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Old 06-13-2006, 09:24 AM   #1
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series of troubled outlets


Good day to all,

I am struggling with an ailment ... my wife continues to hound me to fix 3 outlets in our home (one in basement, one on front porch, and one outside of garage). As a mechanical engineer with DIY experience (and having taken basic electrical engineering), my wife thinks this should be a snap. However, I have pulled all the stops out and am frustrated, and believe I will soon be ordering pizza for the rest of my life if I don't beat this issue soon (or will be put in an asylum):

The three outlets have all been tested using a recepticle tester, and all are wired properly. Further, a voltage tester has performed properly. As a final check, a clock radio can play music out of each outlet with no problem (so there is at least some load going through each outlet). However, when I try to use a power tool (drill, weed eater, etc.) in any of these 3 outlets, nothing works (not even Christmas lights).

There are no GFCI issues (at least after many hours, I sure cant find anything), and no circuit breaker trips (I have tried resetting the entire house to be sure). My thought is that the higher load appliances are causing difficulties to the circuit (which has plenty of amperage wire and breaker ability) ... perhaps a poor connection somewhere or a damaged breaker (again, the breaker is not tripped).

I greatly appreciate any advice on the nature of the problem, and if apparent, how to go about remedying the situation. Then, I will have a happy wife and Mom, which makes for a much better life in general.

Thanks for any help you can provide.

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Old 06-13-2006, 10:56 AM   #2
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series of troubled outlets


Is this newer wiring or older knob and tube?
Is there a ground wire?
What is the amp is the circuit breaker or fuse for this run?

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Old 06-13-2006, 11:26 AM   #3
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series of troubled outlets


This is newer wiring ... all recepticles are three-prong. The house itself is about 10 years old. The wiring has a ground line throughout the house. The circuit breaker is a 15 amp circuit ... no fuses.

Many thanks!
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Old 06-13-2006, 11:35 AM   #4
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series of troubled outlets


Divide and conquer! What is the outlet closest to the breaker? (with the breaker off - confirm at the outlet with your recept tester that you have no power) Pull that outlet out, disconnect the 'load side', if it is pigtailed, remove the pigtail wirenut and wire the outlet directly to the line going to the breaker. If it works properly, then your problem is in the wire (or pigtail, or, or, or) down stream from there. If it does not work, you might try swapping to another breaker that you know for sure works (i.e. breaker for washing machine) - if the problem persists, you know it is in the wire between the first outlet and the panel box. If the problem goes away, you know it is in the breaker.

Never assume. Test!
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Old 06-13-2006, 03:08 PM   #5
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series of troubled outlets


Swim, you could have rusted or corroded connections somewhere. Could be in an outlet could be in the panel. My guess would be at the outlet closest to the panel. Or a GFI could be going bad.
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Old 06-13-2006, 05:52 PM   #6
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series of troubled outlets


Sounds like a bad connection, take out the outlets that are giving you problems, if everything is tight and looks good on them, then check the others that are on that circuit, then finally the connection's in the panel for that circuit(hot and neutral).

With your lower wattage appliances things will look fine. You're probably familiar with basic series circuits, where the voltage drop is directly related to resistance and current.

What's happening is your bad connection is acting as a series resistor, say your weed eater is 20 ohms and you bad connection is 100ohms, that would allow 1 amp in that circuit, but only 20 cvolts is being delivered to your weed wacker and 100 volts to your bad connection.

Now say your plug tester has 500 ohms resistance, giving you 600 total and a current of .2 amps, now you have 20 volts dropped on your bad connection and 100 volts dropped across the plug tester.
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Old 06-13-2006, 05:54 PM   #7
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series of troubled outlets


Bad connection somewhere. It could be in a good working receptacle, light, switch or junction box. It could even be in the breaker panel if all devices on the circuit go dead.
If your receptacles are using the backstab pushin connections move the wires to the screw terminals. Backstab are a very common cause of this exact problem.
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Old 06-13-2006, 06:01 PM   #8
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series of troubled outlets


Went home after work today and tested all the outlets. Today they are all working. I followed advice from jwhite and sparkyjoe, and did some more serious testing ... first with a 100w lightbulb, then with power drill and weed eater (the biggest current eating appliances I could find). I even used a 100ft extension cord to increase resistance even further. Everything worked perfectly. Further, I found that the problematic recepticles were on two different breakers. I took each outlet apart and checked all connections, everything seemed in good shape. So, I am still confused as to the problem. It is apparently intermittent, and hitting two different breakers in my box.

Once again, I greatly appreciate any advice. Further, thank-you for the help you have already provided. Unless I hear otherwise, I guess my next move is to wait for a problem to occur, and begin testing from the beginning? I figured it had to be a breaker, until I found that two different circuits were culprits ... hmmm. Pizza for me for a while.

Thanks guys/girls, and again, any additional advice is greatly appreciate. My hope is to clear up this problem before I get to the electrical roughing stage of finishing my basement.
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Old 06-13-2006, 06:35 PM   #9
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series of troubled outlets


From your descriptions joed is right on with calling a bad backstab connection. They can do exactly as you describe and can be very intermittant. And the age of your house is ripe for backstab use.

If you find ANY backstab connected receptacles move the wires to the screws. In fact if you find any, seriously consider fixing all of them. They will haunt you later.
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Old 06-14-2006, 06:26 AM   #10
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series of troubled outlets


Thanks Speedy and JoeD,

The recepticles I worked on last night were all backstabs which I did move to screws. I will go through all the recepticles I can find on the lines tonight and make sure I have gotten them all. Wouldn't it be great if this fixed the problem forever?

Appreciate all the help ... I will let the group know if it pops up again (begging for assistance).

Many thanks

(Spent last evening (6/14) taking apart all outlets on both circuits and pulling the backstabs and utilizing the screws. From now on, whenever I see a backstab, I will pull it apart. Thanks for the help, gentlemen)


Last edited by Swimmfst; 06-15-2006 at 03:24 PM.
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