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I am updating older beige outlets to new white ones around my house. I saw this one has the grounding wire stabbed into the back and white wire not connected.

What the heck is going on here? Any suggestions on what to do and why it’s not properly grounded?

enter image description here

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    The glisten of copper below the wire nut is another sign of a likely problem. Can't tell from the image whether it is just a stripped black wire, a wire incorrectly inserted in the wire nut or what, but it doesn't look right.
    – HABO
    Dec 9, 2023 at 14:42
  • @HABO, I think that is the bare copper crimp-on connector connecting the grounds and the ground pigtail.
    – prl
    Dec 9, 2023 at 17:12
  • @HABO That’s a ground wire crimp sleeve. Totally normal.
    – nobody
    Dec 10, 2023 at 0:44
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    A quick way to check everything in the house is to get a tester such as this one: kleintools.com/catalog/electrical-testers/… These things are inexpensive Walk around the house and plug it into each outlet. Make sure that the correct lights come on. It won't tell you everything that could be wrong, but it will identify most suspect outlets (it would flag this one, too, as missing ground). Dec 10, 2023 at 3:07

2 Answers 2

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This is an alarm that you need to check every single switch and receptacle in your house.

Ground and neutral are bonded together at your main panel. That's the only place they're supposed to be bonded. But, consequently, ground wires are viable return paths for the hot circuit.

In this case the ground wire appears to have been connected instead of the neutral wire. This is incredibly dangerous not only because it's an uninsulated (and possibly smaller) wire but because it's presumably connected to every metal fixture and appliance in your home. The receptacle will still be functional because electricity can flow just fine along the ground wire.

It is a fire hazard. It is a kill you if you touch the wrong thing hazard. It is a "whoever did this was so absurdly wrong that I trust nothing" hazard

Now, all those hyperboles aside. As long as you don't plug anything into that receptacle nothing is likely to go crazy wrong. Do not use it. But I'd be more concerned about the receptacles you are using.

If I discovered this in my own home I would immediately make arrangements to inspect every electrical device. Call an electrician to handle it if you have any ambiguity.

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    Definitely a major safety issue here, but wire size is unlikely to be part of the problem. Ground wires in cables are the same size as the insulated wires, bare just looks smaller. Also given that the black wires are back-stabbed, they pretty much have to be 14Ga (backstabs don’t take 12Ga). The bare wires won’t be any smaller than that because 14Ga is the smallest size made for household AC wiring use.
    – nobody
    Dec 9, 2023 at 2:54
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    @nobody -- some older types of cables had undersized ground wire... Dec 9, 2023 at 3:00
  • Among the many things to do: get a multimeter and figure out if the white wires are connected back to the panel. This setup could have been done because the white got broken, or it could just have been flat-out ignorance. Dec 9, 2023 at 3:52
  • @ThreePhaseEel undersized as in smaller than 14 gauge?
    – Huesmann
    Dec 9, 2023 at 20:37
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    @jesse_b That is simply not true. The NEC does not allow 16AWG grounds for building wiring. It doesn't allow downsizing ground until the current-carrying conductors reach 8AWG. Take a look at the specifications published by an actual wire manufacturer: southwire.com/wire-cable/building-wire/… If you buy 14AWG NM-B cable today, both the current-carrying wires and the ground wire will be 14AWG. If you're not convinced, go measure some and see for yourself.
    – nobody
    Dec 10, 2023 at 15:18
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It's possible some moron along the way wanted to add another hot leg, or possibly a switch, somewhere along this circuit. Said moron may very well have tied that white wire to a constant or switched hot and used the ground for the neutral for whole circuit. I am saddened to say I have come across this more than once.

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    Good that you mention this possibility. I was about to say something similar in comments to the question. Recommend verify that white wire is actually neutral before treating it as such. Dec 11, 2023 at 4:26

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