I'm trying to install a GFCI outlet on our (110v) washer and dryer. I
turned off the breaker and confirmed that the outlet was off. The I
opened the outlet: it has one red wire, and two white wires attached.
I figured as usual red was hot, white neutral, with white looping on
to some other outlet. But then I got a shock off the white wire. I
measured the voltage between the two white wires and I get 110v. If I
measure between the red and either white wire I get no voltage.
Can someone explain to me what's going on here? Are the colors just
backwards? And why does the breaker turn off the outlet but I still
get voltage on the line?
That is with the breaker off, right?
How were the wires connected to the outlet?
For the moment I will guess that the hot white comes from something that is
turned on, so it has voltage.
If you turned the breaker on you would see voltage on the red.
But that is a guess, subject to answers to the questions.
OK, you're onto something here. Here's some more info.
Yes, if I turn on the breaker, I get 110v between the red wire and
*one* of the white wires.
If I test between the red wire and the *other* white wire, I get 220v.
If I test between the "hot" white wire and ground (the outlet box) I
Next I turned off the breaker to the refrigerator, which is on the
other side of the wall of the outlet in question. Sure enough, the
"hot" white wire on the washer/dryer outlet went dead, too.
So is this a case where the refrigerator closes a circuit and sends
power through the white wire which is then looping on to the
And now the question beckons, (a) is this dangerous in any way, and
(b) how am I supposed to hook up a GFCI outlet to this line? Is it
even possible? I'm also wondering if I put the GFCI on the
refrigerator outlet instead, is the washer/dryer outlet considered
downstream of it so that I would get GFCI protection on both circuits?
Correct. Presumably the refrigerator is not able to run unless the two
white wires are connected?
Only if you don't know what is going on. I don't like multiwire circuits
for that reason. A previous owner of my house changed the breakers so that
both were on the same leg. Could have burnt the house down.
Just wire it normally. Both white wires go to the input side; or pigtail
them as someone else suggested.
You probably don't want a GFCI on a refrigerator, and it wouldn't affect
this circuit anyhow.
It's the start up current required by the compressor. That's why GFCIs are
not recommended for refrigerators. Further, the plug for the fridge is
usually unaccesible to anything else, so the safety issue is greatly
jumping in in the middle of this thread. I'm having a bit of a time
understanding the code on the GFCI's in a basement area. I have a property
that'll have the laundry in the basement, also i have a sump pump. Now i've
read several places not to put washers or sump pumps on a GFCI, but the code
'seems' to indicate that all basement outlets should be GFCI. Can someone
help clarify this?
On Mon, 12 Nov 2007 08:42:32 -0600, "Steve Barker"
The basic "basement" rule is if it is unfinished space you need GFCI.
"Finished" generally refers to wall and floor coverings.
There is no exemption for refrigerators or washing machines. If either
are tripping a GFCI they are defective.
In the 2005 code all receptacles within 5 feet of a laundry sink are
required to be GFCI and in 2008 code AFCI is extended to all 15 and
20a receptacles. AFCI incorporates GF protection.
Thanks for the reply. Sounds like the NEC people are in cahoots with the
AFCI breaker people. Good thing our AHJ is just now changing to the 2006
IRC and IBC.
Sounds like i'll just put GFCI's on the washer and the sump pump and see if
it all stays on.
Why does it matter?
I understand the two 120v circuits would suddenly be in series in a 240v
circuit if the wrong wire pulled out of the outlet, but you would have that
if the wrong wire pulled out of the pigtail; so I don't see the difference.
(assuming the outlet can safely take two wires...)
Remove the outlet -- to replace it, for example -- without killing *both*
legs of the Edison circuit, just the one feeding the outlet. If *any* load on
the other side of that circuit is switched on, one of the two neutral
conductors at the outlet suddenly has a 120V potential to ground, and to the
In my mind, this scenario is a better argument for changing the Code to
require handle-tied double pole breakers for all Edison circuits than it is
for requiring that the continuity of the neutral be independent of any device,
but there it is.
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
i had a light fixture sort of like this and the hot white was a ground
coming back. took me an hour to understand that on earth the previous
owner had done. i believe you should do some careful investigating
before making any assumptions, like why the heck you got one red and
two whites - you should have one black and one white, or 2 of each if
the circuit continues on.
you should not see a red wire except for a 3-way switch. it really
sounds like some previous owner jacked the thing up and now you get to
figure it out...
What you have is an incorrectly wired Edison circuit. There are two circuits
sharing that neutral. You only killed the one circuit, so when you
disconnected one neutral, you got a shock as the other hot of the circuit
was unable to return through the now open neutrals. To wire this properly,
the two neutrals cannot be dependent on a device, they must be spliced
together then pigtailed to the outlet.
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