When Homeowners do their own electrical work

goldstar

Senior Member
Location
New Jersey
Occupation
Electrical Contractor
I want to say this is a funny story but it really isn't funny. I got a call from an existing customer who said that when the pool guy connected the #8 bonding wire to the pool pump - sparks flew. So, when I got there the first thing she told me was that her BROTHER-IN-LAW installed a duplex receptacle so that she could vacuum the pool without having to run an extension cord all the way to the house (this is an OLD pool set-up that only had 2 # 12's for the pool motor and 1 # 12 ground wire in 3/4" rigid metal conduit). The STANDARD duplex receptacle was installed in a std. 1-gang FS box with a flip cover. When I opened it I saw that he tapped off one side of the 240V motor circuit to one side of the receptacle and because there was NO NEUTRAL he installed his own neutral by attaching a wire to the JB and wired it to the neutral side of the receptacle. Needless to say, I removed that receptacle but will be pulling in a new circuit in the near future.

Now for the "funny" part of this story. There is a metal chain-link fence that runs around the pool. The bonding wire is also attached to that metal fence. The wire connected to the pool motor was only connected at the motor and left hanging freely in open air not connected to anything else. When I tried to connect it to the rest of the grid - sparks flew. So, after tripping the pool circuit I opened the motor housing only to find that ALL the wires in the whip were SOLID #12 AND ALL RED - none marked as a ground wire. Inside the time clock housing that particular RED wire that was supposed to be the ground wire was connected to one of the phase wires on the time clock. I marked the ground wire, landed it correctly but will be changing this as well in the near future.

Anyone can make a mistake but this one could have caused severe injury or even death just because the HO wanted to save a few $$.
 

infinity

Moderator
Staff member
Location
New Jersey
Occupation
Journeyman Electrician
This has becoming a more prevalent problem with advent of more and more DIY television shows and YouTube. Unqualified people doing their own electrical work and not realizing the potential danger of their mistakes. The last thing that you want is anyone working on a pool that is unqualified. This customer is lucky no one got hurt or worse.
 
Location
El Cajon, CA
Occupation
Retired Navy Electrician, Now Semi-Retired from any job
I have a comment about this. I'm not a licensed electrician; I'm a 20 year career Navy electrician (submarine nuclear power trained), and shipboard is different in a number of ways, although safety and common sense should be universal.

I can't defend either the HO here, nor the unqualified brother-in-law who should have said this is beyond his capability. I would have to do significant research to understand how it should be done correctly before I would even attempt something like that, and it would be illegal for me to do it for a family member.

But it's not just unqualified people who do things poorly, dangerously, or just incorrectly. I think when a licensed electrician who SHOULD KNOW BETTER does things that are dangerous it's much worse than ignorant homeowners and their ignorant family members who try to help.

Also, isn't it just as bad when inspectors don't identify things that may actually be pretty common, like bootleg grounds in an old house?

The previous owner of our house was a licensed electrician in this state. We're getting our house ready to sell now to move out of state. Every single receptacle in the house is a 3-prong, but most of the wiring is still 1961-1962 two conductor cable with no ground. He did update some of the wiring in the kitchen/bathroom area and in the garage. While checking every receptacle I found probably a dozen bootleg ground wires connecting ground to neutral (so that a 3-prong receptacle on old two conductor wiring would look like it has a good ground for inspector's plug in tester).

I found the ground wire twisted with neutral wires in a junction box supplying the over-the-range microwave that was installed before we owned the house. The plastic box for that microwave receptacle had the ears cut off that held nails for new construction work, and was attached to a stud with drywall screws. The guy must have gotten a bulk deal on drywall screws because he used them for EVERYTHING. I've never had to buy drywall screws for any of a lot of drywall work I've done in here because I was able to use those I have removed from places they shouldn't be.

I found the kitchen range (gas range) plugged into an extension cord that had been snaked through the cabinet, and is probably plugged into the same receptacle as the fridge (haven't gotten to that receptacle yet). The plug on that cord was done so badly it was like amateur hour. The wires were all stripped back much too far, and the bare wires contacted the screws and energized the armor shell of the plug which shocked me when I touched it. I should have seen that coming, but I'm finding it hard to believe that even a bad electrician would have done something that stupid. I had to replace the microwave junction box with a metal box and then run cable through flex conduit from that junction box and install a new GFCI receptacle behind the range because that power is ungrounded.

I've had to fix SOMETHING on nearly every single receptacle in the house, whether the receptacle plastic was broken or I had to replace it with a 2-prong receptacle or a GFCI, run new cable to bring down to a 30 year old or more 3-prong receptacle the "Earth" ground that does exist in some of the wiring he replaced as he did some partial remodeling, or just replace a broken or missing cover plate.

Now I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do about the fridge receptacle that I'm certain is a 3-prong receptacle on an ungrounded circuit shared with kitchen, hallway and one bedroom lights and receptacles. Someone on another forum said inspectors don't typically pull out refrigerators and inspect the receptacle. If they did, I wouldn't have this problem now.

But that's not really the point is it? Just to just pass inspection by someone who may not even be fully knowledgeable and might be just lazy, incompetent or bought off?
 

James L

Senior Member
Location
Kansas Cty, Mo, USA
Occupation
Electrician
...But it's not just unqualified people who do things poorly, dangerously, or just incorrectly. I think when a licensed electrician who SHOULD KNOW BETTER does things that are dangerous it's much worse than ignorant homeowners and their ignorant family members who try to help.....

.....I've had to fix SOMETHING on nearly every single receptacle in the house.....

.....But that's not really the point is it? Just to just pass inspection by someone who may not even be fully knowledgeable and might be just lazy, incompetent or bought off?
You live in Kansas City area?
It's horrible around here oh, and it's not just electricians.
 

gadfly56

Senior Member
Location
New Jersey
Occupation
Professional Engineer, Fire & Life Safety
I have a comment about this. I'm not a licensed electrician; I'm a 20 year career Navy electrician (submarine nuclear power trained), and shipboard is different in a number of ways, although safety and common sense should be universal.

I can't defend either the HO here, nor the unqualified brother-in-law who should have said this is beyond his capability. I would have to do significant research to understand how it should be done correctly before I would even attempt something like that, and it would be illegal for me to do it for a family member.

But it's not just unqualified people who do things poorly, dangerously, or just incorrectly. I think when a licensed electrician who SHOULD KNOW BETTER does things that are dangerous it's much worse than ignorant homeowners and their ignorant family members who try to help.

Also, isn't it just as bad when inspectors don't identify things that may actually be pretty common, like bootleg grounds in an old house?

The previous owner of our house was a licensed electrician in this state. We're getting our house ready to sell now to move out of state. Every single receptacle in the house is a 3-prong, but most of the wiring is still 1961-1962 two conductor cable with no ground. He did update some of the wiring in the kitchen/bathroom area and in the garage. While checking every receptacle I found probably a dozen bootleg ground wires connecting ground to neutral (so that a 3-prong receptacle on old two conductor wiring would look like it has a good ground for inspector's plug in tester).

I found the ground wire twisted with neutral wires in a junction box supplying the over-the-range microwave that was installed before we owned the house. The plastic box for that microwave receptacle had the ears cut off that held nails for new construction work, and was attached to a stud with drywall screws. The guy must have gotten a bulk deal on drywall screws because he used them for EVERYTHING. I've never had to buy drywall screws for any of a lot of drywall work I've done in here because I was able to use those I have removed from places they shouldn't be.

I found the kitchen range (gas range) plugged into an extension cord that had been snaked through the cabinet, and is probably plugged into the same receptacle as the fridge (haven't gotten to that receptacle yet). The plug on that cord was done so badly it was like amateur hour. The wires were all stripped back much too far, and the bare wires contacted the screws and energized the armor shell of the plug which shocked me when I touched it. I should have seen that coming, but I'm finding it hard to believe that even a bad electrician would have done something that stupid. I had to replace the microwave junction box with a metal box and then run cable through flex conduit from that junction box and install a new GFCI receptacle behind the range because that power is ungrounded.

I've had to fix SOMETHING on nearly every single receptacle in the house, whether the receptacle plastic was broken or I had to replace it with a 2-prong receptacle or a GFCI, run new cable to bring down to a 30 year old or more 3-prong receptacle the "Earth" ground that does exist in some of the wiring he replaced as he did some partial remodeling, or just replace a broken or missing cover plate.

Now I'm trying to figure out what I'm going to do about the fridge receptacle that I'm certain is a 3-prong receptacle on an ungrounded circuit shared with kitchen, hallway and one bedroom lights and receptacles. Someone on another forum said inspectors don't typically pull out refrigerators and inspect the receptacle. If they did, I wouldn't have this problem now.

But that's not really the point is it? Just to just pass inspection by someone who may not even be fully knowledgeable and might be just lazy, incompetent or bought off?
Unfortunately, once someone has been in a field for a while and has high confidence in their ability, a certain hubris tends to creep into your outlook. I'm talking to the guy I see in the mirror every day as much as anyone else. That hubris whispers in your ear how, after 20 years, you know better than those code mongers at NFPA how something should be done, or how you don't really need a smoke detector here, or a horn/strobe there. Then you have to step back and realize, it isn't your sorry self alone taking this risk. You're making that choice for the next 5 or 6 home owners, or the thousands of people every day that are going through that public space you designed the fire alarm system for.
 

drcampbell

Senior Member
Location
The Motor City, Michigan USA
Occupation
Engineer
bootleg ground wires ... so that a 3-prong receptacle on old two conductor wiring would look like it has a good ground for inspector's plug in tester
Sperry introduced a simple* plug-in tester that detects a poor ground, making the 3-lamp testers obsolete.
Maybe it's time for a new design that also tests for a bootleg ground.
(this IS a specific product endorsement)

* simple to use; there's quite a bit of internal complexity
 

gadfly56

Senior Member
Location
New Jersey
Occupation
Professional Engineer, Fire & Life Safety
Sperry introduced a simple* plug-in tester that detects a poor ground, making the 3-lamp testers obsolete.
Maybe it's time for a new design that also tests for a bootleg ground.
(this IS a specific product endorsement)

* simple to use; there's quite a bit of internal complexity
I don't see how this detects bootleg grounds.
 

Joe.B

Senior Member
Location
Arcata Ca
Occupation
Building Inspector
I don't see how this detects bootleg grounds.
Hopefully it will read as bad ground, or possibly a combination of lights? My simple 3-light tester has identified "bootleg grounds" by showing a combination of errors, took me a while to figure it out. At first I thought my tester was bad, then I pulled out my spare and it read the same, the middle light was brighter than the other. In another case I found one that was hot/neutral reversed, AND a "bootleg" by showing all three lights on, with the middle one being brighter. My non-contact tester showed that the "ground" was in fact "hot"! Very dangerous.

BUT, not all three light testers are created equal. Hard to see in the picture, but one tester showed correct while the other showed the error as described. Yes I switched the testers and it showed the same in either location. Now I carry several brands of testers, I think I have about six in the truck and at least two on me.
 

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hillbilly1

Senior Member
Location
Atlanta,Ga
Occupation
Field coordinator/ technical support
Ideal makes a tester now that detects bootleg grounds, I think how it works is it measures the resistance between the ground and neutral and against the hot, if there is an odd variation such as super low resistance between the neutral and ground, it triggers it.
 

drcampbell

Senior Member
Location
The Motor City, Michigan USA
Occupation
Engineer
Fuuechef is offering the Ideal tester for $135.
 
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