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Thread: Refrigerator is Hot - 120 Volts at Handle

  1. #1
    DIY Senior Member molo's Avatar
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    Default Refrigerator is Hot - 120 Volts at Handle

    I had an appliance repairman look at a fridge today. He made a minor adjustment and we plugged it into an outlet not normally used. Then he had one hand on the metal hinge of the fridge and one hand on the oven. He got shocked and the handle was showing 120 volts on his meter.

    He thought that there was reverse polarity at the outlet, but wasn't sure. I called an electrician who will be looking at it on Saturday.

    In the meantime, the appliance repairman told me that I can buy a device to check outlets for polarity.
    Do such devices work well? I want to avoid this problem, because the shock could have been a lot worse.

    Thanks,
    Bill
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    Licensed Electrical Contractor Speedy Petey's Avatar
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    Do such devices work for what? You already found that there is voltage on the refer case. It shouldn't matter why.

    A plug in tester will tell you somethings, but somethings can easily fool them. Like this is probably a case of an illegal ground on this circuit. A plug in tester would still read that as ok if all was well.

  3. #3
    DIY Senior Member molo's Avatar
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    This is an older home, and there may be no ground wire.
    "Any American who is prepared to run for President should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so."
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    Electrical Contractor/Instructor jwelectric's Avatar
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    An Ideal Sure Shot will tell about all you would want to know but it is not cheap

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    DIY Senior Member Rich B's Avatar
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    I think your repairmen was referring to a simple little contact tester you can buy for 10 or 15 bucks at any home center. It is plastic and about the size of a pen. Has a small thin blade that is stuck into an outlet. Smaller opening side is supposed to be the HOT side. If the HOT was wired to the wrong side of the outlet and the fridge has the neutral bonded to the metal body with a polarized type plug....you would get shocked when you touched something else that is grounded.....

    Those little testers are very handy and I use one at home lots of times.....

    Don't use that outlet untill you have it fixed....it's wired wrong....

    If it's an older home....it's likely BX and the casing is the ground.....outlets did not have recepticles with ground openings but there has to be a ground.....and your repairmen proved it when he got shocked.....he completed a circuit.....
    Last edited by Rich B; 01-24-2012 at 06:12 AM.

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    Jack of all trades DonL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by molo View Post
    This is an older home, and there may be no ground wire.
    You could have a shorted element in the oven also. Unless it is grounded you may never know it.

    The light bulb is about the only other source of current flow, unless it has electronic ignition.

    Read the current between the 2 appliances and you can find out real quick.
    Theory only works perfect in a vacuum.

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    Moderator & Master Plumber hj's Avatar
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    quote; You could have a shorted element in the oven also.

    Few, if any, refrigerators have elements, electronic ignitions, or ovens. The outlet could have reverse polarity, or the plug could be inserted backwards if the grounding pin was removed, but in either case, the neutral wire should not be bonded to the refrigerators shell, although I have encountered the condition several times. In most cases the refrigerator was far enough from a grounded surface that the user could not touch the two points at the same time. A simple plug in outlet tester will verify the polarity of the outlet and the presence, or lack, of a ground circuit.
    Licensed residential and commercial plumber

  8. #8
    DIY scratch-pad engineer leejosepho's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by molo View Post
    ... He thought that there was reverse polarity at the outlet, but wasn't sure ...

    In the meantime, the appliance repairman told me that I can buy a device to check outlets for polarity.
    Do such devices work well?
    I have one I use to check polarity and ground, and it has always reported correctly. It is about the size of a heavy/large plug on an extension cord or whatever, and it has indicator lights showing "correct", "reverse polarity" or "open ground". To use it in a 2-prong outlet, I use one of those adapters for plugging a 3-prong device into a 2-prong outlet ... but then you will only see the possibility of "correct" or "reverse polarity" since there is no ground prong going into the outlet.

    My guess would be that your repairman is correct and you only need to correct the polarity problem to stop that shock, and back in the days when the blades of 2-prong plugs were still the same size -- the neutral blade is now larger so the toaster cannot shock people -- we did that by simply reversing the plug going into the outlet.
    Last edited by leejosepho; 01-24-2012 at 09:41 AM.
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  9. #9
    Test, Don't Guess! cacher_chick's Avatar
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    Name:  595982-receptacle_tester_circuit_analyzer.jpg
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    These are both cheap and handy, but will not show if the ground pin is wired to the neutral.

  10. #10
    DIY Senior Member kreemoweet's Avatar
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    Best not to assume too much here. I have on a couple of occasions had an "energized refrigerator shell" problem, and both times it was
    a frayed power cord rubbing on metal fridge parts.

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    Jack of all trades DonL's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kreemoweet View Post
    Best not to assume too much here. I have on a couple of occasions had an "energized refrigerator shell" problem, and both times it was
    a frayed power cord rubbing on metal fridge parts.
    I agree, Could be the oven also.

    I like to use one of these when troubleshooting.


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    Theory only works perfect in a vacuum.

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    DIY Senior Member Homeownerinburb's Avatar
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    Molo said it was an older house, but did not specify.

    I have seen knob and tube even recently, which of course provides no ground under any circumstances. Good time to install some GFI's assuming one does not want a full re-wire.

    There was a time before proper NM (Non Metallic Cable, which includes a grounding wire) when there were plastic sheathed cables that carried two insulated conductors without a ground. I have even seen a plastic sheathed cable that had a hot that had insulation, and a grounded (neutral) wire in the sheath but without a jacket of its own. Yikes! I find the code baffling enough, but I appreciate it and try to hew to it.......

    I dare say in plenty parts of the world receptacles and switches need not be housed in boxes at all, and that wire can be twisted together and taped, and no inspector is going to show up and say boo. I like how we do it better.

  13. #13
    DIY Senior Member Homeownerinburb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cacher_chick View Post
    Name:  595982-receptacle_tester_circuit_analyzer.jpg
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    These are both cheap and handy, but will not show if the ground pin is wired to the neutral.

    Can one determine that if one goes to the panel assuming one is competent, and after shutting off the power to the circuit (or better, the whole panel) and then pull the neutral and ground from the bus bar(s) and test for continuity across them?

  14. #14
    DIY Senior Member molo's Avatar
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    Final Determination:

    The electrician determined the outlet was wired incorrectly (hot and neutral reversed). He had a device similar to the one pictured in post #9 (not the multimeter). He used this on the outlet and it only told him "no ground". He said that it wouldn't tell him if there was reverse polarity. He then checked a nearby GFCI with the same plug-in device which said that the GFCI had a ground.
    The outlet that the refrigerator was plugged into was approx. 6' away from the GFCI. The electrician used a single strand of 12-2 wire and pushed the end (stripped of it's insulation into the ground opening on the GFCI outlet. He then used his multi-meter to check the voltage at each opening of the outlet. The multi-meter showed voltage at the wrong side of the outlet.
    He pulled the outlet and it was in fact wired backwards. The wire is 2-wires (each individual wire insulated) wrapped in a black insulation.


    Bill
    "Any American who is prepared to run for President should automatically, by definition, be disqualified from ever doing so."
    Gore Vidal.

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    DIY Senior Member Runs with bison's Avatar
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    We had a fridge like this in the dairy barn when I was growing up. From time to time it would give me a good zap while I had several gallons of milk in my arms and grabbed the handle. Somehow I always managed to hang onto the milk. It was exhilirating, but not fun. I wore heavy rubber boots a matter of course. Don't know if it was that ancient relic of a fridge or the barn's wiring.

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