Crossed plug wires can come in different forms. In a mis-wired outlet, the hot and neutral wires were connected backwards at installation. Shorted wires occur when one or more wires make unintended connections to another wire in the same outlet box. Determining the cause of your crossed plug wires is the first step in repairing them.
If a plug or electrical outlet was connected backwards, there could be no sign that there is a problem until something with a polarized plug is used in that outlet. The device that is plugged in could be destroyed or cause a fire because the hot and neutral wires are reversed. You can purchase outlet testers at local construction and home improvement stores that will indicate mis-wired outlets.
If a short arises in an outlet box from the ground or neutral wire to the hot wire, the resulting problem in the circuit will cause a breaker to trip. The breaker will also refuse to reset in this case. If the ground shorts to the neutral wire, there may be no indication at all on a normal circuit.
Shorts in a GFI or Arch-fault Circuit
If the ground or neutral wires short to the hot wire on an Arch-fault or GFI circuit, the breaker will trip and not reset. Additionally, if a short occurs between the ground and the neutral on an Arch-fault or GFI circuit, the breaker, or test button on GFI outlets, will trip and not reset.
Testing an Outlet
You can use a voltmeter to test for mis-wiring or reverse polarity on non-Arch-fault and non-GFI protected outlets. With your voltmeter set to AC volts on its highest scale, insert the black lead from the voltage tester into the rounded ground hole in the outlet. Insert the red lead from the tester into the smaller slotted hole, which is the hot connection. You should read 110 volts or close to it. If you insert the red lead into the larger slotted hole in the outlet and read 110 volts you have reversed polarity and the black and white wires connected to the outlet were connected backwards.
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