Reverse connections @ GFCI receptacle

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by Boo, Dec 1, 2009.

  1. Boo

    Boo New Member

    Messages:
    26
    Location:
    California
    I am having problems with one of the two 20-amp small appliance circuits in my kitchen. This one includes four 20-amp GFCI receptacles located above the countertop, one receptacle for the ignition on the gas cooktop and the final is the receptacle for the range hood. These have been working fine for over a year. When first installed, I confirmed the correct wiring with a three-wire circuit analyzer and everthing has been working smoothly until today when I plugged in a shop vac to clean up some leftover drywall (still putting up walls) . When I turned on the vac, the GFCI tripped. These are wired for single-location protection.

    The breaker on the service panel did not trip but I wasn't able to reset the GFCI outlets - any of them! I even replaced the receptacle where I plugged in the vac with a new 20-amp, but no luck. When I plugged in the analyzer, it read that the hot/ground connections are reversed, however nothing has changed since I first connected the receptacles. I checked within the box to see if any wires are compromised, but everything looks intact. I rechecked the connections to all of the receptacles and they're all hooked up correctly; e.g. white neutral to neutral "line" connector, black to hot, ground to green (and grounded to the metal Handy box).

    Any thoughts on what is going on? Thanks! :confused:
  2. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    A well known common deficiciency of plug in circuit testers is that an OPEN NEUTRAL will read out as hot/ground reversed. When you think about it , it would be nearly impossible to ever do that, and it turns out their logic circuitry will diagnose your open neutral as hot/ground reversed.

    Check your neutrals.
  3. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,811
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    tester

    The only time I have seen something like that was when a wire to the GFCI was broken and the internal processor caused feed back in the line.
  4. Billy_Bob

    Billy_Bob In the Trades

    Messages:
    422
    Also turn off, then back on the breaker for that circuit. New GFCI's will not reset if power is off.

    And if they are wired wrong, new GFCI's will not reset.

    A voltmeter is the tool I use to check these things. Search google.com for how to use a voltmeter and there will be plenty of information. Skip the pages with Einstein math, there are plenty with easy to understand instructions.

    House voltage at an outlet is 120 volts AC. So a voltmeter would need to be set to AC and a higher range than that - like 200.
  5. Boo

    Boo New Member

    Messages:
    26
    Location:
    California
    Thanks a million! I checked the connection on the first receptacle which I apparently didn't check very well the first time and, sure enough, the neutral wasn't seated properly. Yet another reason to avoid the "stab" type connection in favor of wrapping around the screw!

    Problem solved. I do have a voltage meter and will use if from now on instead of taking the lazy way out with the plug-in analyzer.

    :D
  6. Boo

    Boo New Member

    Messages:
    26
    Location:
    California
    p.s. Can I say enough how much I appreciate this site?!! I've received such helpful advice over the past two years and am very grateful. :eek:
  7. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

    Messages:
    2,540
    Location:
    North Carolina
    Where did you find a GFCI receptacle that had stab-loc terminals?
  8. Billy_Bob

    Billy_Bob In the Trades

    Messages:
    422
    I might add for anyone stumbling on this thread in the future...

    The holes on the back of outlets for inserting wires can be different!

    In the case of "cheap" outlets, you just insert the wire into a hole in the back of the outlet and it "automatically grabs" the wire. You don't need to tighten any screws for it hold the wire in place. And there usually is a "strip gauge" on the back of these showing you how far back you should strip the wire. I don't like wiring outlets this way because the wires tend to come out and have poor connections. With outlets like this, I prefer to wrap the wires around the screws on the sides.

    Then with some new GFCI outlets and "industrial grade" outlets (industrial cost more and each outlet comes in its own box), there are holes in the back of the outlet for wires, HOWEVER you must tighten the screws on the sides of the outlet to fasten the wire once it has been inserted into the hole! I like these connections and in this case insert the wires into the holes in the back and tighten the screws on the side to hold the wire in place. Very good connections!
  9. nukeman

    nukeman Nuclear Engineer

    Messages:
    711
    Location:
    VA
    I totally agree. All of the outlets in my house are backfed with the type that automatically grabs. I don't like that setup at all. I have been replacing the outlets and using either the screw terminals or backfed with the type that clamps using the screws. These are much better. Partly why I am replacing the outlets is the previous owner decided it would be a good idea to just paint over the outlets/covers when painting the rooms. :rolleyes: Most of them cannot be used at all because they are clogged with paint!
  10. Boo

    Boo New Member

    Messages:
    26
    Location:
    California
    Actually, I DO have the combination backstab/screw secure type GFCI outlets. They're industrial type and even have a small green light that goes out when it's tripped (nice feature). Even so, I still feel better wrapping the wire around a screw but if you make sure to tighten these very well, they appear to be OK.

    I suspect our problem stemmed from the fact that we had to pull out all of the receptacles in order to install the stone backsplash. We previously had used the adjustable metal Handy box which I find to be very useful when you have to allow for more than the 1/2" drywall clearance, but I find them to be much tighter inside (especially working with 12 gauge Romex), so we might have been a bit rough handed when restalling and the problem was at the pigtail connection between two neutral wires.

    The other standard receptacles in our house are the cheaper backstab/grab connectors and I absolutely hate them! Even when working with the easier to handle 14 gauge Romex I find they aren't as secure and worse if you have to pull out the wire later - it causes pitting and sometimes even breaks off requiring replacement of the receptacle. Too expensive to replace them all at this point, but maybe we'll do so in the future.
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