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Ceiling fixture wiring issue

First time I ever saw this. I took down my old ceiling fan to replace it. The black hot wire from the fan was connected to the black hot wire in the box. The white neutral wire from the fan was connected to the green grounding wire on the box. The white neutral wire from the box was capped with a wire nut. I hooked up a simple bulb fixture to test it and the only way it works is black to black and white to green. Doesn't seem safe to me completing the circuit through the green grounding wire. House is 23 years old, never had any problems like this replacing anything else, always black to black and white to white. Any thoughts?

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Posted 2011-05-17T17:17:02+0000  by TJA TJA



Hi there TJA welcome to the community!


TJA you are absolutely right it is not safe to use a bare/green grounding wire instead/in place of the neutral wire.

Any fault current that could possibly occur inside of the ceiling fan box you are working on and on the boxes that are linking ground thru that same box would not have a path to get to the ground but thru your body.


So first and foremost action I would advise to you would be to turn off the circuit breaker that is dedicated to that area.


Those where my first thoughts …


There are several different troubleshooting scenarios that could take place here. Any of these in my opinion would need an attention from the licensed electrician.


First scenario it’s fairly simple; power to the switch box.


Inside your switch box there are three wires; hot, ground, neutral

Hot it’s getting intercepted by the switch and it continues to the ceiling box, neutral travels thru the switch box uninterrupted to the ceiling box and green grounds these two boxes.

Having said that white it’s capped of inside of the switch box indicates that there is a problem with the white wire itself or it is connected somewhere incorrectly. First place to look with the circuit breaker off would be a switch box and so on going back tracing the line.


Second scenario would be a power from the ceiling box.


Inside your ceiling box there are three wires again but only two wires are going to the switch box; hot and ground.

Hot loops around being interrupted at the switch box back to the ceiling box and green grounds these two boxes. White/neutral on the other hand it’s stopped and left inside of the ceiling box. This would be tested the same as the above mentioned; circuit off and trace the lines back to the nearest feed box and so on.

TJA there are many more options that this could be wired with; incorrect ones and correct ones. You could easily have hot circling around from the ceiling box to the switch box with no ground you could also have a hot pig tailed inside the switch box traveling to the ceiling box without neutral and so on.


Regardless, this problem should be corrected and your ceiling fixture should have a dedicated neutral, hot and ground wire wired properly.


Hope this helps and welcome to the community!



Posted 2011-05-17T20:56:24+0000  by George_HD_CHI

Thank's Nick, I am going to have an electrician check the circuit. I know basic wiring and this kind of "shocked" me when I saw the fan was connected to the ground. But here is what I have. There is a double wall switch that turns off the power to the hot and neutral. Must be one for the fan and one for the light originally, but we only used one switch and the pull chains. With one switch on there is power to hot and neutral.  With the other switch on and first off both are hot again, but a fixture will work only with this switch on if connected to black and green only (the way the fan was connected).  Makes no sense to me. It must have been wired like this from when it was new construction, the fan was the orignal fixture. Right now I just have a light socket on there and it only works connected to the black and the ground (green) and only with one of the switches.

Posted 2011-05-17T21:50:07+0000  by TJA

Hey TJA, I'm Blake from The 'Depot out here in California. If I am reading your post correctly it sounds like someone wanted to install a fan and light control at the wall, but didn't want to run another wire (as they should have). I would guess that if you removed that double switch you would see that they capped the incoming neutral in the J-box and are running the hot incoming line through the neutral and hot line up to the fan. This would be a pretty easy fix, as you would only need to fix the interruption of the neutral, and put in a standard single pole switch. However I would still reccomend you have a licenced electrician do the work.


Why the white and black wires are both hot when one or both switches is turned on is probably down to a reversed wiring job on the double switch. If he put the incoming hot (line) into the outgoing hot (load) side of the switch, it would explain this behavior. 


I think you have done the right thing by calling an electrician out, if someone was bold enough to do this, there may be more problems that only a trained eye can see at the main load center and elswhere in your homes wiring. I think any electrician would want to take a serious look around after fixing a problem like this. I would also like to stress that in no way is using a fixture that uses a ground as a working line safe. In the mean time plug a lamp into a wall outlet until your local sparky can get this whole mess cleaned up. 


I really wish you luck with your repair. If you have any other concerns please feel free to share with us, we are here to help.



Posted 2011-05-19T00:52:04+0000  by BlakeTheDiyGuy
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