Why Would an Outlet Have 2 Hot Wires?

Electricity is something that has become a standard survival need for most people, and having circuits and outlets in your home or environment which don’t operate in the traditional way may become understandably concerning or frustrating. Safety should be the primary concern when working on anything with electricity within the home. It is recommended to always get a professional to do any work with electricity. That being said, why would an outlet have two hot wires?

An outlet may have two hot wires so that one wire may function as an ‘always on’ transmutation from the power supply, feeding the other wire. The other hot wire would transmute that voltage to another device or series of devices. However, reasons and specifics can vary greatly.

Whether you’re confused about the odd wiring of a questionably efficient outlet in your home or environment, or are considering which wiring would be best for a new circuitry setup, figuring out the ins and outs of such circuitry systems and their functionality can become quite tricky. We’ve gathered some of the most crucial factors to consider when analyzing outlets with two hot wires, as well as multiple hot wires.

Why would an outlet have 2 hot wires?

When outlets are setup in such cases, they are separate and will need to be connected via the bridge in order for a single wire to supply power to both outlets. The most common reason for an outlet having two hot wires is due to the same receptacle having a constant on and a switched plug. This necessitates the use of two hot wires in the same receptacle box for the outlet.

This can vary from outlet to outlet, and the reason for having multiple hot wires or neutral wires can differ based on the circumstances. But, this would predominantly occur when the hot or neutral source is only being transmuted through one of the wires, and the voltage which is running from the source and through that wire would be fed to the other wire. This is otherwise known as outlets being ‘daisy-chained’ together.

Using multiple wires in branch circuits is quite common, and there are quite a few ways in which the configuration is done depending on specifics. The use of two hot wires shares the neutral wire, making use of it at differing times due to the nature of the alternating current. There are many varying ways by which any of these outcomes are achieved. Issues may come about if the neutral connection fails, as this may lead to oddities for both hot wires involved, such as a doubled-up voltage level which would lead to smoke and other hazardous safety risks.

That being said, although the primary reason commonly comes down to having one wire which is ‘always on’, feeding the other wire with both hot wires sharing a neutral, the specifics of the outlet will vary greatly. It’s never as simple as it sounds, there is no one size fits all answer or solution if there is an issue relating to an outlet having two hot wires. Some buildings which are old, or have been constructed as a duplex, for example, may have alternative voltage needs and methods by which the voltage is supplied to the outlet in question.

Sometimes, renovations may result in such wiring, or sometimes the configuration and use of two hot wires may not even be correct for the circumstances, considering possibilities such as switch loops as well. It will also depend on the amount of voltage being channeled, as high voltages could be incredibly dangerous to work with – if you don’t quite know what you are doing, you may be in for a rather shocking experience. It’s always best to contact a professional electrician to have a look at the specifics of the outlet, and how the wiring behind the outlet has been configured necessitating two hot wires.

Can you put two hot wires together?

Generally speaking, in any kind of circuit system, the power will most likely only be stemming from a primary source voltage supply, after which the circuits system may be comprised of varying wire setups that will carry the voltage to other means. The two hot wires or multiple hot wires which would be put together usually have differing functions, with one of the hot wires transmuting voltage from the source or power panel, while the other hot wire serves as a means to carry the voltage to another device or series of devices.

Outlets are designed so that both sockets receive consistent and equivalent voltage from the same power source, as opposed to having two separate power supplies for each outlet socket. This is usually done by using one hot wire, one neutral wire, and one ground wire. The hot wire attached to one socket will not carry over to the other socket if the brass tab on the hot side is broken off, and the number of wires which can go into an outlet will depend on the outlet, as each switch, outlet or device will count as two wires. 

Two hot wires should also not be connected to the same breaker or terminal if the circuit breaker is not designed to suit two wires. This is due to the fact that such an approach could pose incredibly dangerous outcomes and should not be overlooked. If two wires are connected to a breaker or terminal which is not compatible, it could result in the circuit breaker or terminal overheating, and if the two wires are not suitably and securely fastened, it may cause arcing.

How do you wire an outlet with two hot wires?

There have been many discussions surrounding the topic, and the way in which an outlet can be wired with two hot wires will ultimately come down to the specifications of the circuit in question, respective of all components used in the circuit systems, as well as the voltage supply and requirement for the outlet. The way in which the circuit has been wired and its functionality requirements will also play a role in whether or not two hot wires can be used effectively, as well as how this would be done if it is applicable.

For certain outlets, such as GFCI outlets, wiring the circuit system with two hot wires may be relatively simple depending on the purpose. One would need to use a protected shared neutral with a double pole GFCI breaker for establishing the cable. The double-pole GFCI breaker would need to be fitted and attached to the pigtail, after which the neutral wire and two hot wires would need to be brought to the GFCI breaker. Such means would serve as protection for any legal arrangement of an MWBC or shared neutral circuit. 

What happens if you connect 2 hot wires?

The result of two hot wires making contact with each other would greatly depend on the level of voltage which runs in each wire. If they both have varying levels of voltage, it would result in a short circuit when they make contact with each other. This is due to the fact that the closer those two exposed wires get to one another, the more ionized the air space between the two points would become. This eventually breaks down and a spark occurs between the two exposed wire surfaces, indicating a short circuit.

Essentially, putting two hot wires together isn’t really a good idea, since there will either be no voltage difference or you may end up with a short or dead. This would most likely result in a short circuit, dysfunctional results, would trip one or more circuits, or have more misfortunate outcomes. It’s not recommended to take approaches particularly if you are not quite sure about what you’re doing, and a professional electrician should be contacted for evaluating and finding a solution for whichever problem has inspired this sort of electrical methodology.

There are plenty of things that could go wrong when wiring an electrical circuit, and the potential for dangerous outcomes will increase in accordance with the voltage level running through the circuit. An array of mishaps await those who configure circuits incorrectly, and improper wiring could result in backward polarity if the wires are not configured to the appropriate terminals in the outlet. This is not to mention the potential for safety risks and damage which could be costly to repair, or having to get circuits replaced.

As confusing, costly, or as frustrating as dealing with a two hotwired outlet may be, there is most likely a logical reason for the outlet having been configured in this way, and there are occasions where it may benefit you, or cause some hassles for you over time. Although knowledge of common reasons for using two hot wires in an outlet and how some circuit systems may work in such cases, involving a professional, experienced electrician will always be the best solution when tackling any issue or concern relating to outlet setups.

Consult An Electrician

An article such as this cannot cover all eventualities and codes that apply in all countries and all local municipalities.

For this reason, as well as for the safety of you, your family, and your home, it is best to consult with a local electrician before any type of electrical work.

When electricity is concerned, a little bit of knowledge can be deadly, and it is not worth taking the risk simply to save a little money. Any type of electrical work should never be considered a DIY job with little basic knowledge of electrical work. It is recommended to always get a professional to do any work with electricity.

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