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Old 07-27-2011, 06:17 AM   #1
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Do I have a major electrical problem?


Hi All,

Very new member/diy guy here, bought a house on Thursday which was originally built in 1958, and I believe the prior owner fancied himself a DIYer, but took shortcuts all over the house. For example, he painted the whole house to sell it, but didnt tape off any of the outlets, he literally painted right over them. He also painted the doors so much that 1/2 of them dont close anymore (thats a whole different post (no really, look for it soon ).

The electrical in the house is 100amp with breakers, and BX wiring, which has allowed me to add three prong outlets to every box I have tested so far (the whole house was two prong other than the finished basement)
Upstairs their are a few electrical outlets connected with light switches. I read about how to test the outlets with a multimeter, and have been for every replacement. All have grounded properly.

These two outlets though are interesting. When the light swtich is off, they still read ~60 volts from black to white, and ~120 volts from white to ground. I assume that the 120 from black to ground is because the light switch is wired behind the light switch, so when I test that it is circumventing the switch all together. But how could I be getting a volt reading if the light switch is off, from black to white? The switch DOES turn the light on and off, FYI.

For the record, you guys rock. I spend all day on here now my attitude has changed almost over night from "I am going to have to pay someoen to do everything because I hav no experience" to "Ive got DIY chatroom, they will help me" My wallet and wife say thanks

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Old 07-27-2011, 06:59 AM   #2
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Do I have a major electrical problem?


1. Redo your measurements by plugging an extension cord into the outlet (receptacle), plugging an incandescent light into the extension cord, switching on the light (it won't come on when the wall switch is off) and then measuring from another slot (receptacle) in the extension cord. This eliminates phantom voltage confusing readings.

2. It is not unheard of to put the switch in the neutral as opposed to in the hot wire going down to a receptacle or up to a light. This is illegal nowadays (at least for the past 50 years) but can be left in place until you get around to upgrading that circuit.

3. Measuring voltage to ground must always be taken with a grain of salt. In addition, tradional BX cable is not considered a good and sufficient ground. More modern metal sheathed cables generally have a bare wire or thin metal strip running lenghthwise through it to render the grounding sufficient. (The cable must be properly fastened to each metal outlet box in the daisy chain.)

4. Measuring between wires attached to a switch can prove that power is getting to that location but does not prove anything else including correctness of voltage or sufficiency of grounding.

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Last edited by AllanJ; 07-27-2011 at 07:09 AM.
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Old 07-27-2011, 07:00 AM   #3
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Do I have a major electrical problem?


Are both the top and bottom receptacle controlled by this switch or just one?
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Old 07-27-2011, 07:09 AM   #4
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I am at work right now but will report with the surge protector readings. Is the expectation that it will be always on with the surge protector given the path to ground?

I am not to worried about the switch location on the circuit, but did not not know that it is now illegal. Thanks for the heads up.

Both respond to the switch.
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Old 07-27-2011, 08:24 AM   #5
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Do I have a major electrical problem?


The only other thing I can think of is that maybe the outlet was changed and that little tab wasn't broken off so if the switch used to control the upper or lower outlet, that outlet now gets constant power from the other one.


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Originally Posted by teamcampreder View Post
he painted the whole house to sell it, but didnt tape off any of the outlets, he literally painted right over them
One of my BIGGEST pet peeves when people do this! What the hell do they think they are accomplishing? Do they think people won't notice there's an outlet there or something.... or do they literally think it looks good?

I ripped 30 outlets out of my house that had 6 layers of paint on them.
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Old 07-27-2011, 08:33 AM   #6
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The only other thing I can think of is that maybe the outlet was changed and that little tab wasn't broken off so if the switch used to control the upper or lower outlet, that outlet now gets constant power from the other one
I changed the outlet myself from 2 prong to 3 prong, and honestly knew nothing about these "little tabs", but it was reading the phantom voltage before and after. If there was a clear path due to my error, wouldn't it still read 120?
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Old 07-27-2011, 09:50 AM   #7
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Do I have a major electrical problem?


life before the light switch just look at the sockets black to white 120v... black to ground/BX/plate screw 120v.now the light and the switch black should go to the switch then out of the switch up to the light..so when the switch in off the 120v black is at the switch then the light has a black/white to connect black to switch,and white to socket white
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Old 07-27-2011, 12:10 PM   #8
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If you have only a black and a white connected to the switch you do not have a switched neutral. What you have is called a switch loop. The white is the hot feeding the switch and the black is the switch controlled hot returing to the fixture.

I think 1958 would be after the practice of switching the neutral had been abandoned.
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Old 07-27-2011, 04:23 PM   #9
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Quote:
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If you have only a black and a white connected to the switch you do not have a switched neutral. What you have is called a switch loop. The white is the hot feeding the switch and the black is the switch controlled hot returing to the fixture.

I think 1958 would be after the practice of switching the neutral had been abandoned.
Good to know. I am still surprised to be getting a voltage reading on the multimeter, given that the circuit is broken, even if it is broken down the line, but it realyl doesnt matter, I am just trying to understand what was happening behind the scenes.
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Old 07-27-2011, 05:15 PM   #10
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Do I have a major electrical problem?


You said you replaced all the 2 prong outlets with 3 prong, hope you have ground wires at each outlet or you just made a Bo Bo. Can't do that.
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Old 07-27-2011, 05:20 PM   #11
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Do I have a major electrical problem?


What type of volt meter did you use for your tests ?
Was it a digital type meter ?
Digital type volt meters have a very high input impedance
and so can give eroneus readings sometimes.
Try the test again with an low impedance tester
such as an anolougue volt meter.
Or a test lamp.
theres a good chance the readings will be different.
And more accurate.

Use this -


But not this -

Last edited by dmxtothemax; 07-27-2011 at 05:22 PM.
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Old 07-27-2011, 07:33 PM   #12
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Do I have a major electrical problem?


Quote:
Originally Posted by teamcampreder View Post
For the record, you guys rock. I spend all day on here now my attitude has changed almost over night from "I am going to have to pay someoen to do everything because I hav no experience" to "Ive got DIY chatroom, they will help me" My wallet and wife say thanks
We DO rock. Electrical, if I may say so myself, is the BEST part of the FORUM. Paint is a close second.

- Ask specific questions.
- Use pics whenever possible (1000 words etc)

* Take tons of pics before middle and after during a project. Even middle of the road camera pics are PRICELESS if you forgot which wire went where when you started. Along that same line, I label wires/cables exhaustively. *

- Learn what code your locality follows and ADHERE or EXCEED it. I was super nervous before my first inspection - thanks to the guys here I ACED IT.

Keep at it.
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Old 07-30-2011, 09:33 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by COLDIRON View Post
You said you replaced all the 2 prong outlets with 3 prong, hope you have ground wires at each outlet or you just made a Bo Bo. Can't do that.
I used the green pigtail grounding wires at each box, screwed into the back of the box and tested to make sure it grounds at each outlet. All have passed the voltage test so far.

Side note, the prior owner did one three prong in each room, but I ended up replacing those too beause I went with all tamper resistant ones (have an 10 month old and plan on having at least one more soon ) Upon taking out the old outlet, I found that he didn't ground them!! Good thing I checked!

Good to know about the tester, i was using a digital one with an "auto range" feature, so that could explain it.

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