Cross-circuit tripping and other problems

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  #1  
Old 12-21-08, 05:39 PM
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Question Cross-circuit tripping and other problems

In my house, there is at least one circuit or surge-protector trip a day, and for no apparent reason. Even stranger are things in one circuit causing trips in another, and the strange wiring in the house doesn't help. For example, the surge protector for my home theater (Monster PowerCenter) goes off randomly throughout the day, even when everything is off and the voltage meter is normal. There is a light switch in my kitchen that occasionally trips both my home theater and the lights for that room, but the kitchen light turns on fine. Also, the breaker for my living room ONLY turns off the lights, but the home theater still works. For some reason, when my porch circuit tripped today (everything in the porch--lights, outlets, etc.) it also took with it my fireplace room (lights and outlets) and the lights (only) in my living room (leaving the home theater working). Does anyone have a suggestion where I should start to solve these problems? I also have a separate problem: I had a GFCI switch in my bathroom, but the outlet on it didn't work. I replaced it: same problem. I tried wiring it differently, but either ONLY the light worked, or ONLY the outlet worked. Thinking that maybe I didn't have a clue what I was doing, I had an electrician look at it, and he was just as puzzled as me. Should I just call another electrician, or should I test the switch again and post the details here?
 
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Old 12-21-08, 09:17 PM
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Welcome to the forums!

There are several experts on here who can help you out. (I am not one of them). I have a few ideas and questions that might get you started though.

When was your house built? Have you always had these issues?

Are you running any space heaters or other appliances that draw a lot of power?

When you say "GFCI switch“, are you referring to a single device with both a switch and GFCI receptacle or two separate devices? Do you know if the house originally had a receptacle in the bathroom? If you feel comfortable removing the cover and switch, you may want to describe the cables/wires inside the box.

Have you contacted Monster about your problems? From what I understand, they have a good warranty.

Finally, general purpose outlets and lights are not always divided up so that each room is on its own circuit, and some rooms may be served by more than once circuit. This would help explain why some things stay on and others turn off (and vice versa).
 
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Old 12-21-08, 10:41 PM
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Welcome, I'm not one of those experts, but I can add to your getting started list. All electrical panels have a list inside the panel access door where you can keep track of what outlets and lights are controlled by each circuit. In addition, we now have GFCI's all over the place that can control recepticles other than themselves. So, start making notes of what you find is controlled from where and when you are all done, tape it to the inside of that door. Someone years from now will love you.

Did the wiring come with the house, or have you or some one else been adding/changing anything. It helps us to know. Are you comfortable checking inside a box. We don't want to suggest something that gets you hurt, so tell us if you have fingers or thumbs. You mention a voltage meter, are you good with it?

Now, for my guess work. GFCI's are a pain, but they are telling us something. When you have ghosts all over the place, something is common. Either a loose ground/neutral or something that is upsetting GFCI's in various locations.

Check out that bathroom first as it seems to be a separate issue. Wires in, wires out and let us know.

HH
Bud
 
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Old 12-21-08, 11:53 PM
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Thanks for the responses.

This house was built a while ago, I'll check my records later for the exact year. I think the wiring is original, but I know that the last owner (unfortunately) did a lot with the wiring. These issues didn't really start occurring until the middle of this year, and they only seemed to start happening more often recently.

The only appliances I have running that draw a lot of power are my refrigerator, my home theater, and occasionally my washer/drier. I didn't want to return the Monster protector, because, being that it's not the only thing going off a lot, I figured it probably wasn't the problem.

The GFCI is both a switch and an outlet. For some reason, even though I could identify the hot wire using a tester, no combination of wires would make the outlet and switch work. There was originally a working switch/outlet there, but it was old, covered in tape, and it jiggled, causing the lights to go off at the least convenient times. I'll try to go diagram the wires later (there are a few wires in there that the electrician couldn't identify).

There is a list in my breaker box; however, it refers to things like 'tv' (not my home theater circuit) and 'room 1', so it's not much use. I'll definitely make a new one when I get the chance.

I have two meters, one that just beeps and the other with a readout (it needs a battery change though, and it uses some watch battery I need to find). I've just been using the beeping one for now. I'm fine working inside the box, I always have someone with me and someone at the breaker box just in case.

I'll have to take a look at that bathroom and the lower floor in general. I do know that only the lights above the mirror work by the switch. There is a location for a light fixture on the ceiling, but it is always live and there is no point in the circuit for a switch. There are also a lot of dead/unconnected outlets and boxes on that floor. The guy who used to live here disconnected all the light switches in the bedrooms (for some reason) and had lamp-style switches installed. So I've got a lot of dead ends to work with. I'll both test the circuit layout and try to detail the GFCI receptacle as soon as I can. Thanks for the help.
 
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Old 12-22-08, 06:34 AM
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OK, now we are getting the picture. Unfortunately you had a, how can I say this?, a non-standard DIYer in there before you. When the pro's on this board give someone the dickens for not doing something right, this is why. The good news is with a little patience and some extra time, you will be able to straighten everything out.

First, the beeping testers can sometimes give you a false indication and so can digital meters. We have gotten used to them or have an analog meter to back us up, but for the DIYer, they can indicate hot when it's not. But the meter may also have a resistance tester and that can help you track down all of those dead end wires, so get that battery.

One of the common problems on circuits is what they call "back stab" connections. Switches or recepticles where the wire is simply stripped back and pocked into a hole in the back of the rec/sw. If you find any of those, they should be moved to the corresponding screw for a better connection. If another wire is already on the screw, they should both be removed and twisted together with another wire using a wire nut. Then that other wire will go back to the screw terminal. Of course, make sure power is off when doing any of this work.

As for the bath GFCI, you might be getting a false power indication. Did the electrician test it? You also need the neutral (white) working for the receptacle or light to work, so check the wiring in that box and let us know. Once we have that one working we will start to track down the other issues.

Bud
 
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Old 12-22-08, 09:07 AM
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I think your best bet is to call in an a pro, and have them inspect your entire wiring system. From your post there seems to be alot of minor problems that are adding up to one big problem.
Once I reread your posts it seems to me that you have a big mess on your hands. With dead and disconnected recpts.

A simple fix for the meter that reads out and needs batteries is to go and get a new one. It will probly be cheaper.
here is a good set of electrical test tools that are affordable and will help you get a better idea what you have going on, if you decide to tackle this project your self
Greenlee at Lowe's: 3-Piece Electrical Tester Kit

btw a few questions
1. what is the amp rating of your service?
2. what material is used for the wiring?
 
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Old 12-22-08, 02:01 PM
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I will try to get a battery or a new meter as soon as possible.

As for that strange receptacle, all I remember right now is that is contains several gray wires (I don't remember if one of them was brown or not) and two orange/yellow wires (these are just tucked in the back and don't even reach the switch). Two of the gray/brown wires are twisted together and running to the GFCI switch/outlet, while another gray/brown wire runs to the switch as well. There is one remaining gray/brown wire that runs to the other side of the GFCI switch/outlet. I'll definitely go check it out in more detail, but I remember me and the electrician trying different twisted pairs and swapping things around on the outlet. I believed I (stupidly) tried every possible combination, tripping the breaker several times, and in no case did both the switch and the outlet work. Also, can someone just give me a quick explanation (I am a newbie) of why touching one of the wires to the side of the receptacle makes the light go on or trips the breaker? Does this have anything to do with the 'back stab' connections you were talking about?

I do have the non-contact tester from that set, and I have a different 300-volt multimeter (the one that needs batteries).

I use Con Edison, so I know I have at least 100 amps (I probably have this in my records somewhere). As for the wiring material, I have no clue. Some wire seems to be wrapped in paper, some in tape, some in enamel, etc. A lot of the wiring looks really old, and I can't even see the color of the wires any more.
 
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Old 12-22-08, 02:36 PM
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Wow, it sounds like a mess.

If you decide to try to fix the wiring yourself, I would suggest that you first buy or borrow (and read) a couple of books about electricity and wiring. A good one to start with is "Wiring Simplified". There is a book called "Your Old Wiring" that I have previewed, but I have not read personally. You may have some dangerous conditions that you will need to be able to identify and fix.

I would also suggest you also pick up a cheap neon test light for about $2-$4. As you dig into the wiring, a circuit tracer of some type might help to identify were all the wires go and what circuit they are on. I would also label wires and take pictures of the existing connections if you start unhooking and testing wires.

As for that GFCI receptacle/switch, I'm guessing that it may have originally been wired as a switch loop, and if so, you can only have a switch there.
 
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Old 12-22-08, 05:39 PM
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Thanks, I'll look for some books and guides.

Originally Posted by Strategery View Post
As for that GFCI receptacle/switch, I'm guessing that it may have originally been wired as a switch loop, and if so, you can only have a switch there.
That's the thing, there was a switch/outlet there, but it was so old that you had to jiggle it to get it working. I can't get any new GFCI switch+outlet to work in that receptacle.
 
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Old 12-26-08, 09:12 PM
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The following suggestion assumes that this switch/light is not wired as a switch loop. Some clues to identifying a switch loop: only one cable enters the switch box, two wires from the same cable are connected to one switch (not including ground), there is more than one cable entering the box for the light fixture and one is always hot.

That said, you may need to pigtail the hot wire to both the terminal for the GFCI receptacle AND the switch terminal (or wires coming out of the switch) . Think of them as two separate devices. The instructions for the switch/GFCI should show you how to wire it, including the option to GFCI the lights.
 
 

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