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Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

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  • #31
    Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

    The thing I like about a Wiggy is it is a contact voltage tester and it will give you an instant read that there is voltage present, hence you need to be careful. But it is quick, can be quicker than getting out a meter at least. And you don't have to look at a scale. You hear and feel the vibration, even in a situation where there may be some background noise. Just another tool to keep the sparky safe when working around live power. You can hold one probe right in the body of the tester, and other hand can hold the second probe. Lot easier than fooling with a meter in one hand and then playing around with the two test leads and looking for a place to put the meter and then touch, and then read the scale.
    Jim
    PS They're not that expensive either, I think I paid around $49 for my Wiggy. But worth their weight in gold.

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    • #32
      Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

      Wiggy is a must have for any electrician. IMO, one of those tools that makes your job easier.

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      • #33
        Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

        Okay thanks - I'll maybe invest in the wiggy. As a followup to the torubleshooting - did a bit of investigation this morning and so far no luck. I removed all of the outlets as well as the light switch on the circuit and everything looks to be in order with no loose wires or wirenuts. The only thing I have not done yet is to remove the light fixtures. Not sure exactly how it comes out but there are no screws. You can pull on it and it does move down. Maybe there are some clips to release?

        I may have to resort to the continuity check that Jim mentioned earlier. I did try it with a the outlets I could reach as well as the light switch and I do get a good continuity reading. I will make something for a longer run.

        I also checked all the netrals in the box - everything is on tight. I also even tried swapping the breaker with a working circuit but again everything is dead.

        Once I check out the light fixtures I have no more outlets to look at unless I have missed one. The house is full of outlets so I could have overlooked something.

        Is is possible that the person who did the wiring could have placed a wirenut in a non-accessible place.

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        • #34
          Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

          Blue can, If what u say is there are no screws inside the can lights then more than likely they are what we call remodel cans which have spring clips around the bottom just inside the bottom lip of the can opening. It is possible that if these are remodel cans that they were added after the house was built. So maybe a j-box in the attick .

          how many recepts and how many lights are on this circuit?
          I have seen gfi recepts under sink vanities where women want to leave hair dryers and such plugged in inside a drawer. possibile u may have this in your bath also.
          Could be one of the first recepts on this circuit is still working showing voltage and wires not feeding through to others down the line.
          I am reaching here to help but really difficult not seeing the house.

          Huck

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          • #35
            Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

            Yes I suppose the lights could have been added later although the house is about 13 years old and I have been the owner for 10 so it seems unlikely the house would have been remodelled in its first year or two.

            As far as lights and receptacles - there are 2 recessed lights (controlled by the same switch), 6 receptacles, 1 GFCI receptacle in a 1/2 bath and one outdoor receptacle. So for they are the only ones that appear to be dead. Some of the receptacles only have one set of wires coming in so it seems like they have been spliced into the circuit in another one of the boxes.

            I have been looking all over to see if I have missed an outlet. The only place I have not looked at is the attic. I will take a look there tomorrow as there is a light up there which could be on the same circuit.

            I know it is hard to help out without seeing the place but from what I can see the problem is not an obvious one.

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            • #36
              Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

              Blue,
              You might want to try this. Turn off the breaker for the affected circuit. Then see if there are additional dead receptacles. Then see if you can figure which is the next outlet to be served by the circuit. The problem is likely to be between the newly deactivated outlet and the one the follows next in the link. Do you follow?
              Cheers and good luck,
              Jim

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              • #37
                Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

                Before you try to remove the can lights, tell us how the switches are wired.

                I always take power to the switch, then on to the lights.
                If your switch is wired in this manner, the lights will not be the problem.

                If your switches are just switch legs, with a black and a white connected to the switch, then you could have a problem within one of the lights.

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                • #38
                  Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

                  Thanks for the latest replies. Jim - that's a good suggestion except that I do not know which breaker controls the dead circuit. At the moment I have found one breaker that does not appear to affect any of the working outlets and fixtures so I have assumed that this breaker is the one responsible for the dead circuit.

                  Much to my suprise I have still not been able to figure out the issue. I did remove the recessed light covers - they are on some kind of metal tab that slides against the can. There is no issue there since just one pair of wires come in to both fixtures. I suppose I should have been able to figure that out from the switch as jbfan mentioned since there are wirenuts inside the switch with multiple wires leading out from them.

                  I will have to resort to continuity testing to be more clear about what is connected to where. Can I use a regular digital multimeter for long runs or do they make special continuity testers for testing long runs. My concern is whether the voltage/current capability of the DMM is good enough to test long runs.

                  To make matters worse I ended up killing my DVR while cycling power to the house during testing. The outlet is protected by a Belkin surge protected outlet. I got some help online from a company supplying parts to fix DVRs and they recommended a new disk. So I ordered one (it comes already pre-formatted as required by the DVR), just installed it and the DVR is now working again. I think the old disk was probably ready to die and the power cycling just made it happen.
                  Last edited by blue_can; 01-18-2011, 09:08 PM.

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                  • #39
                    Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

                    Blue, as per your previous post, you say that some of the recepts only have one set of wires going to them. That would tell me u probably have j-boxes in the attick.
                    Have you checked there?
                    As for your latest post each can light has just one pair of wires going to each,and there are joints made in the switch box. Then the problem can't be in the light has to be in the switch box or some where ahead of the switch box.


                    Huck

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                    • #40
                      Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

                      Okay so I made a long probe using lamp wire as suggested by Don and checked continuity using my DMM. I wish I had used this approach earlier as it is so quick. In under a minute I was able to test the circuit. All of the receptables show continuity for hot and neutral. The light switch shows continuity on the hot side as to be expected. The only execption is the GFCI which shows continuty on one set of hot/neutral but not the other. If the side that shows no continuity goes to the breaker panel that could be the problem area. If that side goes to a load I have no idea where the load is.

                      The GFCI receptable also has a wirenut so I will put all the wiring out and also check continuity with the hot wires in the breaker panel tomorrow.

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                      • #41
                        Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

                        Blue,
                        I think you may have found the problem. There should be two cables going to the GFCI. The GFCI on the back of it is labeled LINE and the other set of screws is labeled the LOAD.
                        The LINE side brings power from the panel to the device. The next cable goes to LOAD and that refers to the next device in the lineup such as the next outlet.
                        If the device has malfunctioned inside, it can have power coming to it, but the GFCI itself will not be "live." Nor will the LOAD side be "live." It may not be able to be reset, or it will reset, but immediately pops out and won't stay set. The device, at that point, has failed and needs to be replace. This would explain why the breaker shows power from it, but no power to any switch or receptacle on that circuit. If you have power to the GFCI and do not know which breaker serves it, you can cross the hot and ground and determine immediately which breaker, but that does shorten the life of your breaker. Let us know how you do today.
                        Jim

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                        • #42
                          Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

                          Continued troubleshooting today. Unfortunately the problem still remains unsolved. I tested continuity of the GFCI to the breaker panel but I could not detect any continuity on either of the hot wires to any breaker. I also could not get any continuity on the neutral.

                          I did figure one outdoor light fixture that appears to be operated from the breaker which I believe is the breaker for the dead circuit. The light itself had stopped working a while back and I never investigated and fixed it. I took this apart but everything seems okay but I cannot get an continuity reading from the GFCI wires to the fixture also. But there are wirenuts inside the switch box so the wires lead to another fixture in that circuit so I'm huting around trying to find somehting else I may have missed.

                          In the process of removing the lamp fixture for investigation it started working so there was probably some loose connection.

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                          • #43
                            Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

                            I guess I'm stuck in trying to figure this out as I think I have investigated all power outputs and fixtures and have yet to see a problem. I think the only options left are to either hire someone or invest in a circuit tracer tool. Does anyone on here own something like the Amprobe AT-1000. How do you find it for troubleshooting a problem like this. Any alternative models or tools for figuring this out.

                            I have come the conclusion that the only way to get to the bottom of this is to try and trace the wires through the walls and ceiling to locate the issue.

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                            • #44
                              Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

                              You could invest in something like this at about $90.00



                              At the panel, disconnect the wire from the breaker and remove the neutral and ground wires from the neutral/ground buss bar. Hook up the tone generator to the black and white wires that you disconnected. Turn the tone generator on and follow the tone from the wire until it goes up through the floor (assuming the panel is in the basement) to the first device on that circuit. If you don't have tone at the first device, you have a wire broken someplace between the panel and the first device on that circuit (look for junction boxes). If you have tone, you can trace the wire through the walls to the next device if the wires are connected from the first device to the subsequent ones. You have to start at the beginning and trace until you get to the problem. This equipment is only to be utilized on de-energized wiring.
                              Attached Files
                              Last edited by killavolt; 01-20-2011, 12:49 PM. Reason: Added more information.

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                              • #45
                                Re: Troubleshooting dead electrical circuit

                                Originally posted by killavolt View Post
                                You could invest in something like this at about $90.00



                                At the panel, disconnect the wire from the breaker and remove the neutral and ground wires from the neutral/ground buss bar. Hook up the tone generator to the black and white wires that you disconnected. Turn the tone generator on and follow the tone from the wire until it goes up through the floor (assuming the panel is in the basement) to the first device on that circuit. If you don't have tone at the first device, you have a wire broken someplace between the panel and the first device on that circuit (look for junction boxes). If you have tone, you can trace the wire through the walls to the next device if the wires are connected from the first device to the subsequent ones. You have to start at the beginning and trace until you get to the problem. This equipment is only to be utilized on de-energized wiring.
                                Thanks although I got the impression that the probe needs to be close to or in contact with the wire for this model. The Amprobe model specifies a max range of 1' - 3' from the wire which means the signal can be traced through the drywall. The Amprobe is a lot more expensive of course.

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