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1940s house electrical


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My dad has the old style polarized outlets in his house. I replaced a cieling lamp in his kitchen today and there were two wires. Both were black and I saw a copper wire that I used for the ground. When I removed the old lamp there were two wires (both black) one thicker then the other with an almost cloth like insulator. When I bumped into this wire with my hand I got a shock even though the switch was off. I put a meter on both wires and read 80 volts ac. Is this normal or is his house messed up. I replaced one light in his house and saw he had the load and neutral backwards and am wondering how many circuits in his house are like this. My question should there be voltage floating between the switch wire and the load when the switch is off?

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I am an electrician and have found older houses often switch the neutrals... You can no longer do such a method per NEC code. You would definately get shocked if you touched the hot and you became the ground. A good Fiberglass ladder does wonders.

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I am an electrician and the answer is a definite sometimes. You probably got shocked by the neutral and in an AC system the neutral does carry current.

Older houses just suck when it comes to electrical. Many of them were wired by unknowledgable people with little regaurd to what was right or wrong at the time and with little enforcement of he NEC. This is why I am such a big pusher on having the work done right by a qualified person and then having it inspected.

Good luck in your electrical adventures.

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I am not sure where the copper wire came from but in theory shouldnt the neutral be close to ground potential if the copper wire is a true ground? And if so would it not be better to switch the load instead of the neutral for the lights?

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Yes and no. If the neutral is switched and you touch the "neutral" coming from the load (ceiling light in this case) then you will have voltage to ground because the hot wire is still complete through the bulb.

My first inclination is to just put it back the way it was unless you're prepared to redo the whole thing. A mix and match is, IMO, worse than one way or the other.

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