outlet or breaker problem?


Old 06-22-06, 04:28 PM
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Question outlet or breaker problem?

Hi - I appreciate any help you all can offer.
My tenant in an upstairs unit has been calling, saying the outlet that the fridge is plugged in to has been not working recently. He said he couldnt understand why (but he has it plugged via heavy duty extension cord into a receptacle on the other side of kitchen). It is not a GFCI, and he did have the microwave also plugged in to the same outlet, so I thought it was an overload prob.

Checked the circuit breaker, and everything looked fine, but I switched it on and off just to see if that worked. He said it did work, for a while. We've done this a few times now, and each time I check the breaker, it does NOT appear to be tripped, not even half-way.

Today I went over, and flipping the breaker did not bring power back. I also notice that another receptacle near this one is also dead.

So now I don't think it's a bad receptacle any more. But I did notice that the breaker for that circuit feels loose/sloppy compared to the others in the panel. Not real bad, but it does jiggle a bit. It's a 20 amp.

Question: Is it likely the breaker itself is the problem? And is that something an amateur like me can replace? (I have replaced receptacles & done minor wiring, but never messed with a panel box before)

Or do you think it might could be something else?
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Old 06-22-06, 06:02 PM
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It does sound as if the breaker is faulty. the sloppiness is really normal, but half tripping is not. Replacing the breaker isn't difficult, but if you don't feel comfortable, call an electrician to do it. To replace it, turn it off and remove the breaker by rotating it toward the edge of the box It is held in via friction or a metal clip, depending on which brand you have. With it hanging outside the box, remove the wire under the screw. Installation is the opposite. And tell them to take everything off the extension cords, especially high draw items like a refrigerator!
Old 06-22-06, 06:09 PM
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-Replacing a breaker can be simple but dangerous if you are not careful even if the main breaker is off. Even with the main breaker off there are parts of the box that are live. Some brands of breakers can be difficult to remove. In an effort to remove them the extra force could cause a danger if you slip and hit the wrong place or the breaker shatters.

As to your problem it could just be a bad breaker. They do go bad. I would probably check the outlet for any obvious problem then the refrigerator. Usually there's a fan and trash (like rodent nests) can block it and cause an overload. That could have caused the breaker to go bad.

The microwave really should be on a separate circuit (as should the refrigerator). The combination of the two could have damaged the breaker.

If I replaced the breaker and everything seemed to work I'd want to watch the amperage with an Amprobe when the refrigerator was starting and when it was running just to verify no other problems. The data plate on the refrigerator should give you the normal amps to expect.
Old 06-23-06, 05:23 AM
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nervous CB

Yes, I also tend to believe it's an erratic breaker. I've had this sort of problem occur more than a few times in the past.
Old 06-23-06, 02:14 PM
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Cool Nervous CB

Okay -
I went over there today, ready to trouble shoot, and guess what?
Everything was working perfectly.

I'm scratching my head.
Old 06-23-06, 03:47 PM
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I'm not at all convinced it is a breaker problem. When the circuit goes dead again, and it will, get a volt meter and check the breaker. If it has no voltage then try resetting it as usual. If it has voltage then I think you are looking at wires that are shoved into the quick connects on the back of the outlet that have worn loose over the years. It might be at a working plug or it might be at the plug behind the fridge.

You will need to rewire the plug and put the wires under the screws.

Could be the breaker. I'm just not yet convinced of it.
Old 06-23-06, 05:44 PM
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yeah, I wonder if it really is the breaker.
I mean, if the breaker was bad, it would be a more consistent problem, right?

I got one of those three-light, plug-in receptacle testers, and it says all the receptacles in question are wired fine.

Next time it goes out again, I will try your suggestion and check for power at the breaker, then check for loose wires at the receptacles.

Um - do I need to buy some special kind of circuit breaker tester? I don't think I wanna poke a hot breaker with my two -lead tester...
Old 06-23-06, 06:13 PM
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Circuit breakers are quite inexpensive. Just replace the thing to eliminate this possibilty.

If you still have the problem after this, then continue to look.

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