Outlet shuts off and resets but breaker never trips

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  #1  
Old 05-16-13, 08:17 PM
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Outlet shuts off and resets but breaker never trips

This is a weird one. I have a kitchen island on a dedicated 20A circuit. It was installed about 8 years ago and has never had any problems. There are two outlets. I have a 1100W microwave that I bought 6 months ago plugged into one. (I used to have a 1200W microwave, but it died and I replaced it.)
In the last couple days, the microwave has been shutting off after ~ 15 seconds. Dead. No power to it or to the other outlet. After about 30 seconds, it comes back on. When I check the breaker, it hasn't tripped. If I plug something that doesn't draw much into either outlet, the line doesn't trip. If I plug the microwave into a different circuit, it works fine. (For what it's worth, the wiring is 12ga romex.)
Bad breaker? Intermittent short? Evil spirits?
 
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Old 05-16-13, 08:21 PM
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As a test swap the wire to the suspect breaker with the wire on a known good breaker of the same amp rating. If you no longer have the problem the suspect breaker is bad.
 
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Old 05-16-13, 09:31 PM
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I'm wondering if there could be a GFI receptacle lurking in the line somewhere.
 
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Old 05-16-13, 10:07 PM
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I'm wondering if there could be a GFI receptacle lurking in the line somewhere.
One of those fancy self-resetting GFCI reclosers? Do they make em?

CloudHerder: Since you know it's 12ga romex I assume that means you have popped open the receptacle and examined everything and nothing loose? Sounds to me like the heat from your modest load is causing something to open up, which would explain it coming back on by itself and not breaking with a tiny load. Could be within the breaker as Ray said. If you've already checked all other connections.

For what it's worth, I recently installed a brand new El-Cheapo GFCI that did the exact same thing. As far as I could tell the blades weren't making good contact with the plug. Radio would work but not a hefty load like a space heater unless the angle was just right. Swapping it out with another one solved it.
 
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Old 05-17-13, 12:09 AM
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I'll give that a try in the morning. Thanks!
 
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Old 05-17-13, 03:27 AM
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a GFI receptacle lurking
On a kitchen island, I would think so. But since GFCI's don't trip on overload, it is still a mystery.
 
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Old 05-17-13, 09:45 AM
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I have a kitchen island on a dedicated 20A circuit. It was installed about 8 years ago and has never had any problems. There are two outlets.
Are the receptacles GFCI protected?
 
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Old 05-17-13, 01:13 PM
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I replaced the breaker. No change. I'm thinking core is right, that a modest load is causing something to open, and that once it cools it resets. Guess I'll be crawling around under my house this weekend.
P.S. as I recall, the circuit is a straight shot from the box to the outlets with no GFI receptacles anywhere inline.
 
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Old 05-17-13, 02:48 PM
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Guess I'll be crawling around under my house this weekend.
Why? Do you mean looking for a junction box with a bad connection?
 
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Old 05-17-13, 06:35 PM
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P.S. as I recall, the circuit is a straight shot from the box to the outlets with no GFI receptacles anywhere inline.
There should be a GFCI somewhere, probably at the first outlet. I'd check and/or replace the GFCI outlet first and then possibly the second outlet too if the problem isn't resolved.
 
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Old 05-17-13, 08:06 PM
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as I recall, the circuit is a straight shot from the box to the outlets with no GFI receptacles anywhere inline.
I'm curious. Not that it appears to have a bearing on your immediate problem, but how do you happen to have a small appliance branch circuit in your kitchen that doesn't have GFCI protection?

One other question: Was this wired as all or part of a multiwire branch circuit?
 
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Old 05-18-13, 01:04 PM
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Okay, problem solved (more or less). I got under my house and found the junction box. There was one wire in from the circuit panel and 4 lines out. That makes sense, since a 20A line seemed over-sized for just a kitchen island. The hot leads were twisted together and wrapped with electrical tape. It appears that over time the tape degraded and began insulating between the wires. I re-twisted the leads, crimped on a copper collar, and re-wrapped them with tape. The microwave is working again.
I tried tracing the other lines with limited success. (I live in Northern California where most of the houses are either slab or crawlspace. Mine is the latter, and I have less than 2' of clearance for crawling.) Two of the wires go up into the walls. I've been testing outlets and lights, but so far I can't find the other endpoints.
The house was built in '61. We had the service upgraded from 100A to 200A about 7 years ago. I should probably get a licensed electrician out to have a look. First, though, I'm gonna warm up some lunch in the microwave.
 
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Old 05-18-13, 01:41 PM
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I got under my house and found the junction box. There was one wire in from the circuit panel and 4 lines out. That makes sense, since a 20A line seemed over-sized for just a kitchen island.
A 20A circuit is the required size for a dedicated small appliance branch circuit.

I'm guessing that you found one cable in from the panel and four cables going out. so each splice contains 5 wires. Is that correct? If so, what do the other three cables feed?

The hot leads were twisted together and wrapped with electrical tape. It appears that over time the tape degraded and began insulating between the wires. I re-twisted the leads, crimped on a copper collar, and re-wrapped them with tape. The microwave is working again.
That is not a proper method of splicing ungrounded conductors. The five wires should each be stripped about 3/4", held so that the ends of the insulation are even, twisted together at least 3 good twists, clockwise. trimmed if needed, and protected with an appropriately sized wire nut.

All of the conductors in a 20A circuit must be 12 AWG or larger. I do this for a living, and I can make a 5-wire splice with #12 wires fit in a red wire nut on a really good day, if I hold my face just right. I would suggest that you use the big blue wire nuts. No tape should be used, and no copper crimp collar.

I tried tracing the other lines with limited success.
Go back to the J-box and take any one load wire out of the ungrounded conductor (hot wire) splice. See what stopped working. Label that cable, reconnect its hot wire and disconnect another one. You'll find them all.

The house was built in '61. We had the service upgraded from 100A to 200A about 7 years ago. I should probably get a licensed electrician out to have a look.
Who did the upgrade? Didn't they have a license? Or did they just replace the meter base and main panel?

First, though, I'm gonna warm up some lunch in the microwave.
 
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Old 05-18-13, 02:12 PM
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Thanks for the advice Nashkat1. Yes, the person who upgraded the service was licensed. I wouldn't think of having a hobbyist do that kind of job.
That said, there's clearly a fair amount of DIY electrical work that's been done to the house over the years. We bought it in '96, and there was already a lot of stuff that wasn't close to code. (There was one J-box in the kitchen that had to be broken out into 5 separate circuits.)
I can do basic wiring, but as I said I think it's time for me to get a professional out for a more comprehensive look. If you can recommend anyone in the Bay Area, let me know!
 
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Old 05-18-13, 07:12 PM
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I can do basic wiring, but as I said I think it's time for me to get a professional out for a more comprehensive look. If you can recommend anyone in the Bay Area, let me know!
I don't and, in addition to that. we don't offer references or referrals here.

That said, I will offer you my time-tested method for finding the best electrician or roofer or painter or whatever in your area who is also prepared to meet your specific needs. Ask your neighbors. Find out which of them has had work done by a licensed contractor within the last 5 or so years. Ask them what their experience was like. Without going into boring detail, describe what you need, or would like, to have done. Then make an assessment, and a decision, based on what you've learned.

There is one important thing that you, as the homeowner, can do right away: Map your system. I suggested part of that when I described how to determine what each of the four load cable that are spliced to one supply under your house actually feeds.

Here's the method: Sketch a floor plan of your house. On that sketch, use a symbol to show the location of every electrical outlet. That is, every box, whether it is for a receptacle, a switch, a light fixture, a major appliance, or just splices. Use a circuit breaker finder or a lamp or a radio to determine which circuit feeds each receptacle. Ask someone to tell you when lights go off and on as you flip breakers. Put the number of the circuit next to each symbol on the sketch.

This will tell you, and any professional you hire, a ton of useful and time-saving information. It should save you money if you hire someone and it may show you where you can do some work yourself. You can post it here and ask for insight if you like.
 
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Old 05-18-13, 07:49 PM
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If you're going to map all your circuits and don't have a toner or a helper, pick up a cheap edison base receptacle adapter. You know, one of those thingamabobs that you screw into a light socket and then you have a receptacle. (I'd never use one of those for anything but this

Plug a radio into that and turn it up real loud. Makes finding those lighting circuits much easier by yourself.

If I was in your position I wouldn't hire an electrician to go over every square inch of my house (time = $$$) just looking for problems which may or may not exist. As you're mapping out your circuits you can make a list of specific stuff that you might need to hire someone to fix, or at least ask about. Certainly crimp-and-tape jobs would be high on my list to fix.

Just because something isn't up to _current_ code doesn't mean it's suddenly unsafe because the new code cycle came out with another nanny provision. There's absolutely no reason that you should tear up kitchen walls because some idiot plugged an electric skillet into an 18ga extension cord years ago. And legally you're not required to, even if selling the house. It's certainly not the intent of the code for folks to have to fork out bucks to electricians every 3 years.
 
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Old 05-19-13, 02:00 PM
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Thanks core, and I agree. I'm not looking for problems where none exist. On the other hand, though, I would like to know what the 4 lines out of the one junction box go to. Some are 12 ga and some are 14 ga. If I find one of the 14's is going to, say, an outlet I use for an electric heater, I might choose a different outlet.
Plus mapping out the circuits will give me a project to do with my son.
 
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Old 05-19-13, 02:19 PM
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I'm not looking for problems where none exist. On the other hand, though, I would like to know what the 4 lines out of the one junction box go to. Some are 12 ga and some are 14 ga.
You said this is a 20A circuit. The presence of 14 AWG conductors in that circuit is an existing problem.

14 AWG is only rated for 15A. Those conductors can, and will, overheat and start a fire before the 20A breaker will trip. They need to be disconnected from the 20A supply and fed with a properly protected supply asap.

there's clearly a fair amount of DIY electrical work that's been done to the house over the years. We bought it in '96, and there was already a lot of stuff that wasn't close to code.
Yep. You just pointed to one more example.

Given this, I would add wire size to that system map you and your son will be working on. Good job you spotted it.
 
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