Can you have 2 hot wires going to the same switch?

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  #1  
Old 04-02-19, 10:41 AM
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Can you have 2 hot wires going to the same switch?

I found a situation in my house by accident and it seems to be dangerous. I've done a lot of reading and I can't find the exact situation but all indications tell me that there is something wrong. I have a 3 gang box with 3 switches located in my Living Room (LR). I traced all the wires and I found that the middle switch has 2 hot wires going into it (top and bottom) and these hots are coming from 2 separate breakers. Breaker A and Breaker B, let's call it.

The middle switch, which has the power going into it from both breakers, "was" used to control a socket on the wall (the tab was broken) but when I replaced the socket I left the tab in place and didn't break it. This switch has done nothing since I replaced this socket.

The way the box has worked for the past 6 or 7 years is the middle switch controls nothing, the right and left switch control ceiling lights.

If I shut Breaker A off and leave Breaker B on, then the middle switch has to be on for the ceiling lights to work with the left and right switches, the middle switch also starts to control 2 outlets in the LR which it does not control if both circuits are on. If I shut Breaker B off and leave Breaker A on then the middle switch in the LR starts to control the light in the kitchen and the outlets in the back of the LR. These outlets are always on when both breakers are on.

Basically if 1 breaker is on and 1 breaker is off the middle switch controls a completely different set of lights and sockets. This can't be good?

I discovered this by accident and it's been this way for about 6 years so is this normal or have I just been lucky to not have any issues? Everything I read said this all may tie back to the socket that had a broken tab, which it doesn't anymore.

This is long, but any info would be helpful.
 
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  #2  
Old 04-02-19, 11:46 AM
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It is not good. Can you describe all the wring in the switch box and the formerly switched receptacle. Omit the grounds. They should all be connected together.
 
  #3  
Old 04-02-19, 12:24 PM
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The receptacle has 2 blacks on one side and 2 neutrals on the other.

Left Switch (which when both breakers are on control the ceiling lights on the left side of the living room) has to blacks going into it on the top and bottom.

Middle switch (which controls nothing when both breakers are on - this used to control the outlet) has a black wire on top (hot from Breaker A) a black wire on bottom stuck into the back (hot from breaker B) and a second black wire wrapped around the bottom of the switch screw as well. This wire is not cut but has a piece stripped off of it and wrapped around the screw. 3 black wires total going into the middle switch.

Right Switch (which controls ceiling lights on the right side when both breakers are on) has 2 blacks going into it.

There are 5 total Romex going into the box, all whites are tied in the back of the box.

There is a nut in the back with 3 black wires tied together. One piece of black wire comes out of this nut, wraps around the bottom of the middle switch and then connects to the bottom of the right switch. A 2nd piece of black wire is coming out of this nut and connects to the bottom of the left switch. A third black romex cable comes out of this nut and goes into the wall.

Again, it seems something is off but if it's been like this for 6 years, maybe I've just been lucky. Another note. The box is nailed to the 2x4 so I'm assuming this is the original wiring when the house was built in 1987.

There is also a junction box in the basement that has the same 2 breakers (hot wires) going into it. These are both tied together. So if I shut Breaker A off one wire loses power, if I shut breaker b off the other wire loses power.

I checked the Electrical box as well and there's only one black wire going into each breaker.
 

Last edited by md2002; 04-02-19 at 02:28 PM.
  #4  
Old 04-02-19, 01:02 PM
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Two hots from two different breakers would trip the breaker unless they happen to be on the same leg of the panel. Are using a non-contact.detector?
 
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Old 04-02-19, 02:31 PM
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No, I'm not using a non contact detector. When I traced all the wires I physically disconnected the wires and shut the breakers on and off then used a contact detector.
The breakers are on the same side of the panel, one is about 4 breakers up from the other. I'm not professional but what you said is what's confusing me, why isn't anything being tripped with 2 breakers coming together on a switch?
 
  #6  
Old 04-02-19, 02:41 PM
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One piece of black wire comes out of this nut, wraps around the bottom of the middle switch and then connects to the bottom of the right switch. A 2nd piece of black wire is coming out of this nut and connects to the bottom of the left switch
This is one hot wire feeding all three switches.

middle switch
The wire in the hole is a hot feeding the receptacles that are controlled when one breaker is off. The single wire on top is the switched feed to the half switched receptacle. It is now a hot feed from the receptacle with the tab not cut. It is likely the original receptacle had both tabs cut.

You got lucky that both breakers are on the same leg of the service or one breaker would be tripping.
If I get some time I will make a drawing of what I believe you have and post it later tonight.
 
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Old 04-02-19, 03:48 PM
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Thanks so much for the help! Knowing all this, does it explain how this switch can control the light in the kitchen and control power to the sockets in the living room when 1 breaker is shut off? My main concern is that this isn't a safety issue. I do have a friend coming over that knows enough about electricity that he's going to put the recepticle back to the way it was.
 
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Old 04-02-19, 04:02 PM
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Here is the drawing. What you had was a receptacle that had two different breakers feeding it. All was fine as long as the BOTH tabs were cut. Now you have three issues.
One cross connected neutrals that could lead to neutral overload. Two 15 amp breakers could lead to 30 amps on neutral.
Two power sources on same receptacle that should be on a handle tied breaker so both go off together.
Two hot from separate breakers cross connected. you got lucky they were on the same leg of the service

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Old 04-02-19, 05:08 PM
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Wow! This is pretty impressive, I looked in the box and the rest of the wires are going exactly where your diagram says they're going. As far as leaving the box. If I read this correctly are you saying the 2nd breaker power is coming into the outlet?

Should I snap both tabs off the outlet? Aside from all this, about a month ago I did break the tab on the right side of the receptacle to see if I could have the switch control the light again but when I broke the right tab off, the switch did nothing and I just managed to kill power to the bottom receptacle.

I'm assuming somehow the power comes out of here and feeds the kitchen light? Since when one of the breakers are off the switch in the living room controls the kitchen light? And of course if the receptacle is the issue, fixing that should set aside all the issues you talked about above?
 
  #10  
Old 04-02-19, 06:40 PM
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If you shut the receptacle breaker off then turning on the center switch should activate everything on that circuit. There should be nothing dead. Turning off the switch will kill everything on that circuit.

Opposite result if you trip the other breaker. All the stuff that stayed on with the first breaker should now go off with the center switch.

Cutting both tabs should separate the neutrals and the hots and make the top half switched.
 
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Old 04-02-19, 07:21 PM
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I'll give this a shot tomorrow and see what happens when I kill the breakers 1 at a time.

I'm sorry to keep asking but why does this switch control a light in the kitchen, especially when that particular light is controlled by a 3 way switch on either side of the kitchen? I should mention that the kitchen is 1 room over from the living room. The kitchen walls aren't touching the living room wall where the switch is, there's a staircase and foyer between the living room and kitchen. Seems odd to have the power source in the living room for the kitchen. Just curious at this point. This could be normal but seems odd to me.
 
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Old 04-02-19, 08:59 PM
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If you turn off both breakers does the kitchen light still work?
 
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Old 04-03-19, 07:11 AM
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No, not at all. The light is dead.

I thought about this last night some more. It is possible the receptacle is powering the kitchen? The receptacle we've been talking about is on the wall that's attached to the laundry room, which is attached to the kitchen.
 
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Old 04-03-19, 07:16 AM
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The two circuits are cross connected via the feed from the middle switch and uncut tabs on the receptacle.
Turning the switch on and off connects and disconnects the two circuits.
 
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Old 04-03-19, 07:20 PM
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Just to close the loop I ran the test and I think breaking both tabs will do the trick. Here's what I found.

Turn Breaker A off and the LR middle switch is off I lose power to:
2 LR outlets and my recess lighting in the ceiling
The receptacle I changed holds power on the top and bottom
Turn Breaker A off and the LR middle switch is on everything above gets it's power back

Turn breaker B off and the LR middle switch is off I lose power to
LR outlets (not the ones mentioned above) different ones
Kitchen lights
The receptacle I changed has no power on top or bottom
Turn breaker B off and the LR middle switch is on I get power to everything above that didn't have power with the switch off.

Thanks so much for the help! I appreciate it. I'll break the tabs as soon as I get a chance and hope it does the trick. On a final note. I realized that the laundry room light, small hall light and the kitchen light all go off and on together so I imagine they're all getting power from the receptacle I switched out since that receptacle is on the same wall as the laundry room.
 
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Old 04-04-19, 05:16 PM
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Well, I broke both tabs off the plug and it didn't fix the problem everything acts exactly the same with a few exceptions.

1st with both tabs broken and both breakers on the laundry room ceiling light, and a 2nd light in the kitchen have no power not matter what you do. They were powerless throughout this entire process.
When I broke both tabs and both breakers were on and the switch is on the receptacle has power on the top right hot side when I test the cable but if you plug something into the receptacle it doesn't turn on, I thought this was odd.

If I shut the Breaker A or breaker B off with both tabs broken nothing has changed, everything still acts the same way. Accept those 2 lights mentioned above have no power. This was never an issue with both tabs on.

With the tabs broken and Breaker B off I also finally get a switched receptacle controlled by the middle switch.

As a test I broke the left tab off (the neutral side) and left the right tab intact. Everything acted the same as always accept those 2 ceiling lights in the kitchen would not turn on.

Basically with the left or both tabs broken I lose power to 2 lights and they only worked again when I put a new outlet in with both tabs.

If you have any other ideas I'm all ears.
 
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Old 04-04-19, 06:18 PM
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That tells me that the cable you thought went from the switch to the receptacle does not go there direct. I think there is a junction between the switch and the receptacle where those lights are tied in. It may even be in one of the lights.
 
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Old 04-04-19, 06:42 PM
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Ok, what if I told you there was a receptacle between the switch and the receptacle that I thought the power went to..... And this receptacle is controlled by the switch when one of the beakers is off, but is only controller by the switch when the breaker is off?

If this isn't it. Is there an easy way to find this juncrion.?
 
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Old 04-04-19, 07:33 PM
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This new receptacle is probably the one that needs the tabs cut.
When you cut the tabs on the first one that was the feed to the now dead lights and not the cable from the switch.
Swap the receptacle with the cut tabs with new one you found.
 
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Old 04-05-19, 12:46 PM
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No luck, the new receptacle only has 1 romex going into it ( Black in bottom right, white on top left) and when I swapped it for the receptacle with the broken tabs I just managed to kill the plug. If I test the hot it has power but the receptacle wont power anything on when you plug something in. I think if you shut the switch off though it loses power when I test it. Also just noticed that if the breaker b is off , breaker A pretty much turns everything on and off that the switch turns on and off when the switch is controlling the kitchen lights.

There is a receptacle on the other side of the "switched" receptacle that has 2 blacks going to the bottom and one black going to the top. I suppose I can try that one next. Since there seems to be 3 hot wires, could be the culprit.
 

Last edited by md2002; 04-05-19 at 02:29 PM.
  #21  
Old 04-05-19, 02:27 PM
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The jbox in the basement has 2 hots going into it that are tied together (one from each of these breaker)
If that is true yes it needs to be fixed. The cabling is not going where you think it is going or this would have been fixed.

It may be time to call an electrician.
 
  #22  
Old 04-05-19, 03:50 PM
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Perhaps the neutral for the 2 ceiling lights in the kitchen is not connected to the white wire of the ''home run" cable going to the breaker box like it should be. Normally this would not allow the lights to work, but when the left jumper on the receptacle is intact then the kitchen lights get their neutral connection through the living room branch circuit. Then the lights can turn on, but this is not a good thing to leave as-is.
One way to test this is to measure the voltage relative to ground at the longer neutral slot of the bottom receptacle (left side). This is with the left jumper disconnected. If the voltage is high when you switch the kitchen lights on, then the neutral is disconnected as described above (perhaps inside the box above one of the lights).
If the problem I mentioned above with the neutral exists and is corrected, then you should be able to disconnect both jumpers and have a properly working switched receptacle as described by joed.
 

Last edited by engr3000; 04-05-19 at 04:13 PM.
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Old 04-05-19, 04:55 PM
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One way to test this is to measure the voltage relative to ground at the longer neutral slot of the bottom receptacle (left side). This is with the left jumper disconnected. If the voltage is high when you switch the kitchen lights on, then the neutral is disconnected as described above (perhaps inside the box above one of the lights)
Do I measure this with the breakers on or off? Break the left tab and leave everything as is or shut off breakers?
 
  #24  
Old 04-05-19, 05:12 PM
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Leave breakers on but turn off middle switch.
As aways, be careful when measuring voltages when breakers are on.
 
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Old 04-06-19, 05:04 PM
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I tried swapping out another receptacle that might be the culprit, this receptacle was to the right of the original that I was working with. When this receptacle had both tabs broken and breaker A off the basement lights didn't work (this is new, this never controlled the basement lights) recess lights in LR no power, kitchen no power, other receptacles had no power that usually had power. Basically it looks like the breaker of has changed what this breaker kills the power to. The top of the receptacle I just swapped out is dead and the bottom is live regardless if the switch is on or off. The original receptacle has power top or bottom regardless of switch.

This new receptacle I just swapped out has 1 black on the top right, and 2 blacks on the bottom right on the other side it has 2 whites on the top and 1 white on the bottom. Is this right? Could it be as simple as needed to move the whites to match the black?

I know this is bordering on lunacy to keep trying but I did call some electricians but haven't had any luck with finding someone to come out. Usually, and pretty much always, it's impossible to find any kind of contractor to call you back or come out to help you. It's very difficult to find contractors where I am, there all either too busy or have so much work they can be picky about what jobs they want. This isn't going to be very appealing to most electricians so it may take awhile to find someone to come out.

 
  #26  
Old 04-06-19, 07:39 PM
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Were both tabs intact in this other receptacle originally? If so, the rest of your testing with the tabs broken is not unexpected, and just shows that the power feed is coming from one of the two black wires on the bottom of the receptacle. And if both tabs were intact it doesn't matter where the wires are placed on thetop vs.bottom.

If both tabs were originally intact then you should leave them intact in a replacement receptacle. Normally, the only reason to break the tabs is if you want one of the receptacle outlets to be provided with a separate switched voltage. It doesn't sound like the wiring to this receptacle is switched based on your testing above.
By the way, how are you measuring whether you have "power"? With a digital voltmeter? And are you measuring with the other meter lead hooked to neutral or to ground? (normally this doesn't matter but it could if a neutral or ground is disconnected somewhere).

Also, did you ever try measuring the voltage at the bottom left (neutral) of the receptacle as I mentioned above?
 
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Old 04-07-19, 05:09 AM
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There's the problem, when I moved into the house I swapped out all the brown receptacles for white ones and I didn't want a switched receptacle so I didn't break any tabs when I replaced them, thinking that's what I needed to do to have the entire receptacle live. That was 8 years ago.

I've been doing all the testing for power with a non contact tester, I haven't been able to track down my volt meter, it's somewhere but I can't find it. So, I haven't done that neutral test you asked me to do yet. I'm going to look for my meter again today and test it when I find it.

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Old 04-07-19, 09:38 AM
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By the way, when doing the test of the neutral it would be best if at least one of the kitchen ceiling lights had an incandescent or halogen bulb in it. That's because they don't need any significant voltage like LED or CFL's do to start conducting current. But if that's not practical then use what you have.

It would also be good when you're checking the outlets to also try plugging in a portable lamp to see if it lights up. Sometimes non-contact testers will indicate that a wire or terminal is hot even though it's not connected to the power source. This can happen if a wire is "floating" with no connection at either end (for example, an open switch on one end and no loads connected to the outlet(s) on the other end). In this case the wire is susceptible to picking up an AC voltage by capacitive coupling, but as soon as you put a real load on it the voltage will go down near zero.
 
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Old 04-07-19, 04:58 PM
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Yes, when testing the outlets I've been plugging a lamp into them. I'll let you know what I find. Thanks for the followup. Hopefully I'll track this down.
 
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Old 04-07-19, 06:21 PM
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I haven't done the neutral test yet but I figured I would take a look at the light, the one in the laundry room because I have to assume it's the 1st one in the line. What I found is that the laundry room Jbox has 2 blacks and a white tied together. Then 2 whites tied together that go to the light, and the final black also goes to the light - so 3 romex total going into the box.

If I shut breaker A off, weather the switch in the LR is on or off I have power to the 2 blacks and 1 wh in the box, no power to the 2 whites or 1 black unless I turn the Laundry light switch on.

If shut breaker B off , it's the opposite, weather the switch in the LR is on or off I have no power to the 2 blacks and 1 wh in the box.

If both breakers are on the 2 bl and 1 wh in the box stay hot regardless if the switch is on or off. (same as when breaker A is off)
I tried posting a pic but it didn't work
 
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Old 04-07-19, 07:28 PM
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I've been doing all the testing for power with a non contact tester, I haven't been able to track down my volt meter,
Then you are wasting your time and ours. Using a toy tells you nothing. If you can't/won't use the correct test methods just run new wire and be done with it or spend $10 for an analog (not digital) multimeter.
 
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Old 04-07-19, 07:40 PM
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Understood, I plan on testing with multimeter. My apologies.
 
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Old 04-07-19, 08:32 PM
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In your description of the laundry room junction box you mention "the final black also goes to the lights".
What is connected to this black wire? I'm guessing that the Romex cable going to the light is 3-wire with black, red, and white wires? And this "final black" wire ties to the red wire? Is this true?
This would make sense if you have a receptacle outlet on the light (or there used to be one).

In this scenario the 3 sparate groups of wires connected together would be:
1. Black power input hot lead, black going to the short slot on light's receptacle, white "hot leg" to switch
2. White power input neutral lead, white neutral line to the light and also the long slot on light receptacle (if applicable)
3. Black "switch leg" returning from switch, red switched power going to light
 
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Old 04-08-19, 05:23 AM
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No, there is no red wire. I figured out how to upload a photo ( I guess you have to go to advanced) which I attached. I'm not sure how the live gets into that junction box but the receptacle behind the wall in the pic is the living room and I'm assuming somehow from the living room power gets to the laundry light.

The square in the middle of the picture represents the junction box in the laundry room. Then basically the hall light and kitchen light are about 4 feet apart and are all effected by the testing I've been doing.
 
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  #35  
Old 04-08-19, 08:51 AM
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OK, the junction box you've been talking about is the box that the laundry room light is mounted to. I thought you were talking about a separate junction box. Is the laundry room light one with a screw-in bulb?

To check if it's a neutral issue instead of a hot side power issue, I suggest you do the following:
Have the tab broken on the left side of the LR outlet shown above. Both tabs broken is also OK.
Turn on breakers A and B, but leave middle LR switch off. Based on your previous comments, I'm assuming the lights in your diagram don't work under these conditions. Then using your non contact tester, check if the black wires behind your laundry room light are hot. Alternatively, if you already have the light mounted and it has a bulb screwed in then you can unscrew it and place the non contact tester in the open socket. Have the laundry room switch turned on for this test.
If the tests above show that you're getting power to the light but it doesn't work, then there's a break in the neutral somewhere. In this case my first guess to check out would be the box above the kitchen light, or whatever is furthest from the LR outlet above that is not working. Then after accessing this box, I would remove the wire nut connecting the white wires, inspect, and make sure a good connection is made. Some additional testing could then be done on the wires if this doesn't fix the issue.
 
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Old 04-09-19, 11:52 AM
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To check if it's a neutral issue instead of a hot side power issue,
I did this one 1st, and we may have something. Both breakers were on, The switch in the living room was off and the left tab was cut on the receptacle. When I checked behind the laundry room junction box it still had power coming to it but the light was not on, so the box has power but the light would not turn on.

One way to test this is to measure the voltage relative to ground at the longer neutral slot
I also tested the neutrals as you mentioned above. I"m not sure what it's telling me but here are the results. Breakers on, Left tab broken, middle switch off, probes on BL and Wh top of socket reading was 0, probes on BL and Wh Bottom of socket was 120, bottom left neutral to ground was 0, top left neutral to ground was 120.

So for starters I'll look for a loose neutral like you described and then go from there.
 
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Old 04-22-19, 05:33 AM
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Problem Solved, I think.

My friend came over who isn't an electrician but knows a lot about electricity. What he found was the middle switch in the LR had (2) power supplies coming into it (which I knew). He pulled everything out of the box. There were (2) power lines coming in, 1 romex out was to an outlet behind the couch, 1 romex out was to one set of ceiling lights, 1 romex out was to a 2nd set of ceiling lights. Presumably one of the power cables was somehow connected to the kitchen lights?

He ended up taking one power and connecting it to the romex that goes out to the outlet behind the couch. He used the other power feed to power the 2 romex that go to the ceiling lights (2 switches). We also removed the middle switch entirely because it hasn't been working in 8 years and was only in there because I didn't know how to remove it and still have electricity working.

So, I'm not sure what goes where behind the walls but it's been 3 days and we haven't had any issue and I can know kill the power to the kitchen by shutting off 1 breaker instead of 2. I doubt anyone will ever have this same exact issue but I wanted to share the solution in case it helps someone.
 
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