partial loss of electricity in house


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Old 01-01-10, 08:34 PM
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partial loss of electricity in house

I've lost power in parts of my house. I was changing a ceiling light fixture, and when I completed it, it didn't work, so I began to undo it, and when I did, the wires sparked. Since then, I've lost power in areas of the house. The circuit breaker did not trip, and no GFCI outlets tripped. I can't figure out what might have happened. Any ideas on what else I should check? Or what happened?
 
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Old 01-01-10, 08:40 PM
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Did you turn each 15 amp and 20 amp breaker off then on? A tripped circuit breaker may not look tripped.
 
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Old 01-01-10, 08:43 PM
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yes, I've switched all of them off and then back on..... no luck. The stranger thing is that the lights and plugs that the specific breaker controls are only partially off. Does that make sense?
 
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Old 01-01-10, 09:56 PM
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Check to see if any of the receptacles have wires inserted into the back. If so move them to the screws. The problem could be in either a working or non working fixture. You will need to also check all wire nuts. At the least pull on the wires to see if their tight. Better remove and replace.You will need to check wire nuts in every box on the circuit.
 
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Old 01-01-10, 10:14 PM
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I will check for all the loose connection on that circuit and if you have any backstabbed devices move them to the side and screw it down that usally the most common cupit with it.

And check any wirenuts are loose as well.

If you have GFCI check them as well.

Merci,Marc
 
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Old 01-02-10, 07:38 AM
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I will check those. But do you think that the sparking of the wires had something to do with it? Could it have damaged the wires somewhwere along the circuit? Or is the thought that it just caused a loose wire to stop its connection elsewhere?
 
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Old 01-02-10, 08:19 AM
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When you cause a spark like that, it is placing a BIG load on all the wiring.

If there if a poor connection somewhere along the way, that too will spark and then disconnect itself!

As said above, wires stuck into the holes in the back of an outlet could have failed. These are very poor connections.

Using the screws on the side of the outlet is a good connection.

Check for outlets which do not work. Then examine the last outlets in a row on either side. And outlets next to these which still work.

Outlets pass the wiring along form one to the next. Then on to the light.

(It could be in a junction box or another light, but I would check outlets first.)
 
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Old 01-02-10, 08:20 AM
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Heavy load causing a failure of a bad connection is the most likely cause.
 
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Old 01-02-10, 09:28 AM
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Forgive me for sounding stupid..... I have 9 light switches and 16 plugs that have no power. I'm curious, if I change one set of switches (say the ones that operate the bathroom), and turn the power back on, shouldn't those work, or do I have to go through and switch ALL of the back stabbed to side screws, and then check before they will all work? I'm so frustrated! But I will be doing this tedious job as I await an answer... thanks so much!
 
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Old 01-02-10, 09:32 AM
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Originally Posted by mnhwinn View Post
yes, I've switched all of them off and then back on..... no luck. The stranger thing is that the lights and plugs that the specific breaker controls are only partially off. Does that make sense?
What do you mean by partially off? Are the lights dim?
 
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Old 01-02-10, 09:36 AM
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No, I'm sorry. By partially off, I mean that some of the lights and plugs that are controlled by the breaker work, but some do not.
 
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Old 01-02-10, 09:39 AM
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As every one else said. Sounds like a bad connection somewhere.
 
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Old 01-02-10, 10:26 AM
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Update: the plugs are only the backstab type, they do not have screws on the side. Do I need to go purchase 16 plugs with screw type sides now in order to attempt to resolve this.........
 
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Old 01-02-10, 10:45 AM
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Originally Posted by mnhwinn View Post
I've lost power in parts of my house. I was changing a ceiling light fixture, and when I completed it, it didn't work, so I began to undo it, and when I did, the wires sparked. Since then, I've lost power in areas of the house. The circuit breaker did not trip, and no GFCI outlets tripped. I can't figure out what might have happened. Any ideas on what else I should check? Or what happened?
Can you remove the light and post a clear pic of inside the ceiling box? Also, let us know which connections you took apart when you replaced the fixture, how many wires were connected to the original fixture, and wire colors. In addition to that, i know we've been through this already, but once again, turn each breaker to the full off position, then back to the full on position. After you have done that, hit the test and reset buttons on all of the GFCI receptacles and/or breakers you can locate. If the above steps do not remedy the problem, we'll move on to other things.
 
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Old 01-02-10, 11:34 AM
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Ok, here are pictures... to clarify - I removed an old light fixture and attempted to install this new one. (minutes before I put the same one into the other bathroom, and it is fine!) So I installed the new one, connected the black to black, white to white, and ground to ground. When I went to flip the switch to check it - nothing. So, I proceeded to check the wiring. It was when I was UNDOING the wiring that it zapped me and sent out a spark at me along with the shock I got. After that is when I lost power to several light switches and plugs. I did not have the circuit breaker off while doing this. Stupid, I know..... The original light fixture did not have the double black and double white wires like this light fixture. It just had single black and single white.



 
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Old 01-02-10, 12:11 PM
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It is best to TURN OFF THE MAIN POWER to the house before doing ANY electrical work! Circuit breakers can be labeled wrong and there are other situations I will not get into...

Anyway wiring goes in a line....

Breaker panel----outlet---outlet---outlet---outlet---light---outlet, etc.

So if you can figure out the line....

Breaker panel----outletX--outlet---outlet---outlet---light---outlet

...and see that the second outlet in the line is not working (as well as the rest of the outlets down the line and the light), then check that outlet. Or check the outlet just before that.

In this case the red X is at the very first outlet which is still working. In my hypothetical example, that is where the break is.

Now wiring is not always easy to figure out as to how it is run in the walls. Which outlet is first, then second, etc. But if you have a whole wall of outlets which are not working, you could start by checking the outlets at the far ends.

As to buying a bunch of outlets and replacing them all, you should only need to replace one. You should see some burning on the wire at the back of the problem outlet.
 
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Old 01-02-10, 12:26 PM
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Oh my gosh, I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of this info!!! And when I get it figured out, I will appreciate it even more!

Yes, I know, I called myself STUPID! Believe me, I've learned my lesson on this one.

Ok, one of the plug outlets does have a black residue on the outside of it (the white area where you plug into). Saw it before I even opened it up. I should start there, right?

As far as the original light fixture that zapped me - I do not have to re connect it before I figure out this problem do I?

Thanks again for all the help!!!
 
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Old 01-02-10, 12:44 PM
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Originally Posted by mnhwinn View Post
Oh my gosh, I can't tell you how much I appreciate all of this info!!! And when I get it figured out, I will appreciate it even more!

Yes, I know, I called myself STUPID! Believe me, I've learned my lesson on this one.

Ok, one of the plug outlets does have a black residue on the outside of it (the white area where you plug into). Saw it before I even opened it up. I should start there, right?

As far as the original light fixture that zapped me - I do not have to re connect it before I figure out this problem do I?

Thanks again for all the help!!!
You will not need to re-connect the fixture to figure this out. You only have one NM cable at the outlet (light) box, so this means that they ran power to the switchbox first, which should have come from the closest receptacle on that circuit. Again, have you double checked the breakers?? Also, do you have a multimeter you can use to check voltage at the receptacles or the outlet box in the ceiling??
 
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Old 01-02-10, 12:44 PM
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If Im looking at the picture you only have a single black, white, and bare wire and no other at the box where the trouble started. If so that rules out a problem at that Jbox.

If you can't find an obvious problem at the receptacles then replacing the really cheap receptacles may be as easy as other trouble shooting procedures. In those boxes that have one cable coming in and one going out you could disconnect the wires to the receptacle and connect black to black and white to white with wire nuts and test. Then of you would have to reconnect the old receptacle. Just mu curiosity do the existing receptacles have plastic yokes instead of metal? Hard to find a receptacle cheaper then the 35 ones at BigBox but the contractor apparently did.

Of course you cant know for sure it is a receptacle before testing. You can narrow down which to test first sometimes by deductive reasoning. For example if all the good receptacles are east of an imaginary line and all the bad one west of that imaginary line you would start with good receptacle closest to that line then the bad receptacle closest to that one.
 
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Old 01-02-10, 12:56 PM
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Ok, arc n spark - yes, I have checked the breakers again and again, as well as all the GFCI I can find. No luck. I do not have a multimeter. Should I go get one? btw, your avatar represents exactly how I feel!!

ray2047 - I had a hard time following the terminology. I'm sorry. Plastic yokes instead of metal? Please explain. I can take a picture of the outlets and post for you. But I do know, yes, this house was built CHEAP!! It is a tract home and is 8 years old, and I've always thought the electrical work was shabby, at best! Without running to the store, can I swap a plug that I know is working, for the one I suspect burnt? Would that work?

A little background on me.... I am female, so that may explain why I don't understand some of the terminology. I apologize. But let me assure you, I have tackled many home improvement projects. To mention just a few: I have installed ceiling fans in the whole house, switched out light switches, even tiled over 600 square feet of flooring by myself. If you can give me directions, I can figure it out!

Thank you so much for all of your help!
 

Last edited by mnhwinn; 01-02-10 at 01:31 PM.
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Old 01-02-10, 01:59 PM
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Ignore my remark about yolks. It is not relevant to your problem. Just wondering how cheap the receptacles were. A meter might be a way to find the problem if it is a receptacle without removing the wires from them. It is not the plug that isn't working. It is the connection. Power comes in on one set of terminals and out on the other. Then on to the next receptacle. If power in connections are good the receptacle will work. If power out has a bad connection then you won;t have power to the next receptacle down the line.

 

Last edited by ray2047; 01-02-10 at 02:39 PM.
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Old 01-02-10, 03:24 PM
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Originally Posted by mnhwinn View Post
Update: the plugs are only the backstab type, they do not have screws on the side. Do I need to go purchase 16 plugs with screw type sides now in order to attempt to resolve this.........
That's what I did. I had ONE circuit that included the overhead light in my hallway, overhead light in the front room and all the receptacles in the front room and maybe some more. I also had a single circuit covering all the receptacles and lights in two bedrooms and half the lights and receptacles in the third bedroom. My house may have been "to code" but it didn't one thing beyond code.


Since then I have added at least a dozen new circuits and separated many of the receptacles from the lighting circuits. I still have a few things to do before I will consider this place having adequate electrical.
 
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Old 01-02-10, 04:33 PM
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Ok, I went to Home Depot and purchased a non contact voltage tester, and digital multimeter. I have not opened the multimeter yet. But when testing the wires with the voltage tester, the wires that are in the pics I had posted, that hang from the ceiling, that were the original culprit, the white wire has voltage, but the black wire has nothing. Should I still proceed with checking the receptacles? Or is it something else?

Also, when I test all of the plugs with the voltage tester by plugging it into each hole, there is voltage to all of them, both sides.

Now what?
 
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Old 01-02-10, 04:50 PM
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The other thing it kinda crossed my mind any chance did you have dimmer switch on that circuit ?

If so any short circuit will fry the dimmer very fast.

For majotry of DIY'ers I can understand buying a NCV {non concat voltage tester } tester but the digtail voltmeter is not bad item if used right however they are very senstive to the ghost voltage { there are a bit details been talking in this fourm from time to time so goggle it }

Really the other nice item I will suggest is a neon test light that useally take care of ghost voltage issue.

I did look at the ceiling box did you have red wire in there as well ??

I will start following the affect receptales where it not working and go from there.

The situation you descrirbing with NCV you have a broken hot connection somewhere along the circuit.

Merci,Marc
 
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Old 01-02-10, 04:54 PM
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Originally Posted by french277V View Post
The other thing it kinda crossed my mind any chance did you have dimmer switch on that circuit ?

If so any short circuit will fry the dimmer very fast.

For majotry of DIY'ers I can understand buying a NCV {non concat voltage tester } tester but the digtail voltmeter is not bad item if used right however they are very senstive to the ghost voltage { there are a bit details been talking in this fourm from time to time so goggle it }

Really the other nice item I will suggest is a neon test light that useally take care of ghost voltage issue.

I did look at the ceiling box did you have red wire in there as well ??

I will start following the affect receptales where it not working and go from there.

The situation you descrirbing with NCV you have a broken hot connection somewhere along the circuit.

Merci,Marc
There is a dimmer switch on a light in the bedroom that is connected to the circuit breaker in question, but it is still working.

No red wire... just black, white, and ground.
 

Last edited by pcboss; 01-02-10 at 07:08 PM. Reason: fixed quote
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Old 01-02-10, 05:05 PM
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The simple and fastest and safest way to rule out the bad receptale connection is take one of your table lamp and plug the affected one if that light do come on or not if not and make a counts how many other receptales that not getting power.

Keep in your mind the digtail voltmeter is very senstive and not always be correct.

Once you know which one is not working then turn off the breaker and look at the connection I know backstabbed recpectales are worst they are good for loose connections so get with screw verison and screw it down and the same time check the wire nuts if in the junction box to see if they are tight if they are loose that is good to put in new one due the old one will loose the tenson over the time.

Merci,Marc
 
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Old 01-02-10, 07:02 PM
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Are you perhaps not wanting to work on the electric outlets?

If you don't feel comfortable doing this, that is quite alright. Not a very big problem, so an electrician wouldn't charge too much.

Or perhaps you might not know how to switch them to being wired with the screws...

What you can do is get a battery operated light source, then turn off the main power to the WHOLE house, then you are safe and also have light to see what you are doing.

You can pull an outlet out of the wall. Then you can put sticky labels on the wires to remember where each wire goes.

Then pull hard on the outlet while twisting clockwise and then counter-clockwise. Back and forth. Then the wires will slowly come out of the back holes.

What I would do at this point is cut off the old bare parts of the wires and strip new bare parts. Clean and fresh connections for the screws!

Then use needle nose pliers and you can bend the wires into a curved shape so they will go around the screw.

The wires with the bend in them should look like this...
http://www.hammerzone.com/archives/e.../elrcxc14a.jpg

Then place the wire around the screw like this...
http://www.hammerzone.com/archives/e.../elrcxc26a.jpg

(Notice the open end of the wire is the same direction the screw turns to tighten.)

Then further close the loop on the wire like this...
http://www.hammerzone.com/archives/e.../elrcxc27a.jpg

Then tighten the screw.
 
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Old 01-02-10, 07:07 PM
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I'm ok with switching them out.... I'm in the process right now. 3 down, 5 to go. I'm ok with the process, it's just tedious, and I don't want to do it all and then still have it not work. But I'm doing it, and keeping my fingers crossed!! Stay tuned.... Again, thank you all so much!
 
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Old 01-02-10, 07:09 PM
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Also be aware that some outlets are switched with a wall switch.

In some cases, the top part of the outlet is always on and the bottom is controlled by the switch.

Just rewire the new outlet with each wire going to the same place as with the old outlet...

But on one side of the outlet, there will be a tab broken off between the two brass screws. Do the same on the same side with the new outlet. Use needle nose pliers to break the tab. Do not break the tab on the silver side.

Here is what that tab looks like...
http://ww2.justanswer.com/uploads/mi...ptacle_tab.jpg
 

Last edited by pcboss; 01-02-10 at 07:22 PM. Reason: added tab color
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Old 01-02-10, 08:58 PM
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I am on the very last outlet..... and now I'm stumped. This outlet is wired to a switch. There are 3 white wires on one side, and 2 black and 1 red on the other side. My question is, the outlets I have been doing, only have 4 screws (2 on each side), what do I do with the 5th and 6th wire??
 
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Old 01-02-10, 09:09 PM
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The three white wires would be wire nutted to a pigtail and the pigtail would go to either of the silver screws.

Open up the controlling switch and verify the red wire goes to the switch. Check the tab was broken on the brass side of the old receptacle. If so break the tab on the new receptacle.

Fasten the red wire to one brass screw. Connect the two black wires to a pigtail and connect the pigtail to the other brass screw.

Since you said there were no screws how did they have this connected before without using pigtails?
 
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Old 01-02-10, 09:25 PM
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4 holes to each side of the old outlets. Make sense now?
 
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Old 01-02-10, 09:57 PM
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Thanks for bringing that up that did click on my mind that is one of old style Hubbel or Slater both have 8 holes in back of the receptale.{ I don't see that in resdentail not too often but commercal side yeah }

And at the same time while you are at the switch box you may want to double check the connections in the switch box as well both hot and netural conductors to make sure they are not out of ornarly just make sure the wirenuts are tight and screws are tight.

Merci,Marc
 
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Old 01-02-10, 10:07 PM
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Learn something new every day. Thanks for the picture. Be sure that the two black wires I told you to pigtail together were in side by side holes. If not post back.
 
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Old 01-03-10, 11:49 AM
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Ok, replaced all of the outlets and still no power. What's the next step? Do I need to check the light switches associated with the circuit in question now?

Yes ray, the 2 black wires were side by side.
 
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Old 01-03-10, 01:08 PM
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This is a flip of the coin but I'd check light fixtures next. I'd pull and replace the wire nuts.

There is a wild card we haven't discussed. There could be a junction box in the attic or basement that is the culprit. You did say some of the fixtures on the circuit were working? If so that rules out a bad breaker. You did check all the receptacles not just the ones that don't work?
 
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Old 01-03-10, 04:21 PM
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I only replaced the outlets that I knew had no power. The range of this circuit breaker seems huge - it is possible that a working outlet is the culprit, if I am understanding you correctly??

I checked 2 of the light switches - one did not have any more wires than attach to the receptacle, but the other one had an abundance of wires in the back of the box. I didn't do anything except check the wire nuts, (only touched it to make sure it was secure) and then turned the electricity back on. When I did that, I must have left the light switch on, because when I came back in the house, the light was on. When I turned the light off, the huge bundle of black wires made a frying noise and lit up the wire nut. I did not attempt to turn it back on, but checked to make sure all of the things that weren't working still weren't, and the things that were still were.

At this point, I think I will be calling an electrician in the AM. One zap I can deal with, two was a little too much for me. And as I've said before, I don't trust the wiring in this house.

But thank you all so much for trying to help!
 
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Old 01-03-10, 04:34 PM
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If you will look back up at my diagram you will see I show the fault occurring at a working receptacle. I know my drawing is rough but if you follow the arrows showing the path of the electricity it should help you understand.
 
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Old 01-03-10, 04:39 PM
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Yes, I do see that. And I do appreciate those drawings you did as I am a visual learner! I was really just hoping it would be easier!! haha What do you make of the new sparking? And if I do decide to check more receptacles, ones that are linked to GFCI - could they be a culprit too, or no?
 
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Old 01-03-10, 04:53 PM
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It is hard to say. There is no easy answer. I have seen a bedroom receptacle in an old house go dead because of a poor connection at a living room ceiling fan. In my own house I have abandoned cable to a dead receptacle and ran new because I couldn't find the problem. If I had your problem I might do some creative trouble shooting I would never recommend. My bottom line opinion is at this point a fresh set of pro eyes might be best so agree it may be time to call an electrician.
 
 

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