In an inspection report on my house, the inspector said "hot and neutral" are not separated. I think he meant "neutral and ground" are not separated. I've attached the picture, is that the case? enter image description here

  • 5
    If "hot and neutral" are not separated you just get a short.
    – sharptooth
    Mar 5, 2013 at 7:20
  • 1
    Nobody can answer this without more information because if we guess and give you bad information then you could potentially create a dangerous situation. We need to see if it is a main service panel by looking at the main breaker. We need to see if there are more than one buss. What country are you from and what year was your home built? Mar 5, 2013 at 12:39
  • 1
    @sharptooth Well he would probably get a short, but then I see in the picture that there are double pole breakers with white wires connected to them, and they are not AFCI breakers. It is possible that one of those "hot" white wires is connected to the bus but without seeing the whole breaker box we can't tell for sure. Mar 5, 2013 at 12:43
  • 1
    @maple_shaft Just by the simple fact that it's a 4 wire feeder, you can probably safely assume this is a sub-panel.
    – Tester101
    Mar 5, 2013 at 13:32
  • 1
    It's a sub-panel, and I am in the US (Maryland to be specific). Mar 5, 2013 at 14:10

2 Answers 2


I'm guessing from the image that this is a sub-panel, in which case the inspector is correct. The National Electrical Code (NEC) says:

National Electrical Code 2008

250.24 Grounding Service-Supplied Alternating-Current Systems.
(A) System Grounding Connections.
(5) Load-Side Grounding Connections. A grounded conductor shall not be connected to normally non–currentcarrying metal parts of equipment, to equipment grounding conductor(s), or be reconnected to ground on the load side of the service disconnecting means except as otherwise permitted in this article.

Which means the only place the "neutral" (grounded conductor) is bonded, is in the main service panel. If the grounded (neutral) and equipment grounding conductors (EGC) are bonded anywhere else, you can end up with neutral currents on the EGC and metal parts of equipment which is a violation of 250.6(A).

250.6 Objectionable Current.
(A) Arrangement to Prevent Objectionable Current. The grounding of electrical systems, circuit conductors, surge arresters, surge-protective devices, and conductive normally non–current-carrying metal parts of equipment shall be installed and arranged in a manner that will prevent objectionable current.

A second look

After taking another look at this, he could mean that the white insulated wires are not marked appropriately. When you use a wire with white (gray, or with three continuous white stripes) insulation as an ungrounded (hot) conductor, you have to mark the wire in some way to indicate that it is not used as a grounded (neutral) conductor.

200.7 Use of Insulation of a White or Gray Color or with Three Continuous White Stripes.

(C) Circuits of 50 Volts or More. The use of insulation that is white or gray or that has three continuous white stripes for other than a grounded conductor for circuits of 50 volts or more shall be permitted only as in (1) through (3).

(1) If part of a cable assembly and where the insulation is permanently reidentified to indicate its use as an ungrounded conductor, by painting or other effective means at its termination, and at each location where the conductor is visible and accessible. Identification shall encircle the insulation and shall be a color other than white, gray, or green.

Since the white wires connected to the breakers are not marked, it looks (to the untrained eye) as if the grounded (neutral) conductors are connected to the hot bus. The most common way to mark the wires, is to wrap a bit of black electrical tape around a small section of the wire.

  • 1
    So it is a sub panel and the inspector was right per NEC, however what is the best way to resolve this issue? If there isn't a seperate buss how would the OP install one? Mar 5, 2013 at 14:16
  • 1
    @maple_shaft Depends on the manufacturer of the panel, some offer "add-on" bus bars which can be mounted to the panel.
    – Tester101
    Mar 5, 2013 at 15:20
  • If there is not another one then just maybe it's already installed per manufacturer's specs Mar 15, 2013 at 3:34
  • Manufacturer specs cannot override the code requirement to separate neutral and ground in a subpanel. Most panels have separate bus bars that can be purchased and added on to allow the separation. The neutral bar (probably the new one) would be insulated from the panel frame to be properly installed.
    – Skaperen
    Mar 15, 2013 at 6:34
  • I see white wires going into breakers. This does not comply with code. The wires should be "marked" with a permanent tape around them. Any color legal for hot can be used (black, red, blue). The marking must be on both ends. Technically it is supposed to be done at the time the whole cable is installed.
    – Skaperen
    Mar 15, 2013 at 6:36

It would help if you told us where you are, and what you are showing us a picture of.

If it's a main panel, neutral and ground and bonded together. If it's a sub-panel, neutral and ground must be kept separate.

  • 2
    I don't see a main breaker in the pic. I see the large black and red going down the left side of the box, but pic doesn't show a separate neutral and ground buss. Mar 5, 2013 at 10:42
  • Yes, this is a sub-panel. If my memory serves me correct, the black and red are attached to the main panel. Mar 5, 2013 at 14:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.