This Is What Years Of A Loose Neutral Looks Like

A neighbor asked me to look at the GFCI receptacle in her garage. She said it tripped and she was having trouble resetting it. The box contained the GFCI receptacle and a 3 way switch for the overhead light. There was an old cloth covered wire coming into the bottom of the box from the basement and 2 wires coming out of the top - one old cloth covered 3 conductor for the light and a newer run of white 2 conductor Romex that went up to a junction box. She said she was pretty sure that everything else in the garage worked fine. (overhead light, freezer, GDO, GFCI on the other side of the garage, etc.)
I pushed the reset button and the GFCI chattered while I was pushing it. It did not reset. I pushed it again and all it did was chatter.
I removed the switch plate to see what was going on and saw that there was nothing on the load side of the GFCI. Well, if there was nothing on the load side to trip it, the GFCI itself must be bad, right? So I told my neighbor I would back with some tools and a new GFCI receptacle.
When I unscrewed the GFCI, I found that the neutral pigtail to the GFCI was loose in the wire nut. This wire was actually a black wire labeled with scotch tape as WHT. In fact, it pulled out of the wire nut when I moved the GFCI. When I tried to remove the wire nut from the neutral bundle, it wouldn't even turn. Here's what the neutral wires looked like after I used pliers to remove the wire nut.
http://i440.photobucket.com/albums/qq121/DerbyDad03/photobucket-1940-1391992198428_zpsa98594de.jpg
On the left side of the photo, you can see the edge of the GFCI and the black wire with the tape on it designating it as WHT. There is some kind of white coating on the wire, perhaps white paint. Notice the blackened scotch tape as well as the blackened ends of the all of the neutral wires. The exposed copper of the GFCI neutral pigtail is discolored and green with corrosion. On the top of the box is the blackened wire nut from the neutral bundle. All of this discoloration looked like it had been there for a long time. My neighbor said she has used the GFCI on a regular basis, right up until it tripped last weekend.
The two original neutral wires were twisted together, but the neutral for the GFCI and the neutral for the newer run of Romex were just laid next to the twisted wires and wire nutted on. Obviously, they were either never very tight or had worked themselves loose over the years. I found that the same "technique" had been used for the hot wires - the two original wires were twisted together but the new wires were just wire nutted next to them with no twist.
As long as I had the new GFCI, I installed it. I also a replaced the stranded green ground wire, a stranded hot pigtail to the switch and I used a piece of white wire for the GFCI neutral. All wires were twisted together before the wire nuts were applied. Hopefully, there will be no more chattering now that all connections are secure.
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It's no wonder there are many house fires caused by incompetent DIYers.
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On 02/09/14 09:22 pm, DerbyDad03 wrote:

I thought I had read that the wires are *not* supposed to be twisted together before installing the wire nut.
Perce
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You have to read the instructions on the box. The ones I have used say twisting is not needed and to put the wires pareallel to each other and then twist the nut on. Some say you can twist them but it is not needed.
I have installed many of the kind that say you do not need to twist them. Don't recall any that failed. This is from low voltage low current to some 480 volt at 20 or so amps. I never twisted them. The main thing is to give them a good pull and if the wire nut comes off you did not do it correctly.
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On Sun, 09 Feb 2014 22:24:35 -0500, "Percival P. Cassidy"

on the wirenut twists the connection together. Adding wires to an existing connection is NOT recommended. The way to do it right is to cut off the old connection, restrip the wires,, then either lay them together and twist on the new (right sized) nut, OR twist the bundle together and then install the nut.(if more than 2, or at most 3 conductors)
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On Monday, February 10, 2014 8:06:10 AM UTC-5, snipped-for-privacy@snyder.on.ca wrote: All wires were twisted together

It is my opinion that solid wires should never be twisted. They should be carefully bent until exactly straight and parallel and touching the whole bared length, and then the wire nut added.
With stranded wires, I twist them tightly with pliers, snip the end cleanly, and add the wire nut. (preferably in the same direction of twist)
Wire nuts will never be as secure as chocolate block, but doing them this way has worked fine for me.
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On Sunday, February 9, 2014 10:24:35 PM UTC-5, Percival P. Cassidy wrote:

+1
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...A long post about loose neutral wires...
...snip..

The wood behind the box is not charred. It's just discolored due to age. What you see is the 1 x 6 T&G sheathing that they used on the houses that were built in the 50's in my neighborhood. My house was built the same way.
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I thought burnt also, until I remembered the redwood inside the walls of the 100 year old house looked burnt too.
just a bit of water damage, or aging, don't know, but actually flaked off like charcoal.
But in this case probably pine ready to flame.
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Per DerbyDad03:

Does that mean they were just stuck into the wire nut but the wire nut was not rotated to twist the wires together?
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I don't doubt it. You haven't really lived until you've seen two wires connected together with a piece of masking tape. BTST (Been There and Seen That!)
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Bobby G.




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What I meant was that it appears that the wire nut was removed from the original twisted-together wires, the neutral for the GFCI and the neutral for the new run of Romex were held next to them and the wire nut was twisted back on. The GFCI neutral pulled out of the wire nut more or less by itself when I unscrewed the GFCI and pulled it out of the box. The neutral for the new run of Romex was firmly inside the wire nut.
The hot wires were the same way...old wires twisted, new wires not.
Whether you chose to twist or not twist, I don't think you should mix. That seems like the twisted wires would present a thick and rough surface to the wire nut making it hard for the nut to firmly grip the smooth straight wires.
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On Monday, February 10, 2014 7:25:02 PM UTC-5, DerbyDad03 wrote:

I really do not think twisting solid wires works at #12 or above. It's impossible to get them tight enough. Stranded wires, sure, but not solid. I've seen too many connections that would rattle.
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On Mon, 10 Feb 2014 02:22:58 +0000 (UTC), DerbyDad03

I had a roof mounted AC system where the wires in the junction box were like that. Condenser fan motor was working intermittently so I replaced it thinking it was bad. In fact, a year earlier it had stopped and I had an AC guy come look at it but it was working by the time he showed up and he couldn't find a problem. When I had the new motor hooked up and turned it on there was a loud SNAP from the junction box. I turned it back off and rechecked all my wiring and couldn't find anything wrong. So I turned it on again and everything worked. Took the box apart where the SNAP noise had come from and saw similar to what your lady friend had except much larger wires and 240 volt. It was so burned I don't know how it managed to keep working for at least a full year from the first event.
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