weird electrical problem...not sure where to start

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  #1  
Old 07-13-12, 09:38 AM
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weird electrical problem...not sure where to start

I have one circuit where the lights do not work, but the receptacles do. Since power is getting to the circuit, where would I start to diagnose the problem?
A few weeks ago, one of the lights started dimming in mid-day...I assume it was because the central air turned on and sometimes it will make the lights dim momentarily. Then one evening around 8 pm...all the lights went out on that circuit. Around 2 am, the power was "magically" restored and worked fine for about a week. Last night, the lights went out again mid-evening and still haven't come back on....the receptacles still work fine. The house was built in the mid-70s and has aluminum wiring; the electrical panel is new...replaced a few years ago.

any suggestions where to start?
 
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Old 07-13-12, 09:44 AM
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I'd start by looking at the connections in the box where the switch for the lights is and seeing whether you have 120 volts coming in to the box.
 
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Old 07-13-12, 09:44 AM
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I think you have a connection that is loose, especially since you mention aluminum wiring. Now it is an easter egg hunt to find it. You will need to check every connection on that circuit. You will need to make sure all the devices are listed for use with aluminum wiring.
 
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Old 07-13-12, 09:57 AM
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Welcome to the forums!

I have one circuit where the lights do not work, but the receptacles do. Since power is getting to the circuit, where would I start to diagnose the problem?
See Troubleshooting a dead receptacle or light.

The house was built in the mid-70s and has aluminum wiring; the electrical panel is new...replaced a few years ago.
This sounds like something that could be caused by a connection that's starting to fail. Since your house has aluminum wiring, that's not surprising. You need to repair all the wiring by changing the ends of the aluminum conductors to copper.

We can get to more about that later. For now a little more information would be helpful. How many lights, how many switches, and how many receptacles are on this circuit? Where are they and what size is the breaker protecting the circuit?
 
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Old 07-13-12, 10:29 AM
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there are 3 lights/3 switches on circuit, two with a one-way switch (one with single light fixture in foyer, one with 3 fluorescent fixtures in basement and one 3-way switch with single light fixture in upstairs hallway. Receptacles are in basement (2) and one in living room - one in family room (bar fridge), one in utility room (washer and electronic ignition gas water heater); living room (table lamps) Circuit has standard 15 amp breaker
 
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Old 07-13-12, 11:22 AM
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there are 3 lights/3 switches on circuit, two with a one-way switch (one with single light fixture in foyer, one with 3 fluorescent fixtures in basement and one 3-way switch with single light fixture in upstairs hallway. Receptacles are in basement (2) and one in living room - one in family room (bar fridge), one in utility room (washer and electronic ignition gas water heater); living room (table lamps)
I'm seeing 5 light fixtures, 4 switches (counting the other half of the 3-way pair), and 5(?) receptacles on this circuit. Is that correct?

Circuit has standard 15 amp breaker
A 15A circuit may be fully loaded with what you describe, but that can only be known by adding up the exact draw of each load. More later if needed.

That said, I would start by tracing wires (cables) back toward the panel, to see if there's a point at which the lights and the receptacles part company. Is your panel in the basement?
 
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Old 07-13-12, 12:35 PM
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switch count is correct.
there are 3 receptacles total - 2 in basement and one in living room.
the panel is in basement...I may be able to trace circuit back to panel.
Unfortunately a previous homeowner did some sloppy wiring in basement which is on the problem circuit - I removed and/or repaired as much as I could access - he installed one of the basement receptacles in family room. This was fed from a light fixture which I removed and turned into a junction box a few years ago.
I'll have to assume the first light fixture nearest the panel is a good starting point.
 
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Old 07-13-12, 01:15 PM
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Since power is getting to the circuit
Are you sure it isn't two circuits. It would be odd for lighting and receptacles to all be on a single 15 amp circuit. What the other guys said......
 
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Old 07-13-12, 03:51 PM
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The house was wired in "zones" - i.e. master bedroom and main bathroom on one circuit (ceiling lights and all receptacles). The only area with lights and receptacles on separate circuits is in the kitchen.
 
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Old 07-13-12, 06:25 PM
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You have classic symptoms of a failed/burnt aluminum wire connection....somewhere. Don't let this go! If you cannot find this yourself very soon, get professional help, but by all means, be sure the help you hire is QUALIFIED to do aluminum wiring repairs. I hate to say this, but in my opinion, most electricians today are not sufficiently educated or qualified to be doing aluminum wiring repairs. There are a lot of guys who follow this forum who are knowledgeable and qualified and I know they'll jump in to help you. I know you are in Canada, but this publication can still be your first step to becoming educated on the hazards and repairs of aluminum wiring.

http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/pubs/516.pdf

It's all about safety. How important is the safety of your home and family to you?
 
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Old 07-14-12, 11:13 AM
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it was a loose connection after all....
I went to basement and backtracked from first non-working fixture - feeds from a junction box in ceiling. I had been working in that part of the basement this past week and likely smacked into the box with a 2 X 4. Opened up the box and re-tightened all the wire connectors.
 
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Old 07-14-12, 12:08 PM
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Glad you found it. Thanks for letting us know. I hope you didn't use a wire nut on that connection.
 
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