Troubleshooting tripped breaker

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Old 04-12-15, 02:08 PM
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Troubleshooting tripped breaker

First off, fair warning that I am a very "newbie" homeowner and did a couple of very stupid things...

So here's what happened...I was trying to remove a light switch (it was an extra one in the basement and I needed to put a piece of art over it and the switch was in the way) but did NOT turn off the breaker before working (VERY DUMB I KNOW). Of course, while moving around the switch, wires must have touched and sparks flew and tripped the breaker. Now, I mentioned this switch was an extra one...the 'primary' one is at the entrance to the basement and is a Lutron dimmer switch. After I turned the breaker back on, the primary dimmer switch no longer worked. I think I blew that dimmer switch so got a replacement. This dimmer switch is in the middle with another dimmer switch to its left and a regular switch to its right that control different lights obviously. So I went to turn the breakers off for those switches but could not find the one for the 'regular' switch on the right. The basement panel is a sub-panel and the main panel is on the main floor of the house. Once again, my stupidity and impatience took the better of me and I decided to work on replacing the dimmer switch with only 2 of the 3 breakers turned off (so only the right 'regular' light switch was 'hot'). Of course, while replacing the dimmer switch I blew, sparks flew once again for the light switch on the right. The replaced dimmer switch works great but I think I did more damage than just tripping the breaker for the light switch on the right. I checked the main panel and none of the breakers were tripped so I believe I blew the circuit breaker? I went through EVERY switch and turned them off and back on just to be sure but still nothing. I also discovered the lights on a couple of the rooms upstairs are affected too.

So after doing some research here, I turned on everything in the house and went through one-by-one on the main panel to narrow down which circuit breaker I may have blown...and I've really only narrowed it down to 1 but the previous (or original owner) labeled it "INTA-HOT" which makes no sense to me.

So here are my questions before I go removing the panel to replace this breaker (once again, I'm a complete newbie here so forgive me in advance if any of these questions are completely idiotic...I think I've already proven how dumb I am when it comes to electricals):

1. Is there any possibility a breaker works for some things but not others?
2. Based on the sequence of events, is there something else that could be the issue?

Thanks for any help you can lend,
 
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Old 04-12-15, 03:21 PM
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1. Is there any possibility a breaker works for some things but not others?
Highly unlikely.

2. Based on the sequence of events, is there something else that could be the issue?
Very likely.

I seriously doubt that you "blew" the circuit breaker but much more likely is that you disrupted a splice somewhere. Finding that "somewhere" is the hard part. I would first look in the box with the dimmer that you replaced and take apart and redo an splices in that box. If that doesn't fix it then you have to look at each and every box that is connected with the devices (lights, receptacles or whatever) that do not work.

Do you have an instant hot water tap in your kitchen for brewing tea or instant coffee? That may be the "insta hot" that was listed on the panel schedule. I also suggest that you "map out" each and every circuit breaker to determine exactly what it controls and then make a word doc. or similar as a guide. Post this at the circuit breaker panels and also keep a copy in your tool kit. Do this sooner rather than later as it could save your life.
 
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Old 04-12-15, 03:43 PM
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Is the Inta Hot breaker on?if not turn it on.
Geo
 
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Old 04-12-15, 05:53 PM
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Thanks so much. If I did in fact just disrupt a splice, would it be more than one splice since it's not just the lights in the basement but also the lights in 2 rooms upstairs (the outlets in those rooms work)?

And by "splice", is it correct to assume that is any place where two wires are connected? So if I disrupted it, then I essentially caused them to separate? (They all have caps on them.)

As for the instant hot water tap, we do not have one...but we also don't know the full history of the house so there could have been one in the past. And for the record, that switch is ON per the other response in this thread. I wanted to assume "INTA HOT" was "insta hot" but wasn't sure...it wasn't a typo on my part in the original post, that is how it's listed in the panel. But at the same time, the switch for the refrigerator is tagged "REFER",

Thanks for the tip on the circuit breaker guide. I'm a bit of a documentation freak so that is right up my alley.
 
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Old 04-12-15, 05:57 PM
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...also, for my education, why would the incident with the light box/switch in the basement effect the lights upstairs (keep in mind "upstairs" is 2 levels from the basement as we have a main level as well)?
 
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Old 04-12-15, 06:30 PM
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Contrary to popular opinion, and especially true in older homes, circuits are rarely arranged on a room-by-room basis. It is also best practice to mix receptacle circuits different from fixed lighting circuits in the same room. What his means is that the light in a bedroom may also be on the same circuit as the receptacle in the living room where the television is plugged in.

The reasoning behind this is that if for some reason the circuit supplying the light in the bedroom were to go out there would still be electricity in the room for a table lamp. By the same token it is entirely possible that the lights on your second floor are powered from the same circuit as the lights in the basement. As for it being more than one splice, it depends upon the route used by the electrician when he wired the house. He may have run first from the circuit breaker (or fuse) panel to the basement lights and then from there to the second floor lights. I think the most likely point of problem is in the box containing the light switch and two dimmers. BTW, the "caps" on the splices are called wire nuts.

Now, all that stated, there ARE a few places that have "dedicated" circuits. Depending on when the house was built the kitchen counter top receptacles will be on a dedicated circuit as well as any receptacles in the dining room. There will be no lighting on this circuit, in fact there will be a minimum of two such circuits. The receptacle for a clothes washing machine will be dedicated. Any large appliance such as an electric range will have a dedicated circuit. Most built-in dishwashers will have a dedicated circuit although the addition of a garbage disposal to this circuit is often allowed. Fixed general lighting and convenience receptacles CAN be intermixed although as I mentioned it is not best practice to do so in the same room.
 
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Old 04-12-15, 09:41 PM
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Thanks so much Furd! Very informative. So in a way, the circuits could be set up like old Christmas lights where if the bulb at the beginning goes out, the rest won't light up? So assuming the bedroom lights on the 2nd floor are on the same circuit, since the basement light is disrupted, it's preventing the power getting to the 2nd floor on that particular circuit?

Since it's evening and I need to work on the basement with the power off, I'll try and get to this tomorrow and let you know how it goes. Fingers crossed!

Finally, yes..."wire nuts", thank you. I want to sound as smart as possible the next time something like this happens,
 
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Old 04-12-15, 11:17 PM
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So in a way, the circuits could be set up like old Christmas lights where if the bulb at the beginning goes out, the rest won't light up?
On the surface it sounds like a viable analogy but in reality the wiring is completely different. Perhaps Ray will chime in with a diagram.

Think of it this way. You have a battery with a wire connected to each post for a total of two wires. These wires extend from the battery for a distance where each single wire then has two wires each connected. Each of the second wires from each original goes to a light bulb. You can see that if you disconnected either wire at the battery both lights would go out. However, if you disconnected one of the two wires connected together with the battery wire (total of three wires connected) then only the bulb associated with that wire would go out. It is this latter scheme that is most likely at work in your case.
 
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Old 04-13-15, 12:47 AM
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Series wiring is not used to wire your house. It is wired in a daisy chain method where if a bulb goes out the circuits will still continue to function.
 
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Old 04-13-15, 01:10 AM
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As the diagram shows there are two wires going in and two going out (plus ground). If either of the wires going out are not connected the device will work but every thing past the device will be dead. If a wire going in is disconnected the device and everything after it will be dead. As you can see the device can be a switch or a receptacle. At receptacles it is a connection at a terminal that may fail. At a switch the connection at a wire nut may fail. Not shown is a connection at a light. There it may be a wire nut that connects a wire that goes to another device.

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Old 04-14-15, 04:49 PM
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Alright...so finally had an opportunity to turn off the power and take a look...and of course I'm stuck again,

So as Furd recommended, I went to look for a disrupted splice but of the 3 switches in this box, it looks like the one I messed up doesn't have any wire nuts and the wires coming from the wall go directly into the switch (which I assume is expected since it's a simple switch, while the other 2 are dimmers as well) so how can I identify a disrupted splice?

Also, there is a copper wire coming out of each of the 3 sections in the box...but the green (ground?) wires from each of the 3 switches don't go anywhere so should those be connected to those exposed copper wires?

Here's how it looks (picture below). The switch all the way to the right is the one I didn't turn off the main power to and while working on the middle switch, I did something that caused a spark and the original issue I mentioned in the first post...

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Old 04-14-15, 05:41 PM
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All grounds should be spliced and also connected to each switch.

A splice somewhere else in the circuit may have opened.
 
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Old 04-14-15, 06:14 PM
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You need to make a list of everything that is on that circuit. Then you will need to visit each location.

As an electrician here is what I do. We troubleshoot circuits like yours constantly. If the customer has a list of items on the affected circuit.... it saves him money. If I have to identify what in the house is dead.... it's costly. All circuits originate at the panel. Compare your list of items on the circuit. Picture the path from the panel thru the devices. It will usually follow an order from closest to the panel to the furthest.

Looking at your list.... is everything dead or does it appear that the devices closest to the panel are working. Your problem will be at the last working device or the first dead device.

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If you don't have a basic analog voltmeter.... you're going to need one.
 
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Old 04-14-15, 07:09 PM
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Thanks. Is it safe to say the exposed copper wires in the box are where the ground wires from the switch should be connected/spliced to?
 
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Old 04-14-15, 07:11 PM
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Bare wires are ground wires.
 
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Old 04-14-15, 07:19 PM
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Thanks so much...starting to make more sense. So here's what I know about my circuit layout.

First off, I have two panels. One on the main floor (which is the primary) and another in the basement (subpanel). I know the one on the main floor is the primary as it has a breaker for the basement subpanel and has a master main breaker at the top of the panel.

I'm fairly certain the circuit I messed up (disrupted?) is off the main panel even though the light switch I showed (and where I caused the spark) is in the basement. I believe this because I was turning off the breakers on the subpanel but the lights coming down to the basement weren't going off (but I stupidly decided to continue working anyway).

In addition to the lights in the stairway down to the basement, the other affected areas are two bedrooms on the 2nd level. So from a simple geographical perspective:

LIGHT SWITCH (Basement) -> MAIN SUBPANEL (Main Floor) -> BEDROOM LIGHTS (2nd Floor)

So as you said, if the circuit originates from the panel and my assumption that this particular circuit is on the main floor, the circuit goes down to the basement from the panel as well as up to the 2nd floor so it's hard for me to know where the "start" is vs. the "end". Additionally, I don't know what else (if any) is on the same circuit. But I have narrowed it down to 4 total light switches that do not work after the incident (the one in the basement pictured in my other post and 2 in one bedroom upstairs and 1 in a 2nd bedroom upstairs).

Therefore, should I be opening each of those up? And what exactly should I be looking for? Separated/disconnected wires? (ex. two wires in a wire nut that popped out?)

I should probably invest in a voltmeter as you mentioned...any reason why I need an analog one? There's an $8 one on Amazon that's digital and seems to have good reviews and should fit my amateur needs.

Can't say it enough, thank you for the continued advice/information/assistance.
 
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Old 04-14-15, 07:28 PM
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It is our pleasure to help you. For us..... this is a common occurrence. I'm constantly checking for opens or shorts in houses.

Get yourself a basic analog meter. Digital meters are ok but they have a tendency to show voltage where none exists due to their high impedance and low circuit loading.


Go to the Depot. A few good choices available.
OK.....
GE Analog Multimeter-50952 - The Home Depot

Better choice....
Gardner Bender 5-Function 12-Range Analog Multimeter-GMT-312 - The Home Depot
 
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Old 04-14-15, 10:21 PM
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Thanks for those links...I'll pick one up tomorrow or Thursday! So continuing the theme of rookie questions...

1. Based on my post below regarding my circuit layout, what am I looking for exactly? Once I remove the covers on the switches, should I be looking for wires separated from the wire nut? Something else? I plan to check the 4 light switches that don't work first...assuming that isn't a waste of time if there's a more logical strategy?

2. Once I have the multimeter, what should I be doing with it? (I'm sure this questions must sound super silly...) I know the multimeter allows me to check if there's voltage coming through...so considering it is light switches that I'm dealing with, I'll have to remove the covers, unscrew the switches from the wall and...?

Thank you!
 
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Old 04-15-15, 10:45 AM
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Your picture with the switch and dimmer pulled out is not all that helpful as the wired are twisted and contorted to the point where I cannot tell for certain which wires come from which cables nor where they end up.

I can tell you this, the wires inserted into the back of the switch, called "backstabs", are not the most reliable. For best reliability you need to move these wires to the adjacent screws. To remove the wires you need to use a small screwdriver inserted into the rectangular hole adjacent to the wire and wiggle the screwdriver while pulling on the wire. All too often you can pull the wire out without even using the screwdriver.

For residential testing I prefer a solenoid-type tester but the cost is far more than an analog meter.

In the picture I DO see that all the bare equipment grounding wires have been crimped into a barrel connector and that part is good. You now need to run green-insulated "pigtails" from the green grounding screws or wires on the switch and dimmers to that single bare wire that is taped to the side of the box and use an appropriately sized wire nut to secure them. This image search will show you many different styles of pigtails and how they are used. https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/...&hsimp=yhs-001

Speaking of wire nuts...I think the blue nuts are probably a bit small for this wiring, which appears to be #14 which would correspond to 15 ampere circuit breakers. There appears to be a lone wire with a blue wire nut and that is suspect. You need to tug on each individual wire in a wire nut to make certain it is properly secured. Any that are not secure obviously need to be redone.
 
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Old 04-15-15, 12:04 PM
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Thanks Furd. Sorry for the picture...I did try and "organize" the wires the best I could but obviously still too confusing to look at. What made it hard was the wires coming out all the way to the left go to the switch all the way to the right...in any case, basically there are 3 sets of wires coming out of the box. Each set has 4 wires: 1 black, 1 red, 1 white (wrapped in painters tape), 1 exposed copper (ground).

All the grounds are not connected so I will do that as recommended.

The poor picture and lighting (the power was off so just using my phone's flash) probably made it look like there was a lone wire but all wire nuts have 2 wires going into it.

Some pending questions I have:

1. What am I looking for exactly when I start going through the switches? Once I remove the covers on the switches, should I be looking for wires separated from the wire nut? Something else? I plan to check the 4 light switches that don't work first...assuming that isn't a waste of time if there's a more logical strategy? Based on the diagram that PJmax provided, if the issue is with the first switch that works, then I'll have many more to check since I have no idea how the circuit is laid out...but maybe that's what the multimeter helps with?

2. Once I have the multimeter, what should I be doing with it? (I'm sure this questions must sound super silly...) I know the multimeter allows me to check if there's voltage coming through...so considering it is light switches that I'm dealing with, I'll have to remove the covers, unscrew the switches from the wall and...?
 
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Old 04-16-15, 09:21 PM
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My multimeter should be arriving tomorrow so I've been doing some research on how to use it and what I need to do...once again, a complete newbie here.

I've watched some videos, read some articles and just need the experts' help here in what I need to do. As a reminder, I probably don't have a blown breaker as this thread is titled. Thanks to the experts here, I've most likely disrupted my circuit and need to figure out where and fix that. I have 5 light switches across 3 rooms that are not working after I had some wires touch (shorting? don't know if that's the right term) by not turning off the power first on that circuit when I was working on switches next to it in the same box but different circuit ().

So do I test for voltage on at each of the light switches?

If there is voltage at each of the switches, do I test for voltage at each light?

I've checked the switch where the issue initially happened for any bad splices but all looks good. So how could the shorting (is that the correct term here?) of that switch cause a splice somewhere else to disrupt?

I can't seem to figure out or understand what/where to test and what to do depending on the results of the meter reading?

Thanks in advance as always!
 
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Old 04-16-15, 10:15 PM
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So do I test for voltage on at each of the light switches
Not the switches and if it is only a switch loop nothing meaningful to test usually. If it is only one 2-conductor cable in the box and black and white on the switch it is a switch loop.

However you do test the power in cable in the switch box if it is not a switch loop. If you have multiple cables, two or more whites connected only to each other, and two blacks on the switch it is not a switch loop and there should be a power in cable. You need to check if you have ~120v between the power in black and neutral of the same cable. (disconnect black before measuring.). One of the two black wires on the switch will be power in black.
 
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