No power in lots of plugs, Circuit breaker trips.

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Old 06-29-14, 11:49 AM
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No power in lots of plugs, Circuit breaker trips.

Hello,
We recently purchased our 1st house and have developed some electrical problems. I read the sticky "trouble shoot dead circuits" and it advised me to make a post. I will provide as much info as I can, so it may be a bit long due to all the circumstances that led me here.

The problem:
GFCI protected circuit has a problem on the load side causing it to never reset. This particular circuit has 8 (or possibly a couple more that I haven't found) plugs located all over my house (outside, bathrooms, 1st floor, 2nd floor and garage) running on the one GFCI located in my garage. I was shown this GFCI plug during our purchase as it could turn off upstairs bathroom plugs and be confusing.
It tripped a couple times, no big deal. Then... all of the sudden it would not reset. GFCI looked visibly bad so I bought and installed a new one. Tripped as soon as breaker was turned on. Did not have a fancy GFCI tester at the time (do now) So I powered in off and grabbed my meter and found that I got a continuity tone on a black and white from the load side. Realized then I may need to tear out drywall on my $300,000 house only 9 months in.
My Luck continues as I realize I hear "something" in the ceiling. Squirrels!! I spend some time getting those buggers out and sealing the entry on my roof, and cutting back trees to prevent them coming back. Back to the GFCI, Now when I turn on the main breaker. It trips. So I double check MY connections at GFCI. All was good, so I disconnected the load side completely removing power from the entire circuit other then the GFCI. Breaker works and GFCI works with no load on GFCI. GFCI is 1st plug in line from the main panel.
As it stands there is no power in the wiring that holds the problems. The wires are obviously behind the drywall and go all over the house. I feel confident the rodents chewed some insulation somewhere. However, the rodents have traversed part of my house with vaulted ceilings and it is impossible to access those. I used a Fiber optic camera and checked as much as I could of the area in the vaulted ceiling. I then thought, I don't even know where or which wires are actually part of this circuit and could literally spend forever looking at the wrong stuff.
Went to home depot and got a tick tracer, GFCI tester and a drywall saw My Idea is to use the tracer in the upper crawl space to determine the dead wire/circuit and start tracing.. however the space has DEEP blown in insulation and the wires are buried. I am not afraid to get dirty and sweat or cut access holes in the wall. I am afraid that none of this may be related to the squirrels and its some other stupid problem.
Any advice on ways to make finding this issue easier would be great. Any Advice on keeping the holes in my walls down to a minimum also awesome. Any way to test wire for missing insulation? I assume the copper itself is intact and it is just arcing. which is why I disconnected the Load side of the GFCI. Don't want to burn it down. Oh, and the GFCI tester wont work because I cant power up the plug cause the main breaker trips.
Thanks in advance to anyone that reads all this and can help us out.

Nick Loepp
 

Last edited by Nick Loepp; 06-29-14 at 12:26 PM. Reason: hit the wrong button before i was finished :)
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Old 06-29-14, 12:05 PM
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It is a receptacle not a plug. The only real solution is to run new circuits. Temporary solution is to come of the line side of that GFCI and install GFCIs only in locations that need them and come off the line side of those GFCIs. I would replace the first GFCI as a precaution because they do wear out.
 
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Old 06-29-14, 12:31 PM
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Receptacle.. Got it. However my post was unfinished upon you first reply. A lot was added. I don't think replacing all the wire and circuits on a 2 story house with 8 receptacles in needed yet.
 
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Old 06-29-14, 01:12 PM
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I've been an electrician a long time. I very rarely see rodent chewed wires and a chewed wire wouldn't cause your problem unless the wires were actually touching each other. Your problem there is too many receptacles on one GFI circuit.

I work in a condo development where due to the code and cutting corners the electricians used one GFI receptacle in the upper bathroom to control all the required protected areas much like you have there. Many times the problem was water leaking into the outdoor receptacles on the front or back of the unit that caused the GFI to trip.


To diagnose the fault in your case may take removing all devices in every affected location. You are looking for unwanted continuity from white to ground or black to ground. If all loads are disconnected or unplugged you should also measure no continuity from white to black.

Also..... your title says main breaker tripped. Then you repeat the main breaker in your text. Was the actual MAIN breaker tripping ??
 
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Old 06-29-14, 01:17 PM
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Ray had a good idea, but before I started troubleshooting the problem circuit I'd find out why the main breaker is tripping. Does the MCB trip if all the branch breakers are turned off? How old is this house? I am guessing it was built in the '70s or early '80s.
 
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Old 06-29-14, 02:33 PM
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Thanks for the quick responses. The "MAIN" breaker in the panel controlling all the circuit breakers in the panel has never tripped. Only the circuit breaker in the panel for said problem circuit and GFCI on wall have tripped. Does this make better sense? I apologize for my ignorance in the proper terminology.
So I should Just go disconnect all the receptacles connected to the circuit and test continuity. How does one test a receptacle to verify good vs bad? Is there going to be a jbox somewhere that splits off to all these plugs or are they be in series? How would I isolate the bad section of wire? Or is it most likely that the problem is going to be right at the receptacle itself. Either wire or bad receptacle?
 
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Old 06-29-14, 03:05 PM
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I go to each device that is on the circuit and pull it out of the box...... DO NOT unwire anything. Leave all devices hanging at this point. This test locates any devices where the terminals are touching ground.

If the circuit still trips the GFI or shows a short to ground I'll start removing devices amd checking the wiring. I would doubt any devices themselves are defective.
 
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Old 06-29-14, 03:18 PM
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OK, I will get to it. It Does rain ALOT where I live. Maybe rain is the culprit and the squirrels are not related.

Thanks everyone.
Nick

Oh, The house was built in 1996.
 
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Old 06-29-14, 06:35 PM
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Maybe rain is the culprit and the squirrels are not related.
Don't rule out anything before you find the problem. It's good you got the squirrels out, I have seen them chew on wiring in an attic and set the house on fire.
 
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