I understand the differences between "hot" and "neutral" and their positions in a circuit, but it's not clear to me where hot ends and neutral begins.

In principle, you could cut the wire at any point in the circuit, and one length would be hot and the other neutral.

Reading between the lines, my impression is that the convention is that "hot" continues up to the load, after which the wire is designated "neutral", but I don't see any literal specification to that effect.

  • 2
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it belongs on the electrical forum. – wallyk Jan 8 '17 at 17:40

What you say is true; the place in the circuit where it transitions from hot to neutral transitions at the load. The reason is that the load is where the "work" is happening and represents the connection between the hot and ground (neutral) lines.

In fact, as you look around the circuit schematic, everything that is inline "towards" or "facing" the feed is going to have a higher electrical potential than everything downstream toward the neutral line. Hope this is clear.. I have a flu today and am a bit drugged. :)


While I don't necessarily like using plumbing as an analogy for electricity, it can be helpful in this situatuon.

Think of a kitchen sink as an electrical device, or load. The supply lines are "hot", while the drain is "netural". The supply lines have pressure, which forces the water out of the tap. Once at the sink, the pressure is released. The water then flows down the drain with no (very low) pressure.

It's a similar situation in the electrical world. The "hot" conductors have a "pressure" (electrical potential). Once the electrical energy is used by the device, it flows down the "drain" ("neutral") conductor at very low pressure (electrical potential).

To answer your question directly. The "neutral"; or grounded conductor, "begins" after the load. Where the electrical potential is near zero (relative to ground).

  • I think in this instance the plumbing analogy is inaccurate. In AC electrical systems the current flows both directions. When a circuit is active (ie switched on) the live and neutral wires are indistinguishable from that point of view. – DaveInCaz Mar 9 '18 at 21:02

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