Poof! (Inoperative Wall Receptacle)

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  #1  
Old 02-06-05, 06:18 PM
greenlincoln
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Question Poof! (Inoperative Wall Receptacle)

I've got an outlet into which my microwave was plugged in. It is the only receptacle on the wall. One minute it worked, a few minutes later, it no longer has any juice. The microwave didn't act funny, I reset all the circuit breakers, but still nothing. I checked the outlet with a voltmeter, and it is DEAD. I removed the receptacle, checked the bare wires coming out of the wall, no juice. I replaced the receptacle with a new one also. Still nothing. Anyone have any ideas? I pulled the receptacle out, no evidence of a short or lose wire, etc.
 
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  #2  
Old 02-06-05, 06:53 PM
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Tripped GFCI. Find it. Press the reset button.
 
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Old 02-06-05, 08:49 PM
greenlincoln
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I Wish It Was That Easy

That's the first thing I looked for. There are absolutely no GFCIs in this house except in the bathrooms, both of which I tripped and reset. Still nothing. I don't even have a GFCI in the kitchen, which I find odd. Any other ideas? Thanks.
 
  #4  
Old 02-06-05, 09:06 PM
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Well, it might not be a GFCI, but it might. If you have no GFCIs in the kitchen, look in the adjacent rooms. Also look behind the refrigerator and under the sink. GFCIs can hide in the strangest places.
 
  #5  
Old 02-06-05, 09:16 PM
WFO
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If you have a voltmeter, check for voltage at the breaker. It may be bad.
 
  #6  
Old 02-06-05, 09:23 PM
greenlincoln
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Everything else on the circuit is working

So I guess that means it's just this receptacle right? HOWEVER...

I HAVE been working on a double light switch on the same wall. The rocker switch on the left side of this switch has a "common" wire for the main overhead light. Ever since I changed receptacles to match my new paint, tile, etc. in the kitchen, I have not been able to figure out how to get this switch and the shared switch on the opposite side of the room to work properly. If you turn off the light on one switch, you cannot turn it back on with the switch on the other side of the room. Very annoying. There are exactly 3,423 combinations of switching those wires around on the 3-way switches on those two, and I've tried them all to no avail. I wonder if this has anything to do with my problem with the receptacle that suddenly has no juice.??
 
  #7  
Old 02-07-05, 05:24 AM
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Your switch problem has nothing to do with your receptacle problem. To fully diagnose your receptacle problem use a tester to determine if you have voltage at the receptacle. If you have voltage at the receptacle, but no return then look for an open neutral. If you have no voltage then look for an open hot. Check this receptacle and every other one on the circuit.

As for your switches, you should have written down how the wires were connected before you started. On three way switches there will be two screws of one color and one of another. There is also a ground screw (on newer switches), but ignore that for now. What wires goes to what screw depends on how the circuit is wired. If you tell us what cables and what wires are in the switch boxes then we can sort that out.
 
  #8  
Old 02-07-05, 07:27 AM
greenlincoln
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Wiring Configuration

Ok you ready? Here goes.

I opened the box again. This box serves two lights, a dinky overhead light (simple on/off) with the right rocker switch and a main overhead flourescent with the left rocker switch, which shares a common with a switch at the other end of the room.

There are 5 cables (gangs?) inside the box. Four cables come in at the top of the box and one comes in from the bottom. I will list the wires in each cable working from left to right, top to bottom.

First cable (far left). One white, one black. White goes to a wire nut that connects all whites together. Black goes to Left Rocker switch.

Second cable (inside left). Red common wire goes to Left Rocker, Black wire goes to Left Rocker, White goes to wire nut that connects all whites together.

Third cable (inside right). White goes to wire nut that connects all whites together. Black goes to another wire nut that connects it and the black from FIFTH (bottom) cable.

Fourth cable (far right). White goes to wire nut that connects all whites together. Black goes to Right Rocker.

Fifth cable (bottom). White goes to wire nut that connects all whites together. Black goes to wire nut connecting it to black wire from Third cable. ANOTHER black COMES FROM THE NUT and goes to the Right Rocker.

And there you have it.

The box at the other end of the room that shares the common (red) wire only has a white, black and red.

I did not wire this box, it was this way when I bought the house 2 months ago.

Thanks for your help.
 
  #9  
Old 02-07-05, 07:42 AM
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Red common
Why are you calling this wire "common"? What is "common" about it?

On the left rocker, it would help if you told us which of those three wires goes to the black-colored screw. Give us the detailed connection information for the "box at the other end of the room."

Cable 1 seems to be the power feed for the main light.
Cable 2 is the traveler going to the main fluorescent light, and then on to the box at the other end of the room.
Cable 3 and 5 are, in either order, the power feed for the dinky light, and downstream power to some unspecified place.
Cable 4 is switched power to the dinky light.

At any time have you changed the wiring at the main fluorescent light, or even taken it down and put it back up? Have you changed the wiring in either switch box, or removed anything and put it back?

We need to know everything you touched, because clearly what you touched is the most likely source of the problem.
 
  #10  
Old 02-07-05, 07:49 AM
greenlincoln
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The only thing I "touched" and obviously screwed up was the wiring to the left rocker. The Dinky light works fine and I did not switch any wires from one light to the other.

The left rocker controls the main flourescent. One black from the first cable goes to the black screw on the switch. One black from the second cable goes to the gold screw on the switch. The red wire goes in the hole labeled "common" in the back of the switch.

On the opposite side of the room, i have used the "stab holes" in the switch, as the wires are short to curl around the screws. The black goes in the upper hole, the white in the lower hole, and the red in the hole labeled "common."
 
  #11  
Old 02-07-05, 08:01 AM
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Why did you connect two wires to screws, and one wire to a backstab hole? Aren't there three screws on the switch?

Normally, the black screw is the common. Perhaps you have the black and red both connected to the common. Is the "common" hole next to the black screw?

I'm confused. At first you said that the left rocker is the only thing you touched. Later you talk about how you wired the switch on the other side of the room. Should I infer that you touched both switches?

Note that there is no convention that the red wire is "common".
 
  #12  
Old 02-07-05, 08:06 AM
greenlincoln
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Yes I did touch both switches, my error. All of my switches were replaced with black switches to match the color of granite tile I laid.

Perhaps my assumption that the red wire is the "common" is incorrect. Not being an electrician, I assumed this wire connected the two switches on either end of the room so they would work in tandem.

If you could offer a reconfiguration as a possible solution, I would appreciate it.
 
  #13  
Old 02-07-05, 09:20 AM
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Yes, it seems clear that your assumption about the red wire was what got you into trouble.

There are two approaches here:

(1) Experimentation. In this approach, you just use trial and error. You have two switches with three wires each. this gives you 36 possible combinations. You could try them all. But the only thing that really matters is which wire is connected to the common on each switch, so that reduces the combinations to try down to just nine. You can solve this in an hour or so. Shut off the breaker before reconfiguring for each experiment. Keep good notes so you don't try the same thing twice. Test each combination.

And really, we know which wire should go to the common screw on the left rocker. It's the black wire from cable #1 (not the red wire from cable #2 as you have it now). So you only have three combinations to try at the switch on the other side of the room. And most likely it will be the white wire that connects to the common on that switch (again, not the red wire as you have it now).

(2) Discovery. For this approach to work, we'll need you to detail all the wiring at the fluorescent light fixture. But if you do that, we can tell you the right answer on the first try.

So pick your approach and let us know.
 
  #14  
Old 02-07-05, 11:17 PM
greenlincoln
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Thanks To Ra Craft And John Nelson!!!

RA CRAFT, you were correct, there was a loose connection upstream of the dead receptacle. There was a pigtail on the switch preceding the problem outlet; when I took that switch out of the wall, the hot wires were pigtailed to the switch and it readily came apart. I re-assembled it tightly (VERY hard to do with FOUR wires in one wire nut!), checked the dead receptacle and low and behold, power! Thank you for teaching me something today.

John Nelson, you were correct in that the red wire was not the common, it was the black from the first cable. The red must be power to the light fixture (I guess). So I put the black common on the black screw, the red on the brass screw and the second black (remember all the neutrals are tied off in this box) on the other brass screw. At the other end of the room, I re-configured by attaching black wire to black screw, red to brass screw and neutral brass screw opposite the black screw. Both switches now work interchaneably with eachother to turn on the light on/off, no longer independently of eachother. THANK YOU for teaching me something new today.

I don't see smoke coming out of any of the switches yet, so I'm hoping I'm ok. Please tell me if I need to check anything else, as I worry about fire hazards and my lack of education when it comes to electrical.

Again, thanks.
 
  #15  
Old 02-08-05, 07:07 AM
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Glad you were able to resolve your problem, Greenlincoln. It's all about the learning...stay with this website, and you should get lot's of it. You can also pick up some great tips from the DIY books at your local Home Depot or bookstore.

As long as your wirenut connection is nice and tight (you did a pull-test, right, to make sure none of the wires came out when you give a tug on each wire?), and there is no bare wire showing underneath the wirenut, you should be Ok. Connections to the termination screws must be clockwise to ensure a nice tight connection, and don't use the backstab connections on receptacles.
 
  #16  
Old 02-08-05, 07:51 AM
greenlincoln
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Wire Nut

Yes, I did twist them all together (very difficult) in a clockwise rotation and then twisted the wire nut on clockwise also. However, one wire (the pig tail to the switch) did stick out a small amount at the bottom of the nut. I was a bit concerned about that, but when I CAREFULLY pushed all wires neatly back into the box, I made sure that bare wire was not in contact with anything else. Do I need to pull this out and wrap electrical tape around it? Do I need to worry? Thank you Mr. Fixit.
 
  #17  
Old 02-08-05, 09:02 AM
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This is a problem. If someone removes the device in the future, the bare spot may cause a short-circuit or ground-fault condition when they don't tuck the wires in as carefully. Secondly, wires shift as you put the device back into the box, and that bare wire might be closer to bare wire than you think, and start arcing. Arcing causes heat. Heat burns down houses.

You should pull 'er out and re-make the connection.

When you say 'twist together', you should be using linesman's pliers, grabbing the tips of the wires with the cut shoulders of the insulation carefully lined up, then twist the wires together nice and tight. The wires should not easily pull apart even without the wirenut in place. Begin with the ends stripped a little on the long side, and finish by trimming the wires so the ends are nicely even such that when you twist on the wirenut all the bare wires are covered by the shoulder of the wirenut (usually about 1/2"). Once the wirenut is on as tight as you can make it, give a good tug on each of the wires. If one wire comes loose, you don't have a good connection.

As with most things in life, 'Practice makes purrfect.'

Mr Fixit eh
 
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