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I'm looking to replace some light switches inside my house and came across something I haven't seen before. Inside the box, there's a number of ground wires all connected together, and a number of neutral wires all connected together, then a wire connecting both together. Though it looks intentional, I thought it must be a mistake and disconnected it. After disconnecting, none of the lights with switches in that box worked.

So my question is, is this acceptable? And would someone potentially do this because the neutral wire somehow isn't making connection back the panel and instead of fixing it, the person who wired it connected it to the ground to complete the circuit?

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    Are any of these switches 3-way switches? Do the 3-way switches connect to /3 cable (black white red)? It seems like they are bootlegging neutral. Sep 19 at 19:58

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Neural wires are best placed in your head. :)

Neutral wires should not be "grounded" the way you describe, but if the lights stopped working when you removed the connection, what you probably have there is a broken neutral somewhere, so there is no real neutral wire (one that leads to the appropriate point in your panel) and so the ground is being used as neutral instead. This is wrong, and dangerous. Under the right (wrong) conditions, random breaks in your ground wiring could cause metal appliances or other metal objects in your house to become energized. It's using the ground wires in your house to achieve the exact opposite of what they are there for. Instead of protecting you from touching energized metal, they are now NOT doing that, and instead bringing you one LARGE step closer to touching energized metal.

The answer is to find out why the neutrals don't work and get it fixed.

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This is a definite problem, and you have identified it quite clearly.

Neutral and ground are connected in one place, the main panel. Historically they have often been connected in subpanels as well, but that is not allowed any more.

Connecting neutral and ground elsewhere - e.g., receptacle, switch or any device or junction box - is wrong.

And would someone potentially do this because the neutral wire somehow isn't making connection back the panel and instead of fixing it, the person who wired it connected it to the ground to complete the circuit?

The thinking is:

  • Ground and neutral are connected - test anywhere in the system with a multi-tester and you will get connectivity.
  • Neutral is broken somewhere to this particular box.
  • Since ground is connected to neutral, "fix" by connecting neutral and ground in this box.

Which 100% works. But is 100% against code and can lead to dangerous situations.

There are two possible sources of the broken neutral:

  • A bad connection

That can be in the breaker panel or any box before this one. Check any other switch boxes, receptacle boxes or other junction boxes between the breaker panel and this switch box. Look for loose wire nuts, loose wires on receptacles, back stab connections on receptacles (move the wires to screw connections), loose screws, etc. Hopefully you will find and fix one of those problems and everything will work again.

  • A broken wire

This is less likely, particularly because a broken wire in a cable typically means either an animal chewed through the cable - which will often get hot and neutral - or a nail through a cable, which should never happen but sometimes does due to insufficiently protected cables.

If it is a broken wire then you generally have to replace the section of cable between two boxes.

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    Our accessories are differently designed to yours, but in my experiance it's quite common for wires to break at terminations. either due to excessive bending or due to scoring of the wire when it was stripped. Sep 21 at 3:30
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Neutrals and grounds should never be connected except in the main panel box.

A broken neutral to panel will stop a circuit from working. A broken ground to neutral will just make the circuit unsafe.

A fast non-safe repair for a broken neutral is to connect with a good ground wire. This is unsafe since it can cause current to be on the ground system.

You will need to find the broken neutral and repair it. Hopefully it will be in a box and not somewhere in the walls(look for fried mouse).

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