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Thread: Open neutral in receptacle

  1. #1

    Default Open neutral in receptacle

    My recently purchased home is 10 yrs old, has a finished basement and two floors above. It has a receptacle located on the floor of high shelf "display" type area at the front door accessible only by step ladder. I recently tried to use this receptacle and found it has an "open neutral" when tested. I checked the receptacle wiring and it is wired correctly. I switched receptacles and this did not correct the condition. There are only one black & one white wire plus ground to this plug. The electrical box is plastic and it is on the same circuit as a 1/2 bath and hallway on the main floor. All other receptacles and switches on the circuit are working and test fine. What is my next step?

  2. #2


    I am not sure how you came up with the knowledge of an open neutral. Take a voltage tester and measure between the hot and bare wire then test between the hot and white wire. You should get 120 volts on both tests. If you don't get 120 volts between the black and white but do get 120 volts between the black and bare you do have an open grounded leg [aka neutral].

    Now if you have everything working on that branch circuit except this one receptacle then you have an open white wire serving only that one receptacle. You either have a bad connection in that receptacle box or you have a bad connection in the box providing it power.

    Make sure you have all good connections on that receptacle. Make sure you have the black wire on the brass screw and the white wire on the silver screw. If you find the receptacle is connected to those wires by way of backstabbing into the back of the receptacle then move those wire connections onto the screws. In the older back stab connections we often find a bad connection and connecting to the screws should make a strong connection.

    If all is well in that certain receptacle look around for the nearest box to that receptacle. It may be a receptacle on the opposite side of hte wall of that receptacle being the closest receptacle to that bad receptacle. Open all the nearby receptacles and switch boxes closest to that bad receptacle and confirm good connections in each box concerning connections to the devices in those nearby boxes and also good connections concerning wire nuts.

    You should find your loose connection either inside that bad receptacle box or inside the box that feeds power to that bad receptacle box if all other items work on that branch circuit.

    Let us know what you find.

    Good Luck


  3. #3

    Default Open neutral in receptacle

    Thanks for your reply! I used a plug-in tester (with the 3 light indicator) to determine the open neutral condition. I will check the voltage as you suggested later in the week. The receptacle itself is wired correctly with the black wire to brass & white to silver.

    I had already checked the connections in all switches and receptacles in the bathroom on the circuit and found no apparent problems. Perhaps there is another receptacle feeding this one. Any suggestions as to how to find it quickly & easily?

    Thanks again!
    Indianapolis, Indiana

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    NW Ohio (land of alotta nothing)


    Something else to consider:

    You said that the outlet is mounted way up high out of normal reach. I would think that there would be a switch somewhere to turn that outlet on and off since there would be no way to reach up there to get to your plugged in item.

    Just a wild shot, but could there be a switch somewhere that is switching the neutral (eeeek). If so that is a very bad (and dangerous) thing to do. If it is a out of the way outlet, it may have never been used and therefore the problem wouldnt have surfaced.. Again just a shot in the dark...most anybody who does wiring professionaly knows that a switched neutral is a very bad thing...but that doesnt mean that it cant happen..

    good luck with it.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2002


    plug a radio into outlet not working, make sure set on and loud. If you stumble on problem while checking other locations you'll hear it.Then you can make more detailed search.may help

  6. #6


    cmac20, you sound like an open invitation to take for granted you know that is not the problem and skip right over the problem a dozen times taking twice as long to find your problem as it would if your start at the beginning of my last reply and follow each instruction step by step eliminating the possible problems along the way by proper testing. When you try to take a short cut you will certainly skip right over the problem time and time again.

    When diagnosing a problem in electricity start at square one and follow each step in detail confirming that step is not your problem.

    I suspect you will find a loose connection in a receptacle near that bad receptacle or in a wire nut in a switch box near that bad receptacle. Question is which nearby switch box or receptacle is this bad connection going to be in.

    It will be a two minute job to fix once you find the problem. Depending on if you take the proper diagnostic test procedures or if you try to bounce around looking for a needle in a hay stack. May take 10 minutes or 2 weeks of looking. All depends on the proceedure you do your looking.

    My best advise is go back to my last reply and follow the proceedures step by step. Fastest way to end of line for your problem.

    I once spent 16 hours looking for a problem that was right in front of my face the whole time. A small child stood beside me and pointed at a relay armature just above my eyes on top of a relay panel that was supposed to be installed inside the coil of my relay. I kept skipping over that armature of that relay for 16 hours till that small child pissed my off enough to look to see what he was asking about. Then to be dumbest of all I went back to my office and told all my employees how I did such an unprofessional diagnostic job. Time for the teacher to become the taught by laughter. Believe my everyone of those employees enjoyed teaching me proper diagnostic proceedures that I preached to them for years. Pay back can be harmful to one's ego ya know, ask me I know.

    Do the step by step diagnostic proceedure and take nothing for granted that that can't be the problem.

    Look for a loose connection in all nearby receptacles, first.

    Let us know what you find


  7. #7

    Default Open neutral

    Wg - You're probably right. I'll start over this weekend with your advice! Thanks! I'll let you know what I find.
    Indianapolis, Indiana

  8. #8


    Good luck


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