In Reply to: This should be an easy question? posted by Mike on 01/24/02 at 5:25 PM:
Like John Dunn, I haven't driven through here in quite a while.
If you have a heavy load on your lines and there are some poor connections back in the breaker/fuse box, it is possible for that neutral wire to drop quite a bit of voltage. That's a dangerous situation for a couple of reasons. (1) We want the neutral to be at ground potential and (2) that voltage drop is creating a power loss at some bad connection that is being evidenced as heat and it could easily cause a fire. That was one of the problems with aluminum wiring being used on devices not rated for aluminum.
Neutral and earth ground do connect together to earth ground, at several points actually. The electric company has a ground wire on the utility pole where service is tapped for your house and the neutral is tied to ground there; the neutral is tied to ground at the transformer; again at the meter base. Earth ground is picked up at the meter base.
Both sides of the line are often switched in industrial-grade equipments. Hewlett-Packard (Agilent Technologies), Tektronix, Fluke and others often used DPST line switches. Military equipment was especially fond of switching (and fusing) both sides.