Some Outlets Not Grounded.

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  #1  
Old 12-12-05, 01:17 PM
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Some Outlets Not Grounded.

I recently purchased and moved into a home about one month ago.

The first night I was there, I plugged a small nightlight into a bedroom outlet. When I switched it on, the small bulb blew out instantly and tripped a breaker. I reset the breaker and ignored it until yesterday. My wife wanted to watch TV in the bedroom so I plugged a fancy surge protector into the same bedroom outlet and it indicated a "site wiring fault". I proceeded to plug the surge protector into every outlet in the bedroom and the surge protector indicated the same thing for every outlet. What does this mean and is there anything I should be checking out?

Keep in mind, I plugged the same surge protector into various other outlets in the house and it did not indicate any wiring faults. I replaced some switches and outlets in the kitchen and dining room when I first moved in and every one of them had a bare copper grounding wire attached to a green screw on the switch/outlet.

The house was built in 1986 and uses copper wiring.

Thanks
 
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Old 12-12-05, 01:24 PM
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It indicates a wiring problem. It could be a hot and neutral reverse, it could be a failed ground, it's hard to tell.

Buy a plug in receptacle tester and see what it says.
 
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Old 12-12-05, 01:30 PM
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Originally Posted by XS6DFG0
it indicated a "site wiring fault". I proceeded to plug the surge protector into every outlet in the bedroom and the surge protector indicated the same thing for every outlet. What does this mean and is there anything I should be checking out?
First shut off the circuit and tape the breaker to ensure it stays off until you can diagnose it.

Second, as you know there are no old, careless electricians. If you are not comfortable with the risk get professional help.

Third if you want to go it alone, get a tester that looks something like these:
http://www.mytoolstore.com/ideal/ide05-08.html

If the problem is not clear based on the readout from that tester, you'll need to check the voltage using a voltmeter or a solenoid-based tester. Those are also available in most electrical departments.
 
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Old 12-12-05, 01:44 PM
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Thanks - I'll test it.

If it comes up hot / neutral reversed - how big a deal is that? It would have had to have been that way since the house was built.

If it comes up open ground - is that common? Does that just mean a ground wire came off a contact somewhere?
 
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Old 12-12-05, 02:04 PM
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Originally Posted by XS6DFG0
Thanks - I'll test it.

If it comes up hot / neutral reversed - how big a deal is that? It would have had to have been that way since the house was built.

If it comes up open ground - is that common? Does that just mean a ground wire came off a contact somewhere?
hot/neutral reversed is a big deal in that it must be fixed regardless of how long it's been around. Leaving it like that is hazardous.

Your ground may be open, but your symptoms do not indicate that.

It is more likely a hot/neutral reversal or you are getting 220/240 VAC where you should have 110/120.
 
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Old 12-12-05, 02:11 PM
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Thanks for the help.

One last question, until I get a circuit tester. I have a cheap tester in my toolbox - what will that tell me? It just has two probes on it, one red and one black and a light between them.
 
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Old 12-12-05, 02:48 PM
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Use your tester and test between each of the three holes of the receptacle. That is, test between the long slit and the short slit, the long slit and the ground, and the short slit and the ground.
 
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Old 12-13-05, 06:09 PM
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OK folks - I got a tester (The one with the red/yellow/yellow lights in front)

I first got a baseline by checking some good outlets - every good outlet I checked lit up the two yellow lights with the same bright glow.

There are four outlets in the bedroom that my surge protector said was messed up. I put the tester in all 4 outlets. Three of the outlets showed a bright center yellow light, but a dim right-side yellow light - weird. One of the outlets only lit the middle yellow light (open ground). I thought I had her nailed down so I replaced that outlet (yes, I had a new outlet lying around). After I swapped the outlet out (checking ground wires and all), The tester read the same on the new outlet as the other outlets in the room. Now I have all four outlets reading a bright center yellow light and a dim right-side yellow light. What is going on and where do I go from here - should I be checking all the other outlets?

Incidentally, The tester is cool but it showed me something I didn't expect to find. Our gameroom was finished by the previous owner (he was proud of this fact). I plugged the tester in every single outlet down in the gameroom and it said that the hot and neutral were reversed. What can I do to fix this and how serious is it?

Thanks, sorry to be a pain with all these questions - I'm a new homeowner, with a family.
 
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Old 12-13-05, 06:39 PM
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Originally Posted by XS6DFG0
Now I have all four outlets reading a bright center yellow light and a dim right-side yellow light. What is going on and where do I go from here - should I be checking all the other outlets?
Presumably the outlets are daisy-chained and fed from a single breaker. So there may be an open ground between the load center and the first receptacle you tested. You need to find each j-box between those two points and check at each spot for problems. If you're lucky the problem will be in a box and not in the inaccessible wall somewhere. Since your house is circa 1986, I would assume it's wired with Romex (NM) cable.

An open ground should not cause a nightlight to blow a circuit breaker. However in some circumstances a light bulb blows out and part of the exploding filament shorts the circuit, which could blow the breaker.

Did you test using your neon bulb? You should get:
wide slit + narrow slit = lit bulb
wide slit + ground = nothing (Edit - fixed)
narrow slit + ground = lit bulb (Edit - fixed)

Originally Posted by XS6DFG0
I plugged the tester in every single outlet down in the gameroom and it said that the hot and neutral were reversed. What can I do to fix this and how serious is it?
Again, the receptacles are probably daisy chained, so you need to start at the first receptacle or junction box or fixture on the circuit and make sure that in each box, the colored wires are all on brass-tinted terminals and the whites are all on silver-tinted terminals.
 

Last edited by ArgMeMatey; 12-13-05 at 08:33 PM. Reason: Had the wide/narrow reversed! Sorry.
  #10  
Old 12-13-05, 08:04 PM
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OK I guess I have to bite the bullet and check every junction. This circuit includes the bedroom, garage, and a bathroom. Light fixtures too?

I got:
wide slit + narrow slit = lit bulb
wide slit + ground = nothing
narrow slit + ground = lit bulb

My tester says that is normal.

When I go down into my basement, my tester says those outlets have the hot and neutral reversed. In that case I get what you stated.

wide slit + narrow slit = lit bulb
wide slit + ground = lit bulb
narrow slit + ground = nothing
 
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Old 12-13-05, 08:09 PM
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Okay, you have a hot/neutral reverse in your basement. Check every receptacle box. You should find black wires connected to brass screws and white wires connected to silver screws. Let us know if you find anything different in any box.
 
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Old 12-13-05, 08:43 PM
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Originally Posted by XS6DFG0
OK I guess I have to bite the bullet and check every junction. This circuit includes the bedroom, garage, and a bathroom. Light fixtures too?

I got:
wide slit + narrow slit = lit bulb
wide slit + ground = nothing
narrow slit + ground = lit bulb
These readings indicate the wiring is correct. I had them wrong in my post, which I corrected. Sorry for the confusion.

Is it possible there is a ground/neutral reversal somewhere? I don't think your three-lite tester would pick that up but the surge protector might.

At this point I would also try replacing the nightlight bulb and plugging it back in again on a known good receptacle, then trying it in the original suspect receptacle.

The fact that the circuit includes a bath and garage may be significant. Is this a GFCI breaker? Or is there a GFCI located anywhere along the line upstream of the suspect receptacles?
 
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Old 12-14-05, 06:33 AM
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ArgMeMatey:

The circuit that my bedroom outlets is on is not GFCI protected. It powers the bedroom lights and plugs, bathroom lights, and garage lights. The bathroom outlet, bathroom exhaust fan, and outside radon fan are on a seperate circuit that uses a GFCI breaker.

John Nelson:

First, when I get home I'll pull some outlets in the basement and check the wiring and get back to you guys

Let me give you more info about the basement hot/neutral reverse issue. After my tester indicated that the hot/neutral were reversed in the basement outlets, I went over to the breaker box. All my slots are filled in my breaker panel. I'm guessing that when the previous owner finished the basement they needed another spot to put a breaker, so one of my breaker slots has two little half-wide breakers in them - I don't know the terminology for these little breakers. My basement outlets and probably lights are on one of these little half breakers. I don't know what caused me to think this, but I decided to take a look at the other little half breaker as well. It powers the 20 amp garage door opener outlet. I put my tester in there and it said hot/neutral were reversed there also. So now I have two separate circuits that have hot/neutral reversed (All other circuits in house are normal except for that other problem I am having). Both these circuits are on these two little half breakers in the same breaker slot. I'm not sure if that is significant, but I'll check the wiring tonight when I get home.
 
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Old 12-14-05, 06:52 AM
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Those half breakers are called mini breakers, or tandem breakers. They are designed to provide two breakers in the space of one. If the panel will accept them, they help prevent the need for a sub panel.

It is quite possible that whomever wired the basement and the garage did not know that it makes a difference which wire is which at the receptacle. From a power standpoint it does not, as this is AC power. However, from a safety standpoint it does matter.

Check the wiring at the panel and at the receptacles. The black wires should be connected to the brass screws on the receptacles and to the breaker. The white wires should be connected to the silver screws of the receptacles and to the neutral bar in the panel (which may also be the ground bar). The ground wires should be connected to the ground screws of the receptacles, the boxes if metal, and to the ground bar of the panel (which may also be the neutral bar).

As for knowing which breaker is which, you should know this. You should know what is on each and every breaker and which breaker controls each and every receptacle, light and appliance in your house. There should be no "probably" about it. This information could save your life some day and is invaluable if you have a problem. You should spend a few hours with a helper going through the house and identifying each and every circuit.
 
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Old 12-15-05, 06:21 AM
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I pulled the cover plate on about 4 outlets in the basement and discovered black wires on silver terminals and white wires on brass terminals. One outlet was at the end of a run, so I just swapped the two wires and kicked the power back on - the outlet tests good now. I am going to replace all the basement and garage outlets this weekend. Do I, or should I need to inspect the wiring for the switches and lights - can they reverse those also?

I also noticed that outlets in the middle of a run had both ends of the ground looped around the same grounding screw on the outlet - that is not proper, correct?

I have two garage door openers that share an outlet. The outlet is on a dedicated line. The breaker says 20 amp, yet the outlet does not have the tell-tale "T" on the neutral prong. When I replace the outlet, should I put a 20 amp outlet in? The same question applies to my washing machine, also a 20 amp dedicated line.
 
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Old 12-15-05, 06:39 AM
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The black wires belong on the brass screws, the white wires on the silver screws. I guess you have figured out why you have hot/neutral reverse, since yours are backwards.

It is against code to have two wires on one screw. For the ground wires the proper solution is to use a wire nut and a pigtail.

I would check everything on these circuits. For the switches it should be the black (hot) wire that is switched, not the white (neutral) wire. At the lights themselves the black wire should be connected to the black wire of the fixture or the brass screw, the white wire should be connected to the white wire of the fixture or the silver screw.

In the US it is legal to have a 15 amp receptacle on a 20 amp circuit, as long as it is a duplex receptacle. Since the garage door openers and the washer have 15 amp plugs, having 15 amp receptacles is fine.
 
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Old 12-15-05, 06:53 AM
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Thanks for all the help.

I'll post back when I get this all sorted out.
 
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