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Why is my neutral (white) wire sparking in the panel? It's part of a circuit with five light boxes, one light connected to a switch box, one junction box. Lights one and two, the switch and outlet are joined to lights three, four and five by the junction box. The power source runs from panel to lights 3,4, &5. The breaker is 15 amps.

  • How are you able to see the sparking neutral? What reason are you opening the panel in the first place? – Kris Sep 5 '15 at 4:41
  • If it's sparking, it's a loose connection, or maybe a broken neutral wire. If the sparking is happening where the wire is clamped into the neutral bus, turn off the breaker and check to see if the wire is loose or broken. Electrical connections have to be tight. This is a fire hazard. Of course that is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the wire is in the service panel. But that wire insulaltion WILL burn. If you're not comfortable trying to fix it, you need to call an electrician. And leave that breaker shut off until it's fixed. – Craig Sep 5 '15 at 6:58
  • Are you touching it, or is it just sparking while you stand back and watch it? Can you provide some photos/video? A diagram of the circuit (schematic), might be helpful. Remember, we can't see what you see, so you have to paint a picture with your words (or paint an actual picture, then post a photo of it). – Tester101 Sep 5 '15 at 11:14
  • Light was flickering along with buzzing sound coming from panel. I opened the panel and shut off the breaker when I saw sparks coming from the neutral wire. I was not touching the wire just observed it. Where I live is semi remote and could take a week or to get an electrician out here but that's my next step. I'll also double check for loose or broken wire. I'm writing this on my cell so not the best for giving elaborate explanation. Any tips appreciated. Thanks for comments. – Tim Trottier Sep 5 '15 at 11:44
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    @TimTrottier Sounds like a loose connection. Tighten it up, and you should be good to go. If you're not comfortable doing this type of work, get an Electrician out to do it. Since the arcing could have damaged the wire, and terminal. I'd trim the wire back (if there's enough slack), strip it, insert it in a different terminal, and tighten down the terminal really well. – Tester101 Sep 5 '15 at 12:50
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The neutral wire is sparking because it is loose and carries a load. Technically this is referred to as a non-linear load, or a unbalanced load.

Most folks just refer to it as the return load, or neutral load.

Solution

A qualified technician should tighten the loose screw and give a slight tug on the wire to carefully make sure it is secured and not damaged from the arching. Also while the panel cover is open, the qualified tech should make sure all the other terminal connections are secured and not loose.

I personally would not recommend this as DIY job.

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    If it's a residential lighting circuit it's just the load, period. No need to confuse a homeowner with terms like "non-linear" and "unbalanced load". The wire is loose and there is a load, that's all. – Speedy Petey Sep 5 '15 at 13:06
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    Agreed, my bad. Hopefully the update is better – Kris Sep 5 '15 at 13:58

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