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Need help identifying bad electric socket
Old 04-30-2019, 12:06 PM   #1
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Need help identifying bad electric socket

One, and only one, of the power circuits to my home has gone out. Everything else not on the circuit works fine. Yes, I have checked the circuit breakers, several times.

The last time this happened I paid an Electrician a lot of money to identify the bad socket and replace it. I remember that he examined a number of sockets around the house to identify which was bad.

My question is how do I check the sockets to see which one is bad and has cut off the electricity to the entire circuit? I can't plug anything in to see if it works, since there is no current. I imagine I need some sort of device.

Suggestions? Tips? Before I blow a small fortune on an Electrician.
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Old 04-30-2019, 12:11 PM   #2
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Have you considered it might be a bad breaker? Pretty cheap to replace it with a new one, then start looking for a faulty receptacle if that doesn't fix it.
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Old 04-30-2019, 12:13 PM   #3
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Ive done it- turned main breaker off and then laboriously swapped out each outlet one at a time, turning the breaker back on after each swap-out. Found the culprit
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Old 04-30-2019, 12:18 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by erkevin View Post
Ive done it- turned main breaker off and then laboriously swapped out each outlet one at a time, turning the breaker back on after each swap-out. Found the culprit
Let me guess - it was the last one.
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Old 04-30-2019, 12:29 PM   #5
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One, and only one, of the power circuits to my home has gone out. Everything else not on the circuit works fine. Yes, I have checked the circuit breakers, several times.
Not to insult you, but:
1) Are you sure this is not a Ground Fault Circuit Interupter (GFCI) issue? This can be tricky, as a GFCI outlet can be used to protect several other outlets downstream of it. If you have any other outlets that are on this same circuit AND are GFCI outlets (with the small "test" and "reset" buttons), try to reset them. This might fix all the "dead" outlets on that circuit, and is a very common issue. The GFCI outlet would be on the same circuit as the "dead" outlets, but could be physically located anywhere. I had a house in which a tripped GFCI outlet in the garage caused the receptacles in the bedroom to go dead (it took me a long time to troubleshoot that one).

2) When you say "checked the circuit breaker," did you actually cycle the breaker (to "off" and then back to "on")? Sometimes, depending on the style of the circuit breakers, it can be hard to tell by looking if a breaker has actually tripped, it needs to be cycled to know for sure.

I'd try these things first before trying to find a bad connection in a junction box or suspecting that a receptacle or switch has gone bad.
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Old 04-30-2019, 12:40 PM   #6
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We use one of these to test wall outlets:

https://www.amazon.com/Sperry-Instru...74060698&psc=1

6157C6eJXGL._SL1200_.jpg


Hope this helps.
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Old 04-30-2019, 12:42 PM   #7
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What you're describing is one outlet causing all the outlets down stream from that one to not work.

It could be an outlet, but far more likely a breaker or a wire connection. If it's a loose connection, it could be in the breaker box itself, or in one of the outlet boxes that feeds all the rest.

After ruling out a bad breaker or loose wire in the breaker box, I'd identify all the outlets which are dead, then check all the wires in each box, starting with the one closest to the breaker panel.

And while you have the outlet boxes open, if the wires are "back-stabbed" into the back of the outlets, re-terminate them using the screws on the outlet, instead. Back-stabbing is quick and easy, but notoriously unreliable. You say this has happened before, so that could very well be the problem. The trick to removing them is to push a jeweler's screwdriver into a small slot on the back which releases the hold on the wire.

All of this assumes you're comfortable working around electricity and have made absolutely certain you've shut off the right breaker(s).
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Old 04-30-2019, 12:56 PM   #8
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And while you have the outlet boxes open, if the wires are "back-stabbed" into the back of the outlets, re-terminate them using the screws on the outlet, instead. Back-stabbing is quick and easy, but notoriously unreliable. You say this has happened before, so that could very well be the problem. The trick to removing them is to push a jeweler's screwdriver into a small slot on the back which releases the hold on the wire.
Just a note that there are at least two ways wires can "stabbed" into the back of a receptacle:
1) The wire is stripped and jammed into a hole that has a contact that is under spring pressure to hold the wire. These are legal but (IMO) not very good at all. They can eventually get loose and even allow the wire to pop out.

2) The wire is stripped and pushed into a hole, then it is retained in place by tightening down on the same terminal screw that would otherwise hold a wire wrapped underneath that screw. The screw pressure is used to clamp two "jaws" onto the wire. In my experience, these work very well and are probably almost as reliable as wrapping the wire around the terminal screw shaft.
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Old 04-30-2019, 12:57 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
Not to insult you, but:
1) Are you sure this is not a Ground Fault Circuit Interupter (GFCI) issue? This can be tricky, as a GFCI outlet can be used to protect several other outlets downstream of it. If you have any other outlets that are on this same circuit AND are GFCI outlets (with the small "test" and "reset" buttons), try to reset them. This might fix all the "dead" outlets on that circuit, and is a very common issue. The GFCI outlet would be on the same circuit as the "dead" outlets, but could be physically located anywhere. I had a house in which a tripped GFCI outlet in the garage caused the receptacles in the bedroom to go dead (it took me a long time to troubleshoot that one).

2) When you say "checked the circuit breaker," did you actually cycle the breaker (to "off" and then back to "on")? Sometimes, depending on the style of the circuit breakers, it can be hard to tell by looking if a breaker has actually tripped, it needs to be cycled to know for sure.

I'd try these things first before trying to find a bad connection in a junction box or suspecting that a receptacle or switch has gone bad.
No insult at all. Often I find that I don't know what I don't know.

But, yes, I have tripped and reset the GFCI and I have tripped and reset the circuit breakers multiple times.
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Old 04-30-2019, 01:24 PM   #10
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Let me guess - it was the last one.
it was certainly the last time he needed to flip the breaker off!
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Old 04-30-2019, 01:32 PM   #11
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Upon the advice of a friend, I did the jiggle test. I turned the power back on at the circuit breakers. I plugged a small device into the socket and gave the plug a vigorous jiggle. Sure enough, at the 4th attempt, the power blinked on for a few seconds, then back off.

After turning off the power at the breaker, I removed the cover and inspected the socket - two of the black wires have their somewhat melted insulation fused together. I have a call out to an electrician. Melted wire insulation scares me. In any case I have saved myself some money since the electrician won't have to spend an hour trying to find the bad socket like the last guy did.

Thanks for the advice. It's always good to have extra heads attacking a problem.
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Old 04-30-2019, 01:39 PM   #12
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ETA: The below was typed before Chuckanut solved the problem. Congrats!

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chuckanut View Post
But, yes, I have tripped and reset the GFCI and I have tripped and reset the circuit breakers multiple times.
Okay, thanks. So if the circuit breaker >isn't< "popping", then you have any of three problems:
1) A bad circuit breaker.
2) A disconnected wire somewhere in the circuit.
3) A bad switch or receptacle that is not allowing electricity to pass to the rest of the items on that circuit.

The first thing I'd do is see if there are an receptacles that are on that circuit and also "live" when the breaker is "on." This can be done by identifying the "dead" receptacles when the breaker is "on" and then see if any other receptacles go dead when the breaker is turned "off". If you have any other "live" receptacles on that circuit, then it eliminates Possibility 1 above, and it also provides a very powerful clue for Possibility 2 and Possibility 3 (i.e. there's a very good chance that the "bad" connection or receptacle is in the last "live" junction box on the circuit or first "dead" junction box on the circuit.

If you don't want to do this poking around, the other approach is to simply swap in a known good circuit breaker for the one that >might< be bad. You don't even need to buy one if you have another in the breaker box of the right amperage and type. Don't attempt this if you are uncomfortable with working with you house wiring. It requires that the main electrical breaker be turned off, that the "inner" panel of your box removed (and all the conductors of many wires be exposed) and then the circuit breakers removed. I always use a "sniffer" that detects live wires when doing work of this kind to assure that the wires I >believe< to be "dead" are really "dead." A "sniffer" like this will also be useful in finding the first "dead" receptacle in the circuit if it turns out the problem >isn't< the breaker.
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Old 04-30-2019, 01:48 PM   #13
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Just a note that there are at least two ways wires can "stabbed" into the back of a receptacle:

2) The wire is stripped and pushed into a hole, then it is retained in place by tightening down on the same terminal screw that would otherwise hold a wire wrapped underneath that screw. The screw pressure is used to clamp two "jaws" onto the wire. In my experience, these work very well and are probably almost as reliable as wrapping the wire around the terminal screw shaft.
Use the above receptacle type and use "pigtail" wires to connect the receptacle to the circuit wires running through the outlet box. Google pigtail wires. The pigtail wiring method avoids using the receptacle terminals to connect to downstream outlets.
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Need help identifying bad electric socket
Old 04-30-2019, 02:08 PM   #14
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Need help identifying bad electric socket

The socket tester device mentioned by aja8888 earlier in this thread is really handy to have around even if you rarely use it. They’re not expensive and easy to find at your hardware store, Lowes, etc. They diagnose faulty wiring in various ways.

They are also helpful in identifying outlets that are operated by a switch if not installed in the “upside down plate” way.

That and a Kill-A-Watt are two small items in my toolbox that give me comfort and joy.
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Old 04-30-2019, 02:11 PM   #15
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But, yes, I have tripped and reset the GFCI and I have tripped and reset the circuit breakers multiple times.
Like circuit breakers, but more frequently, GFCIs do go bad. Also, in one condo, I had a kitchen GFCI that was wired to a bathroom outlet (uncommon, but apparently legal). So if the GFCI trips, you lose power to both outlets. Not the way I would wire it.

It's also possible that you have a broken wire, or _____. I once worked on a dead circuit. The installer had run a line to a junction box for potential future use to power a light or ceiling fan. One of the three wires in the romex was cut (but not all the way through). I used a non-contact line tester to figure out where the break was!

A lot of possibilities here.
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Old 04-30-2019, 02:14 PM   #16
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Originally Posted by samclem View Post
ETA: The below was typed before Chuckanut solved the problem. Congrats!


Okay, thanks. So if the circuit breaker >isn't< "popping", then you have any of three problems:
1) A bad circuit breaker.
2) A disconnected wire somewhere in the circuit.
3) A bad switch or receptacle that is not allowing electricity to pass to the rest of the items on that circuit.

The first thing I'd do is see if there are an receptacles that are on that circuit and also "live" when the breaker is "on." This can be done by identifying the "dead" receptacles when the breaker is "on" and then see if any other receptacles go dead when the breaker is turned "off". If you have any other "live" receptacles on that circuit, then it eliminates Possibility 1 above, and it also provides a very powerful clue for Possibility 2 and Possibility 3 (i.e. there's a very good chance that the "bad" connection or receptacle is in the last "live" junction box on the circuit or first "dead" junction box on the circuit.

If you don't want to do this poking around, the other approach is to simply swap in a known good circuit breaker for the one that >might< be bad. You don't even need to buy one if you have another in the breaker box of the right amperage and type. Don't attempt this if you are uncomfortable with working with you house wiring. It requires that the main electrical breaker be turned off, that the "inner" panel of your box removed (and all the conductors of many wires be exposed) and then the circuit breakers removed. I always use a "sniffer" that detects live wires when doing work of this kind to assure that the wires I >believe< to be "dead" are really "dead." A "sniffer" like this will also be useful in finding the first "dead" receptacle in the circuit if it turns out the problem >isn't< the breaker.
I really don't advocate for most homeowners to attempt to replace their own circuit breakers. A 110V shock can hurt you, but 220V can easily kill you. I've done tons of electrical work, but I won't touch the breaker wiring...
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Old 04-30-2019, 02:17 PM   #17
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Also be aware the old GFCI outlets w/ downstream outlets were often installed incorrectly with respect to the "line" and "load" terminals.

I had to replace the one for all the bathrooms last year (one circuit, 1 GFCI outlet and then 3 downstream outlets) and the above were swapped on the original.

New GFCI outlets come tripped open & won't reset closed if "load" & "line" are switched, as I found out the hard way...fortunately the new ones also come with a LED that lights up green when correctly wired.
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Old 04-30-2019, 02:49 PM   #18
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Originally Posted by Chuckanut View Post
Upon the advice of a friend, I did the jiggle test. I turned the power back on at the circuit breakers. I plugged a small device into the socket and gave the plug a vigorous jiggle. Sure enough, at the 4th attempt, the power blinked on for a few seconds, then back off.
....
Nice trick from the friend - I'll have to give it a try. I normally try and figure out how the wires are run via the shortest easiest route. Often takes opening several boxes to find the culprit. Good job tracking it down
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Old 04-30-2019, 06:42 PM   #19
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A few years after moving into our house, the outlets in the master bathroom failed. Before I called an electrician, I was fortunate enough to discover that it happened because a GFCI in the other bathroom had tripped.

To be clear, if I push the test button on the GFCI in one bathroom, the outlets in the other bathroom go dark.

Was that a total screwup on the installer's part, or is there a valid reason for doing it that way.
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Old 04-30-2019, 07:10 PM   #20
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Was that a total screwup on the installer's part, or is there a valid reason for doing it that way.
No, it was just the very cheapest way to do it. One GFCI to protect all receptacles downstream of it. The darn things aren't expensive, but some folks are >really< cheap.

If it bugs you, you could replace the existing circuit breaker for the bathrooms with one that incorporates a GFCI circuit, then just replace the existing GFCI outlet with a regular (non-GFCI) outlet. Then if the power goes out for any reason (too much current draw OR a tripped ground fault) you'd know that you needed to go to the circuit breaker to reset it (after correcting the problem). It would >probably< also be simple to give each bathroom its own GFCI, but this would depend on the number of receptacles and how they are wired in relation to the other bathroom.


I usually put a small label on any downstream outlet protected by a GFCI somewhere else, so other folks can find the problem if the lights go out.
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