Bad Receptacle?

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  #1  
Old 04-19-05, 01:21 PM
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Bad Receptacle?

I just lost all power to one of the receptacles in my house. Checked the circuit breakers (OK), and other receptacles I think are on the same circuit seem okay. Do receptacles just burn out, or could I possibly have a more serious wiring problem?

A small AC and my computer are both plugged into to it and were running so it may have been drawing a lot of power at the time.

Thanks,

James
 
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  #2  
Old 04-19-05, 01:44 PM
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With the circuit shut off, check the recepticle to see if it is backstabbed. If so, try moving the wires to the side screws. They make a much more reliable connection than the backwired "backstabs".
 
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Old 04-19-05, 02:01 PM
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I checked that. They are in the push fit holes.

Addt'l info: I appear to be getting power from the wires if nothing is plugged into the outlets. As soon as I plug something into either socket, the power disappears.

I'm a layman, so be gentle. I get power hooking up to black and white, or black and ground (with nothing plugged in as I said), so I'm suspecting the outlet. I'll wait till daylight and then try switching the connections, or just buy a new receptacle, and see if that fixes it.
 
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Old 04-19-05, 02:17 PM
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I bet your computer doesn't like being on the same circuit as your AC.
 
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Old 04-19-05, 02:27 PM
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You have an open neutral or an open hot at one of the receptacles. Check all the receptacles on the circuit. Make sure that all connections are intact and connected to screws, not back stabs.

How are you surmising that you have voltage at the receptacle? I suspect that the voltage you are seeing is phantom voltage.
 
  #6  
Old 04-19-05, 02:28 PM
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It sounds like you are on the right track. Obviously connections are loose. As mentioned, move the wires from the backstabs to the screws. Replacing the receptical itself certainly won't hurt.

You don't have aluminum wire feeding this receptical do you? If so, that would certainly be a contributing factor, and more needs to be done to fix this than has been suggested.
 
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Old 04-19-05, 02:52 PM
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Originally Posted by racraft
You have an open neutral or an open hot at one of the receptacles. Check all the receptacles on the circuit. Make sure that all connections are intact and connected to screws, not back stabs.

How are you surmising that you have voltage at the receptacle? I suspect that the voltage you are seeing is phantom voltage.
Phantom voltage? You're losing me. I used a multimeter set on 250v AC. Red probe on black and black probe on white or ground gives me a reading. Plug something in either outlet, no reading. I do get a reading from the outlets if nothing is plugged into the other outlet of the receptacle.

All other receptacles on the circuit are working fine.

James
 
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Old 04-19-05, 02:56 PM
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Originally Posted by fredmorrison
I bet your computer doesn't like being on the same circuit as your AC.
No problem in a decade; until tonight. It doesn't like my cell phone being nearby sometimes, though.
 
  #9  
Old 04-19-05, 03:34 PM
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You can google "phantom voltage" and read about it, but it's kind of technical.

You remember those Van de Graaff generators that your science teacher had when you were a kit. It could make your hair stand on end when you put your hands on metal ball. These things generated thousands of volts, but didn't hurt you at all. Why? Because there was no power behind it.

The point is that voltage by itself won't power anything. When there is little load, it takes very little power to produce voltage. Digital voltmeters put very little load on a circuit, and thus can be quite misleading, so your voltmeter is of no help here. As has already been stated, you have an open neutral. There's no magic to find it. You just have to start looking for it, one box at a time. You have to look in the working as well as the non-working outlet boxes.
 
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Old 04-20-05, 02:27 AM
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OK. Here's what happened. I plugged a light in this morning (2 prong) and it worked. Shut the circuit off and moved the wires to the side connections. Turned circuit on and 2 prong light still worked. Great!

Then I plugged in a three prong plug. NO GO! Now the 2 prong light won't work either. So what recovered overnight that got the 2 prong working? Why did it stop after plugging in a grounded plug?

The circuit is connected to the outdoor outlets, not the other room outlets. Could it be a bad circuit breaker? Where should I look next? How do I figure out where an open neutral is?
 
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Old 04-20-05, 02:34 AM
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You must check the last working receptacle (or switch or light) and the first non-working receptacle (or switch or light). Since it is sometimes difficult to know how the wiring is run, you usually end up checking more than just those two locations. If the circuit is not spread out and only goes to a small number of locations, you might just want to check everything.
 
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Old 04-20-05, 02:53 AM
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Exclamation

I just checked the receptacles on the circuit (I think there are 4). 2 are working fine. The 2 that aren't working right are the farthest away from the circuit breaker. On those voltage between hot and ground is ~120, but between hot and neutral is ~60-70.

So what exactly should I be looking for? Loose wires? How does one find an open neutral?

The receptacle that stopped working only has 3 wires. Would it be the last one on the circuit? Will the others have more to feed the recptacles farther down the circuit?

Why did the outlet stop working again as soon as I plugged in a 3 prong plug?

Temps are going into the 80's today and I need my AC back. Please help. Thanks for the responses so far.

James
 
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Old 04-20-05, 03:23 AM
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Do not use a digital voltmeter. The results are meaningless. The 60 to 70 volts you are reading are phantom voltage. They indicate an open neutral.

Check all the wire connections on the receptacles. Move any back stabbed connections to screw terminals. Make sure all connections are tight.

A receptacle at the end of a run will have three wires (hot, neutral and ground). A receptacle that feeds others will have twice that number (or more).

Loose connections are intermittent. A change in current draw through them can cause them to open up.

Since you only have four receptacles, I would check them all. However, the problem (if there is only one problem) is at the last working receptacle or the first non-working one.
 
  #14  
Old 04-20-05, 03:36 AM
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I agree. Put away your voltmeter until this problem is solved. The voltmeter will hurt more than it helps. Instead, spend $8 on an outlet tester, one of those things that plugs into a receptacle and has three lights.
 
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Old 04-20-05, 04:47 AM
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I went to the other outlets and reconnected one, and just removed the other outlets entirely (jumped them together hot-hot, neutral-neutral, ground-ground). Then remembered I had another outside receptacle. When I checked it, it was so rusty, it fell apart, BUT, it is the end of a run (only 3 wires).

Since the original problem is also at the end of a run, can I rule out this one?

I'm headed out to get a tester, and some new outlets. Will check back later.
 
  #16  
Old 04-20-05, 04:51 AM
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It is unlikely that the problem is at a box at the end of the run. But you need to figure out for 100% sure all the things on this circuit. As Bob often points out, you (and everybody else) should have done that well before things went wrong because it's much easier then. Shut off the breaker and test absolutely everything in the house to be sure of everything on the circuit. That will give you a list of places to check.
 
  #17  
Old 04-20-05, 07:04 AM
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Cool

Okay, now I'm completely baffled!

Went to the store, picked up a tester. With the faulty circuit turned off, I tested several outlets and verified they were not on the circuit.

Turned on the breaker, and started testing the other outlets. They all tested fine. Plugged in a lamp (2 prong), worked fine. Plugged the AC back in. Works fine.

What could have changed? Why would it have worked this morning with a 2 prong plug, and then stopped working when I plugged in a 3 prong plug?

Hopefully it will keep working. Tomorrow when it's cooler I'll replace the receptacles I took out this morning.

Thanks again for the help. I wouldn't even have known where to begin without it. This site now has taught me much about my electricity, well pump, boiler, heating system, and put me in touch with a trustworthy repairman (for the heating system).

James
 
  #18  
Old 04-20-05, 08:36 AM
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It's an intermittent fault. One trick is to stick that tester in each receptacle and wiggle the tester, thereby slightly wiggling the receptacle. If the receptacle connections are flaky, it might cause the tester to go on and off, thereby identifying where the bad connection is.
 
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