Mystery Breaker

Old 08-11-03, 02:07 PM
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Mystery Breaker

I just found this forum and am extremely impressed with the professionalism.

Looking for some suggestions: We built a new house 4 years ago and 3 years ago I discovered a breaker that didn't seem to control anything. It's been turned off ever since. It has wiring connected to it, but I've tested every plug, light and appliance and have never found anything that isn't working with the breaker off. To make this post more book like... After the house was finished I discovered that there was no plug behind the washer. After arguing with the electrician and builder for days, I was told that the wiring was left out. I walked through the house every day as it was being built and I was sure the wiring was there. I video taped most of the other wiring and plumbing, but was interrupted just as I hit that wall so my video stops just short of the area where the plug should be (just my luck).

So, I suspect there's a wire hanging loose in the wash room wall. I'd love to rub the electricians face in it plus I don't want to leave it that way if we ever decide to sell the house, but I'm not willing to pull down the wall or spend a fortune to hire an electrician to trace it. (Especially since the electrician already thinks I'm some kind of nut from the initial argument...) Any ideas on how I can do this myself?

Old 08-11-03, 06:35 PM
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Howdy texassparky,
I like that name !!

Do you have an attic where it would be possible to see whether a wire was dropped down the wall or not ? Did you have an electrical inspection? Even if the contractor missed it , the inspector should have caught it.
Old 08-11-03, 08:46 PM
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If you take the cover off of the circuit breaker panel, see if there is a wire connected to that breaker in question. If no wire it is a spare, I doubt that-but possible. If there is a 12AWG wire, your theory would be correct. The electrician missed putting up a box, or the drywaller missed making a cutout. If you can trace the cable, are you willing to probe the wall? Where does the dryer plug in? How about the washer (have one?)

There are several ways to find out what is missing or hiding inside the wall. Round' here, the sparkies take a hammer and go at the wall at 54" high until they find the missing box, or 18" for a missing receptacle. The drywaller KNOWS when there is a row of holes at a given height. No questions asked.

A "ticker" would be handy, especially a very sensitive one.
(non-contact voltage tester)
see page 8 of this catalog section:
It runs about $10, maybe 15. A lifesaving tool (literally)

Interesting: Texas + sparky
Whats next for me, green SKIN?
Old 08-12-03, 09:34 AM
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Yes, there is a wire attached to the breaker. Don't know if it's 14 AWG or 12 AWG, but the breaker is 15 amp. Should have been 20 amp for the washer plug, but it's labled "plug" so the electrician probably didn't know what it was either and stuck on a 15 amp breaker to be safe. The wire is in the middle of a large bundle of wires that makes it's way up into the attic over the garage and dissapears through a chase up to the attic over the second floor. Almost all the wiring runs through the same way. 3 attics, wires run from one to the next and tail off as needed. Probably not the most direct way it could have been done, but deffinately the neatest. The laundry room is on the first floor. Second floor above it. By counting the 220 wires, I can see that the 220 circuit for the dryer is in the bundle going to attic 2. It's too hot to get all the way to the back of attic 2 to see where the dryer line goes from there. On the same wall as the washer there's a plug for the freezer, the 220 plug for the dryer and a 120 plug for a gas dryer. All on dedicated circuits. I'm using the 120 dryer plug for the washer now. I'm not 100% positive that the missing circuit is in that wall, but it's the only place that makes sense. This isn't a matter of need. I just have an uncomfortable feeling knowing that there's an uncapped, potentially live, wire hanging somewhere. If a "ticker" would work and is only $10 I might try that. If not I may just give up and take the wire off the breaker so it doesn't ever present a danger.

Texassparky - used to be a fireman (Sparky the firedog...)
Old 08-12-03, 08:57 PM
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Electronic locating

If you can make friends with one of the electric company, telephone company or cable company locators, they can place a tone on the wire and trace it to the end thru the walls. Some phone companies use contract locators and they are ususally for hire. I have no Idea where you are in Texas and that can cover more than a few square mikes or I might be able to recomend a contract locator for you.
I have 5 of these pieces of equipment, that we locate underground wiring with. I have used them to trace wire in buildings many times with great success. If I can be of further help, let me know.
Old 08-13-03, 07:30 AM
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I agree with the poster who said a box is buried by the drywallers. If metal boxes were used then a stud finder or a metal detector might help locate it.
Old 08-13-03, 08:15 AM
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Cool! I didn't know there were contractors who located wiring for a living. I'm just north of Dallas. What would I look under in the Yellow pages?

The boxes aren't metal and I'm about half sure there isn't a box on the wire because the boxes stick 1/2 inch past the stud so the sheet rock would have had to have been cut out for it if it were there. I caught the contractors burying a couple of boxes with joint compound during finish out, but even those boxes could be seen slightly after they were buried (that's how I know they were there...).

I did try a stud finder that has a feature that's supposed to sense electricity as well, but I got a variety of different results every time I scanned across the wall. The wall is full of pipes and wires (home entertainment system on other side), washer plumbing, dryer vent, gas line, at least 4 different electrical circuits (maybe 5...). Now that I think about it, I want to hang cabinets over the washer and dryer anyhow. Maybee it wouldn't be a bad idea to cut a strip of sheet rock off across the wall just for safety sake.
Old 08-13-03, 06:13 PM
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wire locating

Look under "Telephone and Television Cable Contractors in the SBC yellow pages. In the San Antionio book there are 11 listings and I personally know at least 5 have locate equipment. If you are going to mount cabinets anyway, I would save some money, remove a 6 or 8" wide strip where the middle of the cabinets will be, get a flashlight and hand mirror and take a look around, you might find a loose wire, if not, go to plan B.

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