Have power but not working

Old 10-14-03, 07:47 PM
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Question Have power but not working

I've got a problem. My outside light burned out so I replaced the bulb. From that moment on, I had no power. The switch for the light is linked to another for a ceiling fan which is also dead. I have borrowed a volt meter from my job and checked for power leading to the switch and I have 120 volts at both switches, but nothig is operational. I also have 1 outlet in my office that is not operational (no voltage at all) and 3 outlets in my daughter's room that are also dead. These 3 outlets have 120 volts going through them on the ground side, but nothing on the common. My ceiling fan also has 120 volts running through it as does my outside light. I checked all of the breakers and switches and all seem to be fine. Can someone PLEASE help me???
Old 10-14-03, 08:01 PM
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I could be wrong, but it seems that you too have an open neutral. We have had about three other such cases here just today. I'm not completely sure because I don't know exactly how you are using your voltmeter.

Read this thread and this thread to see if they sound similar to your situation.
Old 10-14-03, 08:35 PM
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Okay. Read some previous posts on the same problem. We did not see any baseball players but did find an entire hockey team practicing shots. I got a black eye from one of them. Left my gloves in there too, laying on the ice.
Seriously, no clue what is happening. The volt meter is a digital multi-meter set on AC scale for volts. Actually is a 500 Automotive Meter with multiple functions (I work at a large chain automotive parts store and borrowed one for the night).
Have tested by putting red lead in the narrow slot, holding black lead in either the D-slot or on the center ground screw (120 volts). Have tested light switch and ceiling fan switch by touching red lead to hot wire (black wire) and black lead to neutral ground wire (120 volts). For common test, put red lead in narrow slot and black lead in wide slot of same outlet (no volts).
How do I track down which outlet is causing it if they all read no common? How can I test the light switchs for common (to see if they are the problem? Should I just replace each outlet in turn and see if that fixes it or would just pulling and reattaching all wires fix it (hopefully)?
We have also tested the circuit breakers by putting red lead to circuit screw and black lead to metal grounding bar. All are 120 volts. This is driving me, and my wife, absolutely batty. (She works for the Fisheries and Wildlife department on campus. Ha! Ha!) We are also powering our PC off a grounded extension cord to another room just to log on and ask questions all night. (Whee!)
Thanks again for such quick response. We would rather have you here in person though. You would have had it fixed by now.
Old 10-15-03, 12:07 AM
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Good Morning. First was everthing working until you changed the light bulb? This seems to be what you indicate. If so seems reasonable since you were working with the outside light to start there. Turn off the breaker controlling this circuit. Remove this fixture. I suspect as John does you have a high likely hood of a disconnected neutral (white wire). As John has said if the outlets are backstabbed change to the side screws. With wires still attached look where the white wire of the fixture connects to the other white wires in the fixture box. Are they all solidly connected together? If in a wire nut pull on the individual white wires to make sure they haven't come loose. If you see a white wire connected to a black this is common on a switch leg but does indicate that power comes to the light first then to the switch and back to the light. This also improves the chances that this is the problem area. Also not sure what you mean by connected switches. Are the switches in differrent locations or are they side by side sharing the same switch box? If everything found ok then follow procedures that John has laid out in previous thread links above. Next lets talk about terms . The neutral is the white wire aka grounded conductor. The ungrounded conductor is the black wire (hot wire). The D slot is the equipment ground and is only meant to carry an electrical current in the event of a fault such as a short from the black wire to the metal case of an appliance saving you from electrical shock. The equipment ground will either be green or bare copper most of the time in residential applications. The center common screw as you called it actually is using the equipment ground when you test for voltage. It is much better to use the D slot. So common is not a term I would use. Now the use of the D slot to test for voltage is only fooling the tester. This is because it also is an unbroken ( but seperate from the white) path to earth ground and in many cases terminated on the same grounding bar as all the white wires at the panel box. So when you put your red test probe in the small slot and black probe in the D slot you are proving two things, one you have power present at the outlet, second your equipment ground path is good. However, this is not the path your electrical current takes during normal operation. It uses the white wire as its normal path to ground after passing through a fixtures load. So when you put your tester in the black (hot) and white (neutral) slots of the receptacle after proving you have power present in the black wire and you get no volts this is telling you that your neutral does not have an unbroken path to ground but has come apart somewhere (open neutral) and current cannot flow. Sorry I got a little long winded but need to understand terms so is easier to explain problem so all can understand. Hope this gets you started and good luck. Let John and the other moderators know what you find.....RL

Last edited by Rlfrazee; 10-15-03 at 09:09 AM.
Old 10-15-03, 07:00 AM
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Okay. I know that Heidelburg came home Friday night and the porch light would not come on. He then changed the light bulb. The computer room outlets were working the night before as well.
Before all this happened, the porch light would flicker if the front door was slammed too hard. Heidelburg and I plan to pull all of the outlets and move all backstop wiring to the screws. We think that checking each of the outlets and re-wiring them all, will fix the problem. We also will rewire the light switches and get them out of the backstops.
By the way, Heidelburg and I are married. Just couldn't wait this morning to see what the response to our e-mail was last night so I created my own login name at the office.
Old 10-15-03, 09:28 AM
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Cluekeeper, sounds like maybe a neutral has come loose as a result of the door vibration on the electrical connections. Problem probably exists close to this area. Sounds very much like a white wire losing connection in back stabbed outlet. Your plan is a good one... good luck. Remember not turning the breaker off to this circuit can lead to shocking results and scare all the little people living in the electrical boxes away. Just a thought the flickering can also be caused by bulb not being screwed in tightly and closing door hard was causing bulb to loose connection. Saying this because dont want you to get too fixed on problem being close to door....RL

Last edited by Rlfrazee; 10-15-03 at 09:43 AM.
Old 10-15-03, 09:32 AM
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Thanks, RL. I will be checking all outlets and switches when I get home. I'm sure it is a loose wire. After all of the problems we have had with this one group, I am going to go through my entire house and remove the backstabbed wires and put them on the screws. That is, of course, after I map out my c-b box. Somebody mislabeled everything and now I get to track every switch, outlet, and ceiling fan down to each c-b.
Fun, Fun.
Old 10-15-03, 09:42 AM
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Cluekeeper, edited my previous post to remind you about turning breaker off to this circuit and about the little people. Excel has excellent format for laying out a new panel box index for your breaker box. Have fun!!!!!!!.....RL
Old 10-18-03, 01:22 PM
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Talking Hooray!

Finally had a chance to work on the problem today. I bet you would believe that the one outlet that was working had the problem. One of the neutral wires had been severed. Just restripped the wire and inserted it in the backstab. Power once again.

Now the fun begins. We get to go through the whole house and replace every outlet. All of them are the outlets with ONLY backstab hookups. NO SCREWS, except for those of us who get to change them all out.

Thanks for all of your help. You guys and gals have all been great. We will definitely have to come back for any future problems that us "electrically challenged" people can't tackle. By the way, the hockey team in our outlets lost the Stanley Cup finals, 1-19. What a real "shocking" disappointment. Ha, Ha.

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