switched outlet stopped working

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  #1  
Old 12-05-06, 05:53 AM
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switched outlet stopped working

Hi,

I have one outlet controlled by two 3-way switches that just stopped working with no preliminary trouble. I replaced the switches one by one, then replaced the outlet, and still nothing. To complicate matters, there is another switch (that controls a porch light) wired to the first 3-way switch--the one where I THINK the power comes in. A ceiling fixture that seems to be on the same circuit ahead of the trouble continues to work fine. 50-year old house, old wires . . .

Any ideas for diagnosing and fixing? Thanks.
 
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  #2  
Old 12-05-06, 06:33 AM
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When you replaced the switches, did you verify power? Replacing switches when you have no power won;t solve anything, althouth it may give you cleaner nicer looking switches.

Verify power at the switches.

Check EVERY junction box on the circuit. Somewhere a wire has come loose and needs to be reconnected. It could be at a working location on the circuit or a non-working one.
 
  #3  
Old 12-05-06, 06:48 AM
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tried that

Thanks, Bob.

Trouble is, there are no junction boxes (old house)--the power seems to come from the very crowded box at the aforementioned, working light fixture. I checked the connections in there and couldn't find anything that had come loose . . .

I have one of those cheap volt meters, the kind with 2 prongs and lights that show 110, 220, etc. I tried putting the red prong on the black wire and the black prong on the white wire at the first switch to see if there was power there, and nothing. Is that the correct way to use the meter?
 
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Old 12-05-06, 07:08 AM
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In order to use a two wire tester, you need a hot wire and either a ground wire or a neutral wire. 50 year old wiring does not have a ground wire at most lights and receptacles, so you would need a neutral.

If the white wire you tested against is attached to the switch then you can't use it, as it is not a neutral. If the white wire is bundled together with a group of other white wires then you can use it.

If you don't have a neutral or ground, such as with a switch loop, then you need to connect one of the probes to some other source. This could be the neutral wire on a working receptacle, a cold water pipe, or the ground pin on a properly installed grounded receptacle.

The only possibilities for the light not working are:

A failed connection at a some location on the circuit. This is the most likely cause.

A broken wire in the wall. Unlikely unless perhaps someone has been pounding nails and might have damaged a wire inside the wall.

The fixture is broken.

Make sure your two wire tester works by testing a working receptacle.

Test for power to the fixture using your two wire tester. Test for power at each switch.

You need to figure out where you do have power and where you don't.
 
  #5  
Old 12-05-06, 08:36 AM
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Hi Molly

Are you sure you have three way switches? You only mention you tested a black and white wire. Three ways have three screws with wires connected to each screw. As Bob mentioned you would not test between wires connected to the switch but three ways are much different than single poles and unless you understand what goes on with a three way it may confuse you.

Maybe you mean you touched a black wire on the switch and a white wire not connected to the switch. Can you clarify?

I would agree that it is very possible that the box that has the two switches is likely where constant power enters the switch box.

Do you know what is the common screw on a three way? This is the dark colored screw the others are brass colored. We may be able to short cut the problem by testing the common screw connection at each switch. One switch will have constant power on the common screw the other will have switched power on the common screw. Test the dark colored screw to a neutral white wire not connected to any switches. Find which switch has constant power on the common screw regardless of what the toggle position is. The other 3 way will have power when the toggle is in one position and no power in the other position. Do this test and we will go from there.
If you happen to have ground wires test to them instead of neutral. The grounds will be bare wires most likely. As Bob said you wont have ground unless the original wiring was upgraded at some time or if you have metal boxes and conduit this may be providing ground. If metal boxes put the red probe on the common screw and the black probe touch it to the metal box and see if the light comes on in the tester.
Do this test and be very careful let us know if you get with the tester. Remember dont touch any wires or move the switches unless power is off the circuit being tested. Always check for power before touching anything. I would feel better if you had one of those inductive testers from the box stores to back up your two wire tester. These will tell you if you have any power on the box without having to touch wires and test them to a ground source. They are around 10 bucks I think.

Roger
 
  #6  
Old 12-05-06, 09:08 AM
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Hi Roger and Bob,

Yes, I'm sure the switches are 3-way--just didn't mention the red wires. And, yes, I do find them confusing, which is why, when I changed the switches, I did it by disconnecting one wire at a time from the old switch and immediately connecting it to the new switch. The old and new switches weren't precisely identical--the 3 screws were in different positions--but I did manage to identify the common screw and I think I got all the wires where they're supposed to be.

Forgive my total ignorance, but before I use the tester on the common screw and the metal box, let me ask: The circuit breaker is ON for this, right? (Otherwise, there would be no power, right?) And, if I went to Home Depot, a tester would be clearly marked "inductive"?

Thanks,

Molly
 
  #7  
Old 12-05-06, 09:22 AM
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Yes, you must do your testing with the power (circuit breaker) on. Be careful, because the voltage present can give you a shock, and could kill you if the circumstances were right.

A two wire tester with a light bulb at the big box stores will be a few dollars. I don't know how it will be labeled.
 
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Old 12-05-06, 10:12 AM
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Molly

I think the proper term would be non-contact tester.

Sorry I had to step away from the puter for a minute. Yes the non-contact (inductive) testers look similar to a large ball point pen, no wires on them. You will need both testers. What I like about the no contact testers is they let you know if power is in the box but do not tell you which wire is hot unless you can get enough seperation between the wires. They have many uses that make quick work of certain problems. They also help in determining if your problem might be an open neutral. Your outlet may have power to it but if the white wire is disconnected or bad connection it will not work. With a non-contact tester it can be inserted into the appropriate receptacle slot and if there is power it will light or beep and light up. This tells you you have power to the receptacle if nothing works when plugged into the receptacle then you pretty much know you have a problem with the neutral wire. The neutral (white) must be unbroken all the way back to your main circuit breaker panel. Otherwise the return current, after it goes through the light or other device, has no path back to the utilities transformer. If the neutral is broken or other problem then nothing works at the receptacle or anywhere else before the break or bad connection even though power is getting to the receptacle. I like the non-contact testers for DIY mainly for safety as they will detect voltage in the close quarters of an electrical box and let you know...oooops....I still have power in there. They are a valuable tool however once you know how to use them in all situations.

this is what one looks like from fluke but all are similar scroll down to the one that looks like a pen called the "volt alert". Copy and paste

http://www.inotek.com/Catalog/fluke11et.html

Roger
 

Last edited by Roger; 12-05-06 at 10:23 AM.
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