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Hot/Ground Reverse Troubleshooting

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Whether you are a seasoned homeowner of an older home or a new buyer just curious about the inner workings of your newly built home, there are a lot of things you’re going to need to learn about electrical, especially when things go awry.

When it comes to the electricity in your space, it can often be difficult to troubleshoot when things are not running as smoothly as possible.

A good place to start would be to see if the hot and ground wires are reversed. Let’s dive into it.

Tripped Ground fault interrupter outlet on yellow wall

Hot/ground reverse troubleshooting?

If you are experiencing hot/ground reversal, it could be because of a missing neutral. This is the most common cause for reversal in this case. With a missing neutral, your receptacles and lights will not work. However, you will still activate a proximity voltage detector. 

Possible Causes When a Multimeter or Plug-In Tester is Showing Hot/Ground Reverse in Regular and GFCI Outlets

There can be many causes when your multimeter or tester is showing hot/ground reverse: 

  • Missing or damaged neutral wire 
  • Worn out wires  
  • Accumulated dust 
  • Deteriorated insulation. 

Regular Outlets 

If your regular outlet is not working, your multimeter or tester can identify the problem with multiple combinations of light.

In case of a hot/ground reverse the tester will show a red light on the left side and yellow light on the right side, while the middle light will be off. 

Hot/ground reverse in regular outlets, mainly because of the missing neutral wire or because the wires are old and are starting to wear out.

In the case of a missing neutral, you will not be able to use the receptacle, unless you add or fix the damaged neutral wire. 

GFCI outlet tester on white background

If a neutral wire is damaged, it will make the lights and the outlets malfunction, but it will still activate a voltage detector. 

In the second case, worn-out wires may stop functioning because they cannot handle high current draws.

So, anything that requires higher overcurrent than usual, for example, a hairdryer, might overwhelm the wires, causing malfunction of the outlet. 

On the other hand, they can continue to function normally if you don’t plug in anything that requires high current draws. In rare cases, the multimeter or tester might show a hot/ground reverse because of the accumulated dust in the outlets. 

Regardless of the cause of hot/ground reverse, you should not panic, as there are ways to fix the outlets. 

GFCI outlets 

The difference between a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) and regular outlet is that GFCI can control the outgoing and incoming currents making sure that there’s no imbalance.

It protects the electrical wiring, and also keeps the receptacles from heating or catching fire in case the current imbalance is too big for the outlet to handle. 

Residential GFCI electric outlet plug with GFI reset button

If the GFCI equipped outlets are shown to have the hot/ground reversed by your multimeter and tester, it is, unlike the regular one, mainly because of worn-out wires or bad insulation. 

If you are installing a GFCI outlet, make sure you have secure insulation as the GFCI, on average, requires more attention than a regular outlet.

The wires, if they are subject to too many air leaks, might trip and damage the GFCI, resulting in a hot/ground reverse condition.  

Fixing Hot/Ground Reverse

It is now time to understand how you can overcome the issue of hot/ground reverse when your multimeter or tester has already identified it in your regular or GFCI outlets.

The easiest case is that of dust accumulation, though this happens rarely and only because you haven’t used the outlet for a long time. 

To make sure that you clean the dust inside the receptacles without any risk:

professional electrician repairing electrical outlet in apartment
  1. Turn off the electricity to the outlets from the breaker box
  1. Proceed to remove the outlets with a screwdriver, and rinse them with fresh water. 
  1. After they are dry, you can place them back, and you can use them without further problems.  

If your outlets are deteriorated or worn out, you need to remove the old outlet and connect the new one, making sure that it has its ground wires, in which case you will be done quickly.

If this is not the case, it is recommended that you call a professional because the process of rewiring might be more complicated than expected. 

When it comes to insulation, the only solution is that if you plan ahead of time and use fire blocking spray foam, which can act as a perfect deterrent for air leaks.

Another way of ensuring insulation is to add foam or caulk around the frame of the outlet and seal it in a way that it does not let air in or out.

Either way, you should make sure that the frame is not directly in contact with the wall. 

The hardest is probably when you are dealing with a damaged or a missing neutral wire. The neutral wire is white, and its role is to complete the electrical circuit linking the panel

and the line transformer. The one possibility is to change the wiring entirely and make sure that it’s done correctly, for this you will need the help of a licensed electrician. 

Let’s take a quick look at the different types of multimeters or testers that you need to have for checking your outlets. 

What Type of a Multimeter or Tester is the Best for Checking the Outlets? 

Of course, if you want to test your outlets regularly to make sure they function normally, you will need a good multimeter or tester.

AstroAI Digital Multimeter
  • Versatile Digital Multimeter – Accurately measures AC/DC Current, AC/DC Voltage, Capacitance, Frequency, Duty Cycle, Resistance, Diode, Continuity and Temperature.
  • Thoughtful Design – Support Data Hold, Large LCD Backlit Screen, Auto Shut-off and Hanging Magnet, and Kickstand make the process of measurements easier. Professional level is reflected in some features include Auto-Ranging capability, and True RMS for measuring both AC Current and Voltage.

Generally an average tester can handle this task; however, you need to avoid non-contact testers as they are generally unreliable and cannot be trusted in life-safety matters such as dealing with the presence of electricity at an outlet. 

Your best bet is a digital multimeter, which can serve you for a long time and can save you a lot of trouble and headache since you can use it for a longer time than any other tester. 

Some options to consider are: 

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They cost around $20 to  $40, and can be easily purchased from Amazon with a warranty of one year or more depending on the model.  

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