Very strange electrical issue in new apartment

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Old 03-15-14, 10:35 PM
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Exclamation Very strange electrical issue in new apartment

Hello, I am hoping one of the electricians or electrical gurus can help me and tell me what is possibly going on with the electricity in my apartment. My family recently moved in and we noticed the issue the first time we tried to hook up a TV to one of the coax cables coming from the wall in the living room. With a TV plugged into one of the 2 living room wall sockets, if you try to plug in either a coax cable or a HDMI cable, sparks fly from wherever you tried to plug it in, and it will often blow the breaker. The other end of the cable does not even have to be plugged into anything. This only happens with a TV plugged into either of the power outlets in the living room. It also occurs with 3 different televisions, so I am sure it was not the TV malfunctioning. A similar issue occurs with the computer when plugged into these specific outlets too. I can run a computer just fine by itself. However if I plug in a printer and try to print to it, it immediately blows the breaker every time. I now have the TV plugged in via a power strip running into the next room. The computer is plugged in the same way in the bathroom. The cable guy told us this could potentially be dangerous because somewhere the electrical system has a short in it. I am concerned that a fire could occur. I brought this to the attention of the landlord but I don't think he understands the seriousness of the situation. Strangely, all electrical outlets including the ones on the living room test OK with one of those plugin electrical outlet testers. Also, supposedly the apartment passed inspection by the city right before we moved in. This included an inspection of the electricity but I don't know how in depth they go with those. Can someone tell me if it is possible for an outlet to test good and yet still be wired wrong or for all outlets to test good and yet there is still a problem with the electrical wiring? Has anyone else seen this issue before. How dangerous could this be potentially? We need to get an electrician here to check this out but I needed to know what to tell the landlord to make him understand just how dangerous this could be for the four families that live in this house. Thanks in advance for all your help!
 
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Old 03-16-14, 04:02 AM
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Welcome to the forums! Your profile is incomplete so we don't know where you are. Since there are many electrical system worldwide, we need to know what type you have. From first sight, it doesn't appear to be a problem with your receptacles, but with the coax installation. I would have the landlord contact the cable company and have them check things out. Do not do anything on your own, as it could set you up for a liability claim should something go wrong.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 06:47 AM
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Exclamation

Chandler thank you for your reply. I have completed my profile now. I did originally think it might have been the coax causing this but then I realized it does not seem to be based on everything that is happening. I am going to add some additional info I left out. The cable guy has checked for proper grounding of the coax in the basement. Also this happens with any tv plugged into a living room outlet and any coax, not just the coax in the living room. Other TVs plugged in in other rooms are perfectly fine. Also the coax does not even have to be involved. The TV could just be plugged into a living room outlet and you touch an HDMI cable to the metal panel on the TV and it sparks and blows the breaker. It's as if the entire back of the television is somehow electrified when plugged in to one of these specific outlets. If I plug the same TV into an outlet in any other room, everything is fine. Definitely seems to be something electrical based upon all of this. Any other ideas?
 
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Old 03-16-14, 07:00 AM
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I was under the impression this was a universal problem throughout, since you said it happened on all tv's. You have it narrowed down to one receptacle?? My guess is the cable is not daisy chained, bit separate lines run to each location. Also, it is my guess that someone ran the cable and electric under the sane staple, which could be energizing the coax at this location only. If you have a multimeter, place the black probe in the grounded hole on the receptacle, and touch the red probe to the coax nut, then to the main coax wire. Do you have an electrical voltage reading?
 
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Old 03-16-14, 07:00 AM
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The TV could just be plugged into a living room outlet and you touch an HDMI cable to the metal panel on the TV and it sparks and blows the breaker. It's as if the entire back of the television is somehow electrified when plugged in to one of these specific outlets.
I've not seen a problem like this before so this is just a shot in the dark. It sounds as if there is 120 volts on the cable, have you checked for that yet?
 
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Old 03-16-14, 07:31 AM
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Don't plug anything into the suspected receptacles until you resolve this issue.

Looks to me like the ground hole of the suspected receptacle is live due to an error or defect in wiring. So any 3 prong device or appliance plugged into that receptacle will have its back or body or coax jack shells live.

Using a meter, what reading (select AC volts, at least 120) do you get measuring between the ground hole on one of the suspected receptacles and the ground hole on a known good receptacle (say, in the next room)? A length of single conductor #14 gauge wire would come in handy.

Is the breaker that trips yours or one for the "common areas" of the apartment complex?
 
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Old 03-16-14, 08:33 AM
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A length of single conductor #14 gauge wire would come in handy.
Or an extension cord with ground.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 11:34 AM
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I was under the impression this was a universal problem throughout, since you said it happened on all tv's. You have it narrowed down to one receptacle?? My guess is the cable is not daisy chained, bit separate lines run to each location. Also, it is my guess that someone ran the cable and electric under the sane staple, which could be energizing the coax at this location only. If you have a multimeter, place the black probe in the grounded hole on the receptacle, and touch the red probe to the coax nut, then to the main coax wire. Do you have an electrical voltage reading?
It is definitely not universal throughout the apartment, it only occurs with a computer or TV plugged into the TWO outlets in the main living room area of the apartment (the only two outlets in this room). All other TV's plugged into any outlet in another room are fine. I have added a picture below which is the result of measuring between the ground of one of these 'bad' outlets and the coax. I am bad at reading multimeters, so I posted the pic so I don't give you the wrong reading. The multimeter is set to 250 AC Volt setting. It definitely gives a reading.

It sounds as if there is 120 volts on the cable, have you checked for that yet?
There does not appear to be any voltage on just the coax itself. Would I check that by placing the red end on the center wire and the black end on the metal nut of the cable? That's what I did.

Using a meter, what reading (select AC volts, at least 120) do you get measuring between the ground hole on one of the suspected receptacles and the ground hole on a known good receptacle (say, in the next room)?
I have posted a photo of the reading I get when doing the measurement between the 2 ground prongs like you said. I am not good at reading these things, sorry.

Is the breaker that trips yours or one for the "common areas" of the apartment complex?
The tripped breaker is ours.

Don't plug anything into the suspected receptacles until you resolve this issue.
We are definitely not using the 2 offending outlets. I still fear that even if we aren't using them, the electrical system may be dangerous. Thanks so much for all the replies, hopefully I can get this figured out with everyones help. I really appreciate it!

NOTE: The photo attached is the result of measuring between the ground of a good outlet and the ground of one of the 'bad' livingroom outlets. It is also the result of measuring between the ground of the livingroom outlet and the coax cable. Both tests yielded the same result. The meter is set at 250V setting.I know the photo is small but hopefully you can read it. Seems to me to be up near the 240 mark but not sure if I am reading the right line.

A better quality photo can be found here. Hopefully this is allowed.
 
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Last edited by Gary Ambrose; 03-16-14 at 12:07 PM.
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Old 03-16-14, 11:39 AM
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Old 03-16-14, 12:06 PM
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ONe more assignment. Turn the power off to this circuit and pull the receptacles. Post a couple of pictures of the wiring so we can see what is happening.

Simpson VOM, huh? Still the best, IMO.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 12:10 PM
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Thanks so much for the reply. I will have to do this later cause I am the only one home watching my son and the breaker is down in the basement. I'll post photos of the wiring on both outlets as soon as my girlfriend gets home.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 12:11 PM
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We're here. You read the bottom scale and double it. So you were reading about 120 volts.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 12:16 PM
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Somehow there is 120 volts on the ground pin.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 03:02 PM
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Ok, I was able to quickly get down there to shut off power. I took photos on only one of the outlets, I can take photos of the other later or take photos of a working outlet if that will help. I will post the images below.

Meter reading



Right side outlet



Left side outlet



So I guess what I am confused about is how can the outlets test as properly terminated with an outlet tester if there is 120v to the ground?
 
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Old 03-16-14, 04:24 PM
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I have replied with the photos requested but I am awaiting a forum moderator to approve the post. Please let me know if I need to do it again.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 04:41 PM
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I approved your pics and they should be visible now.

You do have a wiring problem there. Not only is there a jumper from ground to neutral.... the neutral and hot must also be reversed.

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You are going to need to identify the receptacles on this circuit so that you can check each one for the wiring problem. Since you measure/and have hot on the ground...... and a jumper from neutral to ground is present.... you should find white connecting to black in one of the receptacles ahead of this one.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 04:47 PM
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Sorry for the delay. You don't have enough posts yet to post that many links at one time without the antispam software holding for moderation. Next time use the insert image button in the advanced editor as detailed in http://www.doityourself.com/forum/li...-pictures.html. I think that will bypass the antispam software.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 04:50 PM
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Exactly what I thought. As Pete said, a receptacle on this same circuit is wired with hot on silver screws and neutrals on gold screws, which is messing up the "polarity", and that ground wire is totally out of place, and is causing your problems. Keep us informed as to what you find on the other receptacles.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 04:54 PM
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Thanks for the quick reply. So, having a jumper going from ground to neutral would be what is causing there to be 120v on the ground of this outlet? And by saying that the neutral and hot must be reversed, are you saying that the white wires need to be where the black ones are and the black ones need to be put where the white ones are? The picture does not show it but the outlet is oriented so the ground pin is on the bottom.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 04:59 PM
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To make it right, you must pull the other receptacle. You will find the white and black wires reversed on it. Make the change there. First remove the grounding wire from the neutral screw and cut it back on this receptacle. Then reapply power to the circuit. Test from ground to white and from ground to black. Let us know what you find.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 05:09 PM
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So, having a jumper going from ground to neutral would be what is causing there to be 120v on the ground of this outlet?
No. The primary problem is the hot/neutral reverse elsewhere but the bootleg ground at that receptacle is a code and safety violation that must also be corrected.I'm guessing when the jumper is removed to correct that problem the whole circuit may loose its grounding and you will have a second problem to correct.

STOP!
what is possibly going on with the electricity in my apartment.
If you do not own this apartment STOP now and put every thing back together like you found it. Tell the landlord you have an immediate life safety issue that needs to be corrected. The problem may be too complex for DIY and is definitely a serious liability issue for you if you continue.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 05:12 PM
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Very sorry, This is new to me. My father was an electrician licensed up to around 35,000 volts but I sadly never learned anything from him. Are you saying that the black and white wires on the outlet I have pictured are correct and the only thing that is wrong with it is the thinner wire from the ground going to that one white wire? If so then what makes you think the wires are crossed on the other bad outlet? Sorry, I just want to understand it all. Thanks so much! I'll go down in a little while or possibly first thing in the morning and post photos of the other outlet. I really appreciate the help.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 05:14 PM
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STOP!
what is possibly going on with the electricity in my apartment.
If you do not own this apartment STOP now and put every thing back together like you found it. Tell the landlord you have an immediate life safety issue that needs to be corrected. The problem may be too complex for DIY and is definitely a serious liability issue for you if you continue.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 05:16 PM
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Are you saying that the black and white wires on the outlet I have pictured are correct and the only thing that is wrong with it is the thinner wire from the ground going to that one white wire?
That is wrong and a life safety issue in and of its self but the cause of your problem is a reversed hot/neutral elsewhere.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 05:18 PM
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ray2047, thanks for the information. I don't intend to make any changes to the wiring, I just want to understand what is going on so that I can explain it better to the landlord. My landlord does not like to fix much of anything and we have only recently moved in so I don't want to cause a bad relationship between us and him. We cannot afford to move again so I don't want him to get upset and kick us out. I just want to get an understanding of what is causing this so when I go back over to him I can say here is what is wrong, here is what is causing it and it's dangerous so it needs to be fixed. Thank you very much for your help.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 05:29 PM
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My guess is if he is willing to fix it he will send his maintenance person not a licensed electrician but it may be the maintenance man who screwed this up in the first place. If you can afford it offer to go haves with him for a licensed electrician.

You have two known problems both of which are shock hazards. A bootleg ground, ground wire jumpered to neutral and and reverse hot/neutral. But the bootleg ground may indicate a third problem, the whole circuit has lost its ground and the jumper was an improper and dangerous fix.
 
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Old 03-16-14, 05:38 PM
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Except for the lack of a wirenut on the grounds and the whites going the wrong way under the screws there is nothing out of the ordinary showing.
 
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