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I am working on a pre existing pump shed. The shed is 150 feet from the main panel.

For some reason the neutral has dropped. It is probably damaged.

The pump still works because it doesn't require a neutral. But the plugs and lights stopped working a few years ago.

It is too long to pull a new wire easily.

So I am thinking of driving a ground rod anyway to take care of poor bonding.

Is it possible to drive a second rod for the neutral, or do I need to figure out a new path back to the main?

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  • Welcome to Home Improvement. While you're waiting for an answer, take a minute to take the tour so you can see how this site differs from others, and browse through the help center so you'll know what to expect. In general, I'm going to say that you'll want to fix the neutral, not bond it to the grounding rod, but wait for one of the electricians to confirm that. – FreeMan Jul 15 '20 at 11:40
  • Is the wiring run to this pumphouse direct buried, or run in conduit? What all is present there for 120V loads? Is the existing feed 3-wire (hot, hot, neutral) or 4-wire (hot, hot, neutral, ground)? How many HP is the pump? – ThreePhaseEel Jul 15 '20 at 11:55
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    You can’t return current through dirt (that’s why we bother to mine copper). Returning normal current is neutral’s One Job, so a “neutral rod” is not a thing, and will not ever be a thing. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 15 '20 at 14:01
  • A transformer might be an option, platt.com/platt-electric-supply/… (pricing can be beaten), but not really a DIY job. – NoSparksPlease Jul 15 '20 at 18:24
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Current flows in loops. Between hot and hot; or between hot and neutral. But always a loop.

Wayward current wants to get back to SOURCE - not earth. For human-generated artificial electricity, wayward hot current wants to get back to NEUTRAL (or an opposing hot) not ground. It has no interest in ground, except that there’s a neutral-ground bond back at the main panel/service point.

Ground and neutral have three completely separate jobs:

  • Neutral returns normal everyday current. This is the only wire current should move on (Beside the hots).
  • Ground returns human-generated fault current to source. That means the ground-neutral bond back at the main panel. This requires it to flow hundreds of amps, which is why it must be a competent wire.
  • Ground returns naturally made electricity (lightning, ESD) back to its source, which is earth. A ground wire a long distance to another building’s main panel is a very bad choice, because lighting will incinerate this wire, and it will create a deadly voltage gradient between the buildings. For this problem, you need a ground rod.

The dirt you’re driving ground rods into, is just dirt. It conducts electricity about as well as you’d expect dirt to. Not nearly well enough to handle any human-made electricity - not as normal return current, nor as fault current.

The neutral wire may be fixable

I don’t blame you; most people struggling with a non-conducting wire go straight to the assumption that the wire is broken somewhere in the inaccessible parts of the cable. Actually, that’s rare. A single wire doesn’t randomly take damage like that (without affecting the others).

As such, I would very, very carefully inspect the neutral wire everywhere (it is not inside the cable sheath). You may find a break or loose connection that you hadn’t seen before, and that is fixable.

Not least, where the neutral lands on the neutral bar in the panel - nobody checks that lol.

Lights and outlets are different problems

These days, lights are easy - just go shopping for modern LED fixtures, and many of them will run 120/240V multi-voltage. If your lights are fluorescent tubes, things are even easier - change to a modern electronic ballast. Almost all are multi-voltage rated... so aside from efficiency, coldstart, zero buzz, zero flicker and better light than LED... you can also run them on 240V!

Receptacle outlets, however, are a PitA because we never know what someone is going to plug into them. So you must wildly oversize the current provisioning. This is not an easy problem to solve, except by saying “I don’t need receps out here that badly, how about we skip it?”

But there’s another problem with receptacles. Code is clear that if more than 50% of your circuit ampacity is used by hardwired loads, you cannot have any receps at all. So it was surprising to me to hear a well pump circuit with receptacles. Also, common receps can only be on 15A or 20A circuits. If you really wanted to do that thing, you could fit a subpanel in the shed, at which point the house run is a “feeder” and the well gets its own breaker and circuit... but obviously, subpanels really need neutral wires. So fixing that would be a prerequisite.

There’s no such thing as fixing just a neutral wire, unless it is an individual wire run in a conduit. If it is buried cable, you really need to bet all the marbles that it’s a problem at one of the ends. But that is a fairly good bet.

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Using a ground rod for neutral is not allowed.

An easier solution may be to fit a 240V lamp, but to meet code with this you may need to replace the light switch, socket, and re-color the in-shed light wiring. that won't fix the outlets.

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  • is right it is not allowed but I did it once many years ago. – d.george Jul 15 '20 at 11:16
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    people die form that. – Jasen Jul 15 '20 at 11:20
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    All US light switches/sockets are rated to 250V minimum, last I checked. I personally would change to a double pole switch to cut both sides of the line if using an Edison base 240V bulb, but if using a hardwire 240V LED fixture where there's no easy access (or reason to access) a contact I'd leave the switch alone. For small 120V loads a transformer would be an option. – Ecnerwal Jul 15 '20 at 13:04

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