In the process of selling a home and the inspector detected two duplex
outlets with "reverse polarity". He states that the installer reversed the
breaker box as well and that is why they work (?)
What must one do to correct this polarity issue? Advice, examples, etc?
Kill the circuit to which these receps are attached. Take down every
light fixture, switch, receptacle, etc. and reconnect the wires
correctly. Black to the breaker, white to the neutral bus at the panel.
Black to the brass terminal on the recep. or hot wire to light fixture
etc. White to the silver terminal on recep or neutral wire to light
fixture. This sounds like a lot of work but if you know what you're
doing you can knock it out in an afternoon and it is well within the
ability of a DIYer (hey, that describes me too.) If the receps and
switches use backstab connections at a minimum reconnect the wires to
the screw terminals. You may want to go ahead and replace all the
receps and switches with new "spec grade" ones, it's no more work and
not that expensive in the grand scheme of things (no more than $50) and
that way you won't have to worry about them again for 20+ years. If you
get the kind with the backwire screw terminal connections it'll save you
install time as you won't have to loop the wires.
What he said does not seem to make much sense unless the installer
used the black (or red) line as neutral to those two outlets and used
the white line as hot. If so the fix is easy for anyone who knows
how, but I am suspicious as to why only two outlets were on that
If you have to ask I am a little concerned about your ability to
safely make the fix. In short it means reversing the wires at the
breaker for that circuit and at the two outlets. It is very important
to verify that those are the only two outlets involved or you could be
creating a far more dangerous situation.
Forgot to mention, how old is this house? if it is old enough to not be
grounded and/or have aluminum wiring, ask the homeowner if he will allow
you to simply remove the cover plate and pull the recep out in one of
the locations that has a problem. The home inspector can't do this, but
it never hurts to ask. This will allow you to see if there's other
problems due to a slipshod install such as a "bootleg" ground and/or the
presence of aluminum wire, which requires special procedures to deal
My own house checked OK with an outlet tester but every blessed ground
above the basement was bootlegged rather than run correctly, as I found
when I went to replace some loose receps. I don't blame the home
inspector but it'd have been nice to know going in, I might have
Like someone else mentioned, I would check every thing on this particular
circuit. It could be as simple as just reversing the wires on the
receptacles or something else may be coming into play. Does this house have
knob and tube wiring?
=========================================================== If the wires were reversed at the outlets AND at the breaker box, then the
outlets would test fine. For the polarity to be reversed, there has to be a
miswiring at one end only. I would guess that the miswiring is at the outlet
only, or somewhere in between the breaker box and the outlet in a junction box
or at an upstream outlet. A color reversal at the breaker box would stick out
like a sore thumb.
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A receptical will have two or three wires comming to it. One is a ground
wire and should be either an uninsulated wire (most common) or green
insulation. This wire normally carries no current. Its only purpose it
incase the 'hot' wire comes in contact with the metel case of a device.
Lets say your computer. It will work just fine with the 'hot' and 'neutral'
wires. If the hot wire somehow shorts to the case of the computer, the
computer will still work just fine. However if you touch the case and a
grounded device then you become part of a circuit and will be shoked or
There will be a neutral wire (should have white insulation) that is one leg
of the circuit. It will be connected to the green wire and ground at the
breaker or fuse box. There will also be the hot wire which is normally
insulated black, but could be another color.
The black wire is connected to the brass collored terminal of the receptical
and the white wire is connected to the silver colored screw of the
receptical. At the breaker box the black wire should be on the breaker and
the white wire should be connected to the neutral buss . Most of the time
all the white wires in the box will be connected together and the breakers
will have a black or other color wire going to it. This is for the 120 volt
recepticals and breakers. YOu may see a 240 volt breaker with a white wire
When you get a reverse polarity , that is when someone reversed the colors
of the wires going to the screws. Everything will normall work, but you
will not be as safe if a short or other problem develops. If the colors
match at the receptical, then at the breaker box the wires have been
reversed and the white wire will be going to the breaker and the neutral
connection have been reversed.
All this is easy to correct just by matching the correct wire colors.
Sometimes the wires will not go directly back to the breaker box, but to
another receptical or more that is on the same breaker.
Strange, only 2 outlets I wouldn't expect the breaker box. If only black or
red wire go to the breaker, then its not reversed at the panel.
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Something like the above should verify the outlets and its an easy fix. I
assume the lighting circuits are wired correctly as you didn't say the
inspector found problems.
If the installers also reversed the wires at the breaker, the outlets
would be back to the correct polarity. When I moved in here, about half
the outlets were reversed. I replaced them all with 3-holers tied to the
grounded boxes. Took a couple of hours.
Make sure all the breakers are wired the with the same colors to the
same screws, and then rewire the reversed outlets to match a known good
outlet. If you are not comfortable doing this, call an electrician- it
all should take him less than an hour. Your inspector does not sound too
knowledgeable- you may want to have the electrician eyeball the rest of
the wiring while he is there.
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