that the spark didn't even trip a breaker. Only 5 of the breakers were labeled at the box so before I did anything I made a layout of the house in sketchup, located all the electrics and traced them all out. So, no other surprises thankfully!
    – Ron Kyle
    Jul 4, 2020 at 14:09

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