Over Half of the upstairs outlets stopped working

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  #1  
Old 01-31-14, 11:53 PM
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Over Half of the upstairs outlets stopped working

This has us, my Mom and I, perplexed. I turned my tv on in my bedroom this evening and thought my tv died, it started to come on but then nothing. Then my Mom calls out asking if I "blew a fuse" since her bedroom and the "middle room" was in darkness. This was very odd as the entire upstairs is on one switch in the circuit box, and if the "fuse blows" then the entire upstairs goes out. Only this time only the outlet that my tv is plugged into was affected in my room.

Let me try explaing what is now going on. My bedroom now has two outlets that are working, and one dead. The bathroom has two outlets and a ceiling fan that are dead. Our middle room has three outlets that are dead, and my moms room has one working outlet and two dead. All of the outlets were working before I turned on my tv.

Went and checked the circuit breaker in the basement and nothing was tripped. This being an old house (wiring was never redone after my parents bought the home in 1973 with the exception of having a circuit box installed to replace the old fuse box), we also do not have Any GFCI outlets. There's no hidden sockets, no garage or anything holding a hidden outlet. Like I said, when the circuit is tripped the entire upstairs goes out, not just 3/4's of the outlets. So having some outlets working and some not has never happened before.

I replaced the socket that my tv plugs into but that didn't fix anything. We're at a loss here. And since we literally have no money for an electrician I was hoping to get suggestions on things to check ourselves.
 
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  #2  
Old 02-01-14, 04:43 AM
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The circuit wires up from the fuse box or breaker panel are daisy chained from one outlet box (possibly including switch boxes) to the next. Occasionally there is a "T" connection at an outlet box where the wires continue off in two different directions. Your next task is to find out in which box (e.g. at which receptacle) a bad connection has occurred.

Since you said that one circuit (one fuse) controls the entire upstairs, it is possible that the problem is at one of the receptacles that is still live. Electricians often say "at the last live receptacle or at the first dead receptacle."

It is extremely rare for the problem (a broken wire) to be between two boxes, buried in the wall.

During your analysis you will open up one or more outlet boxes. You should label each wire before unhooking it and also save the old switch or receptacle until everything is fully repaired. This is so you could put it back the way you found it in case the problem was somewhere else. Failure to do this has often resulted in making the situatin much more complicated and necessitating the hiring of a professional seemingly unnecessarily.

Also, while a box is open, if the receptacle has been connected using push-in holes in the back, it is suggested that you release the wire(s) from these holes and connect the wires to the nearest respective screw terminals instead. The screw terminals are much more reliable.

Holes in the back where a screw on the side is used to clamp the wire in place inside (and the wire cannot rotate) are not unreliable. Here, just give the screw a partial turn to tighten it a bit more.
 

Last edited by AllanJ; 02-01-14 at 05:08 AM.
  #3  
Old 02-01-14, 05:43 AM
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Does the house have aluminum wiring? If so the process will be a little different when making the repair.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 06:02 AM
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Even if none of the breakers were tripped, flip each one off & on anyway. If that doesn't do anything, you could have a lost neutral somewhere.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 07:32 AM
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Thanks for the replies guys. First, my Mom says we do not have aluminum wires, I saw that myself on changing the one outlet in my room last night. They were thick copper, two white/two black.

She's going to pick up multiple new outlets today, so it looks like I'll be spending the evening/night/tomorrow opening/replacing all the outlets hoping one is the culprit. If not I don't know what we're going to do.

And yes, I had flipped the circuit breaker many times last night when I was trying to get the lights back on, even flipped the house main power off/on switch.

One other thing is bothering me, we have two ceiling fans, one in the bathroom, one in the middle room. If the problem is in the wiring of one of those I have no idea how to check. My Dad installed those and he passed away in 2006.
 
  #6  
Old 02-01-14, 07:45 AM
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There is a troubleshooting sticky at the top of this forum that may also help you.

We can help if the problem is in a fan or light junction box.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 09:14 AM
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She's going to pick up multiple new outlets today, so it looks like I'll be spending the evening/night/tomorrow opening/replacing all the outlets
Why? The likelihood of one receptacle failing is probably less then 1%. Unless it burns up or gets very loose there aren't really any parts that are likely to fail. Multiple receptacles failing isn't even on the probability charts. You need to instead follow the tutorial at the top of the page including using your multimeter to determine where the problem is. Instead of wasting money on receptacles if you don't have a multimeter spend $8-$15 on a cheap analog, not digital, multimeter and get to testing. See: http://www.doityourself.com/forum/el...ther-info.html Now in all fairness if you have a loose connection replacing a receptacle may fix the problem but not because the one you removed is bad but because you fixed a loose connection.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 12:19 PM
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Did you turn all the breakers all the way off and then back to on? Sometimes they can be hard to tell that they are tripped.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 01:25 PM
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Bought a ten pack of outlets for $3.98 at Lowes. We don't own a multimeter (don't know what that even is or how to use one) and didn't know we needed one, so just going to go ahead and do the replacing of the outlets. If replacing the outlets doesn't solve the problem we're totally screwed and will just have to start dealing with extension cords and plug in what we can from downstairs until we can save up and afford to call an electrician.
 
  #10  
Old 02-01-14, 01:34 PM
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I saw that myself on changing the one outlet in my room last night. They were thick copper, two white/two black.
If those four wires were connected to the four screw terminals on the receptacle, and if the terminations were made that way at every receptacle, then the problem may be that the connecting tab between a pair of terminals has failed. In that case you will need to replace that receptacle to have both halves work.

Also, if that's what happened, a plug-in receptacle tester will show you that one receptacle is good and the other isn't at that location. So the first test I would make would be to test every receptacle, both top and bottom, with a plug-in tester.

In order to keep this from happening in the future, it is also best practice to splice the two black conductors together and add an 8" black pigtail to the splice, and terminate the pigtail to the receptacle. Then do the same, with a white pigtail, with the two (or more) white conductors. You should be able to buy a few feet of black and white THHN - #14 for a 15A circuit and #12 for a 20A circuit - when you're getting the analog multimeter.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 01:44 PM
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If replacing the outlets doesn't solve the problem we're totally screwed and will just have to start dealing with extension cords and plug in what we can from downstairs until we can save up and afford to call an electrician.
Repairing the failure you have by replacing the receptacles is a very long shot at best. You may fix the actual cause by happenstance as you're doing that work though. But that doesn't mean you're out of options and have to hire someone to do it for you.

See my last post above. Buy the analog multimeter and a plug-in receptacle tester. We can answer any questions the included instructions don't answer on using the multimeter, and we'll be here to answer questions about things that you find and don't understand as you do the work.

Have you read the piece Ray linked to yet?
 
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Old 02-01-14, 02:05 PM
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I read the article but didn't find it useful. The circuit breaker was checked, flipped several times, no change.

We have no GFCI outlets, so that doesn't apply.

I don't belive any of the outlets are backstabbed. My Dad tried doing things the right way and everthing I've seen over the years has been done with the exposed ends curved and attached with the screws, not backstabbed.

With the way the house is wired it's impossible for me to tell the first outlet from the last, so going to just go room by room replacing the outlets and hope it gets fixed. Buying those two items for testing is not possible at the moment, so the only option I have is to just go do the replacing.

Honestly, I'm not a handy person, most of this is way over my head...
 
  #13  
Old 02-01-14, 02:18 PM
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so going to just go room by room replacing the outlets and hope it gets fixed.
But no need to replace. Just remove and reinstall. Just as likely to fix it. And receptacles there are probably better quality then the ultra cheap 40 ones you bought.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 02:47 PM
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I'm guessing most of the upstairs outlets are pre 1990, with the exception of the bathroom outlets which were replaced around 2000. If this does work we'll probably end up eventually replacing the new cheap outlets with better ones when we can afford better. I saw a usb charging outlet at Lowes that I definitely want/need, but at $24 it was Way out of our current price range. Finger crossed, getting to work on this shortly.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 02:58 PM
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What do you mean by you flipped "THE circuit breaker"? You have to flip all of them. How can you possibly know what breaker controls what for sure, especially if your father did some of the electrical work? Replacing all those outlets is a waste of time & $3.98.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 03:35 PM
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You can get a cheap electrical meter for about $10 that will do everything you need. We can tell you how to use it.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 03:42 PM
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I mean I flipped the circuit breaker, you know, the little switches that show red when blown. I flipped them, back and forth, and the big one that turns the entire house on/off. Same as I always do when we blow a fuse.

As far as a $10 meter, haven't got $10, haven't got $5. The $3.98 was pushing it.

Replaced all the outlets in the middle room, no change once the power was flipped back on. On to my room now.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 03:47 PM
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Finger crossed, getting to work on this shortly.
Possibly a waste of time. Certainly a waste of money. If you're so worried about not having enough money, why are you planning to throw some away? And what's the use of starting to work on something if you don't know what's wrong with it?

If this does work we'll probably end up eventually replacing the new cheap outlets with better ones when we can afford better.
The ones you have in the walls now may be better quality devices than the ones you bought. Replacing them may increase problems and reduce your safety.

I saw a usb charging outlet at Lowes that I definitely want/need, but at $24 it was Way out of our current price range.
That's a choice you can make. FWIW, my wife and I both work from our home offices and we own a trunk full of devices that need low-voltage charging. We might like (want) to have one of those cute devices, but it's not something we need.
 

Last edited by Nashkat1; 02-01-14 at 04:56 PM.
  #19  
Old 02-01-14, 04:28 PM
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Of course there was no change when you replaced the outlets in the middle room. No one here thought that there would be.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 04:35 PM
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I know how much fun it is to play the "I told you so" card, but lets keep posts helpful. Everybody has a process.

@ scranton76: Let us know if you find your issue or not. If not, we can then direct you to other trouble shooting.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 04:47 PM
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In that case, I'll repeat myself & mention a lost neutral again.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 04:59 PM
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In that case, I'll repeat myself & mention a lost neutral again.
Yep. That's one of the reasons I said I would start by using a plug-in tester.
 
  #23  
Old 02-01-14, 05:13 PM
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Alrighty, so I now have six of the nine new outlets installed, no change so far. That just leaves the three in moms room, which I'll replace tomorrow. If that fails then that's all I can do except digging around the house for extension cords.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 06:13 PM
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While your changing things out are you checking the connections of any other splices in the boxes?
 
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Old 02-01-14, 06:15 PM
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If that fails then that's all I can do except digging around the house for extension cords.
No, that isn't all you can do. It isn't all you're capable of doing. It is what you're choosing to do.

One thing you can do is listen carefully when people talk to you. You can try to hear the intent that's in what they're saying, and the reason that they're saying it.

Another thing you can do is listen carefully to yourself. You can try to hear what you really need, and why you need it.

Let me give you an example based in this experience. You could have returned the box of receptacles you bought to Lowe's. For roughly the same money you could have bought 5 feet of black wire and 5 feet of white wire of the appropriate gauge, and some wire nuts.

You could have gone from receptacle to receptacle and inspected each one to see if it was in good working condition. You could have inspected the wires in each box to see if they were in good condition. You could have corrected any problems you found, and you could have put everything back together with 6" pigtails for the terminations.

It's a choice you made. It's not our choice and it's not a choice that was dictated by your abilities. It's just a choice you made. You can make a different choice at any time. That's your choice too.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 06:29 PM
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I don't know anything about splices, didn't see anything like that. There's just enough wire in each box to pull the outlet out about three inches, barely enough to work with, so if there are any they're inside the wall behind the boxes, which I didn't mess with.
 
  #27  
Old 02-01-14, 06:43 PM
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Nashkat, that is out of my range of doing. I don't know what gauge our wire is or how even find that out, what wire nuts are, or what pigtails and terminations are. Up till last night the closest I've ever gotten to anything electrical was plugging stuff in and resetting the circuit breaker. I'm not a DIY type person at all. These types of things are not something I've ever wanted to do, so replacing the outlets and having the few that still worked actually still work after replacing them is pretty good from my viewpoint.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 06:46 PM
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Scranton76, In case I didn't mention a lost neutral twice today, go back to the cellar & open the panel box & the junction boxes. You will find the answer in one of those places.
 
  #29  
Old 02-01-14, 07:16 PM
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This is getting comical...no clue what a lost neutral is...and the only thing I know of in the cellar is the circuit breaker box...our basement is an unfinished, dark, rock walled, dirt & cobweb filled cave, if there are other boxes down there I didn't see them. Will look snd see what's down there tomorrow I guess.
 
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Old 02-01-14, 07:41 PM
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Good idea! I'm glad you thought of it.

http://pad3.whstatic.com/images/thum...-12Bullet1.jpg

Neutral wire ^^
 
  #31  
Old 02-01-14, 07:42 PM
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  • Pigtail: A short length of wire 6" to 8" long.
  • Wire Nut: A twist on wire connector also called a Bcap or Marriett.
  • Neutral: One of the two wires needed for an electric circuit. Always colored white or gray.
  • Open: A disconnected wire.
  • Open Neutral: A disconnected white or gray wire.

Wire nut: Name:  Wire nuts.jpg
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An example of a pigtail connection to a receptacle:
Name:  pigtail.jpg
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  #32  
Old 02-01-14, 07:58 PM
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One of the biggest reasons for doing things DIY is because you save money. It sounds like you do not have much of this to spare so, unless you have a friend or family member who can help, the internet (and this site) is your next best source. There are plenty of people here who are willing to help you out.

If you have any questions, just ask, or Google it.

FYI - A lost neutral is when the white wire (the neutral) gets interrupted somehow. A circuit needs to be a complete loop, black and white for it to work.

You do not need to see inside the walls (in most cases). All wire splices are required to be in a box and accessible. Inside one of those boxes is likely the splice that is causing your troubles. This could be any receptacle (outlet), switch, light fixture or even all the way back to the electrical panel.

Again, if you don't understand something, just ask, or Google it. The images section on Google is quite handy as a picture is worth a thousand words.

* As you can see others are typing faster then me so you got a lot of help here!
 
  #33  
Old 02-01-14, 09:07 PM
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I don't think you have an open neutral because you haven't seen any of the damage that one of those will usually cause, like light bulbs burning out right away and TVs getting fried. I think you have a problem with a loose or missing connection in the hot wires.

I also don't think your problem is in the basement, because you have power at each end of the top floor but not in the middle. That points to a break in the wiring after it gets to that floor, unless there are loads on other floors on this circuit.

The break could be in a switch box, as AllanJ said earlier, or in a box above a light fixture or a ceiling fan, or in a box in the attic. We'll just have to see.

And I could be wrong, but that what my hunches are, based on what you've told us.

Nashkat, that is out of my range of doing.
I get that it's outside your experience, Scranton, and that it may be outside your interests. That doesn't mean it's beyond your capability. You can do this, honestly.

I don't know what gauge our wire is or how even find that out.
The relevant question is what gauge wire do you need. To find out, read the number on the handle of the breaker for this circuit. If it says '15' you need 14 gauge wire. If it says '20' you need 12 gauge wire.
 
  #34  
Old 02-02-14, 02:18 AM
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As Allan said in an early post the problem can be in the last working receptacle or the first nonworking receptacle. Can you see if a friend has a meter or a plug in tester?

BTW, not to scare you, but many fires are caused by improperly used extension cords.
 
  #35  
Old 02-02-14, 04:46 AM
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As has been pointed out, very often the problem is at the last working receptacle. However, determining which of the working receptacles is the last one is often not easy / simple.

Look for water leaks / damage, not uncommon for a receptacle to get wet & problems to start.

Look at receptacles that have heavy loads , like cooking / heating appliances.

Look for receptacles that have the appliance plugged in and un-plugged often . Or the cord jerked out ( such as yanking the cord on a vacuum cleaner to unplug it ).

Here is the kicker, look for receptacles that are behind furniture. That you have long forgotten there is a receptacle there. Murphy's law dictates it will be the heaviest piece of furniture in the house. :-(

And do not forget to check receptacles on the opposite sides of walls? After all else is checked, it may be a splice in a switch box or overhead lighting box.

Did you check outside receptacles (they often get wet & go bad). Even worse if it has a GFI, even though you said there are none. GFI receptacles are often used for kitchen / bathroom counter tops, garages, and outside plugs.

Lost neutral. If it is 3 wire Romex, the neutral and / or the "hot" can be tested against the bare ground wire.

A "hot" neutral tested to the ground is a sure sign you have lost a neutral. A hot that is dead, tested against the ground means you have lost the hot. Testing with 2 wire Romes is a little more difficult.

God bless
Wyr
 

Last edited by Nashkat1; 02-02-14 at 12:46 PM. Reason: Change terminology
  #36  
Old 02-02-14, 11:06 AM
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very often the problem is at the last working plug . However , determining which of the working plugs is the last one , is often not easy / simple .
To keep from undue confusion of the OP, I'd suggest using proper terminology. A plug is a male device with two or three prongs, is found on the end of a cord and plugs into a receptacle. Female devices are receptacles and will have plugs on cords plugged into them.
 
  #37  
Old 02-02-14, 12:46 PM
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To keep from undue confusion of the OP, I'd suggest using proper terminology. A plug is a male device with two or three prongs, is found on the end of a cord and plugs into a receptacle. Female devices are receptacles and will have plugs on cords plugged into them.
Thanks, Joe.

I edited post #35 to change the terminology. I'm hoping Wyr will appreciate that.
 
  #38  
Old 02-02-14, 01:30 PM
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Changed the outlets in my moms room, no change. None of the outlets I've been into have had any extra wiring tucked away. Also found two boxes in the basement, small square silver metal with screwed on covers. None of the wires in there looked scorched so not messing with those and accidentally make things worse.

At this point I'm done, we're not going to be probing into this any further and are just going to deal with making do with extension cords until we can hire an electrician. Thanks for all the input.
 
  #39  
Old 02-02-14, 01:36 PM
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That's what you need to test, the two junction boxes, in the cellar. One time all I had to do was make the wire nut tighter & I had juice.
 
  #40  
Old 02-02-14, 02:16 PM
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No problem with editing my terminology .

To the OP , have you inspected any of the 2nd floor receptacles , that are still hot ? Near one or more of the " dead " ones . Most likely , that is where you will find the fault . And , as I said , it has a good chance og being one behind furniture . And you forgot or never knew it was even there .

Or , look on opposite sides of the wall for other receptacles .

God bless
Wyr
 
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