It is totally ok to be curious about the electrical system of your house. In fact, it is good to know what type of electrical system you have. Especially if you are someone looking to start smart Switches in your house to make it a smart home, you might come across very common questions, ‘what is a neutral wire?’ and ‘Does my home have a neutral wire?’.
Well, if that is what your questions are, then be glad, as we have all the answers you are looking for. A neutral wire is an important component of the majority of electrical circuits. Even many smart switches require neutral wires for their functioning. But do you know what a neutral wire is and why a neutral wire is required? If not, then keep reading further to get all the answers.
What is a Neutral Wire
A Neutral Wire is a component of the electrical circuit that completes the loop of electric current by bringing the current back to the power supply. It completes the circuit and keeps the power on. As you might already know, a current circuit is basically a type of big loop where electricity must constantly flow so as to keep the power on. The neutral wire does this job.
A Neutral Wire is installed into the electric circuit to provide a pathway for the energy to come back to its original source. In a typical circuit of North America, you will find two more wires along with the neutral wire – the hot wires and the ground wire.
Given below are the roles of each of these wires for you to clearly understand its functioning –
- Two Hot Wires – Conduct electricity from the battery/power source to the load.
- Neutral Wire – Conducts electricity back to the power source/battery.
- Ground Wire – Additional wire for safety; in case of surge or electricity, or uneven flow, it sends the charge into the earth.
Hot wires: What is the difference between a neutral wire and a hot wire?
So now you know that the two hot wires have the job of carrying electricity from the power source or battery to the load. For example, take a small bulb that is powered by a battery; the hot wires will conduct the power from the battery to the small bulb. Whereas the neutral wire will conduct the electricity from the small bulb back to the power source.
Here, the load can be anything ranging from a small bulb to a side table lamp or a hair dryer. The most common circuit used in North America is the split phase 240-volt current, which basically means that this current circuit system has two hot wires carrying 120 volts each.
No matter how much symmetrical this may sound, in real life, both of the hot wires have imbalanced loads on them. This is where the neutral wire comes into the picture. It basically carries the difference back to the power supply.
For instance, if in an electric circuit, one of the two hot wires is carrying a current of 15 amperes whereas the other is carrying a current of 20 amperes, then the neutral wire will carry 5 amperes current back to the power supply.
In case one hot wire carries a current of 15 amperes, then the neutral wire will carry an equal current of 15 amperes back to the power supply to complete the electric circuit. But if both the hot wires carry equal current, then no electricity is carried by the neutral wire since the loop is already completed.
Ground wire: What is the difference between a neutral and ground?
Ground Wires are basically a safety option that diverts the excessive current into the earth, thus keeping your electrical devices safe. At times, there can be an uneven or way too much surge of electric current. This can be harmful to your electrical devices and may result in a short circuit.
However, the ground wires act as an alternate way for the current to pass into the earth, outside your homes. These wires, as you may have understood by now, are used very rarely in events of a ground fault.
Let us take an example of light striking your home. This is a case of a ground fault. Thus, the ground wire in the electrical circuit of your home will carry the excessive flow of electricity from the lightning and pass it to the earth. This ground wire also trips a breaker switch in the electrical panel, which abstains any current from flowing into your house.
You might have now realized the safety role played by the ground wires. If these wires are not present in your home’s electrical circuit, then unfortunate events like electrical equipment blowing up could arise.
Read More: What does TV PG mean? (All about TV Parental Guideline)
Why is a Neutral wire required?
A neutral wire is a component of electrical circuits that completes the flow of electricity. A lot of electrical circuits out there can not work without a neutral wire. Also, in most of the smart light switches, a neutral wire is required as the switches need to be powered the entire time.
In an unbalanced system of electric current, the neutral wire prevents the backflow of current. Without a neutral wire, there will be no flow of electricity along, and thus the loop will not be completed.
Neutral wires are essential at each point in the electrical system of your home, right from when they leave if fuse box or transformer and back to the power source.
As you know, the function of a neutral wire is to complete the circuit by carrying the electricity back to its power source. Most of the smart light switches out there require a neutral wire. However, today, you can find some brands of smart light switches with neutral wires that are not mandatory.
What is the colour of a Neutral Wire?
The colour of a Neutral Wire is typically grey or white.
In North America, it is mandatory for electricians to follow a certain wiring colour code to make it easier to identify the different types of wires with ease.
If you want to see the neutral wire or check if your home has a neutral wire or not, before you go any further, make sure that your light switch is off and the power is disconnected. Please ensure all the necessary safety precautions before having a look at the neutral wire.
Firstly go to your electrical panel and then flip the breaker, which powers the light switch that you are looking at. Then go to the light switch and try switching a light on. If a lighter does not turn, then you are good to go ahead.
Now remove the Light Switch face cover by unscrewing it. Next, unscrew the light switch as well. After you have removed everything, gently pull the switch out of the wall. Make sure that the wires are still attached to the switch.
Now, look at each of the wires carefully. The neutral wire will be the one with white or grey wires behind the light switch but not connected to the switch.
In case you do not have any coil behind the light switch, but you see a white, black, and copper wire, then you do not have a neutral wire.
We would recommend you hire an electrician to look at the neutral wire rather than doing it by yourself.
How Do I check Do I have a Neutral Wire
- Open the Switch box and look for grey/white coloured wire.
You might be curious to know if your house has a neutral wire installed in the electrical system. Well, to know this is quite easy.
In order to know if your house has a neutral wire or not, all you have to do is look at the switch box. We recommend this be done very carefully or by an electrician. Simply open the switch box. If you are able to see a white wire coming out of the gang box, then congratulations, you have your neutral wire in the electrical system.
In case you don’t want to get so practical right away, you can simply check it with the following facts.
- If the light switches in your house are grouped together, then it is likely that there is a neutral wire in the electrical system.
- This is the easiest way to determine if your home switches have a neutral wire. In case your house was built in the mid 198os or later than that, then it is highly likely that you have neutral wires in the electrical system of your house.
- If you see an outlet around the light switch that you want to see has a neutral wire or not. Then that’s which mostly has a neutral wire.
These are some of the common ways to know if your house has a neutral wire. You can also get an electrician to check whether or not you have a neutral wire. But that is not as necessary as it might seem. Most houses do have a neutral wire in the electrical system.
What to do if I don’t have a Neutral Wire
- Hire an electrician to fit the neutral wire.
- Use Smart bulbs/ Smart Switches that do not require Neutral Wire.
In most cases, your home will have a neutral wire installed in its electrical system. However, there are certain cases where this might not be done. For instance, In Homes built before 1980, it is highly unlikely that they would have neutral wires.
So if your home was built somewhere around this time, then your confusion about whether or not you have a neutral wire is legit.
Especially now, if you are looking to shift to smart switches and are transforming your home into a smart home, then not having a neutral wire can be quite problematic. Neutral wiring is very much necessary for smart switches.
If you have checked for neutral wire using the methods mentioned above and could not find a neutral wire in the electrical system of your house, then you will have to get a few things done.
You can hire an electrician to install neutral wire. Now, this is not impossible, but your electrician will have to open up the walls a little. If you are not planning to get a renovation done, then this might make your house a little ugly.
One more option that you have which can save you from any sort of demolition of your house is using smart light bulbs or smart switches that work without any neutral wire.
Earlier such options were not available, so people had to install neutral wires in their electrical systems. However, today the scenario has changed, and you can find a lot of good smart light bulbs and smart switches that work without neutral wires.
Can we get an electric shock from a Neutral Wire?
Yes. It is possible that one can get an electric shock from a neutral wire. However, most neutral wires contain zero potential. But if we speak of an unbalanced system, which is quite a common phenomenon, the potential of a neutral wire could increase.
This is where the ground wire comes into the picture and diverts the excess current into the earth. Note that if there is no ground wire, that could be dangerous as well. There is generally no protection against leakage of electricity in the earth in case of abnormal flow of electricity. In such cases, the current consumption could increase, and you might have to pay additionally for the electric power that was not used by you.
Why does my Neutral Wire have a voltage?
As the very basic function of a neutral wire is to conduct the excess current back to its power source, in the case of unbalanced electrical systems, it is possible that your neutral wire has a voltage. This is about the general switch system.
Now coming to the smart switch, the neutral wire always has a voltage because it needs to provide power so that the switch can always be ‘on.’ Thus, it is quite common for a neutral wire to have voltage, or let’s say, when a neutral wire has a voltage, it is doing its job.
So if you are trying to have a look at your neutral wire or your electric switchboard, make sure that you switch the power off since the system could be carrying current.
Can a Neutral wire be connected to the ground?
NO. As mentioned before, there is a significant difference between neutral wire and ground wire. Both of these cannot be used interchangeably since they have very different functions to perform.
A neutral wire is specifically used to conduct the excess electricity back to the power source and not into the ground. If the neutral wire is grounded and there is no ground wire, this can lead to extremely dangerous situations.
Ground wires are specifically used for safety purposes to carry the excess current to the earth. They cannot be used to perform any other functions in the electrical system. If you remove the ground wire, then it could lead to mishaps such as electrocution.
That was all about ‘what is a neutral wire‘ and ‘how does a neutral wire work?‘ It is quite common to get confused with the different wires present in your electrical switchboard.
However, we would recommend you ensure all safety precautions by getting involved with any electrical work. If it is possible, always hire an electrician rather than do this by yourself.
A neutral wire does the work of carrying excess electricity back to the power source. It ensures that the imbalanced system is balanced in a way. A neutral wire is generally of Grey or white colour.
It is generally always present in houses built after the 1980s. A neutral wire is quite mandatory for most electrical systems. Many smart switches need electrical wires for their proper functioning.
However, today you have a lot of options for smart switches and smart bulbs that do not necessarily require a neutral wire.
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