3 Outdoor Fixtures Getting No Juice

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Old 03-24-13, 01:03 AM
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Exclamation 3 Outdoor Fixtures Getting No Juice

I have 3 fixtures connected to the front exterior of my home. There is one on each side of the garage door, and one on the ceiling of the entry to the house.

The fixtures were all lit earlier this evening but when I looked outside before retiring for the night, all three were out. I checked the single indoor switch which controls all three fixtures, from the standpoint of making sure someone in the house didn't turn it off. I flicked the switch on and off a couple of times but no dice.

I went out to the garage to check the circuit breaker and none of the breakers were tripped. I read somewhere in this forum to check all the GFIC outlets. There were fewer of them than I thought, but I hit the test button on the few I found and I received either a beep or a flash, depending upon what was connected to that outlet. The outdoor lights are still off.

Now to the indoor switch. I haven't taken the switch out yet because with my limited amount of experience here but decent common sense, I suspect that the easy fix, of replacing the switch, won't be the solution. Having said that, the indoor switch is in a box that contains 3 switches. The switch on the left controls the 3 aforementioned lights, the right side switch, which I have never used I believe controls a nearby outlet, and the center switch controls the indoor light near the front door. The switch that works the indoor light works and the light turns on and off.

My comfort level after maybe giving the switch replacement a try gets thin. Since the circuit breakers are not clearly marked and the switch is a tree switch setup, I am a bit concerned about frying myself. I would think, and correct me if I am wrong, that if the power from the house to the switches was bad, the one light wouldn't work either.

I have one question, and then I will leave this with the smarter people here to see if I can get the lights lit without lighting myself up. Are the three light fixtures somehow tied together where if one fixture has a bad connection, none of the 3 will light?

I am really trying to avoid electrician fees for something that may be fairly simple.

Any help would be GREATLY appreciated!!!

Rick
 
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Old 03-24-13, 01:33 AM
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Are the three light fixtures somehow tied together where if one fixture has a bad connection, none of the 3 will light?
Possibly, but not in the manner that some Christmas lighting will fail if one bulb fails. The three fixtures are wired in parallel with each other and then the power is supplied in one of two manners and the switch wired appropriately. Since there are at least two different methods that these light fixtures could be wired it is difficult to state exactly where the trouble may lie. Your first step is to tell us how old your house is as that can offer a clue as to how the wiring is arranged.

Next step will entail removing the cover plate from the three switches and looking at the wiring. After that you will need a voltage tester of some kind.

Post back.
 
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Old 03-24-13, 04:27 AM
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Do not use a non contact tester to test voltage. They are to prone to false positives.
 
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Old 03-24-13, 11:00 AM
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The house was built in 1990...thanks for replying.

Rick
 
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Old 03-24-13, 11:15 AM
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This may be way out there....but look at the switch. Does it have an ON and OFF marked on it?

Switches can go bad....but normally that happens as they are being flipped from one position to the other.
 
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Old 03-24-13, 01:25 PM
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The switch appears okay from the standpoint of the usual clicking sound, and the 3 attached wires are attached and feel tight.

I have enclosed a photo of the switch for your review.

I guess the next step is to replace the switch and then if that isn't the fix, get a voltage tester.

When I go to the circuit breaker panel, if I get the interior light to go out, which is the switch right next to the subject switch, that should cut the power to all three switches in the box...is that correct? I can't imagine that multiple switches in one box could be on different circuits.

Please let me know your thoughts....thanks again.

Rick
 
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Old 03-24-13, 01:34 PM
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Don't imagine anything with electricity. It does not forgive.

Although not likely, there could be two circuits in that junction box.

This is where one of those non contact testers comes in handy to just check for the presence of 120vac.
 
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Old 03-24-13, 01:41 PM
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Oh...shoot...a Decora switch...guess my wild thought is out the window.

As to circuits.....I have a 3 gang box near my front door...and it does indeed have 3 separate circuits.

A simple multimeter costs about $10 and can be had at Radio Shack or any home center. I think even WalMart carries them.
 
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Old 03-24-13, 09:35 PM
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the indoor switch is in a box that contains 3 switches. The switch on the left controls the 3 aforementioned lights, the right side switch, which I have never used I believe controls a nearby outlet, and the center switch controls the indoor light near the front door.

When I go to the circuit breaker panel, if I get the interior light to go out, which is the switch right next to the subject switch, that should cut the power to all three switches in the box...is that correct? I can't imagine that multiple switches in one box could be on different circuits.
If you're correct in believing that the switch on the right controls all or part of a duplex receptacle, and if the power its controlling is part of a receptacle circuit while the power for the inside and outside lights is from a lighting circuit, then you have at least two circuits supplying power to that switch box.

The switch appears okay from the standpoint of the usual clicking sound, and the 3 attached wires are attached and feel tight.
I only see two attached wires in your photo. If the third wire is a bare ground conductor, it doesn't enter into the control wiring.

I do see what appears to be a black wire stuck into a stab-lock connection on the back of the switch, and only going part way in. If so, that may be the problem. That wire needs to be taken out of the stab-lock and terminated by bending clockwise and crimping it around the upper terminal screw, as the lower wire is connected now.

That may solve the problem. It could also be a loose neutral so, while you have all of the power to the box off, look at the neutrals splice behind the w=switches and make sure none of the wires there have come loose.

If that doesn't fix it, post back and we can advise you from there.
 
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Old 03-24-13, 09:47 PM
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Thanks Nashkat1...I will give that suggestion a try before replacing the switch.

In regard to the number of wires, there are actually 3 wires connected to the switch, although it is hard to tell from the photo. The first wire is the top wire which is clearly visible. The other two wires both connect to the lower screw...one is over the top in a counterclockwise direction, while the third wire goes underneath and around the bottom screw in a clockwise direction.

I think I still better run up to the store for a tester since there are probably multiple circuits in this box, and I don't feel comfortable handling these wires unless I am certain they are dead.

I will report back with what I find...Thanks so much guys!!

Rick
 
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Old 03-24-13, 10:09 PM
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The other two wires both connect to the lower screw...one is over the top in a counterclockwise direction, while the third wire goes underneath and around the bottom screw in a clockwise direction.
Only one wire per screw. Two wires may produce a poor connection. Those two wires should be connected to a short piece of wire (called a pigtail) and the pitail connected to the switch. Does one of those wires go to the other switch?

I think I still better run up to the store for a tester since there are probably multiple circuits in this box
Be sure to get a test light or an analog multimeter not a non contact tester.
 
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Old 03-25-13, 08:18 AM
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Hi guys-

Now I am a bit more confused than before. I was going out to buy a non-contact tester, but then I read your replies about not doing that. I called my local HD and they said they only have non-contact testers and a few expensive multimeters. Any other testers would have to be ordered and shipped to me or the store.

I also decided to unscrew the other two switches from the box so I can give you a better idea of what is inside. There are clearly 3 sets of wires coming in from the back of the box, there is a double wire connection at the bottom of the switch on the left which runs to the middle switch. Also, the switch on the right is clearly different than the other two switches. The switch on the left is the one that controls the outside lighting, which is not working, the middle switch controls the inside light, which works and the right switch doesn't seem to do anything at all...or at least I can't determine its function.

I will wait to go to the store until I am clear on what I need to buy other than a new switch.

Thanks again guys!!

Rick
 
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Old 03-25-13, 12:04 PM
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I saw this picture earlier, and thought that I'd wait for the pro/more experienced electrical guys to reply, but they must be busy, so here goes a guess. No real suggestions here, just some free seat of the pants analysis-and remember, you get what you pay for.

It looks to me like the left switch provides power to the center switch, and that the right switch might be a 3-way switch.( re: the possible 3-way switch: Do you have any lights in stairwells/hallways that might be more easily controlled with switches at top/bottom of stairs,or from each end of a hall? of course, that setup would probably mean that you'd have another switch "that doesn't seem to do anything at all").
 
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Old 03-25-13, 05:23 PM
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Thanks for the info. There are no other outlets in the area. There are no stairs (all one floor) and the hallway switch has just a single switch controlling the hall ceiling light.

Now for the latest....this gets more bizarre by the minute. I grabbed my neighbor who has a digital multimeter and knows how to use it. He started with the switches and all three tested good...this is not what I was hoping to hear. He then went outside and tested two of the three outdoor sockets and found that there was power to one but not the other. I went into the house and got a light bulb and placed it in the socket that tested good and the bulb lit. Mind you I only changed that bulb about a week ago.

So, he moves to the socket that tested bad and took the light fixture off the wall. The power was good to the fixture. He then proceeded to take some steel wool to the inside of the socket that tested bad and replaced the fixture. I went inside and got another bulb and the bulb lit. Again, I only changed this bulb about 2 weeks ago.

The third socket is very high and we will need an extension ladder to get to it, but I am beginning to develop a theory, which I can test once I get the ladder. In the meantime I would like to get some feedback on the possibility that this theory can hold water.

Since both bulbs I just recently changed were bad, but both lights had juice after a slight cleaning of one contact, and the double bulb third socket is off, what are the chances that we might have had some kind of power surge that could have actually burned out all 4 bulbs simultaneously? I do live in Florida, but the lightning season hasn't yet begun. I also live in a subdivision that has a problem where power will go off for about 3 seconds and then come back on again. This might be a wild theory, especially because I thought all the surge protection there is on this house and on the side of the circuit box would keep this from happening. This is also the first time this has happened even though these types of brief power interruptions have happened at least 2-3 times a month for the 3 years I have been here without anything inside or outside the house not coming back on.

If my theory is correct, then I will find two more burned out bulbs in the last fixture and changing them would do the trick. If that doesn't prove true then I will have to keep trying to figure this out, but even if it does do the trick, I would really like to try to get an understanding of how this happened and how I might be able to prevent it from happening again.

Thank you for taking the time to read this long winded post!!

Rick
 
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Old 03-25-13, 06:04 PM
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what are the chances that we might have had some kind of power surge that could have actually burned out all 4 bulbs simultaneously?
Stranger things have happened. What light bulbs did you have installed?

I would really like to try to get an understanding of how this happened and how I might be able to prevent it from happening again.
Until we get your answer to the question above, I'll suggest rugged-duty light bulbs or CFLs, plus a whole-house surge suppressor.
 
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Old 03-26-13, 01:17 PM
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Update...I got up on the extension ladder and found both bulbs burned out. I am convinced that there had to be some kind of short that could have blown all 4 bulbs at once, or some kind of surge that burned them all out.

Even if that suggestion is correct, I don't understand how it happened. This house has a surge protection device installed at the circuit breaker. The builder of the home told my neighbors (who have the same builder and same device) that the only thing this protector will not keep us protected against is a direct lightning strike. We have not had any lightning yet this year and the bulbs were all lit as recently as 10 days ago.

So, if we had a power surge, why did the surge protector not stop all the bulbs from burning out, and/or why didn't the circuit trip to protect against this? If anyone has any other theories, please let me know. In the meantime I installed 4 CFL bulbs, the equivalent of 60w Incandescent, in the 3 fixtures. I guess I will now have to wait and see what happens.

If this does happen again, I wonder whether or not changing out the fixtures might help.

Thanks for all your help guys!

Rick
 
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Old 03-26-13, 01:58 PM
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I got up on the extension ladder and found both bulbs burned out.
Glad you got it fixed, and thanks for the update.

I am convinced that there had to be some kind of short that could have blown all 4 bulbs at once, or some kind of surge that burned them all out.
A short will trip a breaker. A surge can damage light bulbs.

This house has a surge protection device installed at the circuit breaker.
Have you checked that whole-house surge protector to make sure that it is installed correctly and functioning as it should? That said, whole-house surge protectors can be just a tad slower than the ideal for absorbing an internally generated surge, especially a single-leg surge.

The builder of the home told my neighbors (who have the same builder and same device) that the only thing this protector will not keep us protected against is a direct lightning strike.
That's true. Hopefully your system has an adequate grounding electrode conductor to take care of high-voltage transients such as lightening.

if we had a power surge, why did the surge protector not stop all the bulbs from burning out, and/or why didn't the circuit trip to protect against this?
Explained above.

I installed 4 CFL bulbs, the equivalent of 60w Incandescent, in the 3 fixtures. I guess I will now have to wait and see what happens.
If those fixtures are controlled only be snap switches, they should be fine.

If this does happen again, I wonder whether or not changing out the fixtures might help.
If you believe that the fixtures are not rated for outdoors, or are poor quality or were installed poorly, so that they are not weathertight, then yes.
 
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