Receptacle not working


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Old 10-18-10, 10:18 AM
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Receptacle not working

I'm having trouble with one receptacle on a circuit. I have replaced the receptacle, and several others on the line. Everything on the circuit is working except for this receptacle and an exterior light fixture (which I can't find the switch to). I tested both with a volt meter. The hot line to the light seems to be getting power, but the lights do not work. May be a problem with the fixture itself since it is old. The hot wire to the outlet reads power sometimes, but not always. I plugged a circuit detector into the outlet, and it reads Open Hot. The receptacle that isn't working is on a wall that used to be an exterior wall of the house, but is now part of a room addition. Other items on the circuit include: dishwasher, outlet under kitchen sink (with switch), 2 Bedrooms (each with 3 outlets and a light fixture), and a bathroom light. I'm guessing the house was built in the 60s or 70s. Any ideas on where the problem could be, how to find it, and how to fix it?
 
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Old 10-18-10, 11:37 AM
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The problem is most likely to be a loose connection or burned wire in one of the boxes on this circuit. This problem is commonly found at backstabbed switches or receptacles where the wire is just pushed into the hole instead of wrapped around the screw.

To fix it you need to open up each switch, light and receptacle on the circuit until you find the bad connection. Remake any wirenut connections, move backstabs to adjacent screws. The most likely spot is at the first non-working or last working device on the circuit.

As a future project (or part of this one if you're ambitious) I recommend installing a new circuit for the dishwasher and disposal and perhaps separating the bedrooms. The existing circuit is overloaded by modern standard.
 
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Old 10-18-10, 01:22 PM
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There is a switch in the hallway that doesn't (seemingly) work anything. It is backstabbed, but my voltage detector doesn't read any power coming into it through the hot wire. Since it isn't getting power either way, I can't figure out which breaker its on (or even what it controls). What are your thoughts on this? Its pretty far from the exterior light that I can't find the switch for, and the exterior light reads power whether or not the switch is on.
 
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Old 10-18-10, 01:42 PM
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There is a switch in the hallway that doesn't (seemingly) work anything. It is backstabbed
If there are only two wires it may be a switch loop. Look in the back of the box to be sure there are no wires you are not seeing. If it once served a receptacle it may have been disconnected. Do you have any receptacles with a disconnected cable?

Are you using a non-contact tester?
 
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Old 10-18-10, 01:49 PM
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There are only two wires. No other wires in the back of the box. No receptacles with a disconnected cable. The one outlet and the exterior light are the only things not working. I have been trying to trace the flow of electricity, but it has been much harder than it should be. If I disconnect an item (receptacle, light, or switch), everything downstream should stop working, while everything upstream should still work, correct? Also, can I disconnect a light from the switch, or do I have to actually take the wire nut off in the fixture?
 
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Old 10-18-10, 02:12 PM
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Originally Posted by justin.brown.86 View Post
everything downstream should stop working, while everything upstream should still work, correct?
Correct. Circuits can also "fork", it is not always a chain.

Also, can I disconnect a light from the switch, or do I have to actually take the wire nut off in the fixture?
I recommend taking the wirenuts off. Wires can twist off inside the nut and you cannot tell visually until you take it apart.
 
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Old 10-18-10, 07:04 PM
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Ok, I'm still having problems backtracking from the outlet and finding the problem. I have created a simple jpeg file of a floor plan/circuit diagram (to the best of my very limited knowledge). Since I can't attach it, (says I don't have permission). Anyone know how I can post it? or I can email it to anyone who wouldn't mind taking a look. Any takers? I'm trying to find where else I should check for a loose connection. Attic?
 

Last edited by justin.brown.86; 10-18-10 at 07:21 PM.
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Old 10-18-10, 07:57 PM
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Anyone know how I can post it?
http://forum.doityourself.com/electr...your-post.html
 
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Old 10-18-10, 08:20 PM
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Thanks. Here's the diagram. What should I check next?

CircuitDiagram.jpg picture by justin_brown_86 - Photobucket
 
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Old 10-19-10, 11:36 AM
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Ok here's an update. Spent some time in the attic today, which cleared things up quite a bit. The receptacle is fed from the ceiling fan/light in the adjacent bedroom. That fan also feeds another outlet in the bedroom, which in turn feeds the bathroom light/switch. When I tightened the hot and neutral wire nuts in the ceiling fan fixture, I got a much better power reading with the non-contact tester at the outlet. Now I can detect current on both the hot and neutral sides (before it was only on the hot side, and not all the time). Outlet still isn't working though. In the ceiling fan fixture, there is a neutral nutted to 3 hots, and then a set of 4 neutrals nutted together. Does that sound off?
 
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Old 10-19-10, 11:39 AM
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Originally Posted by justin.brown.86 View Post
there is a neutral nutted to 3 hots, and then a set of 4 neutrals nutted together. Does that sound off?
It's a switch leg. In that case the white wire is actually a re-identified hot, not a neutral. Modern practice would require it to be marked with colored tape, but old ones were not marked.
 
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Old 10-19-10, 11:45 AM
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I got a much better power reading with the non-contact tester
You always need to re-check with an analog multimeter, test light, or solenoid tester.
In the ceiling fan fixture, there is a neutral nutted to 3 hots,
Just because a wire is white doesn't mean it is a neutral. In this case the white is probably the "power out" wire of a switch loop.

Tech note: The white wire should have been marked black or red or any color but green or gray or white but wasn't. A very common occurrence.
 
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Old 10-19-10, 11:59 AM
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So how does this switch loop work? Power goes from an outlet to the fan/light, then to the switch, an outlet that works, and an outlet that doesn't work. Don't have any other tester right now, so i just have to make this one work the best I can.
 
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Old 10-19-10, 02:09 PM
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Originally Posted by justin.brown.86 View Post
So how does this switch loop work? Power goes from an outlet to the fan/light, then to the switch, an outlet that works, and an outlet that doesn't work. Don't have any other tester right now, so i just have to make this one work the best I can.
A bit confused by that but a switch loop basically works like this, The power source would be at the light. The re-marked white of a 2-conductor cable carries power to the switch then the black carries it back to the light. If you have a separately controlled fan and light then a three conductor cable is used. As before white carries the power to the switches and red carries back power to one device and black to the other device.

 
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Old 10-19-10, 02:37 PM
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Thanks. Got it. Did a little research earlier and was able to wire the mystery hall switch to control the exterior light, which is now working. Whoever added the dishwasher onto the circuit just nutted all the hots and neutrals together in the junction box, and left the switch out all together. So the exterior light was getting constant power, but the contacts on the fixture had corroded. After putting the switch loop in, and changing the fixture, we have a working light. So now back to the outlet... I bypassed the fan/light in the bedroom by disconnecting everything, then nutting the hot in with the hot out, and same w/ neutrals. Voltage detector still picks up a current, but the outlet still doesn't work. May be another junction box at the edge of the attic (since the problem outlet is on what used to be an exterior wall). Or how likely is it that there is a break somewhere in the line?
 
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Old 10-19-10, 02:46 PM
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And sorry for the confusion. Will be easier to explain with the picture...

CircuitDiagram.jpg picture by justin_brown_86 - Photobucket

I was just saying that power comes from the main, forks and goes to the kitchen, exterior light, and outlet B1. From B1, power flows to Light B4, then on to outlets B2, B3, and X. I'm thinking that there is a fork somewhere that I haven't found, because when I bypassed the ceiling light/fan and sent power only toward outlet X, outlet B2 stayed powered. Outlet X in on the end of a run. Sound like a hidden fork?
 
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Old 10-19-10, 03:25 PM
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Receptacles

About you diagram: Do you have only one receptacle in the Living room? Are there receptacles in the third bedroom?
 
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Old 10-19-10, 03:56 PM
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There are more receptacles in each room, but they are all on different circuits. Everything on the diagram is on one circuit. I just came out of the attic (crawling as far as i could get toward the eave of the original house) and the wire goes down into the wall directly above the problem outlet. I'm now fairly certain that there is a junction somewhere in that wall, above the outlet, because power continues to the outlet B2 in the bedroom and then to C1 C2 C3 C4 and C5. Also, I pulled on the wire with a spotter watching and the outlet didn't move. Does any of that sound logical?
 
 

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