Receptacles have power but don't work

Reply

  #1  
Old 11-24-16, 08:56 AM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Receptacles have power but don't work

Presale home inspector identified that an external receptacle had a problem. Attached is photo of his tester from inspection. (He did not note any other problems with receptacles but did very poor inspection.) I had an electrician come two months ago to fix problems which ended up involving two external receptacles he said.

Today I tried to plug in string of Christmas lights and still doesn't work. Tester shows current is present. Since electrician visit I found that a receptacle in living room on other side of wall where the front porch external receptacles is located also shows power but nothing plugged in works. There is a switch in 3-gang box that has switches controlling porch light and living ceiling lights which do work. That third switch doesn't seem to control anything. At first I thought it might control either external front porch receptacle or the living room receptacle but neither receptacle works with switch on or off. The other external receptacle on side of house also shows current but does not work. Home inspector noted that distribution panel did not show any problems on visual inspection.

So my electrician didn't fix anything. I need to troubleshoot what is going on. I am guessing that the 2 external receptacles, living room receptacle and light switch in gang box are all on same circuit. Will need to do some sleuthing to discover entire problem. Not sure if new cable needs to be dropped or if just one of the receptacles is miswired causing all the problems.

Suggestions on sleuthing please?
 
Attached Images  
  #2  
Old 11-24-16, 09:58 AM
PJmax's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: Northern NJ - USA
Posts: 60,786
Received 1,326 Votes on 1,225 Posts
You have half the circuit. You have an open neutral. You're going to need a basic voltmeter to work thru the circuit.

You will most likely need to pull out (NOT disconnect) the devices on that circuit and check for loose neutral splices or neutral wires that were just pushed into the back of receptacles.
Any wires pushed into the back of receptacles should moved to the side screws.
 
  #3  
Old 11-24-16, 10:10 AM
ray2047's Avatar
Member
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 33,583
Received 13 Votes on 11 Posts
  #4  
Old 11-24-16, 06:17 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
I am confused about "neutral" terminology.

I have 4 wire ROMEX wiring with includes hot, common, ground and neutral. When you say "Open Neutral" which wire are you talking about? Most of my white neutral wires in switches and plugs are not used. But a lot of are people talking about neutral when only 3 wires or even 2 wires are present.

Which wire of the 4 in each sockets and switches am trying to find loose or disconnected?
 
  #5  
Old 11-24-16, 06:51 PM
PJmax's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Oct 2012
Location: Northern NJ - USA
Posts: 60,786
Received 1,326 Votes on 1,225 Posts
There is three wire NM type romex..... red-hot, black-hot, white-neutral and ground
There is two wire NM type romex..... black-hot, white-neutral and ground.

4 wire romex would be blue, red, black, white and ground.

Your house wiring has hot and neutral to form a complete path..... no common.
Your are concerned with white wires.
 
  #6  
Old 11-25-16, 07:55 AM
W
Member
Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 6,740
Received 22 Votes on 21 Posts
Lights

Today I tried to plug in string of Christmas lights and still doesn't work.
Test the lights on a known good circuit to make sure the light string is good.
 
  #7  
Old 11-25-16, 08:18 AM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
lights work in different outlet

lights tested first and worked fine in a different outlet so I know lights are good. I noticed a separate switch was installed that controls the ceiling fan. So switch for fan is across the room from switch for lights, a bit strange to me. Will checked first box I check.
 
  #8  
Old 11-25-16, 08:21 AM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Wires are not as you describe. Ground is bare copper, one wire is black & white, one is black & one is white.
 
  #9  
Old 11-25-16, 12:21 PM
Tolyn Ironhand's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: United States
Posts: 13,799
Received 252 Votes on 220 Posts
I think we need a picture of that you are seeing. The colors you describe are not normal in a cable such as Romex. Basied on your IP it appears you are in New Jersey, not MS. You may have conduit instead of cable which is more common in that part of the country.

For terminology help:
Wires with no load on the circuit do not have current, they will have voltage, though.
The only time there is current (amps) is when there is a load on the circuit.
If you have an open circuit it cannot have any current.

There is no common wire in standard house wiring. It is the "grounded conductor" or Neutral and will be white, gray, or white with a stripe. (Note: your black/white wire sounds like it is painted, not a neutral)
The ungrounded conductors are commonly called the hots
The ground will be bare, green, or green with a stripe.
 
  #10  
Old 11-25-16, 12:52 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
I live in Ridgeland, Madison County, Mississippi. Don't know how you get NJ. Maybe weird Comcast rerouting?

Construction down here seems to be nonstandard in a lot of things, especially in this house where a DIY owner did stuff "his own way". (Example: installed hot water heater without pressure relief valve or drip pan.) All plumbing got disconnected when foundation repair done 2 years ago so plumbing fixed strangely by DIYer. City requires very few permits for postconstruction alterations.

The electrical conduit where power enters house was broken and seller failed to fix before closing. A month ago I lost one leg of power so ENTERGY came out to fix and repaired the conduit for me.

Am turning off circuit breaker this afternoon to check for loose white neutral so will get photo for y'all.
 
  #11  
Old 11-25-16, 01:36 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
photo of outlet wiring

This is living room outlet that has power but nothing plugged in works. There is paint on wires but I see bare copper, 2 white, and 2 black (maybe gray) . All wires tight. Nothing loose. Wires are very stiff.
 
Attached Images  
  #12  
Old 11-25-16, 01:54 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
ceiling fan switch not on bad circuit. After flipping off breaker, it still works. Using noncontact sensor to find all switches and outlets on this circuit.
 
  #13  
Old 11-25-16, 03:30 PM
Tolyn Ironhand's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: United States
Posts: 13,799
Received 252 Votes on 220 Posts
Using non-contact sensor to find all switches and outlets on this circuit.
A lot of times you will get false positives from non-contact voltage testers. It is also very difficult to do any "real" testing as it will not detect if you have a good neutral. You are better off with an analog meter, neon tester, or solenoid tester.

Your picture shows you have two-two wire cables in the box. 2 blacks with paint on them from painters (hots), 2 whites (neutrals), and one ground. I suspect if you look into the back of the box you will either find the other ground, or you will find some dope cut off the ground not knowing what they were doing.

The device is making your connection on the circuit. This is not a good method IMO as you are relying on the device as the connection. Splicing the wires together and adding a pigtail to the device is a better method. All that said, it appears you have the "clamping" type of devices which are better than the regular back stabbed devices.

To test this box use a volt meter set to 120 or 240 volts and measure between the black side screws and the white side screws. Do this on top and bottom. Then measure from the hots (black) to ground. Between any of these points, you should get 120 volts. If you only get 120 volts between hot and ground you have an open neutral. Your problem might be in this box (doubtful) or in some box before this one on the circuit.
 
  #14  
Old 11-25-16, 04:05 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
I know. Have analog multitester somewhere (haven't unpacked all boxes since move).

Looks like electrician I hired to fix problem with exterior outlets left them DEAD. No longer show power at outlets. It is possible that outdoor outlets are on different circuit and unrelated to the indoor outlet that appears to have open neutral.
 
  #15  
Old 11-25-16, 04:08 PM
ray2047's Avatar
Member
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 33,583
Received 13 Votes on 11 Posts
Outdoor receptacles should be GFCI protected so you may have a tripped GFCI.
 
  #16  
Old 11-25-16, 04:13 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
I have one GFCI outlet in kitchen and one in bathroom. Both appear to be working. I can turn off and reset.

I guess no Christmas lights until everything resolved.
 

Last edited by femaleDIY; 11-25-16 at 05:56 PM.
  #17  
Old 11-25-16, 04:23 PM
Tolyn Ironhand's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: United States
Posts: 13,799
Received 252 Votes on 220 Posts
Depending on the age of the home GFCI's can be in many places. Examples are, but not limited to Garages, outdoors (another outlet someplace), basements, crawlspaces, and bathrooms. Kitchens outlets are normally on their own circuit by code.

It is possible that outdoor outlets are on different circuit and unrelated to the indoor outlet that appears to have open neutral.
Yes. You could have two separate issues. Is the tab between the brass screws on the other side of the outlet there or is it missing?

Name:  tab.png
Views: 3156
Size:  408.4 KB
 
  #18  
Old 11-25-16, 04:57 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
No tab. Close up of receptacle wires behind outlet.

House built in 1993. No garage, basement or crawl space. I do have attic. Home inspector noted that attic ventilation fan did not work. I did not ask seller to fix it as these fans are known to fan attic fires and all my friends said they had theirs disconnected. But mine isn't disconnected. It just does not turn on.

The water heater is electric and located in storage room at back of house. Seller did get pressure relief valve and drip plate system installed. But there is no GFCI outlet in the storage room. The water heater is wired with flat white cable coming out wall (no outlet back there and no light fixture or switch. But circuit breaker panel is in there.
 
Attached Images   
  #19  
Old 11-25-16, 05:20 PM
chandler's Avatar
Banned. Rule And/Or Policy Violation
Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: USA
Posts: 39,965
Received 6 Votes on 6 Posts
This receptacle is most likely switch controlled on one half while the other half is hot all the time. Do you have any voltage across the hots to neutral or ground in this receptacle?
 
  #20  
Old 11-25-16, 05:33 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
I do not know. I asked seller to just uninstall the attic ventilation fan when new roof put on but he refused. Also refused to have it electrically disconnected. Very difficult seller according to my realtor.

Home inspector just noted that fan was not on and it was 100 degrees that day (July in MS) so attic hot enough to have fan automatically go on. He also noted that it did not go on with manual switch. Another electrical item on my list.
 

Last edited by femaleDIY; 11-25-16 at 05:55 PM.
  #21  
Old 11-25-16, 05:38 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Another potential source of problem

The back door has a motion detector, halogen safety floodlight. It was obviously not installed by pro as it has silicone gooped around mount to seal against brick exterior. The exterior outlets could be on circuit with that light and open neutral detected by inspector is from bad installation of floodlight.
 
  #22  
Old 11-25-16, 06:10 PM
Tolyn Ironhand's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: United States
Posts: 13,799
Received 252 Votes on 220 Posts
The tab is present on the hot side of the outlet so it is not switched. I do not think your issue is there, but you need to do the tests I mentioned to start figuring this out.

It also might be a good idea to remove the panel cover (power off) and see if you can find any loose wires on the neutral bus or circuit breakers. Again, post some pictures of the panel with the cover off to help us.
 
  #23  
Old 11-25-16, 07:22 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Probably need to hire electrician

Lots of issues with wiring. Maybe this is beyond what I can do. I'll go through my boxes and find multimeter. Test all outlets and circuits and document what I find. Maybe even map out circuits. Then have electrician come and fix every known and discovered problem.

Not letting electrician fool me into thinking something is fixed this time when he just disabled the outlet.
 
  #24  
Old 11-25-16, 09:29 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Look what I found.�� Analog and digital. Just need some AA batteries. LOL. I doubt they even work. The bought the Radio Shack Analog about 1990 and the digital around the same time. I don't think would trust readings so will trash these a find a reasonable priced multimeter to use.
 
Attached Images  

Last edited by femaleDIY; 11-25-16 at 11:25 PM.
  #25  
Old 11-26-16, 12:37 AM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Photo of Circuit Panel

This is the photo taken by home inspector a few months ago.
 
Attached Images  
  #26  
Old 11-26-16, 02:34 AM
ray2047's Avatar
Member
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 33,583
Received 13 Votes on 11 Posts
Just need some AA batteries.
You can use the analog multimeter without batteries for voltage readings. Analog only needs batteries for the resistance setting and will work better than a cheap digital.
 
  #27  
Old 11-26-16, 07:33 AM
Tolyn Ironhand's Avatar
Group Moderator
Join Date: Nov 2007
Location: United States
Posts: 13,799
Received 252 Votes on 220 Posts
I agree. (I would still get batteries ) Set it to 250 VAC and give it a try on a known working outlet. I would still keep the digital one. It would be handy for continuity checks and other minor testing.

FYI - Your panel is a sub-panel. It does not have a main breaker. The main breaker might be on the outside of the house.
 
  #28  
Old 11-26-16, 09:28 AM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Here's main panel and broken conduit

Also, taken by home inspector. Electric company said I was very lucky the broken conduit didn't cause a fire. The leg that went out was melted. It had been open like that for two years since foundation repair (another thing seller failed to fix before closing). I would think the electric company who came to repair leg and fixed conduit would have checked it out thoroughly at that time to be sure no other problems existed. I would have to break the clip to open and take photo now. Does not appear to have one switch that turns off everything.
 
Attached Images   
  #29  
Old 11-26-16, 09:48 AM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Bad news. Analog missing probe and probes on digital doesn't fit analog.meter. Do not know if I will be able to find a replacement and I gave away my soldering equipment when I quit making circuit boards. . Analog meters very are hard to find. Have to special order. Should I buy analog off Amazon?
 
Attached Images  
  #30  
Old 11-26-16, 09:58 AM
pugsl's Avatar
Forum Topic Moderator
Join Date: Mar 2008
Location: United States
Posts: 9,029
Received 75 Votes on 68 Posts
HD, Lowes, radio shack, harbor freight all have cheap analog meters, Usually less than 10.00$
 
  #31  
Old 11-26-16, 10:05 AM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
I checked HD & Lowes online last night. Analog not in stock and must order. Will go to Harbor Freight today. None found for HF online. Sears has a bunch but must order.
 
  #32  
Old 11-26-16, 12:39 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Found one model analog multimeter in stock at Home Depot $12.99 and one model at Lowes $12.99. Reviews are terrible like JUNK, worked once, probes don't stay in, etc.

Finally found local Radio Shack with one $24.99 with good reviews. So spending extra $12 and hoping it will last many years like my other Radio Shack stuff.
 
  #33  
Old 11-26-16, 05:11 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Open Neutral confirmed

Multimeter shows 120 -125 volts between both hot-neutral screws as well as hot to ground. So need to check all switches and outlets on circuit to find the loose or disconnected neutral (I am aware it could also be in light fixtures wiring as well but hoping I find it before I have to test those).

All outlets and switches tested so far on that circuit show open neutral by multimeter. How are those outlets with open neutrals able to work when one with open outlet does not? I have not tested the outlet behind entertainment center (have to move a lot of stuff) or light fixtures.

Porch exterior outlet shows NO VOLTAGE. This is one of the two my electrician worked on. Hmmmmm. It is too dark to pull outlet and see what the wiring looks like but doesn't appear to have a hot connected at the screw. The home inspector indentified "two hots or hot/neutral reverse" but more likely open neutral. So did the idiot I hired just leave a hot wire loose in the receptacle? I want my money back.
 

Last edited by femaleDIY; 11-26-16 at 06:19 PM.
  #34  
Old 12-06-16, 08:20 PM
F
Member
Thread Starter
Join Date: Aug 2016
Location: USA
Posts: 158
Received 0 Votes on 0 Posts
Electrician finally tracked down problem. Took 2 hours but turned out to be one of the exterior outlets showing normal voltage and no open neutral but the wires and contacts were rusted so downstream voltage was only 75 volts. He replaced socket with heavy duty socket for outdoors. Now all my outlets work. He said I saved a couple of hours with the troubleshooting I already did. Now I can put up my XMAS lights.
 
  #35  
Old 12-06-16, 08:36 PM
ray2047's Avatar
Member
Join Date: Mar 2006
Location: USA
Posts: 33,583
Received 13 Votes on 11 Posts
Good news. Thanks for letting us know.
 
 

Thread Tools
Search this Thread
 
Ask a Question
Question Title:
Description:
Your question will be posted in: