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Discussion Starter #1
My girlfriend lost power to several receptacles and lights in her home while using an old vacuum cleaner that pulled a lot of electricity. She told me that first the room lights and power to the receptacle she was using turned off, a minute or two later they came on, and then they shut off again for good and were off for the better part of a day until I got there.

I cycled all the breakers with no effect. I then removed the panel cover and checked each breaker with a circuit tester by using a tester on the circuit breaker screw and ground, and checked each hot wire while confirming I got a light on the tester.

So the breakers are all good, no broken black wires connected to the breaker screws, but no power to outlets and receptacles which are presumably all on the same circuit. I pulled every dead outlet as well as every live one that was adjacent or close to the dead ones and found no problems with any of the connections in any of the boxes or fixtures nor any power in the dead fixtures. The wiring is very strange in the home, there used to be two kitchens, 4 breakers do not seem to feed any outlets or lights in the home so I shut them off completely as I labeled the rest. The dead circuit (believe it or not) includes the garage, part of the basement, the boiler, and 3 gfi outlets in 3 separate bathrooms, one in the basement and 2 on the main floor. I checked each bathroom gfi, there's only one black and white in each box so that's not the problem.

After checking every possible fixture, box, receptacle, switch, etc, I figure that the bad connection is probably buried in a wall somewhere and not traceable or fixable.

So I found a nearby outlet from another circuit which is fed from a 15 amp breaker, and ran a 12-2 wire to a nearby dead outlet and all the lights and receptacles now work. They worked after only connecting the black wire indicating that the problem is definitely an open hot lead somewhere, but I connected the whites as well.

The circuit I tapped into powered only a few outlets in the basement as well as a half a bathroom and the only time the circuit tripped so far was when all the garage lights were on and using a vacuum so the amperage of the new combined circuit seems adequate.

My concern is that if the power returns to the formerly dead circuit now I have 2 circuits feeding to several receptacles and lights and also, I have effectively reversed the direction of the electrical flow to the circuit on at least some of the receptacles by tapping into one that is somewhere in the middle of the circuit that went dead.

What are the potential problems/safety risks of leaving it as is.

I have shut off 4 breakers that don't seem to provide power to anything in the home, so I figure 1 of them is the circuit that went dead but there's no way to be sure.
 

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May now end up with 220 volts going to that circut if it comes back and distroying anything that's pluged in.
Where the outlets back stabed? Or where the wires wrapped around the screws?
If back stabbed, change them to wrapped around the screws.
And you checked for a tripped GFI, right?
With that wiring it could be most anywhere.
If this is her house that she owns I'd suggest getting a real electricion out there to do some rewiring to get at least up to code.
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Joe, thanks for your fast response.

Some of the outlets were backstabbed but I checked for power coming in and going out on all live receptacles and found none where power went in and didn't come out on the backend so the problem is not a defective back stabbed outlet.

All the GFIs in the affected circuit only had one black and white in each box, so they're dead ends, with no outlets downstream and they had no power feeding into them from the one wire.

So if the power comes on, it wouldn't cause a short with both hot leads coming in contact with each other?

I thought if they were coming from circuits that were on the same phase it would do nothing except increase available amperage to the circuit, but if they were on different buses then it would cause a 240 volt short and throw at least one of the two breakers?

And yes, the way that house is wired the problem could be anywhere, most likely buried in a junction box behind a wall so what could an electrician do if the problem isn't in an accessible junction box?
 

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You need to call an electrician!
She own this house?
 

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Do you know what breaker in the panel goes with the dead circuit?

You could run the cable from a live receptacle to one of the dead receptacles to re-energize the dead circuit provided you do at least one of the following:

1. Remove the hot and neutral of the dead circuit from the panel breaker and neutral bus respectively and withdraw those wires from the panel and tape them off outside. Label them as going to a circuit that now has another feed to the panel.

2. Unhook the feed, both hot and neutral (you MUST figure out which cable) from the receptacle on the dead circuit where you are hitching up the new cable. Tape off these wires and curl them up inside the box.
 

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I suspect a loose backstab was missed.
 

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ANY outlet that is backstabbed with aluminum conductors should be replaced ASAP!
 

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This OP never mentioned aluminum...
 

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Discussion Starter #9
You need to call an electrician!
She own this house?
Yes she owns the house.

Do you know what breaker in the panel goes with the dead circuit?
I am not certain which breaker goes to the dead circuit. I think I have it narrowed down to 4 breakers which do not appear to supply power to anything in the home but they could have been used for one of two kitchens that apparently used to be there and they could lead to junction boxes that are buried behind sheetrock for all I know. I have flipped those breakers off. There is another breaker that appears to feed only one socket that one has only one wire going into it's box and there's yet one more breaker that feeds two sockets and I have checked the connections in those boxes. For all I know one of those could be on the dead circuit and the break is somewhere after them.

You could run the cable from a live receptacle to one of the dead receptacles to re-energize the dead circuit provided you do at least one of the following:

1. Remove the hot and neutral of the dead circuit from the panel breaker and neutral bus respectively and withdraw those wires from the panel and tape them off outside. Label them as going to a circuit that now has another feed to the panel.
I don't know which circuit it is.

2. Unhook the feed, both hot and neutral (you MUST figure out which cable) from the receptacle on the dead circuit where you are hitching up the new cable. Tape off these wires and curl them up inside the box.
That won't work, the wires that were originally "feed" wires from the now dead circuit are now acting as "load" wires to carry the current from the live receptacle back up the circuit in the reverse direction from before, that's how the circuit is now being energized.

ANY outlet that is backstabbed with aluminum conductors should be replaced ASAP!
The wiring is all copper.
 

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It is not permissible for there to be more than one path (either hot or neutral) from any receptacle, light fixture, etc. back to the panel. The cable you have installed, as you described it, is totally unsafe.
 
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Discussion Starter #11
It is not permissible for there to be more than one path (either hot or neutral) from any receptacle, light fixture, etc. back to the panel. The cable you have installed, as you described it, is totally unsafe.
Well at the moment there is only one path back to the panel on the hot because the original hot circuit is broken somewhere. I suppose I could disconnect the neutral from the circuit I tapped into to energize the dead circuit, which is pretty much why I posted this thread, to find solutions to the problem.

Telling me that "it's unsafe" isn't really all that helpful especially since you really don't say "why" it's unsafe other than it's not permissible.
 

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It's unsafe because one of two things can happen, depending on whether the two breakers are on the same leg or opposite legs. If they are on the same leg and the loose connection reconnects itself (which is pretty likely at some point), then the circuit would have twice the allowable current available, and also would require that both breakers be turned off to be safely de-energized. This is bad. Also, current flow through the loose connection may cause severe heating and start a fire. You'd never notice the problem until it's too late, since there would be no apparent malfunction (flickering lights, loss of power) because the second breaker would continue feeding the circuit in parallel.

If the two breakers are on opposite legs, then spontaneous re-connection of the loose connection will cause a 240V dead short. That's obviously not good.
 
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You might be able to figure it out with a tone tracer, after, of course, killing the main. Possibly using the neutral and ground, but you would have to do some serious neutral disconnecting.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
It's unsafe because one of two things can happen, depending on whether the two breakers are on the same leg or opposite legs.

If the two breakers are on opposite legs, then spontaneous re-connection of the loose connection will cause a 240V dead short. That's obviously not good.
Thank you.

This is a very useful post and gives me information I didn't have before.
 

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Not an electrician, but have seen similar "mysteriously no longer working" outlets, and a couple MONTHS later, mysteriously start working again.
I also think you may have had a loose back stabbed connection, and when you pull the outlet out for testing, it snugged in. when you pushed the outlet back into the box, it unsnugged - breaking the connection.
Don't fool around with what you have done. Definitely call a professional. You could burn your house down. Seriously.
Again, not a pro here, but some things are better left to the pros.
 

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This really has the potential to be dangerous !
You clearly have a loose connection somewhere,
That has probably finally burnt out completely.
If it is still being fed then this could lead to a fire !
If you cannot find the loose connection,
then call an electricain as they have access to
specialist tools to do things you cannot.
Like tracing wires in walls.
Start at one end and work along the circuit
checking and redoing all joints and connections.
And testing all cables for good continuity.
It can be long and tedious but it MUST be done !
Be safe !
 

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Discussion Starter #17 (Edited)
If the two breakers are on opposite legs, then spontaneous re-connection of the loose connection will cause a 240V dead short. That's obviously not good.
If that happened it wouldn't be all that bad because one or both breakers would trip and I could then figure out which circuit the problem is on. It also wouldn't be a safety issue because the breakers would be off.

If they're on the same leg, then yes, overloading the circuit and overheating the wires could be a big problem but I have advised her not to use anything on that circuit that could result in that sort of current flow.

I also think you may have had a loose back stabbed connection, and when you pull the outlet out for testing, it snugged in. when you pushed the outlet back into the box, it unsnugged - breaking the connection.
When I checked the connection I temporarily disconnected the live circuit I tied into and made sure all the breakers were on. If the connection restored, the power and lights would have come on.

You clearly have a loose connection somewhere,
That has probably finally burnt out completely.
If it is still being fed then this could lead to a fire !
If you cannot find the loose connection,
then call an electricain as they have access to
specialist tools to do things you cannot.
Like tracing wires in walls.
If the connection is completely burnt out then why would it be a fire hazard?

I spoke to a couple of electricians yesterday trying to get someone over there but due to post hurricane Sandy repairs, electricians are very busy at the moment.

Meanwhile I'm going to go back over there tomorrow and see if I can find that loose connection or at least try to determine which breaker feeds the affected circuit. I figure I can pull all the neutrals from the bus bar and temporarily energize the good white wire on the bad circuit and then go back to the breaker and see which white wire is temporarily carrying the power and that will tell me which breaker needs to be off. Does that make sense?
 

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While you have the panel open, tighten all the screws and set screws. (Flip off each breaker before touching its screw.)

Be sure that the breaker for that circuit (two breakers for a 3 wire red/black/white cable) is off before unhooking a neutral. Otherwise the neutral wire end will be live if there was a light or appliance on that circuit still turned on, and voltage imbalances resulting in damage to appliances can occur on a 3 wire circuit (multiwire branch circuit) whose neutral was unhooked.

The second circuit tied into must also have its breaker turned off since if the broken connection should spontaneously remake itself, then a supposedly dead circuit's neutral could show itself alive if unhooked.
 
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Discussion Starter #19
While you have the panel open, tighten all the screws and set screws. (Flip off each breaker before touching its screw.)

Be sure that the breaker for that circuit (two breakers for a 3 wire red/black/white cable) is off before unhooking a neutral. Otherwise the neutral wire end will be live if there was a light or appliance on that circuit still turned on, and voltage imbalances resulting in damage to appliances can occur on a 3 wire circuit (multiwire branch circuit) whose neutral was unhooked.

The second circuit tied into must also have its breaker turned off since if the broken connection should spontaneously remake itself, then a supposedly dead circuit's neutral could show itself alive if unhooked.
Thanks Allan, some great advice right there. I would not have thought to disconnect the breakers that feeds the whites I will be checking which would of course show a light on the tester if anything is on in that circuit and point me in the wrong direction.

As far as the breaker for the live circuit I tapped into everytime I do any trouble shooting on the dead circuit the first thing I do is disconnect the tie in.

There's a bank of about 10 toggle switches below the circuit panel box. I had asked my girlfriend what those are for, she said it was for a generator her ex used to have and when it was hooked up those switches cut power to individual circuits from the panel.

I never thought to check those switches.. if one of them is bad it would explain why the entire circuit is dead. I'm also thinking that those switches are not rated to carry current to a circuit that carries current to half a basement, a garage and 3 bathroom gfis so there's a good chance it failed.

I'll be over there tonite or tomorrow nite.
 

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About the toggle switches in a box under the panel -- Each is intended to carry 15 to 20 amps (may be labeled), the same as the circuit connected to it. Selected branch circuits from the panel are routed through these switches, one per.

The toggle switches perform a required function in that any given circuit may receive utility power or generator power but may not be connected to both feeds at the same time. Relying on a person to flip breakers and switches in a particular order is not good enough. Maybe your circuit is dead simply because one of the toggle switches is set to the "generator" position and there is no generator hooked up now. Circuits in your panel not run through the box of toggle switches are not eligible to receive generator power.

It is important that generator power not be able to get out through the service lines and up to the utility pole. Linemen could get electrocuted as a result hence these toggle switches, called transfer switches. One alternative to the bank of 10 or so little transfer switches is a large transfer switch that disconnects the incoming utility power for the whole house, and switches on the generator feed.

If the toggle switch position really was the reason for the dead circuit, then your tying into a second circuit introduces another danger, if you had a power failure and brought in a generator. The generator would energize the "dead" circuit and also energize the tie in to the second circuit. If the second circuit had not been switched to generator power, it would, in a back feeding fashion, energize the panel and the lines going out to the utility pole.
 
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