FAQ: Neutral and Ground Wires are not Interchangeable

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.


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.


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.)


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


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.


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:

Oh no worry, after 30 years of experience I’ve only been shocked by my own stupidity.

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I’ll add to this the problem caveat that… certainly in the US, sometimes the wires aren’t colour coded as they should be which makes working out what is what even harder.

Really if you are unsure of what you are doing OR, if you are unsure how to work out what wire is what with a multi meter, have someone else do it for you.

For the most part, if everything is colour coded correctly, anyone can do it but even in my house where so far, of the switches I have investigated, 99% of the wires look to be colour coded correctly I still double check if they are correct.

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At what voltage… I’m pretty certain you won’t care about 60mA @ 5V :smile:

Pretty sure there is no usb during his time.
It’s 110/220 vac with about 1k ohm resistance from hand to hand. I wouldn’t stick my tongue to a usb plug though :smile:


Great question @Benji! First we need to understand that we’re bound by Ohm’s law (V=I*R or Voltage = Current x Resistance). The the average human body has has approximately 1000 ohms of resistance, if subjected to a 5V source the current through the body would be 5 mA (5V/1000ohms). For a body to be subject to 60mA @ 5V it would need to have a resistance of 83.3 ohms.

I imagine this reasoning would probably lead people to think about 120V systems. If you use Ohm’s law you could in theory you could 120 mA flowing through your body (120V/1000ohms). Now we’ve all been shocked a few times in our lives and we are all still standing. So what gives?

The body’s 1000 ohms resistance is based off bare hands and bare feet, so when you add some shoes you increase your body’s resistance by several orders or magnitude thus greatly reducing the current flowing through your body. To make things more complicated you have the resistance of the flooring, resistance of the wire, and number of donuts you had for breakfast all factoring into the equation.

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Mmmmmm…donuts… LOL! :heart_eyes:

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Actually, I’ll let you hit me with 10,000 vac, as long as that current stays below 1/10 of an amp… Shoot, I’ll even take 500 vdc at that current!

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Try 500,000 volts or more!!! Check out this video of a lineman being helicoptered on to a live transmission line for an inspection.

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[quote=“bamarayne, post:33, topic:27849, full:true”]Actually, I’ll let you hit me with 10,000 vac, as long as that current stays below 1/10 of an amp… Shoot, I’ll even take 500 vdc at that current!

I mean who hasn’t ‘tested’ spark plug leads with the GF/wife :smiley:

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The majority of this topic should be deleted. It is full of misinformation. Not only is not following proper procedures for wiring dangerous it poses and great risk of fire and death. I’m sorry but getting your switch working any way but by following code which may mean getting a licensed electrician is completely insane! There is a reason why there are separate hot, neutral and ground wires. If you think differently or are doing it differently then you are asking for problems.


Odd, what I’m taking away from this is that if you don’t have a clue, call someone who does.