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Sandmonkee 01-19-2013 12:34 PM

Power in circuit, but not at outlets
 
Hi

A few days ago, I noticed one of my circuits was dead. I went downstairs to check the breaker, but none of the breakers had flipped. I found the correct breaker and flicked it off and back on, but it had no effect.

My first thought was that the breaker was bad, so I went and bought a new one. After switching it in, there was no difference. Just to double check, I swapped the wire from the dead circuit into the breaker that is beside the "dead" one (which I know is working). Again, there was no difference. So the problem definitely is not the breaker.

Next, I got out my stud finder, which also has a voltage detector built in. I figured there must be a break somewhere along the circuit, so I thought I could use the detector to trace the circuit and see where the juice ends. First I checked it with the breaker off. Sure enough there was no voltage on the circuit. Next, I flicked the breaker on and started following the wire from the panel towards the outlets. Here's where it gets wierd... using the detector, I can see voltage along the circuit all the way to each of the outlets on the circuit, and yet none of them work.

There are no GFCI outlets on the circuit, so my guess is one of the outlets may have failed somehow. But I had always assumed that outlets were connected in parallel rather than in series. Am I wrong about that? Could a single failed outlet cause the entire circuit to fail? The breaker doesn't flip when power is applied, so there's no short.

Any suggestions you could throw my way would be greatly appreciated. I have a feeling this is something simple, so I'd rather not bother with an electrician.
Thanks

rrolleston 01-19-2013 12:41 PM

You could have a bad neutral connection in an outlet and the hot wire is still working. Do you have a multimeter?

oh'mike 01-19-2013 12:54 PM

Get your self a tester---they are not expensive---less money than changing out working components in the hope of fixing this.

Use a tester with probes---those non-contact testers are to prone to failure and can not detect a bad neutral

joecaption 01-19-2013 02:03 PM

All it takes is one loose connection, bad outlet, back stabed outlet to cause all the others to stop working.

Sandmonkee 01-19-2013 05:39 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by rrolleston (Post 1097171)
You could have a bad neutral connection in an outlet and the hot wire is still working. Do you have a multimeter?

Thanks for the response. I do have a multimeter. What should I look for to test if your theory is correct? And if it is, how do I fix the problem?

64pvolvo1800 01-19-2013 05:49 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sandmonkee (Post 1097302)
Thanks for the response. I do have a multimeter. What should I look for to test if your theory is correct? And if it is, how do I fix the problem?

Check each outlet from each prong to the ground prong and see what's up?

funfool 01-19-2013 06:38 PM

Is easy to chase down the power where it works and at what location it stops, as another has said, could be a bad neutral and the silly stud finder home owners tool will not show you that.

And as another said, backstabbing the wires is just a bad way to go, they almost always cause issues.

Last week I was moving some switches, had the switches connected but loose from the box.
My employer was trying one switch and was wondering why it did not work.
I simply said it was backstabbed and he knew as well as me why it did not work anymore.

It is a simple way to connect wiring, but the worst way to do it.

fltdek 01-19-2013 08:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by funfool (Post 1097335)
It is a simple way to connect wiring, but the worst way to do it.


Amen!

Sandmonkee 01-19-2013 08:32 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by 64pvolvo1800 (Post 1097310)
Check each outlet from each prong to the ground prong and see what's up?

Can you be a bit more specific? What should I see between the wider plug and the ground? How about between the skinny plug and the ground? Which one is usually neutral?

Leviathan64 01-19-2013 09:03 PM

Wider slot is neutral, narrow slot is hot, semi-circular hole is ground

Multimeter (set to AC voltage) should show ~120V between hot and neutral, ~120V between hot and ground, 0V between neutral and ground.

funfool 01-19-2013 09:18 PM

sandmonkee, you skeering me now!
The hot side of a outlet will have a brass screw, while neutral side will be silver and ground will be green.
We all need to learn some time so no big deal if you do not know.

Electricity is something you need to respect and learn if you want to play with it.
I lost a friend a little over a year ago, was 200 people at his funeral, he built race cars and besides his beautiful wife and 3 small children, was all drivers and people associated with racing. ... He lost his life over a $50 microwave he was trying to repair.

sandmonkee, is nothing wrong with learning new things, just respect electricity and do not do any thing you are not sure of.

Sandmonkee 01-20-2013 08:29 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by funfool (Post 1097453)
sandmonkee, is nothing wrong with learning new things, just respect electricity and do not do any thing you are not sure of.

Thats why I'm here. I have no intention of playing with electricity.

Thanks to Levianthan64 for the simple "newbie-level" answer. After checking it with the multimeter I get the following results:

Voltage between hot and ground: 120V
Voltage between hot and neutral: ~55V

I'm guessing this means I have a bad connection to neutral, as another user suggested earlier. I'm going to take out all the outlets on the circuit one by one and check that the connections are all still secure.

Someone also mentioned backstabbing. These outlets were replaced a couple of years ago by an electrician, so its possible they attached by backstabbing, as opposed to using the screw terminals. I'll check for that as well.

Does anyone have any other suggestions or things I should be looking for? If the wires are all attached securely and not touching each other or anything else, is there anything else that could cause this?

Thanks for all the help!

64pvolvo1800 01-20-2013 08:35 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Sandmonkee (Post 1097651)
Thats why I'm here. I have no intention of playing with electricity.

Thanks to Levianthan64 for the simple "newbie-level" answer. After checking it with the multimeter I get the following results:

Voltage between hot and ground: 120V
Voltage between hot and neutral: ~55V

I'm guessing this means I have a bad connection to neutral, as another user suggested earlier. I'm going to take out all the outlets on the circuit one by one and check that the connections are all still secure.

Someone also mentioned backstabbing. These outlets were replaced a couple of years ago by an electrician, so its possible they attached by backstabbing, as opposed to using the screw terminals. I'll check for that as well.

Does anyone have any other suggestions or things I should be looking for? If the wires are all attached securely and not touching each other or anything else, is there anything else that could cause this?

Thanks for all the help!

Now you're onto something. Open neutral for sure. Check the same circuits back at the breaker box and at every outlet in that room. Could narrow down whether its local or at the panel.
Good work.

Sandmonkee 01-20-2013 11:58 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by 64pvolvo1800 (Post 1097654)
Now you're onto something. Open neutral for sure. Check the same circuits back at the breaker box and at every outlet in that room. Could narrow down whether its local or at the panel.
Good work.

Thanks. How would I check for an open neutral at the breaker box? The hot wire comes out of the breaker, and the neutrals are all connected to a single bus at the bottom of the breaker box. A visual inspection showed no obviously loose wires on that bus, but I didn't check anything with a screwdriver (wife needs electricity this morning, so I can't turn off the main breaker for the time being). Is that all I need to do to check the breaker box for an open neutral? Just make sure all those white wires are securely fastened to the bus?

Leviathan64 01-20-2013 01:05 PM

Make sure that the screws holding the neutrals in their bus are nice and tight. I bet you anything you will find your open neutral connection at one of your receptacles.

Another good thing to have on hand is an outlet/receptacle tester. This handy little device plugs into your standard 15A receptacle and, using three colored lights, lets you know if your receptacle has any wiring problems or if it is wired correctly. I believe there are also models that allow you to introduce a ground fault into the circuit, so you can see if your GFCIs are working correctly.

During my wiring project, I came across an open neutral myself (as indicated by my receptacle tester and multimeter). Turns out when I pushed the receptacle back into the wall after wiring, my neutral pigtail came loose from its wire nut. Easy to find, easy to solve. Lesson of the day, make sure you pre-twist those wires together well before you tighten on the wirenut!!


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