Two hots wired together from two separate circuits coming from breaker panel

Thread Starter

Daddygreen

Joined Jul 17, 2018
2
I recently purchased a home and within a month I'm already having electrical problems. The problem started when half the lights in the room stopped working out of the blue. So I shut the breaker off to the lights and opened a junction box behind the first non-working light fixture and discovered it was still hot. Next, I shut each breaker off individually and realized that it must have two hot lines coming im since it was remaining hot until I shut all the power down. As I turned them back on I found this to be the case. 4 black wires junctioned together and two were hot coming from separate circuits.

I've installed many breaker panels and repaired or replaced wires in many different houses and this is actually the first time I've seen this exact issue. I'm wondering why they would install two hot lines together?

There are at least 4 lights and several outlets coming from this junction. None of the fluorescent lights are coming on but the standard bulb light is on but dim and I have a lamp in the outlet that is also on but dim. Thanks in advance!
 

Reloadron

Joined Jan 15, 2015
5,916
There are at least 4 lights and several outlets coming from this junction. None of the fluorescent lights are coming on but the standard bulb light is on but dim and I have a lamp in the outlet that is also on but dim. Thanks in advance!
That would lead me to believe that somehow and some way the incandescent lamps are in a series configuration. With both on and dim what happens if you turn one off? If in series they both should be off if either is turned off.

When you have looked at enough panels you start to figure you have seen it all right till... I have no clue why two lines would be tied but they have to be the same side of the split phase at the entry. What I suggest is trying to map things out and line by line correct things which hopefully are accessible. Also a decent meter would be helpful in figuring what is what.

Ron
 

WBahn

Joined Mar 31, 2012
26,398
It would be helpful (to you as much as to us) to provide as complete a sketch as possible of what you are seeing. Word descriptions tend to be just too open to misinterpretation to be worth the effort.
 

ebp

Joined Feb 8, 2018
2,332
"Dim" is a very very bad thing - maybe. If the lights are dim because there is a voltage drop somewhere in the wiring it is potentially disastrously - as in house-buring - bad. When electrical circuits go dead without a breaker going open, it is equally bad. My suspicion is that in some bizarre fashion lamps and receptacles are getting connected in series, which is bad but not going to set anything on fire.

That wiring is dangerous. Certainly where I live, if there are two circuits entering the same box, as for split-phase or where each receptacle of a duplex type is on a separate circuit (was standard for kitchen wiring), the breakers must be mechanically tied together so if one trips the other is also opened.

The wiring has clearly been done by some cowboy with no clue about regulations or safe practice. Expensive though it may be, it might be worth consulting a lawyer for advice on how to proceed.
 

Thread Starter

Daddygreen

Joined Jul 17, 2018
2
Hello again and thank you all very much for the quick replies. I'm very sorry for the wordiness, I know it's tough to visualize what I'm talking about without a sketch. I don't have one quite yet as I just opened it up last night and it took me a few hours just to get a handle on what was hot and what was not. Unfortunately, this is in a finished basement with a sheetrocked ceiling. The other issue is there are three circuits coming into these lights, two being junctioned together, and all operated by one switch. To complicate matters further it was shutting lights down on the second floor when I shut the two circuits down wired together. I will do my best to dig a bit deeper and try to map the thing out somewhat later this evening.

A little more background: This seems to have been wired by a homeowner/contractor that we bought the house from. When doing the inspection we discovered the main breaker was melted and I required a licensed electrician to come and replace the box. At this point I thought it was just a short in a bad panel, which I've seen before, but wanted an electrician to look it over mainly because I thought it needed 200 amp as opposed to 100. This is a 3,500 sq ft house. They agreed however he STILL did it himself and just replaced the guts in the 100 amp box. I didn't realize this until after I closed, realtor failure. As I was insisting on a licensed electrician my realtor was pushing back saying this guy was a licensed contractor. I obviously didn't trust his handiwork and wrote in "licensed electrician" on the contract. He still did the job and my realtor did not catch that on the lien release. So I'm just trying to figure this thing out and make it safe.

I've wired many houses and knew having two hots was wrong but wanted to be sure I wasn't missing something. This one is just so weird I thought I reach out to this massive amount of knowledge on this forum to see if it made any sense to have it wired this way. Thanks again and I will update after I've investigated further.
 

Reloadron

Joined Jan 15, 2015
5,916
Either way it sounds like some serious/dangerous mis-wiring by a previous owner!
Max.
Looking into the possibility my father-in-law may have done the wiring.
The wiring has clearly been done by some cowboy with no clue about regulations or safe practice. Expensive though it may be, it might be worth consulting a lawyer for advice on how to proceed.
Cowboy? You have a problem with cowboys son? Like to see you hog tie a calf or even a hog for that matter! :)

Seriously that if you are unsure what you are looking at it would be wise to get a competent (key word is competent) electrician involved. My wife's cousin just had $100,000 house fire as a result of poorly wired can lights in the kitchen. Sometimes bad things can happen. She was out of town and fortunately smoke detectors woke her husband. Trying to walk someone through problems like this can be a real challenge and considering the safety factor compounds the challenge.

<EDIT> I see you replied as I slowly typed. </EDIT>

Ron
 

ebp

Joined Feb 8, 2018
2,332
Just to be clear, where I come from, in cowboy country, "cowboy" is a widely-used derogatory term for someone who doesn't know what they are doing. The local cowboy show packed up and hit the road yesterday ago. Good riddance.
 
I can offer suggested tools to use to fix this. The Ideal Suretrace. There is an older and newer model and it's hard to distinguish. Be careful if your looking for a used one. http://www.idealindustries.ca/products/prodSelect.php?prodId=SURETRACE&div=1

I did buy an old version. I did not use it yet. I had found my issue. Fuse popped. I managed to guess the path and I disconnected stuff before the short. I used an extension cord from another room to power the cordless phones, an PRTS alarm and a bed lamp. Then I found a hot to ground short measured at alighting fixture.
Finally traced it down to an outlet that I installed. The box was slightly too small in a 80 YO home, so the outlet when moved from side to side caused the hot or neutral to touch the metal box. I say the manufacturer should have prevented it by recessing the screw more. A 12 AWG wire (This was #14) used under the screw should not be able to cause the screw to touch the outlet side. I taped the sides of the electrical outlet to fix.

Another tool is the Walabot. See https://walabot.com/

Bad grounds cause all sorts of interesting problems, so don't overlook that one. An example is when the ground wires are twisted, but not wirenutted. That is no good and hard to catch. The wirenut will provide a gas tite seal. Simple twisting will not. So, these twisted wires are not making good contact. I don;t remember the problems I had.

Three prong devices have filters with capacitors that have leakage currents. If you loose a ground, the nearly perfect leakage divider make about 1/2 the line voltage or 60V to ground which would confuse most people. I ran into this in a work situation in an outlet strip whose ground popped. Therefore it was easy to see.

I never ran into a shared neutral. They will make GFCI circuits trip. Temporarily inserting a GFCI outlet or replacing a breaker with a GFCI might rule that out.

A ballast could have a leakage path to ground.

When you measure to ground, use a known good ground provided say with an extension cord.

Did you check the neutral/ground bond in the breaker box? You can turn some panels into a main lug from a main breaker panel with a kit which usually consists of removing a screw and adding a ground lug bar. The screw makes the neutral/ground bar into a neutral only bar.
 
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dendad

Joined Feb 20, 2016
3,810
It will be an idea to get the place fully checked and fixed by a licensed electrician as you will most likely not be covered by insurance if it all goes up in flames.
Insurance companies are pretty good at finding loopholes so they do not have to pay.
And we had "cowboy" plumbers install a lot of stuff on a house we were doing up, including an evaporative cooler on the roof. They did not do up a joint in the water line and flooded the new bathroom wall the builder had just done a beautiful job on. The inspector noted 14 different faults with their job!!!
Cowboys should stick to cows ;)
 

Reloadron

Joined Jan 15, 2015
5,916
Just to be clear, where I come from, in cowboy country, "cowboy" is a widely-used derogatory term for someone who doesn't know what they are doing. The local cowboy show packed up and hit the road yesterday ago. Good riddance.
Just to be clear it was said in humor. Note the little smiley face. :)

Ron
 

strantor

Joined Oct 3, 2010
5,534
A couple of months ago I replaced our dish washer. I know the wiring is messed up in this house so I don't bother trying to read the breaker legend and turn off the correct breaker; I just turn off the main breaker to the whole house. Everyone can just suffer in the dark until I'm done. So I'm sitting under the kitchen sink, unraveling the big ball of electrical tape hiding the splice where the previous owner had just wired the dishwasher straight into the end of a piece of romex coming out of the wall, and whistling along to the tune of Oddbods, my kid's favorite show in the background. They must be watching it in the dark on a tablet. But how do they have WiFi? The power is off... what the...? I have to go see how this is possible. I go into the living room, and it's no tablet, it's the friggin TV! The living room TV is on while the main breaker is off. WTF?! Turns out that little 60A panel buried in the master closet is coming from upstream of the main breaker in the main panel, and it's not the only thing either. There's what I'm calling a "triple tap" at the input lugs of my home 200A breaker panel. The main feed coming in from the pole bounces off the 200A input lugs and goes to 2 more destinations through my attic, and probably through a wall somewhere, unfused. I hope I never find that 3rd feed (going to detached garage) with a nail as I'm hanging pictures, or in the ground with the tractor, because if that ever gets shorted out, it will take whatever the transformer can put out. There is no breaker on it whatsoever, until it gets to the subpanel that it goes to.
 
At work, I brought up the fact that some home brew devices were using ground as the neutral to run a few valves and I told the boss it was dangerous. These devices were on maybe 5 machines.

He said it's worked for 25 years and it won't get fixed.
 

dendad

Joined Feb 20, 2016
3,810
At work, I brought up the fact that some home brew devices were using ground as the neutral to run a few valves and I told the boss it was dangerous. These devices were on maybe 5 machines.

He said it's worked for 25 years and it won't get fixed.
Point out to him he will not be covered by insurance as he cannot claim he did not know.
That may change his mind!
 

olphart

Joined Sep 22, 2012
78
Whee, scary stuff. I agree a lawyer is warranted to determine options.
My 1st step would be to get someone to help and map the entire house / panel(s).
I'd isolate the 2 combined line feeds and see how they fit the map.
Once mapped, you can get a game plan. You may consult an electrician for a 2nd opinion.
Good Hunting, bad power wiring is a nightmare until resolved... <<<)))
 
Point out to him he will not be covered by insurance as he cannot claim he did not know.
That may change his mind!
It's not really a fire hazzard, it just puts a ground current on stuff. It could mess up other things.

When a bad outlet took out a computer, it was covered under warranty, but potentially we had a huge problem on our hands. There were 470 outlets in the building and every one of them had the potential of destroying other equipment.

The ground in the outlet was made by friction of two dissimilar metals (one brass, The other likely plated steel). In certain outlets, the case apparently didn't cause enough pressure on the outlets bonds to screw bond blate and there wasn't contact. If two devices were plugged into one outlet, a ground could let go. that meant 60V on the other ground if something was plugged in that had a power line filter in it, like a computer or that meant 60V appeared on the cases.

I did devise a test, but it was decided that only laboratory outlets would be blanket replaced and when computers were added to offices, the outlets would be tested. The device I used to test the the outlets was a power cord just for the plug and this other gizmo which I never found a replacement for. You would insert both and wiggle the plug to see if the GND light went out. Reverse the plugs and do it again,

The device was about the same size of a soda can and did the same functions of a simple 3 light "outlet tester" that checks for wiring errors, but it had an extra light that looked for Ground <1 ohm or maybe 1.5 ohms. I never found a replacement.

This https://gardnerbender.com/en/p/HGT6520/Stop-Shock-II-GFCI-Outlet-Circuit would probably replace it, but I think the resistance detection was lower on the device i had.
 
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sdowney717

Joined Jul 18, 2012
648
Since you have installed many distribution panels, you know how it is supposed to be done.
Just fix it, fix every issue that comes up, they did not miswire the whole house, maybe just this one circuit has 2 incoming hots joined.
Keep the biggest gauge wire, and disconnect the other hot wire.

Seems like there maybe 2 different circuits joined some ways after the panel, and you need to keep each neutral separate to flow just the current delivered by its hot wire, So will take some troubleshooting with disconnecting wires and checking things with a meter. All power coming in by the black needs to flow out by its joined neutral wire, not a neutral from another circuit. Otherwise, could overload the white neutral wire with excess current.
 

Tonyr1084

Joined Sep 24, 2015
5,862
I'm no expert on house wiring, so take what I offer with some trepidation, but I experienced a case where both the hot and the neutral BOTH had 120 VAC to ground. Took me a long time to figure that one out - but I actually had a bad neutral. Power from the breaker went to the light directly. From the light to a switch (on the neutral side) then back to the panel. (other places too, but for the sake of discussion - - - ) When the light didn't work I checked it out. Had 120 VAC from hot to ground but not to neutral. Thought I had a bad switch. Checked (don't know why) if I had 120 VAC to ground on BOTH SIDES of the switch. And I found exactly that - even with the switch OFF! Somewhere there was an alarm clock plugged into the same circuit, and the open neutral was closer to the panel. Therefore I found I had 120 VAC live from the breaker and a soft 120 VAC through the alarm clock. When I fixed the bad connection things returned to normal. Don't know HOW THE HECK that happened.

The first thing that came to my mind when you said you had two hots in one box. Honestly that shouldn't be. One hot feed and how ever many taps going off to other places. If you're finding hot on two lines I'm wondering if maybe you have an open neutral somewhere back feeding 120 VAC to the other line.

Of course, this is all conjecture since I can't see your circuit. Nor am I expert enough to figure out why you have a hot where it shouldn't be, but because some lamps are glowing dimly (fluorescent won't light but incandescent will glow) I think you've got a series circuit going on because something is not properly connected to neutral (AKA return, AKA ground).

Just guessing. Remember, whatever you read or learn here - ultimately YOU are responsible for your life. Don't test for voltage using your tongue. Or any other human body part. And don't test accidentally either. We'd like to hear from you again some day.
 

olphart

Joined Sep 22, 2012
78
Recently had to find a circuit problem in new construction. Same as above: neutral at line voltage.
Turned out the drywall people rotozipped the neutral from the breaker feed.
A ceiling fan load was "bridging" line to neutral.
I found it with a test light working from line to ground but not neutral.
From there it was a backtrace to the chowdered romex.
 

Tonyr1084

Joined Sep 24, 2015
5,862
Moved an outlet for the refrigerator. When I shut the breaker off, my NCVD (No Contact Voltage Detector) said there was still voltage on the line. So I grabbed the multimeter. Sure enough there was 110 on the line. Not sure what to do I decided to plug a lamp into the outlet. With the breaker on the lamp lit. With the breaker off the lamp was out. Somewhere there was a back feed of 110 volts and my meter wasn't enough of a load to pull the voltage down.

You COULD be getting a false positive voltage reading. Best way to determine that is to connect a lamp or a fan to it and see which of the two hots runs the fan. Whichever does - THAT is the true hot line. The other may just be back feeding from a different circuit.
 
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