Home » Electrical Wiring Directory » 120 Volt Circuit, Bonding Ground Wires, Electrical Code NEC, Electrical Wiring, National Electrical Code, Neutral Wire, Wiring Questions » 3 Comments

What is The Purpose of the Neutral Wire


By Dave Rongey - Summary:

The Purpose of the Neutral Wire in Electrical Systems: What is the purpose of the neutral wire and the difference between the ground wire and the white neutral wire.


The Neutral Wire in Electrical Systems

Electrical Question: What is the purpose of the neutral?

  • What is the difference between the green ground wire and the white negative wire?

These electrical questions came from: John, in Lemon Grove California, and John in Sun City Center, Florida.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical questions.

The Purpose of the Neutral Wire

The following will provide an explanation for the purpose of the neutral wire and the the difference between the ground wire and the neutral wire.

  • United States Home Electrical System
    The typical home electrical systems here in the United States uses what is known as AC, which stands for Alternating Current.
  • 120volt Circuits and the Neutral Wire
    The typical 120volt AC circuit requires a return path to earth ground which is provided by the neutral. If the neutral wire were disconnected it would prevent the flow of electricity, therefore the circuit would stop working.
  • The Neutral Wire
    The purpose of theĀ  neutral wire is to complete the 120volt AC circuit by providing the path back to the electrical panel where the neutral wire is connected and bonded to the earth ground. The neutral is an insulated wire because it is part of the circuit which flows electrical current.
  • The Grounded Electrode Conductor
    The neutral wire is part of the GEC or Grounded Electrode Conductor which is part of the home electrical system. The connection of the neutral wire and the ground system is made only at the main electrical panel which is where the bond is made to the earth ground.
  • The Ground Wire is the Safety Wire
    All 120 volt and 240 volt AC electrical circuits require a separate ground wire which also connects to the ground system of the panel where the circuit originates. The ground wire is not a part of the circuit current flow, therefore some ground wires are not insulated. The ground wire is the safety wire that is connected to the components of a circuit thereby providing a direct path to ground in the event of an electrical fault. Ground fault devices and other safety systems are required on specific circuits to prevent electrical shock in a fault condition. Over current devices such as fuses and circuit beakers are installed on circuits which react and interrupt the flow of electrical current in an abnormal condition.
  • NEC Code Requirements
    The NEC, National Electrical Code, has several codes which must be considered for each specific electrical wiring project and application.

More about Neutral Wires and Electrical Wiring

Basic House Wiring Circuits
home-electrical-circuits

House Wiring Circuits and Circuit Breakers

This article looks at common 120 volt and 240 volt house wiring circuits and the circuit breakers that are installed identifying the types and amperage sizes used in most homes.
Electrical Panel Circuit Listing

Circuit Wiring
Circuit Wiring

Electrical Circuit Wiring

This article looks at common 120 volt and 240 volt house wiring circuits and the circuit breakers that are installed identifying the types and amperage sizes used in most homes.

For more information about Electrical Wiring
Electrical Wiring
Electrical Wiring
Electrical Wiring
Home electrical wiring projects with pictures and wiring diagrams.

This link is helpful as a Homeowner
Do-It-Yourself Electrical




Learn How to Wire it Right with my
Complete Guide to Home Electrical Wiring
Perfect for Homeowners, Students,
Handyman, Handywomen, and Electricians
Includes:
Wiring GFCI Outlets
Wiring Home Electrical Circuits
120 Volt and 240 Volt Outlet Circuits
Wiring 3-Wire and 4-Wire Electric Range
Wiring 3-Wire and 4-Wire Dryer Cord and Dryer Outlet
Troubleshooting and Repair Electrical Wiring
Wiring Methods for Upgrading Electrical Wiring
Electrical Codes for Home Electrical Wiring
....and much more.

» Click here to learn more about Home Electrical Wiring «
  repair electrical wiring  


Be Careful and Be Safe - Never Work on Energized Circuits!
Consult your Local Building Department about Permits and Inspections for all projects.
« Electrical Code for New Construction and Ground Rods Bathroom Electrical Circuit Troubleshooting »

FAQs Frequently Asked Questions and Comments


Did We Just Save You Time or Money? We Appreciate Your Support.
Thank You!


3 Responses to “What is The Purpose of the Neutral Wire”
  1. yo says:

    if i put an open switch on the hot/live wire right before, say, a radio, no power goes to the radio. however, if i put an open switch on the neutral wire right after the radio, the radio will be full of power. so what is the purpose of a return, neutral wire?

    could i just then have 1 hot/live wire and a ground wire coming out of it?

    also, if AC goes back and forth, does the neutral become hot/live and the hot/live become neutral on the second half of the cycle?

    • Thomas says:

      Thank you both for your article, question and website. I have been learning about electricity for at least 30 years and the more I see, the more I know there is yet to figure out. It has been my understanding that the grounded or “neutral” conductor provides a path back to the source, that is the transformer and not to the earth/ground. This is how the circuit is ultimately completed or closed. Please correct me if I am wrong or let me know if this has been helpful.

      • Dave Rongey says:

        Hi Thomas, Great Thoughts!
        Here’s something that may help you: If you take a look at a typical electrical overhead power line that provides 240 volt service to a home you will notice that there are only two wires on the primary or secondary side of the power pole which either connects directly to the home service or to a step down transformer. So where is the neutral wire?
        The service drop from the home to the power pole has three wires, however one is uninsulated because it is the ground conductor. The electrical service to the home from the utility company does not have a neutral wire, however it does have a ground conductor. The neutral is created at the home main electrical panel where it is bonded to the earth ground.
        NOTE: In some areas an electric utility transformer may supply power to more than one home. In this case three wires will lead out from the transformer to each home electrical service connection.
        I will develop more resources that cover this topic further because there is a great deal of confusion about Alternating Current, especially when discussing the topics of a 120 volt AC circuit, and alternating current which is produced by a multi-phase generator.
        I hope this helps,
        Dave


3 Comments

We Share Because You Care Find Out More!

Thanks for your Comments and Quick Questions!

Please make sure your question is about the topic on this page, which is:
What is The Purpose of the Neutral Wire


Comments or questions posted here are open for Quality Discussion and Participation - Spam will be deleted.

Did We Just Save You Time or Money? We Appreciate Your Support.
Thank You!



*