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I live in a 1987 Zimmer Windsor double wide mobile home. A couple of the outlets are getting worn and the plug on the item I may be using at the time (vacuum, coffee maker, hair dryer) has become very loose in the socket and and falls out if moved at all. I decided to replace one of the outlets myself. What I discovered is kind of scary.

The original outlet is of the "quick connect" type where the wires are basically run straight through the outlet box and are shoved into a splice feature inside and never cut to be connected to a screw as in the design of the outlet I bought for a replacement. There are 3 wires, but not black/white/copper. There is a white wire, a copper wire , and a gray wire. The white and copper wire were the only wires connected to the outlet with the gray wire bypassing it all together. Upon inspecting the inside of the quick connect, the white wire was run where the black wire should be (it even states "black wire"), the copper wire was run where the white wire is supposed to be (it states "white wire"), and there was no wire where the ground was supposed to be connected.

So all this time, there has been no ground circuit for this outlet. I went ahead and cut the gray wire so I have basically 2 white wires, 2 gray wires and 2 bare copper wires. I used a multimeter and found that one of the white wires had power. I figured this would be the hot wire since neither gray wire had power. I connected both white wires to the 2 brass terminals, both gray wires to the 2 silver terminals and the ground wires to the green screw. The outlet did not work.

I swapped the gray and white wires around so the gray wires were on the brass terminals and the white wires on the silver terminals. The outlet still did not work. I put the white wires on the brass terminals, and the copper wires on the silver terminals, then twisted the gray wires together and the outlet works. I know this is not correct/dangerous.

I decided to look at another outlet in the home and sure enough, it was wired the same way as the original one I am replacing. The bare copper ground wire is being used for the neutral wire in the 2 outlets I have inspected. Even better yet, about 2 years ago, I replaced an outlet in a bedroom where a table lamp had been plugged in, and that outlet had the normal black/white/bare copper 14 ga. wire and was properly connected and grounded.

How do I fix this? I am not making this up and I'm afraid it's going to get expensive to straighten out.

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    I put a couple of line breaks in to make it easier to read what was a wall of text. Feel free to use them yourself in the future, it makes things easier to read.
    – FreeMan
    Feb 28, 2022 at 12:26

1 Answer 1

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Now, what you're calling a "gray wire" is actually a Black wire that has faded a bit. Calling it "gray" is really confusing because gray is an allowable neutral color (but never seen in cables). Just call it black in the future.

I decided to replace one of the outlets myself. What I discovered is kind of scary. The original outlet is of the "quick connect" type where the wires are basically run straight through the outlet box and are shoved into a splice feature inside and never cut to be connected to a screw as in the design of the outlet I bought for a replacement.

That's correct. Mobile homes are typically built with a very different type of outlet. You will need to use the Mobile Home type for a same-type replacement.

The mobile home types are available - I don't see them in stores much, but they're readily available mail-order.

The only way to use the common receptacle type is, if you have the physical space available, you can install a junction box like a house would use. However the cable needs to enter the box still in its sheath (not as 3 individual wires), the sheath must come in at least 1/4" past the cable clamp, and there must be 6" of free wire length beyond that (however wire nut extensions are allowable).

Do not under any circumstance install a standard outlet "loose" with no junction box.

I for one think mobile homes are enough of a fire-trap already, and I would not only use a junction box, I'd use a metal junction box. They stop arcing fires better.

The bare copper ground wire is being used for the neutral wire in the 2 outlets I have inspected

You understand the crux of the problem.

What is happening is they are using the /2 cable for for 2 hot wires and a neutral, illegally. The black and white are 2 different "hot" wires. This is one of two things:

  • one of the hots is a "switched hot" for a lamp or switched receptacle.
  • The two hots are a "Multi-Wire Branch Circuit" or MWBC (there's a Google word for you).

They should have used /3 cable, but either the factory cheated, or someone did a retrofit using the wires in the walls.

Either way, you should make a plan to "roll it back" to correct. Either eliminate the MWBC or switch leg; or if able, fish in actual proper /3 cable.

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  • If you want USB outlets you need (plastic) Carlon B117RSWR Single Gang Shallow Old Work Flanged Box - It will hold the sheet metal of the wall a little proud, but it's not bad and it's the only box I found that will fit in walls that thin, that will take outlets that big.
    – Mazura
    Feb 28, 2022 at 18:12
  • Thank you to whomever it was that took the time to answer my question. I greatly appreciate our time and the insight as to what I am dealing with and ways to correct it.
    – Mike
    Feb 28, 2022 at 20:02
  • @Mazura yeah, those things are basically a "sincere flattery" of the mainstay metal box, 4 x 4 x only 1-1/2" deep, with a 1-gang "mud ring" to come through drywall. However these have old-work wings for latching onto drywall, and an easier time inserting them through an old hole. (4x4 boxes don't fit inside a 1-gang opening). Mar 1, 2022 at 3:26

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