New home: burned outlets and open neutrals

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  #1  
Old 03-03-19, 06:47 AM
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New home: burned outlets and open neutrals

I moved into a new home just two days ago and while taking a quick look around, I noticed that in the living room there is an outlet with a prong from a plug stuck in it and clear scorch marks. A little annoying but nothing crazy that I canít deal with. I went out to purchase a new outlet to make the switch and while I was out, I came across an outlet tester. It was cheap enough and Iíve always valued them so I bought it thinking nothing of it. Before getting to the outlet with the burn marks, I decided to check the other outlets and I discovered that in each room upstairs, there is an open neutral. Now I donít know what to do as Iíve never come across this issue. I also donít know what the severity of an open neutral is. Thoughts, explanations and suggestions are appreciated.
 
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Old 03-03-19, 07:01 AM
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You say new home. New to you or new as in brand new? Did it pass inspection?

Open neutral means that the white wire is not properly connected or may be loose and cannot carry current back to the main box or complete the circuit. Are all those upstairs rooms located on one circuit? Is the living room also on the same circuit? Check your main circuit box and see if any white or neutral wires are loose.

If you feel uncomfortable with doing that call an electrician. Don't wait, you have a serious problem that can cause injury.

The electrical experts will be here soon.
 
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Old 03-03-19, 07:15 AM
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Branch circuits coming from your breaker panel typically daisy chain through the various outlets. Particularly if you noticed the burned receptacle, there is a good chance the neutral and/or the hot wires encountered a loose connection there resulting in loss of power further downstream for that branch circuit.

Some ordinary lamp fixtures with (preferably at least 75 watt) incandescent bulbs and also a hair dryer can let you perform a variet of tests some of which will identify general locations although not necessary pinpoint locations where there are loose connections including loose neutrals.

Plug a lamp fixture into one receptacle and the hair dryer into another. If the laight dims drastically when you turn on the hair dryer then you have a problem of some kind. If the light brightens when you turn on the hair dryer then you have a problem with a neutral. Have spare bulbs handy because light brightening may resuul in the bulb burning out in short order. Do not keep the hair dryer on for more than a few seconds at a time if you notice any significant dimming or brightening of any lights.

Write down the results of each test.

If every incandescent light througout the house either dims or brightens no matter where they or the hair dryer were plugged in then there is a good chance the problem is in or about the service wires coming in from the utility pole. The electric company will have to be called to fix that. Do not use electronics including microwave ovens at receptacles that experienced abnormal brightening of a light.

Individual loose connections can heat up enough to cause a fire even when the power draw is much less than needed to trip a breaker or blow a fuese. Maybe with as little as fifty watts of usage. Now that you know that a loose connection could be in the middle of a daisy chain, you should no longer be surprised if an unused wall receptacle starts smoking when you turned on something somewhere else.

Worth buying soon -- a multimeter.
 

Last edited by AllanJ; 03-03-19 at 07:39 AM.
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Old 03-03-19, 08:45 AM
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Do those receptacles with the open neutral work?
 
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Old 03-03-19, 08:50 AM
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So the house is new to me. I am more a less renting for the foreseeable future however, I am the one who is responsible for identifying and resolving issues as well as managing upgrades for resale. Itís how Iíll be paying. I am definitely interested in a multimeter. I am not currently using any of the receptacles that show an open neutral but they were able to register on my outlet tester. The burned socket is in the living room downstairs. All the neutrals were in the upstairs so I donít know if there is a connection between the socket Iím replacing and the open neutral. Iím also wondering if there could be an issue with the light switches. Iím likely going to shut down all the breakers and turn them on one at a time so I can map the house. I donít if there is a more logical or effective way to do this.
 
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Old 03-03-19, 09:32 AM
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I don’t if there is a more logical or effective way to do this.
Quick suggestion-
Microsoft excel includes a flow chart utility...

I found it VERY helpful when mapping the circuits in a 1700s/1820s farmhouse.
Basic wiring in the 20s, then re-wired in the 40s, circuits added in the 60s & 70s,
new panel in the 1990s, sub panel installed in 2000s.
 
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Old 03-03-19, 09:38 AM
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Ronnie,
Your approach is good. Mapping each circuit is always a good idea. I would first look at the burned receptacle in the living room and replace it. Determine if it might be part of the same circuit as the upstairs. After replacing the burned receptacle and it works fine then tackle the upstairs. I'm leaning towards a loose neutral somewhere along that circuit.
 
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Old 04-04-19, 10:28 AM
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Still working on this issue a month later. I need to know, is it a standard practice to have one circuit deliver power to three separate floors? I was in the middle of installing a replacement ceiling fan and when I went to try to identify the specific circuit I needed to shut down, I came to the realization that I have one circuit powering lights and outlets from my basement to my master bedroom. At this point, I'm questioning whether or not to get an electrician in to see what is going on but first, I need to know if this is a standard practice. I would assume in some ways yes for a house that was built in 1974 with an addition added in the same year. Also, there are open slots in the control panel for new circuits just as an aside.
 
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Old 04-04-19, 10:42 AM
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No not unusual. But newer homes are usually zoned by rooms or floor and area.
 
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Old 04-04-19, 11:03 AM
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Nowdays we install more circuits than we did in the past, but even still it is relatively common for lighting circuits to span all or most of the house. I'm not surprised a house of that year would have one circuit spanning three floors.
 
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Old 04-04-19, 12:45 PM
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There is no rule about how many floors or rooms a circuit can supply except for kitchen and laundry receptacles.
In Canada we are limited to 12 outlets per circuit however.
 
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Old 04-04-19, 03:31 PM
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Ronnie..... pick up a basic analog meter. The home improvement stores have them starting at $15. Some have ones near $30 that are better quality. For electrical troubleshooting.... an analog (mechanical meter) is advantageous over a digital meter.

My house was built in 1960. I had one circuit that hit almost every room in the house including the refrigerator in the kitchen. It was like someone just drizzled the wiring where they saw fit. It's long gone now but was quite unexpected when I found it.
 
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Old 04-07-19, 09:17 AM
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Iím starting to get the feeling that this has reached the realm of requiring a professional. The ideas here are great but Iím solo on this project and donít really feel like I can map this all and do tests without another set of hands. Thanks. These were really good ideas.
 
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Old 04-07-19, 09:32 AM
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Going into a project that you never did before or know little about is fine if you have the confidence in you're abilities and willing to or can afford to make mistakes. But, when it comes to certain projects, if you don't feel comfortable that's a sign that you're in over your head. I give you a lot of credit for trying, but even more for knowing when to call in a pro. Good luck, and let us know what the end results are.
 
 

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