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J- box fire/ Bootleg ground


Brandon Whitmore
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My morning house was a 1950s home. The 3 prong outlets in the home said everything was grounded properly so I started pulling cover plates.

The ground screws were loosened up enough to contact the metal junction boxes showing a false ground on my tester-- been seeing this quite a bit.

Luckily I pulled the right one in the kitchen (or there could be more). There was a bootleg groud run from the grounding screw to the neutral screw. The white insulation on the grounding area and throughout the J- box was melted and heavily singed. The back side of the outlet cover plate had burn marks as well.

I was really tempted to pull the outlet and get some good pics, but resisted temptation and put the cover plate back on after showing the buyer and Realtor who happened to be a building super (made explanation easy).

Has anyone else seen anything like this on bootleg grounds?

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Just a guess, but they may have also had reverse polarity when they first hooked up the 3 prong outlet to the old wiring. Then bootlegged the now live "neutral" side to the ground and, through the fastening screws, to the metal j-box. Probably was quite spectacular when they first turned the breaker back on.

Or could be something completely different!

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Originally posted by Brandon Whitmore

. . . There was a bootleg groud run from the grounding screw to the neutral screw. The white insulation on the grounding area and throughout the J- box was melted and heavily singed. The back side of the outlet cover plate had burn marks as well.

I was really tempted to pull the outlet and get some good pics, but resisted temptation and put the cover plate back on after showing the buyer and Realtor who happened to be a building super (made explanation easy).

Has anyone else seen anything like this on bootleg grounds?

Not that I can recall. Richard's explanation is plausible.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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It does make sense, but I was not about to mess with the wiring to try and find out (insulation completely melted away with bare conductors, etc).

The neutral (white insulation) was on the proper side of the outlet,but I did not check to see if it was hot.

It looked so scary that I can not believe that someone would have just covered it back up. Maybe they installed the wiring, put the cover plate back on and then turned on the breaker and never realized what happened.

Could the bootleg ground wire have melted, thus preventing further issues?

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