What is a Neutral Wire & Why Your Smart Light Switch Might Need One!

When you’re learning about your home’s electrical wiring for the first time, it’s best to keep things basic.

However, you don’t want to end your life by making things too easy.

I’m joking, of course.


What exactly is a neutral wire, and how is it used?

A circuit may be seen as a gigantic loop. In order to supply power, electricity must be able to flow continuously around it. The flow of electricity is halted if this loop is broken. This circuit is completed and maintained by the neutral wire, which returns current (electricity) to the power source.

The primary function of a neutral wire is to act as a conduit for the return of energy to its original source.

Most North American circuits have two hot wires, a ground wire, and a neutral wire.

What is a neutral wire?

The power source (battery) is connected to the load through two hot wires (in this case, a lamp). Finally, the power source is supplied with energy thanks to the neutral wire. The earth serves solely as a safety precaution. There are times when the ground wire may conduct a surge of energy or abnormal flow.

Hot Wires

“Hot” wires transmit electricity from that power source to the load, whereas “neutral” wires carry energy back to the power supply.

Anything that consumes or pulls power is referred to as a load. There are a variety of household items that may be used as an example.

“Split phase 240 volt current” is used in North American residences. Each hot wire is 120 volts, hence the total voltage of all three hot wires is equal to the sum of their voltage.

To compensate for uneven loads on hot wires, neutral wires carry the difference back to the power source. ”

After all of the hot wires have been connected, the neutral wire will carry back 2.5 amps, which will then complete the circuit and return the power supply to its original state.

One of the hot wires may be carrying 15 amp current, which means the neutral wire will carry an equivalent amount of current back to the power source.

When both hot wires carry the same current, the neutral wire returns no current to the power source. To complete a circuit, the electricity flows from one hot wire to another.

Your device (or load) is powered by hot wires, while neutral wires return energy to the power supply. However, what happens if there is an unexpected flow of power in the circuit?’

Gound wire

Alternate paths for current flow are provided by ground wires when hot and neutral wires that typically transport current are interrupted. Using this second route, the power is sent outside of your house and into the ground.

It is thus impossible to use the term “ground” as a synonym for “neutral,” “hot,” or “grounding.” In the case of a ground fault, they are only activated.

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Electricity flows abnormally when there are ground faults.

Lightning, for example, may strike your home. A ground fault is likely to occur as a result of this. In this case, the lightning’s anomalous current of electricity would be sent into the earth through the ground line. At the same time, it might cause a power outage by tripping a breakerswitch in your electrical panel.

Your TV, refrigerator, or even your wife’s curling iron might explode if you don’t have a ground wire. That would be a bummer.

Is there a neutral wire in my home?

To find out whether a neutral wire is in your light switch box, you’ll need to check, but here are a few tips in case you don’t want to:

  1. As long as your home was constructed after the mid-1980s, you’re likely to have neutral wiring in every room.
  2. A neutral wire may be present if there is an outlet beside the light switch in issue.
  3. Regardless of the year your home was constructed, ganged together light switches (such two or three directly next to each other) are probably to have a neutral.

Neutral wire color

In North America, electricians are required to follow a color-coded wiring system, which makes it easier to distinguish between various kinds of wiring.

white wire with a neutral conductor

Check to see whether the power is out before you begin to inspect your light switch. When you’re done working on a light switch, you’ll need to turn the power back on.

Then return to the light switch and see if you can turn it on. There’s nothing to worry about if it doesn’t work at all.

To remove it, just detach the switch face cover. Remove the light switch by unscrewing it. Pull the switch out of the wall with the wires still connected after unscrewing it.

Identifying each wire should be quite straightforward. I’d never done this before, but it was simple and straightforward for me.

Identifying the Electrical Circuits

Black, red, or white are the standard colors for hot wires.

When it comes to neutral wires, they’re normally white or gray, and they’re not linked to the light switch!

There are bare copper or green ground wires, depending on the application.

With a neutral wire, the light switch’s white or gray wires will not be attached to the switch, thus you can tell whether you have one.

With a neutral wire coil and a yellow wire nut, this light switch is complete

A black, white, and copper wire are the most likely three wires you’ll have if you don’t have a light switch coil beneath the light switch. Because one of the wires is white, there is no neutral wire in this situation.

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The finest piece of advise I ever received was to identify each wire with masking tape before removing it from the light switch. Taking a snapshot of the installation process is an option, in case anything goes wrong.

To avoid having to hire an electrician because you can’t connect the original switch, follow these instructions to the letter.

What is the purpose of a neutral wire?

Some circuits need a neutral wire to work, whereas others don’t. This includes the ordinary light switch in your house, for example.” Only the bulb it’s connected to consumes electricity; it doesn’t use any of its own (s).

To power smart light switches, a neutral line is often needed. In order for the circuit to be completed, a neutral wire is needed. Even if your smart light switch is in the “off” position, this is still true.

A neutral cable is required for most smart light switches, however there are exceptions. You’ll need to buy a separate hub to use these switches, which is a drawback.

If I don’t have a neutral wire, what should I do?

In the absence of a neutral wire, your possibilities are as follows:

  1. Install a neutral wire.
  2. You may use a smart light switch that doesn’t need a neutral wire to work
  3. Instead of smart light switches, use smart light bulbs.

Install a neutral wire

Alternatively, you might contact an electrician and have him or her run a neutral through your property. It’s possible that you don’t want to become engaged in this way. It can be pricey and a pain in the a** to deal with.

Defintion of neutral cable

Switch that doesn’t need a neutral wire for smart lighting

It’s simpler and less expensive to get a smart light switch that doesn’t need a neutral cable. The Lutron Caseta Smart Home Dimmer Switch, in my opinion, is the finest of the bunch. It has a lot of positive ratings and is quite straightforward to set up.

This time around, you’ll need to purchase the appropriate hub in order to use these smart light switches. The Lutron Caseta Wireless Smart Bridge is required for use with the Lutron Caseta Dimmer Switch.

Smart bulbs may be used instead of regular bulbs.

Finally, if you don’t want to deal with the inconvenience of smart light switches, you may just utilize smart bulbs. Smart lights, on the other hand, have significant drawbacks. The major issue is that if your light switch is ever turned off, they won’t operate. As a result, you’ll need to keep the light on at all times.

For you and your family, this may be a major inconvenience and a difficult memory trigger. Smart home automation, in my opinion, should enhance existing features rather than replace them.

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I don’t think it’s very sane to not be able to turn on and off your lights in your home.

Don’t get me wrong, smart lights have their place, but they aren’t the first thing I’d look into.

Check read Eric Blank’s piece Smart Bulb vs. Smart Switch if you’re still debating the advantages and downsides of smart bulbs against smart switches.

Why do your neutral wire have voltage?

The neutral wire’s principal function is to act as a conduit for energy to return to the source. Additionally, the neutral wire delivers electricity to the smart light switch so that the switch may always be “on.”

Therefore, if this cable is conducting electricity, it’s fulfilling its function. Make sure you don’t accidentally kill the power to the switch while working on it. Turn off the circuit breaker at the electrical panel.


You should contact an electrician if you’ve previously shut off the breaker and then your neutral is still drawing a voltage. There’s a good chance you’ll need the help of an expert.

Is it possible to connect a neutral wire to the ground?

When searching online, this question, “Can a neutral wire be connected to a ground?” is often asked. No, this is not true. Neutral and ground wires can’t be used in the same installation!

You should never utilize ground or neutral cables for anything other than the intended function.

There is no current to be carried by ground wires under typical circumstances. When an anomalous charge is detected, they are employed as a safety measure.

You might be electrocuted if you remove the ground or meddle with it in any way.


It’s understandable that working with your home’s electrical wiring might be scary. The stakes are great here.

It’s true that if you’ve done your homework, it’s simple to replace out traditional light switches with smart light switches.

Having learned about neutral, hot and ground wires as well as how to identify them, you are ready to begin.

Make that the correct breaker in your electrical panel is turned off.


That’s a good thing to double-check.

Let’s get this party started!

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