Outside/bathroom outlets not working (not GFCI?)


Old 12-16-04, 01:20 PM
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Outside/bathroom outlets not working (not GFCI?)

1. All countertop outlets in (3) bathrooms - not working.
2. All (4) outside house outlets - not working.
3. All (3) garage outlets - working. Yes, working.
4. House built ~ 1980.

Everything (the outlets) working normally. Then two things happen simultaneously (so, I can't pin it down which might have caused the problem). I put up outdoor Christmas lights, and I had a work crew working on my swimming pool (tiling, coping, decking, etc). The lights work fine the first night - then they wont come on the 2nd night. Outlet is dead. Pool crew works another day - their last). Then the lights work again. "Maybe they reset the breaker," I think to myself. A week goes by, outlets are working fine. Then I plug in my air compressor (12 gallon, 3 hp, 110v) to one of the outside outlets. It makes about 1 cylinder pump cycle and then nothing. All the outlets are dead. No circuit breakers are thrown. There is one GFCI breaker in the panel. It is NOT thrown. But I press the test button, it flips, and then I reset it. I also flip off, then back on, the breaker for the outside outlets. Doesn't help - still no power.

What I tried:
I pickup one of those little outlet testers. Test all the bathroom and outside outlets. When NOTHING is plugged into ANY of the outlets, the tester lights up as "normal". If I plug even a small load (7 watt nightlight) into any plug, then the tester (I tried it on all outlets) shows "Hot and GND reversed"

I also measured the voltage at the breaker with the nightlight plugged into one of the outdoor outlets, thinking the breaker may have gone bad. No dip in voltage when the light was plugged in. So, I think the breaker is good.

I know what you're thinking (because I did, too). Find that darn GFCI and reset it. I have searched hi and low... under sinks, in closets, in the garage, in the breaker panel - no joy. I called the original owner (who was a home builder) asking him where that darn GFCI switch was. His response was that there wasn't one for the bathrooms/outdoor plugs (hmmm...how can that pass inspection?). The tester is the type that also has a button that is supposed to trip GFCI's. When I push it, nothing changes, nothing trips.

So, now I'm thinking I have a loose wire or bad connection somewhere. I open up each of the outside and bathroom outlets, pull the wires out of the backstabs and use the screwposts. I also find one nearly broken neutral (white) wire in one of the bathroom outlets. I cut it, strip the ends and re-connect with a wire nut. I think I've beaten this thing! But I am wrong - nothing has changed. There is enough power to light the tester's lights - but any real device plugged in does not work and causes the tester to show the HOT/GND reversed indication.

I'm out of ideas. I'd like to hear what others think could be the problem.

Thanks in advance,

Brian S
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Old 12-16-04, 02:27 PM
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: USA
Posts: 719
Some times you cant see a breaker that has tripped.
Try resetting ALL your breakers that includes the big main breakers.
Turn each one off then on.
You can have a bad braker that clicks good.

One thing. the one that powers the refrigerator and or air wait 15 minuets before turning them back on.
The pumps will stall if running you need to wait for the back pressure to go down.
Or unplug them and wait 15 minuets.
Old 12-16-04, 03:02 PM
Join Date: Sep 2002
Location: welland ontario
Posts: 5,667
Hot ground reversed is the indication of an open neutral. Since all the receptacles seem to be dead check the white wire connection in the service panel.
Old 12-17-04, 10:05 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Ontario, Canada
Posts: 94
I would check voltage with a voltmeter. Check hot-to-ground, neutral-to-ground, and hot-to-neutral. You should have about 120V hot-to-grd and hot-to-neutral. If you have 120V hot-to-grd, but NOT hot-to-neutral, you have an open neutral, like Joed says.

If the above confirms an open neutral, there is another troubleshooting test you can do with your breaker shut off (test to confirm before you run tests at each device!!!) Check for continuity between neutral and ground at each receptacle and device. Because the neutral and ground are bonded at the panel, there should always be continuity. If you can figure out the 'run' of the circuit, it will help you figure out where the open can be found.

If you have an open neutral, it is a dangerous situation. Power the circuit down until you can get at fixing it.

If you haven't already mapped out all your circuits, this is a good time to do this. Make sure you haven't missed a receptacle, junction box, or light fixture somewhere. You will be looking for a loose terminal screw. loose wirenut, or broken wire somewhere in the neutral.

Post back with your results.
Old 12-18-04, 11:17 AM
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Question Similar problem

I have a problem similar to the above, but when I test my outlets with a multi-meter mine test as 120v hot-ground, 120v neutral to ground, and 0 or close to 0 hot to neutral. Any Ideas it just happened 2 days ago and the only thing that I changed was adding a heater to the circuit which I have since removed and connected to another circuit. The heater is working fine on new circuit.

Last edited by Chenry; 12-18-04 at 11:30 AM.
Old 12-18-04, 12:24 PM
Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: USA
Posts: 973
Originally Posted by Chenry
I have a problem similar to the above, but when I test my outlets with a multi-meter mine test as 120v hot-ground, 120v neutral to ground, and 0 or close to 0 hot to neutral. Any Ideas it just happened 2 days ago and the only thing that I changed was adding a heater to the circuit which I have since removed and connected to another circuit. The heater is working fine on new circuit.

This is VERY dangerous!!!!

The circuit needs to be shut off IMMEDIATELY...If you plug something into these outlets that actually USES the ground you are in for a shock (literally) by just touching what you plugged in!

Do NOT even take a faceplate off without shutting off the power. For that matter, don't touch the screw holding the faceplate on! The metal frame of the outlet is tied to ground (which, from what you say, is actually HOT), the screw is tied to the metal frame. Hence, there is 110V on that screw waiting to flow through your body on path to ground...

From what you describe, at the very least, your hot and ground are reversed. Could be that all three wires are wrong. Of all the ways to miswire, I would think this to be the MOST dangerous.

Are *ALL* the outlets on this circuit like this?

Once the circuit is dead, assuming the heater you installed/removed was hardwired, not just plugged in, go back to wherever the wiring was mucked with and check the connections...And before you touch anything, use your meter to verify there is no live power present. If everything was correct before (not just working, but *correct*...there's a difference) then you must have mixed wires up when making the changes.

Now, at this point, before you go do anything else, ask yourself if you are comfortable fixing this (or if you have a clue how to figure out what is going on). If not, call an electrician... Trial and error is NOT the way to fix this problem.
Old 12-18-04, 12:36 PM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973

It sounds like you have an open neutral. This is quite common. I say this because the circuit used to work properly, and because you still have 120 volts at the receptacle.

Put away your digital multimeter and don't use it for AC again, at least not for testing electrical wiring.

Your job is to find the open neutral. It could be at the receptacle in question, or it could be at the last working receptacle on the circuit.

Hopefully you know exactly what receptacles and lights are on this circuit, and you can check them all. You can make some educated guesses about how the electrician ran the wires, and go from there.

When you check the receptacles, move any wires that are in the backstab connectors and attach them to the screw terminals.
Old 12-18-04, 03:05 PM
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Talking Fixed it

Racraft you were right it was an open negative. It turns out one of my receptacles had a small electrical fire. It appears to have been caused by the outlet itself not sure if it was bad manufacturing or just age. So I replaced it with a brand new one and everything is working properly again. Thanks for your help.
Old 12-19-04, 06:21 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973

I'm glad you found your problem.

Electrical fires are caused by heat. Heat is caused by too much current through a wire, or a loose connection. Sounds like you might have had a loose neutral connection that caused the problem.

By the way, one correction, it's not a negative. In AC circuits there is no negative or positive. There is only the hot and the return. Negative and positive have no meaning, since the voltage on the hot wire is both negative and positive, alternating between the two, hence the term alternating current.

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