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Old 07-24-2009, 09:29 AM   #1
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Home Electrical Problem


I recently had a problem where several plugs did not work. A light was plugged in and it suddenly went out:

1 - I checked the breakers and none had tripped.
2 -Futher inspection showed that in one 3 plug wall switch;
a) The first on / off switch works fine (turns on a section of inside
floods in the ceiling.

b) Second switch is an automatic or manual on / off switch for turing
on 2 outside fluorescent lights (come on at dusk and stay on for
night and turn off in morning) - lights do not come on whether in
automatic, manual or instant on modes, however the correct time is shown in the digital read out of the switch.

c) The third switch that controls an outdoor light does not turn on.

d) Further checking I found 5 other wall plugs that are not working.

I do not understand why the automatic digital on / off switch shows the correct time but you can not turn on the lights whether in auto or manual mode.

I have checked all of the outdoor plugs and the operate fine and also checked the GFIs which are indoors and they work fine. House is about 9 years old.

Any suggestions would be gretly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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Old 07-24-2009, 09:43 AM   #2
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Home Electrical Problem


You need to turn off the breaker feeding that circuit, and pull all the receptacles that are not working and look for a loose connection.
The timer may have a battery back up.

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Old 07-24-2009, 01:02 PM   #3
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Thanks for your reply. The home is 8 or 9 years old however we have lived in it for a year. The circuit breaker panel is not labeled indicating what each circuit breaker controls so I do not know how to determine the correct circuit breaker. Could it possibly be a bad circuit breaker and if so is there any way to test a circuit breaker to see if it is working properly?
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Old 07-24-2009, 01:27 PM   #4
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I did some further checking of the main panel. It is a Siemans Panel and it appears that the circuit breakers snap in. There are no exposed terminal screws. Some instructions on the inside of the panel cover state that to test push circuit breaker prong to the middle, then off and then back on. I have done this for all of the 15 and 20 amp circuit breakers. Still no power to the area that is not working.
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Old 07-24-2009, 02:34 PM   #5
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It helps if you know which of these plugs are farthest upstream, i.e., closest to the panel, so you can start there with your checking.
If you fix this one problem all the downstream outlets may/will start working again.
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Old 07-24-2009, 03:22 PM   #6
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I have checked the receptacle that appears to be closest to the panel but there is no power at that receptacle when I put a meter on the hot and neutral. Have checked the next closest plug which is 2 off / on switches and neither one have power. There are an additional 4-5 plugs but they are further away from the panel. Suggestion?
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Old 07-24-2009, 03:32 PM   #7
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It is likely that all of the affected devices (outlets, switches) are on the same circuit, and all are fed from the first outlet in the run. Unfortunately, it is not always the case that the first outlet from the panel electrically is physically the closest to the panel. You will probably have to examine each outlet/device in the run with a voltmeter to determine which one is the first.

The first one will be the one with power to the hot leg, i.e. generally the black wire. I assume you know how to use a meter, if not post and someone will walk you through the process.

Assuming you can find the first outlet/device, i.e. the one with power to it, check it for loose wires. I had an outlet that had a loose neutral (the white wire), which had been backstabbed. Caused all the downstream outlets to fail. Same problem would occur if there were a fault with the load side of the outlet on the black wire.

Be careful when checking potentially hot devices. Since you do not know which breaker controls the circuit, you are going to need to open up the outlets while they are potentially hot, which is best done with insulating rubber gloves.
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Old 07-24-2009, 05:21 PM   #8
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Also, check the neutral wires in the panel and be sure that they have a clean tight connection to the neutral bus, and since your breakers are not labeled, you could check each breaker with your voltmeter.
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Old 07-24-2009, 05:25 PM   #9
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This is harder to explain than to do.

10' of wire measures about 25 milliohms and you can measure this resistance and thereby tell which outlets are upstream of which, for the dead ones and for the others after you turn off their breaker.

You measure between the outlet short slots. Here's how.

Borrow one of those hefty flashlights that use a 6v or 12v lantern battery with screw terminals that passes a few hundred milliamps through its large sealed beam lamp.
You put the wire under test in series with the lantern battery in series with the lamp and you measure the voltage between the short slots of each outlet.

If the path from outlet #1 to outlet #2 reads 10 mV and from outlet #1 to outlet #3 reads 20 mV then #1 and #3 are farthest apart and #2 is in the middle, and so on.
This assumes one outlet is cascaded after each other. If several outlets branch out from one in a star configuration it might get tricky and take many measurements.

Start with your voltmeter on the 12v or 6v scale and be careful that this tester is making solid contact with the wire under test, or you will be putting 6v or 12v into your 200 mV scale. Go from the higher scale to the lower and back again.
Nowadays some meters are protected against overvoltage, in any case.

The accuracy is terrible and the readings may change as the battery is loaded down but you only need to distinguish relative resistance measurements in 10 or 20 milliohm chunks.
Only pass current long enough to take your reading.

Last edited by Yoyizit; 07-24-2009 at 06:16 PM.
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Old 07-27-2009, 09:39 PM   #10
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After spending a few hours trying to trace I decided the best thing to do was to have a friend that is an electrician come over. On Saturday he did and spent 2 hours until the problem was found. Turned out there were 8-10 plugs, 2 switches and fluorescent lights in a bedroom closet that were on the same circuit. After checking all of the breakers a couple of times and looking at wire in the attic (1 story house) and on the switch where 2 switches did not work it turned out to be the plug before the plug that I thought was the first plug on the circuit. The plug that was bad was good sometime but not good most of the time and thus everything down stream was not good. The plug was back stabbed but apparently over time the connection was broken (while back stabbed there were no screw(s) to fasten tight. Hard to understand a 9 year old house in the $300,000 price range that has $ .59 cent plugs when you can get screw down -back stab - for about a dollar more. I bought better screw down back stab plugs and am in the process of changing all of the plugs. Thanks for all of the assistance. Also the appropriate circuit breaker was found and noted on the panel chart.
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Old 07-27-2009, 09:57 PM   #11
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From many forum posts it sounds like the default fix for these types of problems is to replace all backstabbed receptacles.

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