wiring backwards in basement, fix it???

jaansuOctober 27, 2010

My brother is getting ready to sell his home outside of Baltimore and he's noticed that the basement wiring is backwards, probably the result of a remodel some ten years ago. Best he can tell is that the contractor was eastern European, followed the system he was used to back home, and reversed the lines: using white for hot, black for neutral. He also placed a lot of it in conduit oddly enough, as this is a residential home.

As far as he can tell, everything else about the basement wiring is fine. What should he do? Money is very tight for him (wife diagonosed with cancer, lost job, house value under his basis cost, etc) and he would like to ignore the situation and hope it will sell without anyone noticing. He points out his home inspector missed it 10 years ago. My point was that if the home inspector opened up any J-box or the circuit box that he would notice the reversed colors and blow the whistle. But that checking the circuits with the usual cheapo plugin circuit tester would show all is fine.

Is there any easy fix? Is it a safety hazard? What would you do if you were selling this house?

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(2)Almost certainly.

(3)If the house is in an agent's hands, ask him or her for advice. If a private sale, wave the prior inspection report around and plead ignorance, hope the buyer never sees this post.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 7:41AM
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The fix is to turn off the breaker and open all the device that are 'backwards' and put the black wire on teh gold screws and the white wire on the silver screws. Might take some time but is not difficult.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 8:24AM
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Dang Joe, that would certainly fix something now, wouldn't it?

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 8:53AM
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I told my brother. He has someone coming for a prelisting inspection and I suggested he pull the box cover to see if half of the circuits show a different color wire. If so, an afternoon of switching wires should do it. Of course, my brother doesn't know that much about wiring and may have given me the incorrect story about what is wrong.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 9:35AM
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wouldn't he have to switch the wires at both ends of the circuit?

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 10:17AM
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"Is there any easy fix? Is it a safety hazard? What would you do if you were selling this house?"

a) Easy? It is straight forward, but a bit of a PITA. It is just swapping black for white at every point. The catch will be if the guy used any switchloops and if they are easily identifiable.

b) Safety Hazard - The color of the wire isn't going to create a fire, but it would certainly be a hazard if you need to make any repairs or additions.

c) If it were me, I would fix it. It shouldn't cost anything but time and questionable wiring could be a deal breaker in a potential sale.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 11:03AM
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This is the sort of problem that's not at all difficult for a moderately knowledgable homeowner to fix himself, though it is time consuming.

What puzzles me is how anyone could make such an error in upgrading or adding circuits. You'd think he would have noticed how the existing circuits were wired, and realized that what he was doing wasn't consistent with them.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 1:29PM
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Based on the information posted, the hazard from this installation is not to the property. The potential hazard is to persons who might be working on the system and believe that it is wired per NEC. A smart electrician never assumes that any system is correct before some verification. The smart ones live longer.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 4:01PM
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I'm with bus_driver on this one, although I'm going to say something he didn't and he may not agree with.

Living in rural Maine and working on a good number of 150+ year old houses up here, many with knob&tube wiring that all looks the same, three-prong outlets that aren't really grounded to anything (well, sometimes each other...), devices that come out of the wall, box-and-all, on a whim, etc., I would say that "all of the wires are the wrong color" is probably one of the least, most relatively-meaningless errors.

If neutral is neutral all the way through, same with ground, then it's neither a fire hazard nor a shock hazard to the end user. Electricity itself doesn't care what color the wire insulation happens to be.

As far as people who might work on it in the future... when someone opens up an outlet and finds a white wire on a hot screw, yet the outlet tests as wired correctly, the smart ones will know what's going on, while the stupid ones #1 shouldn't be in there, and #2 probably don't know, confidently, the correct color code anyway.

I, personally, would fix it if a time came that I had to work on that circuit anyway. I wouldn't make a priority out of it. I suppose, with my OCD, sooner or later seeing that one black wire on the neutral bar would eventually irritate me enough that I'd have to do something.

    Bookmark   October 27, 2010 at 11:56PM
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It's possible there is only one problem. One swapped pair of wires on an outgoing cable could make the entire circuit test backwards.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 2:13PM
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I may have misread, but when I re-read I get the same thing.

The OP's outlets don't test backwards. Everything is wired with the wrong color wire, including at the panel end.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2010 at 2:24PM
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I personally would swap out the wires and get the right color insulation oon the correct screw but if he does not feel comfortable switching the wire out on the screws, he can buy some white and black electrical coding tape and everywhere it is incorrect, wrap white tape on the black wires and black tape on the white wires. This tells the electrician that the wrong color has been used. This is quite common practice in wire identification.

At least this would tell the electrition which wire is hot.

If the person who did this in the first place did not know any better, I would question his ability and check for other errors in his wiring.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2010 at 11:34PM
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