When Neutral Gets Hot: Decoding 120 Volts on the Neutral Wire

Understanding the intricacies of electrical systems is crucial for homeowners to ensure the safety and proper functioning of their electrical circuits.

Voltage plays a vital role in the distribution of electrical power within a residential setting. In some cases, homeowners may encounter a situation where they measure 120 volts on the neutral wire, which is not typical.

The presence of 120 volts on the neutral wire is indicative of a high neutral voltage, which can be caused by issues such as loose connections, faulty wiring, shared neutral with unbalanced loads, open neutral, or ground faults.

This article aims to shed light on why this phenomenon occurs and what steps can be taken to address it effectively.

Understanding Electrical Systems

Electrical circuits form the backbone of any electrical system. In a typical residential setup, these circuits consist of various components, including hot, neutral, and ground wires.

The hot wire carries current from the power source to the electrical devices, while the neutral wire provides a return path for the current.

The ground wire, on the other hand, acts as a safety measure by redirecting any electrical faults to the earth.

Voltage Basics

Voltage refers to the electrical potential difference between two points in a circuit. In a standard residential system, the hot wire carries approximately 120 volts (in the United States) with respect to the neutral wire.

The neutral wire is generally at or close to zero volts, serving as a reference point for the electrical potential.

Common Electrical Issues

Various electrical problems can arise in a residential setting, requiring prompt attention. One such issue is measuring 120 volts on the neutral wire, which is abnormal and potentially hazardous.

This measurement indicates a high neutral voltage, indicating an underlying problem that needs to be addressed.

Causes of High Neutral Voltage

Several factors can contribute to the occurrence of high neutral voltage. Identifying the root cause is essential for resolving the issue. Some common causes include:

  1. Loose connections: Loose or deteriorated connections can result in increased resistance, leading to voltage imbalances and potentially high neutral voltage.
  2. Faulty wiring: Poorly executed or damaged wiring can disrupt the flow of electricity, causing voltage irregularities throughout the circuit.
  3. Shared neutral with unbalanced loads: When multiple circuits share a neutral wire and the loads on those circuits are unbalanced, it can lead to an increased neutral voltage.
  4. Open neutral: An open neutral occurs when the neutral wire becomes disconnected or broken, resulting in abnormal voltage distribution.
  5. Ground fault: A ground fault, where a hot wire comes into contact with the grounding system, can cause abnormal voltage readings on the neutral wire.

Read also my article: Unveiling the Mystery: Why Does the Neutral Wire Have No Voltage?

Effects of High Neutral Voltage

High neutral voltage can have detrimental effects on both electrical equipment and personal safety. These effects include:

  1. Equipment damage: Appliances and electronic devices may suffer damage or premature failure due to the higher-than-normal voltage on the neutral wire.
  2. Electrical shock hazards: Increased neutral voltage can lead to potential electrical shock hazards for homeowners and individuals in the vicinity.
  3. Potential fire hazards: Abnormal voltage levels can generate excess heat, increasing the risk of electrical fires within the affected circuit.

Troubleshooting and Resolving High Neutral Voltage

Resolving high neutral voltage requires a systematic approach to ensure personal safety and effective troubleshooting. Here are some recommended steps:

  1. Ensuring personal safety: Before attempting any troubleshooting, it is essential to turn off the power to the affected circuit from the main electrical panel to minimize the risk of electrical shock.
  2. Identifying the source of the issue: Inspect the circuit for loose connections, damaged wiring, or any signs of faulty components that could be causing the high neutral voltage.
  3. Seeking professional assistance: If the issue cannot be easily identified or resolved, it is recommended to consult a qualified electrician who can diagnose and repair the problem safely.
  4. Possible solutions and repairs: Based on the findings, the electrician may need to tighten connections, replace faulty components, or rewire the circuit to restore proper voltage balance.

Preventive Measures

Taking proactive steps can help minimize the occurrence of high neutral voltage. Consider the following preventive measures:

  1. Regular electrical maintenance: Schedule routine inspections and maintenance checks by a licensed electrician to identify and address potential issues before they escalate.
  2. Proper wiring techniques: Ensure all electrical wiring is installed correctly, using appropriate techniques and materials to minimize the risk of loose connections or faulty wiring.
  3. Balancing electrical loads: Distribute electrical loads evenly across circuits to avoid excessive strain on any particular circuit, reducing the chances of voltage imbalances.
  4. Importance of hiring qualified electricians: When it comes to electrical repairs or installations, it is crucial to rely on the expertise of qualified electricians to ensure safety and compliance with electrical codes and standards.


The presence of 120 volts on the neutral wire is an abnormal situation that homeowners should not overlook. High neutral voltage poses risks to both electrical equipment and personal safety.

By understanding the causes, effects, and troubleshooting methods, homeowners can take appropriate measures to address the issue promptly.

Regular maintenance, proper wiring practices, load balancing, and professional assistance are key elements in promoting a safe and functional electrical system in residential settings.