Why Would A Neutral Wire Burn? (5 Reasons Explained)


what causes neutral wires to burn

Circuits have hot, ground, and neutral wires. The neutral wire is vital because it completes the circuit by taking the electric current back to the panel. The last thing you want is to burn the neutral wire. It could start a fire, especially if you have tried and failed to locate the source of the problem.

Why Would A Neutral Wire Burn?

Neutral wires burn because of a loose connection, shared neutral, overloading, coiling, and lightning.

1). Loose Connections

Neutral wires burns due to loose connections. A loose wire can cause arcing. Even if the sparks are too tiny and brief for you to perceive, they can generate heat. That heat will overwhelm the neutral wire over time, burning the insulation.

The arcing will produce a smell that homeowners can detect in some cases. You may also feel a mild shock whenever you come into contact with the connected device.

People do not realize that a neutral wire can carry electricity. Though, this only happens when a malfunction occurs.

2). Shared Neutral

You can overwhelm a neutral wire if multiple circuits from the same phase share the neutrals. The combined load can exceed the neutral wire’s ampacity, causing overheating.

3). Overloading

Overloading is one of the most common sources of burnt wires in a circuit. Amateurs expect a case of overloading to limit the damage to the hot wire because it carries the current. But an overload can cause burns on all the components in the circuit.

4). Coiling

Many consumers are ignorant of the dangers of coiling electric wires. When you coil wires, you increase the magnetic electrical field and produce heat. If the temperature rises high enough, the wire’s plastic coating will soften before ultimately melting.

5). Lightning

Neutral wires can also overheat due to lightning strikes. A lightning strike will inject a dangerous amount of power into your circuit. It can do this regardless of whether it struck your home directly or the power line. Every wire in the circuit could overheat.

If the temperatures rise to dangerous levels, the neutral wire will be one of many wires that burn.

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Other notable causes of burnt neutral cables include:

  • A short circuit can cause a spike in the voltage. This can harm the connected electrical appliances while also burning the wires.
  • If the neutral wires are old, worn out, or nicked, they may cause arcing. Electrical arcs will either increase the temperature of any wire they strike or burn it outright.
  • An increase in the length of copper wires can lead to a rise in resistance. Depending on the length of the neutral wire, it may eventually overheat.
  • Did you use the correct size wire? Undersized wires will eventually burn.

How To Prevent From Burning Neutral Wire?

Secure All The Connections

If the circuit breaker tripped because of overheating in the wires, but you can’t find the loose connections, hire a qualified electrician that can track down the source of your problems. If the loose connections burnt the neutral wires, ask the electrician to replace them.

Make Sure The Wires Are Correctly Sized Before You Install Them.

For instance, you need a 6AWG wire for a 50A circuit. Ask an electrician to look at your wires. If they are too small, the electrician can replace them with wires of the correct gauge.

Avoid Coiling.

It increases the magnetic electrical field current, which generates heat.

Use The Shortest Possible Wires.

Increasing the length raises the resistance. Keeping the cables short prevents this problem. The shorter the wire, the lower the resistance.

Don’t Overload The Circuit.

Calculate the total amperage of all the devices and appliances in your home. Make sure the total amperage is lower than the rating of the circuit. Assign dedicated circuits to high-capacity equipment.

Don’t Wait For The Neutral Wire To Burn.

If the wire is hot to the touch, call a professional. Ask them to look for bad connections and poor wiring. They can also install a lightning conductor to protect your home from lightning strikes.

Consequences of Burnt Neutral Wire

  • Arcing can burn a neutral wire. However, just because the neutral wire is burnt doesn’t mean the arcing will stop. If anything, it may get worse if the insulation melts off. Arcing can burn all the other components in the vicinity. It can also start fires.
  • If the neutral wire breaks in the process, the connected appliances could overheat, starting fires. Some devices will stop working altogether.
  • Damaged neutral wires shock people when they touch the connected appliances and outlets.

How Do You Know A Neutral Wire Is Damaged?

  • You can start by looking at the wire. The neutral wire is the white wire. You can tell if the wire is burned by simply looking at it. You will also smell the burnt insulation.
  • Try testing the voltage between the neutral and ground. Look for continuity between the two.
  • Test the hot to ground. Look for a voltage reading that makes sense. Next, test the hot to neutral. You will record irregular readings.
  • Look for signs of fraying and tearing on the wires. Even if the frayed neutral wire is working optimally, it will cause trouble in the future. You should replace it before it burns your house down.
  • Sometimes, the white wire looks fine, but you can see scorch marks and discoloration around its connections. This is a sign of overheating and arcing.
  • If you touch the neutral wire, it may feel warmer than usual. A certain amount of warmth is not necessarily a cause for alarm. But a hot wire should scare you, especially if it already smells like burnt plastic.

How Do You Fix A Burnt Neutral Wire?

1. Turn the breaker off. This will protect you from electrical shocks. Test the wire with a multimeter to make sure it is safe.

2. Get a new cable and strip eight inches off the white wires.

3. Get your old wires and remove the old insulation. You don’t have to eliminate all of it. Just remove as much as you can.

4. Make the old wires straight and wrap the new insulation around the old wires. You must use white insulation for the white wires. Otherwise, you will create confusion.

5. The insulation won’t stay in place on its own. You have to apply a piece of shrinkable tubing. If you don’t want the tube to peel off, wave a flame (from a lighter) over it. This will make it shrink. Make sure you wave the flame over the tubing instead of holding it in place. Otherwise, you will burn it along with the insulation.

6. You don’t have to fix the wires. If you don’t trust them, replace the burnt neutral wires. But repairing or even replacing the wires is not enough. They will burn again unless you identify the source of the problem.

7. If you’ve decided to replace the burnt neutral wire, make sure the new wire matches the rating of the old wire.

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