|How does 240-volt electricity work in house wiring? If each "hot" wire in a circuit from the central wiring panel is at 120 volts with respect to neutral/ground, how are devices that use 240 volts wired? — GK, Ottawa, Ontario
Most homes receive power through three wires: two power wires and one neutral wire. Each power wire is at 120 volts AC with respect to the neutral wire, meaning that its electric potential fluctuates up and down with respect to the neutral wire and behaves as though, on average, it were 120 volts away from the potential of the neutral wire. But the fluctuations of the two power wires are opposite one another—when one power wire is at a positive voltage relative to the neutral wire, the other power wire is at a negative voltage relative to the neutral wire. If you compare the two power wires to one another, you'll find that they behave as though, on average, they are 240 volts away from one another. Thus home appliances that need 240 volts are powered by the two power wires, rather than one power wire and one neutral wire.