outlet polarity changing

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Old 05-17-02, 05:47 AM
K
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Question outlet polarity changing

I noticed a similar question someone posted previously and I'm sure this is along the same problem line.

We have two outlets in our bedroom that just stopped working. After testing the outlets it appears that the polarity changes in each plug of the 2nd outlet depending whether or not something is plugged into the 1st wall outlet (plugging something into each receptacle of the 1st outlet will result in a different reading on the 2nd outlet). Basically we cannot get power in the 2nd outlet unless there is something plugged into the top receptacle of the 1st. That is what I don't understand; the polarity is dynamically changing.

I am going to check the wiring to see what is going on, but why would the polarity be changing in each receptacle differently depending on whether things are plugged in or not??? I was told this happened once before and was resolved by plugging things into the different receptacles until it worked.

I will hopefully find the solution under the wall plates, but would like an explanation as to what may be happening between these two outlets. Thanks.
 
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Old 05-17-02, 06:33 AM
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Please tell us how you tested the outlet. Did you use one of those plug-in receptacle testers? If so, reverse polarity means that there was voltage between neutral and ground, and between hot and neutral, but not between hot and ground.

If this is a multiwire circuit (i.e., shared neutral), then you likely have an open neutral. By plugging something into one outlet, you create a connection between the hot on that side and the neutral. This provides a return path for the other hot. This can be dangerous and damaging to your appliances, since it results in somewhat more or less than 120 volts being delivered to each load.

Check all the connections of your white wires (not just in these outlets, but in every box on the circuit). Also, tell us if there are any red wires in any of these outlet boxes. If this is a multiwire circuit, all of the neutral connections should be pigtailed.
 
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Old 05-17-02, 08:00 AM
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Bazooka227
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Are the outlets connected in series and not in parallel?
 
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Old 05-17-02, 08:16 AM
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If it's a multiwire circuit with an open neutral, then these outlets are in series across 240 volts. Not good on two counts.
 
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Old 05-17-02, 08:30 AM
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outlet polarity changin

I will check the wiring out and get back to you guys.

We just bought the house less than a year ago. All I know is that there are some things that have happened that do not seem logical. It seems like someone is doing wiring as I'm testing the outlets - and the house is not haunted.
 
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Old 05-20-02, 06:04 AM
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outlet problems

I found the problem. The push in clip holding the wire was broke and occassionally it would not make full contact.

Sometimes there would be an open neutral. The first outlet has two hot and two neutrals wired to the receptacle (two grounds too). The second just has one set. I'm guessing power just continues from the first to the second. I could not figure out the problem and was going to replace the first outlet and I noticed the one of the neutrals disconnected fairly easily. I just attached the wire to the white screw and there should not be anymore problems. Since this was the incoming line to the outlet it effected the power supplied to the 2nd outlet as well.

Just out of curiosity; is this the typical way outlets are wired when they are in series or are they typically pig-tailed?

It ended up being something simple, although it wasn't apparent to me at first. Thanks for the help.
 
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Old 05-20-02, 06:32 AM
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Your story is quite common. You will often see all of us here recommend against using the push-in connections because the cause the problems that you just had.

is this the typical way outlets are wired when they are in series or are they typically pig-tailed?
Yes, it's the typical way. Note that we normally don't use the word "series" because that gets easily confused with the electrical meaning of "series" (the outlets are electrically in "parallel"). These outlets are "daisy-chained". Some will advocate the use of pigtails, but it is probably more often done without them (and my personal opinion is that I see no problem with that, except for the neutrals on multiwire circuits).
 
  #8  
Old 05-20-02, 02:47 PM
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Wgoodrich
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Just thought I would add a little more for you to think on. If you had one back stabbed receptacle that failed then chances are you have other back stab receptacles about to fail.

If it were me I would open each receptacle and connect the wires to the screws matching the back stab holes now before you get to lose power elsewhere in the future. These loose connections caused by failing back stab clips cause heating of the conductors and is a level of risk for fire.

Hope this helps

Wg
 
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