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Old 12-22-2008, 01:28 AM   #1
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receptacle circuit problem


Okay, I have a circuit in my home that is entirely made up of electrical outlets. No lights or switches. I have made sure of this. The first plug is in my bathroom and it is fine. From the second plug and beyond, they simply don't work. My voltmeter reads zero voltage acroos hot and neutral terminals. So I then checked hot to ground, and neutral to ground. They both read 120V. I understand completely why i got reading of zero V across hot and neutral. No potential difference. Okay I turned this breaker off and inspected first receptacle for loose wire. There were none, but it was backwired so I sidewired it. Now I'm not getting the full 120V on the neutral line from 2nd and beyond terminals, but I am getting 40V. There are a total of 7 plugs on this circuit, and about 4 of them were backwired. I sidewired them all, and I still havesame problem. First plugin is fine, but from 2nd plugin and beyond I have 40V flowing through the neutral. Any ideas. Also does it matter if I put the incoming wires on bottom of plug, and outgoing wires on top pf plug. Every diagram I've seen shows them wired up crisscross, but then again alot of people use pigtails so I think it really shouldn't matter. I do have both neutrals on the correct side and both hots on the correct side as well.

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Old 12-22-2008, 04:13 AM   #2
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receptacle circuit problem


Could one of the receptacles have a tab missing from one side or the other? A receptacle is less than a dollar at the home center, you could just replace all 7. If that doesn't work, then it's an issue within an unknown junction or the cable itself.

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Old 12-22-2008, 07:26 AM   #3
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receptacle circuit problem


Plug an incandescent light into the receptacle and recheck the voltages. Better -- Plug the light into receptacle #3 when measuring receptacle #2 etc.

A jumper tab is usually located between the two screws on each side of a duplex receptacle unit. Sometimes one develops a crack but doesn't break off completely resulting in dead receptacles further down the line that you find hard to analyze.
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Old 12-22-2008, 07:34 AM   #4
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receptacle circuit problem


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Originally Posted by jsherrill77 View Post
Okay, I have a circuit in my home that is entirely made up of electrical outlets. No lights or switches. I have made sure of this. The first plug is in my bathroom and it is fine. From the second plug and beyond, they simply don't work. My voltmeter reads zero voltage acroos hot and neutral terminals. So I then checked hot to ground, and neutral to ground. They both read 120V. I understand completely why i got reading of zero V across hot and neutral. No potential difference. Okay I turned this breaker off and inspected first receptacle for loose wire. There were none, but it was backwired so I sidewired it. Now I'm not getting the full 120V on the neutral line from 2nd and beyond terminals, but I am getting 40V. There are a total of 7 plugs on this circuit, and about 4 of them were backwired. I sidewired them all, and I still havesame problem. First plugin is fine, but from 2nd plugin and beyond I have 40V flowing through the neutral. Any ideas. Also does it matter if I put the incoming wires on bottom of plug, and outgoing wires on top pf plug. Every diagram I've seen shows them wired up crisscross, but then again alot of people use pigtails so I think it really shouldn't matter. I do have both neutrals on the correct side and both hots on the correct side as well.
By correct side; Do you mean that you have the black wires on the gold screws?

My personal opinion: Pig tails if possible, some boxes are too small to manage pig tails. If no pig tails, my opinion is to get a really good outlet, $3 or so. (cheap ones are still about .39 cents around here) The clamp down outlets (not back stab) are great for people that don't have a lot of experience. With clamp down, you insert the wire from the back, kind of like a stab in, but you have to tighten down the screw so it clamps the wire in place to hold it. I've use the pass and seymour clamp downs and feel the quality is very good.

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Old 12-22-2008, 01:03 PM   #5
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receptacle circuit problem


Well I have replaced the first two receptacles and still same problem. I don't understand why the first receptacle is fine, but the second and following are not unless the problem is a broken wire somewhere. This is gonna be really fun figuring out eh?
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Old 12-22-2008, 01:09 PM   #6
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receptacle circuit problem


I,ve checked all receptacles and no tabs are missing. I did replace the first two receptacles as well because I figure the problem lies somewhere between these first two outlets. Now I'm thinking I must have a bad wire between these two outlets.
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Old 12-22-2008, 05:53 PM   #7
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receptacle circuit problem


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I,ve checked all receptacles and no tabs are missing. I did replace the first two receptacles as well because I figure the problem lies somewhere between these first two outlets. Now I'm thinking I must have a bad wire between these two outlets.
How do you know they are directly connected to each other? They might not connect to each other in a logical order, even thought they should. You could have a bad wire, but it would be pretty rare that a wire that is just sitting in a wall would go bad.

Do you have reason to believe the wire was physically damaged?

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Old 12-22-2008, 06:09 PM   #8
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receptacle circuit problem


All that I know for sure is that the first receptacle neutral is not carrying any voltage. The second and beyond are. These first two receptacles are brand new. Yet this is where the neutral wires begin carrying voltage. And i did check all receptacles for broken tabs. I guess I will now check the main panel wiring, but I do think that if it was bad the first receptacle would also be messed up like the others.
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Old 12-22-2008, 06:21 PM   #9
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So I then checked hot to ground, and neutral to ground. They both read 120V.
I have the same question that jamiedolan has already asked: how do you know the receptacles are connected to each other (directly). There could be a junction box somewhere, or maybe another outlet (not a receptacle, but a light, or other device) where the junction is made.

Or, perhaps the voltage you are measuring is a "phantom" voltage. Try plugging in an incandescent lamp into one of the duplex receptacles, then measure the voltage on the other (same receptacle). See if you still get the 120V from either hot or neutral to ground. If it goes away, then the voltage is phantom.

Phantom voltage could come from another live conductor running alongside the two that you are measuring. A 3-wire cable where the red wire is hot, but the black and white are disconnected; for example.
The only way you could get voltage (including a phantom voltage) on the neutral is if it is not connected to ground, which is supposed to happen at your service panel.

Here's one scenario that could cause a phantom voltage on both hot and neutral:
If you have a GFCI receptacle in the run, it may be tripped. GFCI's open both the hot and neutral when they trip, so if one has tripped, it would leave both hot and neutral floating. Then, if you have that 3-wire cable somewhere in the run, you could get the phantom voltage from the still-powered red (or whatever color it is that isn't connected to the GFCI) wire.

I am sure there are other scenarios that could produce the results you are getting. The first thing I would do is the incandescent lamp test I discussed before.

Keep us posted.
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Old 12-22-2008, 08:07 PM   #10
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Okay, I did the lamp test. When I plug in a lamp into the #2 receptacle the voltage goes up to about 112V on the neutral. The same thing happens if I plug the lamp into another receptacle downline. Still wondering why receptacle #1 is unaffected, but maybe you guys can now get me back on track. Now as far as any junction boxes. I guess its possible if they are hidden behind the walls, but I assure you all I have checked and there are no lights or switches on this circuit. I have checked my house over very meticuously.
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Old 12-22-2008, 11:00 PM   #11
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receptacle circuit problem


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Originally Posted by jsherrill77 View Post
Okay, I did the lamp test. When I plug in a lamp into the #2 receptacle the voltage goes up to about 112V on the neutral. The same thing happens if I plug the lamp into another receptacle downline. Still wondering why receptacle #1 is unaffected, but maybe you guys can now get me back on track. Now as far as any junction boxes. I guess its possible if they are hidden behind the walls, but I assure you all I have checked and there are no lights or switches on this circuit. I have checked my house over very meticuously.
Do you have or can you make a continuity tester? With power off to the circuit you going to be testing on, pick 2 wires hook them up to a meter set to test continuity, then touch the wires on the other end and see if there is continuity.
I think there is some piece of the puzzle we are some how missing here, I can barely imagine how your wire could have just "gone bad". Does your wire look good, at the ends you can see, are the whites nice and white looking or have they browned?

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Old 12-23-2008, 12:02 AM   #12
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receptacle circuit problem


You said that the first outlet is in the bathroom? Is it a GFCI type?

Ground-fault outlets disconnect both the hot and neutral conductors. A bad one can have problems with either conductors, and exhibit the symptoms you are describing.

If you don't have a GFCI, then a couple things come to mind:

1) You should have GFCI protection in the bathroom, and ...
2) You have a broken neutral wire or connection somewhere between the first and second outlets on this circuit.
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Old 12-24-2008, 01:09 AM   #13
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receptacle circuit problem


I am betting that I have a junction box somewhere with a loose connection between the first abd second receptacles. Only thing that makes sense to me at this point. The wires look fine btw. And no the bathroom isn't a GFCI. House was built in the 60's.
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Old 12-24-2008, 07:18 AM   #14
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receptacle circuit problem


jsherrill77, First off...
"My voltmeter reads zero voltage across hot and neutral terminals. So I then checked hot to ground, and neutral to ground. They both read 120V. I understand completely why i got reading of zero V across hot and neutral. No potential difference."
You should be reading 120 volts hot to neutral/ground only! Reading 120 volts neutral to ground means something is very wrong. Turn off the breaker. Tighten the terminal on the breaker and the screws that hold down the associated ground and neutral wires. Either you have a buried splice box (or even just a splice, without a box) somewhere (sounds like the 1st and 2nd boxes) which could be causing a loss of voltage. BUT, you likely also have a grounding issue. Somewhere ground isn't connected to the rest of the system and now has voltage on it (that's why you're reading 120V, neutral to ground). Is it possible to run a new wire between the first and second boxes? (attic above or basement below?) Jamiedolan makes a valid point. Logically the first box of a circuit is located closest to the panel and then they daisy chain to the end of the circuit. Re-measure the voltage at the first box. 120V H to N; good, 120V H to G; good, 0V N to G; good, 120V N to G; bad. Problem 1 lies between the first box and the panel. If all the V's are good, turn the circuit off, wire nut them together, turn the power back on and check the V's at the second box. Same rule applies. IMHO, you need to address the 120V N to ground problem first. Good luck and Happy Holidays, pete
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Old 12-24-2008, 07:59 AM   #15
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Okay, I did the lamp test. When I plug in a lamp into the #2 receptacle the voltage goes up to about 112V on the neutral.
This sounds like an open (disconnected) neutral wire. Somewhere between the working receptacle, and the others.

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