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yeedle

join:2013-10-18

[Electrical] Question regarding neutral wires in a light switch box

I am a beginner when it comes to wiring but trying to learn as much as I can, so thanks in advance to everyone that helps. I just moved into an old apartment and here is the situation:

-I have 3 light switches all together in one box by the front door.
-There are two neutral wires running into the box from the top and the bottom connected together using a large wire nut.
- I would like to add a timer (with a neutral wire) which would increase the wire nut to hold 5 wires. I am not sure if they are 14 or 12 gauge as there is no marking on the wire that I can see. I have a wire nut that holds 5 14 gauge wires (Morris Red P6 wire nut)

My questions is:
Can I just connect all 5 wires using the wire nut OR can I just connect two neutrals together (one from the top and one from the bottom) and 3 neutrals together (one form the top, one from the bottom and one from the timer) and not have them all connect together?

Which option is better (and a "why" would be very helpful)


nunya
LXI 483
Premium,MVM
join:2000-12-23
O Fallon, MO
kudos:12
Reviews:
·Charter
·voip.ms
Old building and light switches... Some of those "neutrals" may not really be neutral. They were separated (or tied together, it's hard to tell from your description) for a reason.
There may be more than one circuit in a 3G box. You need to verify. You can't just pick out "a" neutral willy-nilly and use it.
--
If someone refers to herself / himself as a "guru", they probably aren't.

yeedle

join:2013-10-18
I had a friend (who is more electrical savvy - but not available for the next couple of weeks) come over and test the neutrals using a multimeter and confirmed they were in fact neutrals. I don't recall exactly what he did (unfortunately), but I think he first tested the hot and then he put one end to neutrals and on end to the box and got 0 and then one end to neutrals and one end to the hot and got 120.

just to clarify, there are 4 neutral wires coming into the box, two from the top and two from the bottom. they are all twisted together in one wire nut, so all 4 are now together in one wire nut.


02778712

join:2013-07-08
MA
reply to yeedle
Pick up a Non-Contact Voltage Tester for $15 and make sure the whites aren't hot. In my house they reversed some wires or used the white as a hot in some cases. Instead of running 2 cables (one for power and one for the light) they'd just run 1 so the white was the hot to the light and the black was the power hot. In another room they wire nutted the wires backwards so half the room was correct and the other half had white as hot and black as neutral. One can only wonder how houses like that aren't burnt to the ground.


02778712

join:2013-07-08
MA
reply to yeedle
said by yeedle:

I had a friend (who is more electrical savvy - but not available for the next couple of weeks) come over and test the neutrals using a multimeter and confirmed they were in fact neutrals. I don't recall exactly what he did (unfortunately), but I think he first tested the hot and then he put one end to neutrals and on end to the box and got 0 and then one end to neutrals and one end to the hot and got 120.

just to clarify, there are 4 neutral wires coming into the box, two from the top and two from the bottom. they are all twisted together in one wire nut, so all 4 are now together in one wire nut.

If they are indeed neutrals you just have to add the new neutral into the wirenut. All the neutrals need to return to your panel. It's best just to hook them together as one of those 4 neutrals should go back to the panel.

yeedle

join:2013-10-18
They are neutral and I also did pick up a Fluke non contact tester and noted they were not hot.

My question is, is it ok to twist all 5 wires together (whats the risk if they are 14 vs 12, too many in one nut...) or should I use the second approach.

In terms of an education, is the second approach I mentioned even possible, will it work?

yeedle

join:2013-10-18
reply to 02778712
said by 02778712:

It's best just to hook them together as one of those 4 neutrals should go back to the panel.

Ah sorry didn't see this part. So, to understand, only 1 might be going back to my panel and since I am not sure which one, best to keep them all together? If so, will my wire nut work?


02778712

join:2013-07-08
MA
reply to yeedle
As long as the wirenut can handle 5 wires you're golden. The wire gauge doesn't matter as far as a wirenut goes.


02778712

join:2013-07-08
MA
reply to yeedle
said by yeedle:

said by 02778712:

It's best just to hook them together as one of those 4 neutrals should go back to the panel.

Ah sorry didn't see this part. So, to understand, only 1 might be going back to my panel and since I am not sure which one, best to keep them all together? If so, will my wire nut work?

I doubt it. I had to pick up the monster wire nuts when I did 5 wires last year.

garys_2k
Premium
join:2004-05-07
Farmington, MI
Reviews:
·Callcentric
reply to yeedle
Is the breaker feeding this circuit rated for 15 amps? If so, then the wires are almost certainly 14 gauge. Assuming that's the case then your wire nut rated for five 14 gauge wires will be fine.

If the breaker is rated for 20 amps then it's (hopefully) certain that the wires in the box are 12 gauge, so you may need a bigger wire nut rated for five 12 gauge wires (and you need to use 12 gauge wires, too).

yeedle

join:2013-10-18
said by garys_2k:

Is the breaker feeding this circuit rated for 15 amps

How do I determine that information? Do I check the circuit breaker that controls these lights and see if it says 15 or 20 on the breaker?

garys_2k
Premium
join:2004-05-07
Farmington, MI
Yes, exactly. Make sure that turning that breaker off kills ALL of the wires and circuits controlled from that box. The breaker handle is marked with its capacity.

yeedle

join:2013-10-18
ok great thanks for all of your help.

Just curious: whats the risk of using a wire nut that is too small (obviously besides fire)? I'm looking for a more technical answer as to what actually happens in that scenario?


02778712

join:2013-07-08
MA
reply to garys_2k
said by garys_2k:

Is the breaker feeding this circuit rated for 15 amps? If so, then the wires are almost certainly 14 gauge. Assuming that's the case then your wire nut rated for five 14 gauge wires will be fine.

If the breaker is rated for 20 amps then it's (hopefully) certain that the wires in the box are 12 gauge, so you may need a bigger wire nut rated for five 12 gauge wires (and you need to use 12 gauge wires, too).

Except all the wiring done in the last few years in my house use 12 gauge for 15 amp circuits. I wouldn't really use wire size to assume anything.


pike
Premium,MVM
join:2001-02-01
Washington, DC
kudos:3
reply to yeedle
said by yeedle:

Just curious: whats the risk of using a wire nut that is too small

There are many potential problems but the biggest is a loose connection caused by wires being pushed out or damaged by the nut being forced on. Loose connections = heat = fire risk.

said by 02778712:

As long as the wirenut can handle 5 wires you're golden. The wire gauge doesn't matter as far as a wirenut goes.

This is incorrect. Always consult the manufacturer's spec sheet to see what size and quantity of wires the wirenut is listed for.

OP Your best choice is to simply use one of the many available battery operated timer switches. This will avoid the problem of having to find a neutral -- a situation you should not be getting involved in with a rental unit or multi dwelling unit.

yeedle

join:2013-10-18
said by pike:

OP Your best choice is to simply use one of the many available battery operated timer switches. This will avoid the problem of having to find a neutral -- a situation you should not be getting involved in with a rental unit or multi dwelling unit.

The idea is also to be able to control the lights remotely. I am purchasing the Wemo light switch which requires a neutral.

The problem lies with the fact that I do not know how big the current neutral wires are. I currently have a wire nut that is rated for 5 #14. If the 4 neutrals currently in the box are #12 then obviously not going to work. Can I just get a wire nut rated for 5 #12s and then not have to worry about anything or is too big an issue also?

garys_2k
Premium
join:2004-05-07
Farmington, MI
Reviews:
·Callcentric
reply to yeedle
Wire nuts work by threading onto all of the conductors. If you have too many then some of them won't engage the nut's threads, leaving them to depend on surface to surface contact. That is easily upset from oxidation and thermal stress (movement from expansion/contraction). The threaded on connection can carry the full current, it's mechanically stable and gas tight, so you really want that.

The nut's rating IS critical, and I guess it's possible (but I maintain very unlikely, unless this place was built in the last ten years) that you could have 12 gauge wire on a 15 amp circuit. With an older place I'd put those odds at less than 100:1, but using nuts rated for five 12 gauge wires wouldn't hurt.

garys_2k
Premium
join:2004-05-07
Farmington, MI
Reviews:
·Callcentric
reply to yeedle
said by yeedle:

Can I just get a wire nut rated for 5 #12s and then not have to worry about anything or is too big an issue also?

Yes, but do check if it's rated for five #14 wires, as well (it likely will be).


02778712

join:2013-07-08
MA
reply to yeedle
You want something like the twister pro.
»www.idealindustries.com/prodDeta···twist-on

It's rated for 4 #10's which means it will handle 5 #12's or #14's.

Here's a listing of every combo per every wire nut Ideal makes.
»www.idealindustries.com/media/pd···ions.pdf

yeedle

join:2013-10-18
reply to garys_2k
Yeah the building is definitely more than 10 years old but not sure exactly how old.

I will just get a wire nut rated for 5#12s (that is also rated for 5#14). thanks again for all of your help and the great explanation.

Any recommendation on a wire nut?

yeedle

join:2013-10-18
reply to 02778712
said by 02778712:

You want something like the twister pro.
»www.idealindustries.com/prodDeta···twist-on

Thanks, ill look into that


02778712

join:2013-07-08
MA
reply to yeedle
said by yeedle:

Yeah the building is definitely more than 10 years old but not sure exactly how old.

I will just get a wire nut rated for 5#12s (that is also rated for 5#14). thanks again for all of your help and the great explanation.

Any recommendation on a wire nut?

»www.homedepot.com/p/Ideal-454-Bl···cHtJOOSo

yeedle

join:2013-10-18
said by 02778712:

...

Yeah just saw that on the Ideal PDF listing of gauge combinations. Thanks so much for your help.

(only need 1, not sure what I'm going to do with the other 24)


02778712

join:2013-07-08
MA

1 edit
reply to yeedle
Click for full size
I was at HD to get some other stuff but stopped by to look at the wire nuts. These babies are HUGE but will do the job.


Hall
Premium,MVM
join:2000-04-28
Germantown, OH
kudos:2
reply to 02778712
said by 02778712:

The wire gauge doesn't matter as far as a wirenut goes.

I'm certain the wire nut's box indicates how many of each and what gauge can be used, for example (purely made up but since I don't give a color I can do it ) 3 - 12 gauge or 4 - 14 gauge.


02778712

join:2013-07-08
MA
said by Hall:

said by 02778712:

The wire gauge doesn't matter as far as a wirenut goes.

I'm certain the wire nut's box indicates how many of each and what gauge can be used, for example (purely made up but since I don't give a color I can do it ) 3 - 12 gauge or 4 - 14 gauge.

But that wasn't the point. The point was there's no set wire gauge combo that won't work in a wire nut of some type.

People are in rare form today. Is it a Friday the 13th somewhere?

yeedle

join:2013-10-18
reply to 02778712
said by 02778712:

I was at HD to get some other stuff but stopped by to look at the wire nuts. These babies are HUGE but will do the job.

amazing! thanks so much for all of your help, really appreciate it. Will be heading to HD after work.


mackey
Premium
join:2007-08-20
kudos:13

1 recommendation

reply to 02778712
I know, right. I expected quite a few comments about doing electrical work in an apartment..

/M

yeedle

join:2013-10-18
said by mackey:

I know, right. I expected quite a few comments about doing electrical work in an apartment..

whats wrong with doing minor electrical work (like putting in a light switch) in an apartment?


mackey
Premium
join:2007-08-20
kudos:13
Liability. If the wire insulation gets nicked or cracks off because it's old and it shorts out causing a fire, you are personally responsible for any damages and injuries that may result. In most places it is illegal to work on wiring that you don't own.

/M