Last time I got involved with it the neutral/ground/return bus in home
breaker boxes were all one bus. It was just brought to my attention
that today the neutral bus is separated from the ground, and 4 wires
are now used for 220v. In the old days 220v only used 3 wires.
When did this change and why?
The two should be bonded together in the main panel. The only time you
will need 4 wires for a 240 volt circuit is if you also have some
component of the circuit feeding a 120 volt load. Then you will have
neutral current as well as 2 hots and a ground. An example of this
would be a 240 volt stove with a 120 volt convenience outlet on it, or
a subpanel with 120 and 240 volt circuits in it.
Also washers, dryers.... 3 wire would give you 2 120 volt legs for 240 volts
on motors and heaters. A neutral for 120 volt timers(controls). Nothing was
left to protect you from a short to the cabinet. Thus 4 wire included a
ground(seperate from the neutral) to protect YOU!
That panel is not the main disconnect. Those four wires go
back to a main disconnect panel where the neutral and ground
finally come together.
Where is that main disconnect? That is the spot that
neutral and ground meet.
Ken Hall wrote:
From my memory only.
I know for sure that in 1996 the NEC required four wires for dryer and
ranges for example. The change might have been made in 1993 but I am fuzzy
Manufactures make residential service panels with two busses because some
authorities require the grounds to be separate from the neutrals. The
ground and neutral are connected by some means dependant on the manufacture.
Commercial/industrial services have always been separate.
You can still run 3 wires to a motor and meet the NEC. As long as your load
does not require a neutral for anything.
The concept is...... using the ground as a neutral has always been a
violation of the NEC, it was just ignored in the residential market for a
It was just before 1970 when the NEC required the use of separate
neutral and equipment ground conductors. It was to provide a safe
grounding system to prevent life threatening electrical shocks from
equipment and appliances.
Henceforth, there were four conductors:
two 120 volt lines (line, hot- black & red, 180 degrees out of phase,
240 volts between them) source- utility company
a neutral (neutral, center-tap, white) source- utility company
a ground (equipment ground, earth, green) source- local ground rod, or
bond to water pipe. [NEC has whole list of "acceptable grounds", with
new plastic water pipes, many old installs no longer have a good ground]
At one point (and only one point) there is a bonding wire or bolt where
the eguipment ground and neutral are "bonded together", usually in the
"main disconnect enclosure". Removing the bond and testing for a fault
between the neutral and ground is usually part of the inspection
proceedures. The ground conductors terminate to a ground bar mounted
and bonded TO the enclosure. The neutral conductors to an insulated
neutral bar in the enclosure. (One of the bolts on this bar will be
marked "ground bond" and will go thru the bar and thread into the
grounded enclosure, effectively connecting the neutral and ground)
There are two notable exceptions to carrying a separate NEUTRAL and a
GROUND to ALL loads (incl. sub-panels).
1. Electric Range/stove. Only the two 120v lines and the neutral are
required to the classic 50 amp, 3 prong "stove" outlet.
2. Electric Dryer. ditto the above, except the outlet is 30 amp.
Also , NEUTRAL is not required if the load is a 240 volt only load. Has
no component that requires 120v.
I think the latest code has changed the dryer connection requirements to
4 conductor. All the stuff I do now is industrial and I don't run into
dryer outlets, all our 240v cords are 4 conductor. Also about 1980, the
grounding conductor size changed from a percentage of the current
carrying conductors to the same size. (ie 14/2 wg had a #18 ground, now
a 14/2 wg has a #14 ground)
ps: i remember the days of spool & tube too, fixed it, didn't run it ;-)
Oh Crap, I got "the book", the new one, out of the truck-
both of the old exceptions are gone
since 1999, the nec requires neutral and ground on everything, no stove
and dryer 3wire outlets.
(100 times on the chalk board - i will not post unless i have the ref in
front of me)
I think there is one exception left -- a feeder circuit that serves as
the service to a separate building (but not a mobile home.) Either 3 or
4 wires would be equally correct unless there are water, gas, CATV,
telephone, etc. connections between the buildings.
If you use a ground wire for neutral current and a ground fault
happens, It may not be big enough to carry both ground and neutral
currents. Also, it is more likely for such a combined wire
tooverheat/corrode/oxidise and end up with a high resistance connection
somewhere allong its length. Then it wouldn't work right and someone
would be dead! (Maybe You!!) The code is there as a safety code to
protect people and property, not just to keep inspectors employed. It
may save your life someday, in fact maybe it already did, you just
don't know it. It also keeps the lawyers from having too much work.
In no case would the current flowing through the ground conductor be greater
than the current flowing through the hot conductor. If the breaker is properly
sized for the conductors, that's not a problem - and if the breaker is *not*
properly sized for the conductors, then it's a problem anyway, even *without*
a ground fault.
Really? Please explain.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
Nobody ever left footprints in the sands of time by sitting on his butt.
And who wants to leave buttprints in the sands of time?
Doug Miller ( email@example.com) said...
Definately nonsense -- the neutral has to be the same size as the hot
conductors, so the current capability has to be there with the neutral
The issue with grounding something with the neutral is that since the
neutral carries a current, and since conductors are not "perfect" (i.e.:
they do not have zero resistance), a voltage drop will occur. Depending
on the load current and the length of the cable run, any neutral-bonded
piece of equipment will not be at ground potential, but a few volts away
from ground. In the right circumstances, contact with this and something
that is at ground potential could be very dangerous.
"Never ascribe to malice what can equally be explained by incompetence."
BZZT Wrong. The neutral can be sized for only the worst case of current
imbalance which is the failure of one leg of a split single phase
service or of one phase of a three phase service. Loads that run at the
end to end voltage of a single phase service or phase to phase of a
multi phase service need not be included when calculating the required
ampacity of the grounded current carrying conductor (neutral).
The real risk of bonding the exposed conductive frames of appliances to
the neutral is that if the neutral goes open the voltage on the frame of
the affected appliance/s will rise to the voltage to ground of the
Takoma Park Volunteer Fire Department Postmaster ( firstname.lastname@example.org)
Yes, that is a definate and very serious reason for bonding equipment
with a separate, non-current-carrying, conductor.
However, the frequency of this occurring is relatively small (but not
insignificant). While the possibility of a neutral-bonded chassis sitting
at a volt or two above ground is somewhat higher (as in, it will be true
when the item is drawing a load, as well as when something else on the
same circuit is drawing a load). For the most part, this will not likely
pose a dangerous situation, but the potential is there -- it only takes
a few milliamps through the heart to be fatal.
"Never ascribe to malice what can equally be explained by incompetence."
To summarize this and other posts, even though both safety
ground and neutral are connected together at one end, they are
not electrically same at their other ends. Wire is an
electrical component - not a perfect conductor and not a
conductor that never breaks. At the load end, those wires
have electrically different characteristics because wire is
neither perfect nor reliable conductor. At the load, the
safety ground wire and neutral wire are electrically
different. Safety ground and neutral wires must share a one
common point at the mains disconnect. Everywhere else, those
two wires must be considered electrically different.
Calvin Henry-Cotnam wrote:
If the neutral conductor should become interrupted due to corrosion, loose
connection or improper repairs, it could become electrically live from one
of the hot lines through any connected load. If the grounding conductors and
metal parts connected to them are connected to the neutral, then the boxes,
cabinets, etc. also become electrically live and likely to cause damage or
injury. If the grounding conductors are not connected to the neutral
anywhere except on the input side of the neutral break, this cannot happen.
Just gives a little extra protection in case something goes wrong, which is
the reason for a lot of safety rules.
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