Trying to add a GFI. Having a couple of problems

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by shluffer, Aug 15, 2010.

  1. shluffer

    shluffer New Member

    Messages:
    81
    Location:
    Connecticut
    I would like to add a couple of GFI outlets in my basement. I have two unused (or at least I think unused) electrical lines running to the area in question. Both dead end there (the wires were just left hanging in the open air, a discovery I'm not happy about).

    The first line is the old electtric water heater line (based on the inscription in the panel). It is 220. I was expecting to find three wires (2 hot and a neutral) given that it is a 220 line. I found two. Using a tik tester, both wires respond as hot. My questions:
    1) is this likely stray voltage, and one of the wires is neutral? If so, how do I check?
    2) shouldn't there be two hot wires if it is 220?
    3) Is there something I can do to wire a 110 to this without opening up the panel?

    The second line has three wires (two black and one white) Two of the wires are registering as hot, and for once, the white is neutral. The issue is that I have to shut two breakers down at the panel in order for the wires to stop setting off the tik tester. Additionaly, neither of the breakers in the panel is labeled as 220. My questions:
    1) once again, is this sray voltage? If so, how do I figure out which of the breakers is the correct one?
    2) given that I have two hot, is this 220? I Haven't hooked up my multimeter to check yet, but thats my next step.
    3) If I want to use this as 110, can I just use one of the Hots and leave the other capped inside the electrical box, or do I need to trace it back to the panel and disconnect it? I'm not excited about opening up the panel .....

    Lastly, either way I would like the new outlets to be GFIs since they will be used for a fish tank. The wiring in question is BX. My understanding is that the ground for this wire is the sheath on the cable. I s this correct? If so, to install the ground on the GFI, do I just run a wire from the green recepticle on the GFI to the box?

    Thanks in advance for the help.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2010
  2. Furd

    Furd Engineer

    Messages:
    446
    Location:
    Wet side of Washington State
    I'm a bit confused when you use the word "box"? In some instances you seem to be referring to the circuit breaker panel and other times to a box where the connections to the utilizing device would be made.

    Voltages of 220 and 110 have not been in common usage for at least fifty years. Today the voltages are 240 or 120.

    The first line is the old water heater line (nased on the inscription in the box). It is 220. I was expecting to find three wires (2 hot and a neutral). I found two. Using a tik tester, both wires respond as hot. My questions:
    1) is this likely stray voltage, and one of the wires is neutral? If so, how do I check?
    2) shouldn't there be two hot wires if it is 220?
    3) Is there something I can do to wire a 110 to this without opening up the box?


    Electric water heaters use only two "hot" wires and an equipment ground wire. It is highly unlikely that either wire is a neutral. You would use a voltmeter or (better for amateurs) a solenoid-type voltage tester to determine the voltage. Assuming that when you write "box" you mean the circuit breaker panel the answer is no, it would require that you find the corresponding wires in the panel and reconnect them so that one of the wires is connected to a circuit breaker and the other wire is connected to the neutral bus bar.

    The second line has three wires (two black and one white) Two of the wires are registering as hot, and for once, the white is neutral. The issue is that I have to shut two breakers down in order for the wires to stop setting off the tik tester. My questions:
    1) once again, is this sray voltage? If so, how do I figure out which of the breakers is the correct one?
    2) given that I have two hot, is this 220? I Haven't hooked up my multimeter to check yet, but thats my next step.
    3) If I want to use this as 110, can I just use one of the Hots and leave the other capped inside the box, or do I need to trace it back to the box and disconnect it? I'm not excited about opening up the box .....


    It MAY be "phantom" voltage or it may be the full voltage, it depends on if the circuit breaker was "on" when you tested. Again, the best test is a solenoid-type voltage tester. As for which circuit breaker is the correct one...they are both correct in that one CB feeds one "hot" wire and the other CB feeds the other "hot" wire. By rights, these circuit breakers should be side-by-side and in accordance with current code they should be a single two-pole circuit breaker with common trip and tied handles.

    You CAN use this for two separate 120 volt circuits by using one hot lead along with the neutral for the first circuit and then using the second hot lead and the neutral for the second circuit. This is known as a "multi-wire branch circuit" and while not always desirable in residential wiring it IS code-compliant when done correctly.

    ALL of the circuits when used for convenience receptacles need to be protected by circuit breakers rated at either 15 amperes or 20 amperes. The wire size must be no less than #12 for the 20 ampere circuits. Electric water heaters are commonly wired with #10 wire and have 30 ampere circuit breakers but years ago smaller water heaters were sometimes wired with #12 and had 20 ampere circuit breakers.

    GFCI receptacles do not need an equipment ground to function properly but if they do not have the equipment ground then they must be labeled as having no equipment ground. Labels are included in the box the GFCI receptacle is sold. BX cable may, under some instances bu suitable for equipment ground but in most instances it is not suitable aas the equipment ground.
  3. shluffer

    shluffer New Member

    Messages:
    81
    Location:
    Connecticut
    I edited my oiginal post to use panel and box. The way I wrote it was cofusing. The 110 220 wording is habit. Probably not a good one.

    Given that the first line (the one from the water heater) doesn't include a neutral, and had a 30 amp breaker, I'm going to add a handy box where it terminates, put the capped wires inside, close it up, and label it. I don't like live wires hanging from the ceiling.

    I would like to use the second circuit. What confused me about it is that the breakers are not a single two pole breaker, and they are not next to eachother. They are also labeled as being used for seperate purposes. I can relable them. What confuses me, is that I would have expected (possibly in my ignorance) that shutting one of the two breakers would shut one hot, and the other breaker would shut the other hot. I have to shut both breakers to shut either hot. Please let me know if it should work the way I think it should, or if it sounds like it is working correctly. THe second issue is that I only have three wires. I do not have a second neutral. Given the situation, do I need to go back to the panel and and rerun the wiring to have both neutrals?
  4. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,607
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    A "pure" 220/240 volt line does NOT need or have a neutral. The neutral is only required when there is some 120 v. circuitry, such as the display panel on an electric range. The two lines with two breakers can be either a 220/240 v. circuit, or two 120 v. ones, depending on WHERE the breakers are installed in the panel. But if your results are puzzling to you, then you do not have the electrical knowledge or experience to be doing any modifications to the system. Unless both lines are on the same leg of the incoming service, AND they are connected together somewhere, both breakers do NOT control either wire, unless you are not testing them correctly. And a 220 v. line SHOULD have a two pole breaker, NOT individual ones.
    Last edited: Aug 16, 2010
  5. shluffer

    shluffer New Member

    Messages:
    81
    Location:
    Connecticut
    hj,

    I agree that I may have encountered a sitation that I do not have the knowledge to deal with. I am currently leaning towards either adding handy boxes where the wires are hanging so that I don't have live wires hanging from the ceiling, or calling an electrition and getting them to put the receopticles in. Either way, I would like to try and understand what is going on, if for no reason other than learning something. I am not one who beleaves I can do everything.

    With that said:
    Agreed. That is what I am trying to figure out. I should have four wires (two hot and two neutral) or two wires, or a hot a neutral and a ground. I don't have any of the three options. I have three wires. Two black and one white (the white is the neutral)
    • If I switch off breaker 1 with 2 on, both (black) wires test as hot
    • If I switch off breaker 2 with 1 on, both (black) wires test as hot
    • If I switch off breaker 1 and 2 both are off
    • breakers 1 and 2 are not on a two pole breaker. They are seperate breakers on seperate sides of the panel

    I should als mension that I can trace the cable back to the elevetrical panel. I'm not sure why I would have two wires in the same cable connected to the same breaker, but that is one of the reasons that I am asking.

    I'm not sure why why you are assuming that my panel is currently set up properly. Many things in this house are not done properly, or are not up to code.

    My planned next step is to test the voltage on the two hot wires (seperatly) with the breakers in all three availalbe positions. At that point I will know if I have 120 or 240 on those lines.

    If you have any advice on my doing this (or a reason I shouldn't) let me know. I'm not looking to find a way to justify what I want to do. I'm trying to learn something. All help and advice is appreciated.
  6. cacher_chick

    cacher_chick Test, Don't Guess!

    Messages:
    3,246
    Location:
    Land of Cheese
    If you want new outlets you will need to have proper wiring installed from the panel. From what you have described it would take a pro a very short time to remove this old wiring and install a couple of new circuits that do meet current code.
  7. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,607
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    quote;
    • 1. If I switch off breaker 1 with 2 on, both (black) wires test as hot
    • 2. If I switch off breaker 2 with 1 on, both (black) wires test as hot
    • 3. If I switch off breaker 1 and 2 both are off
    • 4. breakers 1 and 2 are not on a two pole breaker. They are seperate breakers on seperate sides of the panel
    1. & 2. IF anything is connecting those two legs together, even that will happen and the only way to tell WHAT is happening is to test the voltages under both situations, NOT just the presence of a "hot" wire.
    3. That had BETTER happen or you have a serious problem.
    4. since they are individual breakers the ONLY way to visually determine the polarities is that they be an odd number of slots away from each other, regardless of whether they are on the same or opposite sides of the panel. If they are an even number, or opposite each other, then they are on the same pole.
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