Several Outlets And Lights On A Circuit Are Not Functioning, While Others Are Fine. - Electrical - DIY Chatroom Home Improvement Forum


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Old 03-19-2012, 06:03 PM   #1
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


I have an interesting problem going on. I was working on my computer when the power went out. I thought it went out in the whole house, but that wasn't it. So then I thought it was the breaker since this particular circuit has a lot of stuff on it, and it has blown before. I went down to the panel and found that the breaker wasn't tripped, but just to be sure I turned it off and on again. That didn't restore power. Here's the weird thing: One set of lights and three outlets that are on the same circuit do indeed work fine, while the rest are dead. I've checked several of the outlets and light switches and even one of of the light fixtures to see if a wire had come loose but haven't been able to find anything yet. Any suggestions as to how I should go about figuring this out?

Here are a couple more facts that may or may not be relevant. I had just hit print (sending a print job to a laser printer) when the power went off. I'm getting a reading of around 64 Volts on the dead outlets, but there's not much current behind it. If I plug in something that draws some power like a surge suppressor or an adapter to one of the dead outlets, the voltage will drop to around 4 volts in all the dead outlets. There was one GFCI outlet in the circuit that the test button was not working on, but I replaced that and it didn't fix it. There was a ground wire in that outlet but my outlet tester is telling me it has an open ground. There's only one other GFCI outlet in the house that I'm aware of and it's on a separate circuit. The house was built in 1961 and probably had the old 2 prong outlets throughout when built. The circuit in question has a lot of stuff going to it - 6 sets of lights, 14 outlets - which power some larger items: a freezer, computer, printer, scanner, and television. It's a 15 A breaker. The breaker has two switches to it. When I flip the switch to the circuit in question, the good outlets in the circuit still read a voltage of around 25-30 Volts, but I'm sure there's no substantial current behind it. But when I also flip the other switch that's shared on the breaker, the reading then goes down to around 0 Volts. Is this normal - where the flipped circuit gets some sort of "sympathetic" voltage from it's neighbor?

I'm stumped...I hope you can help.

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Old 03-19-2012, 06:13 PM   #2
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


You have an open or failed connection. If you measure between hot and ground and hot to neutral you should be able to tell which has failed. It then becomes an Easter egg hunt to find it. Look at the last working or first non-working device.

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Old 03-19-2012, 07:07 PM   #3
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


Thanks Jim. A few followup questions to your reply:

"If you measure between hot and ground and hot to neutral you should be able to tell which has failed."

Voltage between hot and neutral ≈ 64 V. Hot and ground ≈ 127 V. Neutral and ground ≈ 60 V. So I'm guessing it's an open neutral?

" It then becomes an Easter egg hunt to find it. Look at the last working or first non-working device."

What exactly am I looking for? Am I measuring something with the meter or just looking for loose connections? Do I check outlets, light switches, and light fixtures? Unfortunately, I don't know how the outlets are "chained" together and which comes first/last etc. I've found several outlets that only have one pair of wires coming in making them look to me like the "end of the line". But obviously they can't all be the end of the line, so my guess is there's some sort of junction box somewhere (probably behind a finished wall or ceiling) where they're are multiple branches maybe?

Finally, we've only been in the home a little over 6 months and we have a home warranty on it. The warranty covers: "Interior wiring, fuse and breaker panels, doorbell, electrical switches, receptacles, attic fans, built-in exhaust fans, and ceiling fans." Listed as not covered (among other things) are: "light fixtures, power failure, surge related problems, and problems caused by overloading" In your honest professional opinion would you be able to say whether what I'm dealing with is covered or not?

Thanks again for your time and response!

Last edited by mrdojo; 03-19-2012 at 07:24 PM.
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Old 03-19-2012, 07:44 PM   #4
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


Check the last working and first nonworking receptacle and more often than not you will find the problem.
Sometime you get lucky and pull the wire loose when you remove the receptacle.
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Old 03-20-2012, 06:44 AM   #5
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


Heavy loads can cause a connection to fail, but based on 6 months old, that should really not be a problem already. If the home is not new, but new to you all bets are off.

Since this may be covered by the warranty give them a call.
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Old 03-20-2012, 08:46 AM   #6
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


You have an open neutral. If you know the cable routing sequence then the problem is in the last working box or the first not working box.
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Old 03-20-2012, 09:11 AM   #7
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


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Heavy loads can cause a connection to fail,
and you could easily overload a 15A circuit with a freezer, TV, a few lights, and a laser printer if all happen to be drawing power at the same time. I think my printer draws 10 amps when printing.
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Old 03-20-2012, 01:14 PM   #8
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


Thank you all for the responses. I'm still not certain what I need to test. What exactly am I looking for? Am I measuring something with the meter or just looking for loose connections? Do I check outlets, light switches, and light fixtures?
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Old 03-20-2012, 02:31 PM   #9
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


I'm currently going through some of the outlets to see if I can find any loose connections and to determine how they might be chained together, but I found one more thing that might add to the mystery or it may simply confirm what's already been diagnosed. When I turn on the switch to any of the dead lights, I then get the following voltage readings at a dead outlet: between hot and neutral ≈ 0 V. Hot and ground ≈ 127 V. Neutral and ground ≈ 127 V.

Maybe this is an easy way to test all the light switches and light fixtures for the open connection? My thinking is, if the reading goes to 127 V between neutral and ground when that light is switched, then the open connection would not be in that switch or fixture. I'm not certain of this so maybe you could confirm or deny it. It would certainly be easier to do this then take everything apart.
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Old 03-20-2012, 05:36 PM   #10
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


You have an open neutral for sure. The problem could be in one of the working devices on the circuit.
A very common cause of this problem is the back stab or push in connection. They often loose tension, come loose and burn up. If your house uses the back stabs move the wires to the screws in any boxes you open up.
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Old 03-26-2012, 04:27 PM   #11
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


Just a quick update on this issue. After going through nearly all the outlets and light fixtures and not finding anything, I finally called in the big guns. The electrician found the problem in some of the wiring above one of the light fixtures. I had looked in and tried that mess of wires, but unfortunately didn't find it when I did. He fixed it and we're all good now. Thanks for all the suggestions!
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Old 03-26-2012, 07:10 PM   #12
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


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The electrician found the problem in some of the wiring above one of the light fixtures. He fixed it and we're all good now. Thanks for all the suggestions!
SO what was the problem?
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Old 03-26-2012, 07:23 PM   #13
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Several outlets and lights on a circuit are not functioning, while others are fine.


I think it was just a loose wire (or maybe a broken wire). Apparently some of the wires in that box weren't connected all that great so he redid some of the twisting and the capping and everything is working now.

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