Electrical Wires: Hot, Neutral, Ground, What’s The Difference?

Electrical Wires

Pull off a switch plate or open up a circuit panel and you’ll see a lot of wiring connecting everything together.

A house is created with alternating current. It doesn’t operate like direct current in batteries or cars; you’ll never have positive or negative charges.

Instead, electricity flows from the transformer terminal, into your house and ultimately into your household item and back again by way of continuous wire paths between them.

In the U.S., standard line voltage wiring is wrapped in plastic sheathed cables and usually have three conductors. This cable is called NMB cable.

Two of the conductors in NMB cable are covered with plastic insulation – one is black, the other is white. The third conductor is bare copper.

  • The black wire is the hot wire, it provides a 120 VAC current source
  • The white wire is the neutral wire, it provides the return path for the current provided by the hot wire
  • The copper wire is called the ground wire, connected to an earth ground

The neutral wire forms a live circuit along with the hot wire. The ground wire is connected to the metal parts within an appliance as a safety feature, in case the hot or neutral wires somehow come in contact with metal parts. Connecting metal parts to the ground eliminates shock hazard in the event of a short circuit.

The three wires in a standard NMB cable are connected to the three prong standard electrical outlet. The neutral and hot wires are connected to the the two vertical prongs at the top of the receptacle, with neutral on the left silver screw and hot on the right gold screw, and the ground wire is connected to the green screw at the bottom. There is only one way to insert a three prong plug into a three prong receptacle, ensuring a safe connection every time.

Are your electrical wires functioning correctly? Whether you’ve noticed short or shocks with existing circuits, or are in need of adding a few more, our electrical technicians can get the job done the right way every time. Give us a call today.

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