FAQ: Neutral and Ground Wires are not Interchangeable

Just as an FYI, I installed the Dragon WS-100 today and it looks almost identical to the GE in many ways. It certainly looks like the same “base” manufacturing to my eyes. Same rear housing, same exact terminal connections, etc. It went in exactly like the GE (which I also have installed) and paired correctly on the first try. The blue light on the GE is white on the Dragon. I put in a 3-way with the dragon auxiliary. Fingers crossed. I have one more to install this week.

Also, for those without neutral connections in older construction (neutral bonded to ground back at the panel) like me, I was able to successfully get all my paddle switches to work using the ground as the neutral to feed them power.

This is very dangerous. And likely not to code. And likely a violation of your insurance policy. Please have this reviewed by a licensed electrician in your jurisdiction. The ground needs to be left as the ground. Adding it into the live circuit just creates all kinds of potential problems, including fire hazards.

Remember your goal is not to get this particular switch to come on. Your goal is to get this particular switch to come on while maintaining the fire and electrical safety integrity of your whole house electrical system.

@Navat604

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An electrician is not going to be able to tell you this is OK, but they could tell you off-the record that it will work. Grounds and neutral wires all go back to a common bus bar in the breaker box. If the neutral is a ‘home run’ and not tied into any other circuits, the only difference is the color of the wire. Everybody here had better know what they’re doing when working with electrical circuits - scaring them into calling an electrician or worse is not going to change their minds.

It may “work” in some cases in terms of powering that particular switch on but I stand by the statement that it is not automatically the same as far as the integrity of the whole house wiring.

Submitted with respect.

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Agreed. It’s not typically the best idea, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that in some cases it can’t be used safely. The installer just needs to be aware of what they’re working with.

Don’t want to turn this thread into something else but I highly doubt it any decent electrician would say it’s ok even off the record. A ground is not a neutral period. The last thing you want is the chassis of your washer as a current carrying conductor. If your house has a bonded neutral and ground then it should be at only at one connector and that is your circuit breaker panel and nowhere else. This is actually a huge safety issue.

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a ground and a neutral are both wires. unless they’re tied together with other circuits, and not a ‘home run’ back to the panel, there is no difference between the two where they both end up on the same bus bar in the box.

Actually, you couldn’t be more wrong.
Do some research and learn about the purpose of the ground and the neutral.
You will learn that yes, they both tie into same bus bar.
But the important thing is what you learn about the other end of that wire.

Figure out what the ground is connected to, then figure out what the neutral is connected to.

You might find it a bit shocking.

It’s good to talk, but yes, sometimes everyone is an expert. We all want the same things, safety first and foremost, and for our fun home automation projects to work (very distant second). I’m an electrical engineer, not an electrician, but I know enough to be comfortable. I wish my house had a separate neutral and ground in the light switch boxes, but the fact is, it doesn’t. Like many other homes, all my neutrals are tied together to ground in the breaker panel. I did a fair amount of research before using my ground as a neutral for the purpose of powering a zwave switch. The amount of current drawn simply to power the switch is the key to everything in my mind. It’s not like i’m wiring a plug socket with no neutral wires. In this scenario it’s more about the path of current flow. You definitely don’t want a ton of current flowing over ground.

I’m happy to hear comments about this from licensed electricians. I think we’re lacking in comments from that demographic. Otherwise, I truly appreciate all who are looking out for the DIY crowd who sometimes know just enough to be “dangerous” (one of my favorite sayings btw)

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I will gladly admit I am not an electrician. I am however a very experienced electronics tech.

I just wanted to throw in my two cents for what it’s worth. If what I say helps great, if not, ignore it.

Not a worry, just here to help and learn.

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I am an electrician and like everyone else on here. We are just trying to help each other really. If you think it’s ok to do certain thing then that’s your choice. Just respect others opinion and advice. Be safe guys. Do experimental on painting. trust me it’s much safer :wink:

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Just think of it this way. A ground wire is like an overflow hole in your bathtub. It’s connected to the drain but it’s not the same. Using the overflow instead of the main drain. You will surely get a flood at some point.

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Funny thing is, I had an electrician tell me that I could do just that, use the ground to the neutral. I wanted to research it, as it bothered me from a safety point of view. Guess I need to get another electrician to validate, or tell me the ability to run that neutral if needed. Most of my house has one, this one box doesn’t. :frowning:

Maybe a better analogy is that it’s like a copilot in an airplane. Sure you don’t need two pilots most flights. But when you do need them… well… Grounds helps electricity choose to go to earth instead of through you. For that reason, I treat ground pretty special, just like I’d treat a copilot. He’s got my back.

That being said, old wiring didn’t use grounds and people survived somehow. You choose your level of safety. Best course of action is to learn learn learn. If you know what you are doing, and do it anyways, you are in ok hands (your own). Others who trust you may or may not be so lucky, choose wisely for them too.

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While it’s a bit off topic, I thought it would be appropriate to share some of the effects of different magnitudes of electrical current on the human body which were conducted by Charles Dalziel (inventor of the GFCI and professor of electrical engineering at UC Berkeley).

1 mA - A person is able to detect slight tingling sensation in the hands/fingertips.
1-6 mA - generally unpleasant to sustain, but a person still has the ability to release the energized object.
9-25 mA - typically painful and muscle contractions make it difficult to release the energized objects
60-100 mA - ventricular fibrillation (ie stoppage of the heart), inability to control your respiratory system

As you can tell it doesn’t take very much current before we get in trouble, so maintaining proper grounding is crucial to having a safe home.

(In case you were wondering I pulled the above information from an IEEE guide for substation grounding which references numerous papers written by Charles Dalziel.)

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The thing is people did die…The NFPA 70 like most every safety standard you find is written in somebodies blood.

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Personally, I blame the Obama administration for creating an environment that is hostile and not inducive to the equal flow of electrons.

By ensuring a color coded segregation system and mandating all wires be completely separate from others is a violation of the wires civil rights.

Plus, the most popular wire brand on the market comes wrapped in a white barrier. This yet again shows the oppression created in this country through the never ending white privilege.

And then, there is the ever present ruling class of the breakers always monitoring, always making it impossible for a wire to obtain high levels of electricity. They spout freedom for all, but shut you down when you exceed their mandated levels.

This hierarchy is a farce in the face of the natural order. Only through chaos can we all actually achieve our true home automation potentials!

We must break down these barriers and allow the neutral and the ground to work together as one. For they are true to each other. They are the working wire. They are there when we need them to protect us and there when we don’t.

And don’t even get me started on the sexual discrimination of the hot wire, always insisting that she be called hot!

We must look past the color of the wire and remember, all of our wires have a copper core!

disclaimer it is hereby recognized that the native American aluminium wire was here first, but due to the incompatible nature of the NAAW and its hostile nastier, it’s rights were forfeited through the trade of dry alcohol pad and a solder iron. Please do not mention the NAAW in this posting as it is going to be offensive to the fragile nature of the solid core wire.****

Thank you.

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I didn’t die. And I grew up in a house with no ground wires. I know, not statistically significant… Truth is, safety is about statistics when you talk about other people, and personal responsibility when you talk about yourself. Since I’m talking about others, I’m talking about statistics. The most important thing anyone can get from our words here in this community is knowledge. What they do with it is their choice, we can’t force them to be safe. We can only tell them that having no ground is dangerous.

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I agree with you and would like you add one little thing…

We are all a number in someone else’s statistics. :sunny:

Don’t hurt yourself Jason. Now you are not a number to me. :smile: