Advice appreciated, No power to 2 rooms, breakers fine.

Thread Starter

DontVacuum

Joined Dec 10, 2019
9
Forgive me this is long. Writing it out helps me think it through. Now I'm stumped. My husband is a pretty good handyman but he's stumped. I'm a complete novice but he's too busy to write this up. Perhaps also a little too proud to ask for advice. With Christmas right around the corner I want to exhaust every possibility before having to spend $000 calling out a pro. I live in the US, house is 20 ish years old. Maybe 30? Anyways pretty young as far as houses go.

So yesterday I was going about my day vacuuming. I plugged it in, turned it on and boom, it dies. I figured it's the breaker, so I went to flip it. As I was trying to figure out which of the dozen keys unlocks the breaker box it started pouring rain so I retreated inside to wait out the storm. Probably not relevant but my gradeschool son is full stop certain the storm broke something, regardless that the problem started right before the storm and we haven't ever had weather related electrical problems in this house.
I figured out that downstairs, only one outlet is dead. This is the outlet that I plugged the vacuum into. It's connected to a light switch on the stairs. All the other lights on the stairs and in the hall are also dead. Upstairs, room 1 is completely dead. Room 2 is completely live. Room 3 is completely dead. Room 3 feeds the attic which is dead. Rooms 4 and 5 and the rest of the downstairs are live.
Then the rain stopped. Right after the rain passed I found the correct key, got into the breaker box and...! Nothing is flipped. I flipped it all just to be sure, but power doesn't come back on. I reset the 2 GCFI outlets, they click fine and happy.
My husband tested the breakers with a multimeter and found them all live and feeding power successfully into the house. We tested the breakers individually and found that all of the dead areas seem to originate from 1 of the breakers. It's all fine at the breaker box but with breaker 1 off, kitchen lights don't work, breaker on they're fine. Breaker 2, nothing dies that wasn't already dead.
Next he tested the outlets. All the live outlets read all clear. Props to the electrician who did the work. The non working outlets are completely dead, no reading. No reading on a multimeter either.
He opened the outlets, found a bunch of daisy chaining, and replaced all the outlets in the dead zones, and verified all capped ground wires.

It could be worth noting that we've had some trouble with one of the now dead light fixtures burning out bulbs. One of the light switch panels which controls that light and the outlet that I plugged the vacuum into reads 0 ohm resistance up and down. It even has bits that look melted! So he replaced it... but still no power.
Swapped the dead zone breaker with a working breaker, still no power. No dimming or flickering everywhere else. It's been a day and it hasn't come back spontaneously. Everything seems 100% fine or 100% dead. Hmm. Hmm.

Could a working outlet cause others to die? He only replaced dead outlets so far. Or could the breaker box somehow read power but not deliver it even with a fresh breaker? Could that melty light switch somehow still be the culprit? What else could be the cause? Any help and advice is greatly appreciated.
 

dendad

Joined Feb 20, 2016
3,323
Call a qualified pro! Get it checked out ASAP.
It sounds like you have a crook connection and that can lead to fires.
It is not worth playing around with as that can be very dangerous and also may void any home insurance you have.
 

LesJones

Joined Jan 8, 2017
2,522
If it is a daisy chain wiring system then it could be a fault in a working outlet or switch. If you have a record of all the outlets and switches that are on the circuit that failed then you can check the connections in all of them. As you wil probably not have this information it will be more difficult as I can see no way to identify the other outlets or switches. The only thing I can suggest is to see if breakers control logical areas. I am in the UK so I don't know how your wiring would be done. (In the UK we normally group all the power outlets on a floor or area to a breaker. We do not normally mix lights and power outlets on the same breaker.) Someone from your country (I assume the US.) will probably reply with suggestions.

Les.
 

jpanhalt

Joined Jan 18, 2008
8,770
American homes are generally wired L1, L2, and Neutral. I have a home where several rooms went dark. The problem was one of the "L" connections was dead. That was not at the circuit breaker, but at the pole.

If you have an electric dryer. Does it work, or does only the light come on and the drum turn?
 

Thread Starter

DontVacuum

Joined Dec 10, 2019
9
American homes are generally wired L1, L2, and Neutral. I have a home where several rooms went dark. The problem was one of the "L" connections was dead. That was not at the circuit breaker, but at the pole.

If you have an electric dryer. Does it work, or does only the light come on and the drum turn?
I have a gas dryer, sorry. It's working fine, and all the other large appliances are fine.
 

jpanhalt

Joined Jan 18, 2008
8,770
I have a gas dryer, sorry. It's working fine, and all the other large appliances are fine.
The symptom I described would apply to any 220V appliance (e.g., stove or dryer) that also has 110 available for such things a lights and motors. Maybe not common, but in the house I referenced, losing "one leg" of the 220 V supply was very obvious.

In your house, I would still be worried about a poor connection to L1 or L2. Mine was at the pole, but if only two rooms are affected of a house many more rooms, the poor connection may be at the main circuit box.
 

Thread Starter

DontVacuum

Joined Dec 10, 2019
9
If it is a daisy chain wiring system then it could be a fault in a working outlet or switch. If you have a record of all the outlets and switches that are on the circuit that failed then you can check the connections in all of them. As you wil probably not have this information it will be more difficult as I can see no way to identify the other outlets or switches. The only thing I can suggest is to see if breakers control logical areas. I am in the UK so I don't know how your wiring would be done. (In the UK we normally group all the power outlets on a floor or area to a breaker. We do not normally mix lights and power outlets on the same breaker.) Someone from your country (I assume the US.) will probably reply with suggestions.

Les.
The breakers seem pretty well laid out, mixing lights and outlets but keeping ehh, fairly neatly grouped areas. It seems like the most populated line died, with a couple more outlets or lights than the two adjacent breaker lines. Hmm but no ceiling fans, that might even it up. I wish we had a map! We've replaced a couple live but adjacent outlets now with no success yet, still trying though!
 

Thread Starter

DontVacuum

Joined Dec 10, 2019
9
The symptom I described would apply to any 220V appliance (e.g., stove or dryer) that also has 110 available for such things a lights and motors. Maybe not common, but in the house I referenced, losing "one leg" of the 220 V supply was very obvious.

In your house, I would still be worried about a poor connection to L1 or L2. Mine was at the pole, but if only two rooms are affected of a house many more rooms, the poor connection may be at the main circuit box.
I haven't noticed any problems with the dryer, ran 4 loads through it today. But it does support 120 and 240 v and might be less obvious since it's gas heated. Would the breakers still give normal multimeter readings if this is the problem?
 

drc_567

Joined Dec 29, 2008
782
There is a useful test tool that should minimize the fault finding effort. Just plug the sender into each wall plug and then use the receiver to verify that a signal is present at one or another breaker switch. If no signal is detected, the something is obviously amiss.
detector kit
 
I haven't noticed any problems with the dryer, ran 4 loads through it today. But it does support 120 and 240 v and might be less obvious since it's gas heated. Would the breakers still give normal multimeter readings if this is the problem?
I just noticed your postings. The outlet that the vacuum was plugged into does not mean that it is the one that has failed. The wiring that leaves the Circuit Breaker box going to the individual outlets in your home are wired in such a way that an individual breaker will supply power to several outlets and/or light fixtures. This means that several outlets can be affected by a problem in a circuit fed by just one breaker. The wiring connected to the breaker usually has black insulation and is referred to as the Hot lead or wire. The common or return wire has white insulation and the ground wire may have green insulation or no insulation at all. The wiring is connected in series (also called Daisy-chained) from one outlet to another until it reaches the end of its run. The last outlet in a run will only have a single black, white and ground wire. Some less expensive power outlets only use insertion type connectors for the hot and common power wires and screw for the ground wire. Nicer outlets have two brass colored screw terminals for the hot side and two silvery colored screw terminals for the common side in addition to the insertion connectors and ground screw. The insertion connectors are built so that you can just strip off the insulation of your solid conductor wiring and insert it into the outlet socket and it gets wedged in. Very quick to install, but prone to failure later with high current loads. The inrush current to vacuum cleaner can cause the wedged contact to arc, melt, and loose continuity internally within the outlet. This can happen in the outlet that feeds the vacuum or any outlet in the daisy-chain going back to the breaker. It would be helpful to identify which outlets and light circuits are associated with each breaker. Copper wiring is fairly costly, so most power runs from outlet to outlet are located near each other. From your first description, it sounds like the breaker connected to the kitchen lights (possible first power drop) might be associated with the power feed to the vacuum outlet or others in between. You should be able to track the power from one outlet to the other. Make a circuit map as you go for current and future troubleshooting. Open circuits can occur in either hot, cold or both circuit paths. If you find a defective outlet or switch, a slightly more expensive replacement with screw terminals can make a more reliable daisy-chain connection. If your kitchen lighting has more than just one on/off switch then things can be a bit more complex to sort out. I would recommend that you purchase or borrow an inexpensive non-contact electric circuit tracer to help in determining where the power stops. Lowes, Home Depot, True Value stores carry them. Be sure to verify with a real meter that the circuit you work on is truly de-energized before changing parts with bare hands. Hope this helps. Best wishes.
 

MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
20,309
House electrical wiring is not something you want to play with if you don't know what you are doing. However, every homeowner should have every breaker on their electrical service panel properly labelled for situations just like this.

Poking voltmeter probes into the holes of an AC outlet is not a safe nor reliable way to test outlets.
You should not have to go replacing all outlets to solve your problem.

For us to be able to help you, firstly take and post a photograph of your breaker panel.

Next, try and identify every circuit breaker and what lights and outlets are controlled by that breaker. This will take some time to do. Turn on all your house lights. Have a portable house or desk lamp which you can plug into the outlets. Test both outlets in duplex outlets (two receptacles on one unit which is common practice in USA). Note that some duplex outlets, especially in the kitchen, might be serviced from separate lines and breakers.

Of course, you will not be able to identify the services that are not working.

Draw a chart or table of which breaker services which light and outlet.
This is only a starting point which may be able to help you to identify the culprit service line.
In any case, having identified every breaker will help you in a future incident similar to this one.
 

Thread Starter

DontVacuum

Joined Dec 10, 2019
9
I just noticed your postings. The outlet that the vacuum was plugged into does not mean that it is the one that has failed. The wiring that leaves the Circuit Breaker box going to the individual outlets in your home are wired in such a way that an individual breaker will supply power to several outlets and/or light fixtures. This means that several outlets can be affected by a problem in a circuit fed by just one breaker. The wiring connected to the breaker usually has black insulation and is referred to as the Hot lead or wire. The common or return wire has white insulation and the ground wire may have green insulation or no insulation at all. The wiring is connected in series (also called Daisy-chained) from one outlet to another until it reaches the end of its run. The last outlet in a run will only have a single black, white and ground wire. Some less expensive power outlets only use insertion type connectors for the hot and common power wires and screw for the ground wire. Nicer outlets have two brass colored screw terminals for the hot side and two silvery colored screw terminals for the common side in addition to the insertion connectors and ground screw. The insertion connectors are built so that you can just strip off the insulation of your solid conductor wiring and insert it into the outlet socket and it gets wedged in. Very quick to install, but prone to failure later with high current loads. The inrush current to vacuum cleaner can cause the wedged contact to arc, melt, and loose continuity internally within the outlet. This can happen in the outlet that feeds the vacuum or any outlet in the daisy-chain going back to the breaker. It would be helpful to identify which outlets and light circuits are associated with each breaker. Copper wiring is fairly costly, so most power runs from outlet to outlet are located near each other. From your first description, it sounds like the breaker connected to the kitchen lights (possible first power drop) might be associated with the power feed to the vacuum outlet or others in between. You should be able to track the power from one outlet to the other. Make a circuit map as you go for current and future troubleshooting. Open circuits can occur in either hot, cold or both circuit paths. If you find a defective outlet or switch, a slightly more expensive replacement with screw terminals can make a more reliable daisy-chain connection. If your kitchen lighting has more than just one on/off switch then things can be a bit more complex to sort out. I would recommend that you purchase or borrow an inexpensive non-contact electric circuit tracer to help in determining where the power stops. Lowes, Home Depot, True Value stores carry them. Be sure to verify with a real meter that the circuit you work on is truly de-energized before changing parts with bare hands. Hope this helps. Best wishes.
Thank you for the detailed response!
 

Thread Starter

DontVacuum

Joined Dec 10, 2019
9

Thread Starter

DontVacuum

Joined Dec 10, 2019
9
House electrical wiring is not something you want to play with if you don't know what you are doing. However, every homeowner should have every breaker on their electrical service panel properly labelled for situations just like this.

Poking voltmeter probes into the holes of an AC outlet is not a safe nor reliable way to test outlets.
You should not have to go replacing all outlets to solve your problem.

For us to be able to help you, firstly take and post a photograph of your breaker panel.

Next, try and identify every circuit breaker and what lights and outlets are controlled by that breaker. This will take some time to do. Turn on all your house lights. Have a portable house or desk lamp which you can plug into the outlets. Test both outlets in duplex outlets (two receptacles on one unit which is common practice in USA). Note that some duplex outlets, especially in the kitchen, might be serviced from separate lines and breakers.

Of course, you will not be able to identify the services that are not working.

Draw a chart or table of which breaker services which light and outlet.
This is only a starting point which may be able to help you to identify the culprit service line.
In any case, having identified every breaker will help you in a future incident similar to this one.
I'm working on an exact map. The circuit breaker is labeled but some are incorrect and some are vague. I'll update when I know more.
 

MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
20,309
After you have mapped out the whole house you ought to end up with one breaker that appears to do nothing. This is possibly breaker #2.

According to what you wrote in your initial post, the dead services are:
one outlet on the first floor
one light switch on the stairs
all lights on the stairs and in the hall
upstairs room 1
upstairs room 3
attic

You said there is power at the breaker switch. Your husband has done the trouble shooting and replaced all the dead outlets (which was unnecessary),

You need to imagine how the cable was laid in the house from the service panel to the first service point (which is likely the first outlet on the first floor or the light switch on the stairs). Is there any other light switch that controls the lights on the stairs and hall? Since the outlet has already been replaced then your next bet is to check the connections at the light switch. Don't replace anymore outlets or switches. Check for power at any outlet or switch that is physically closest to the service panel. This will likely be on your first floor and not in any rooms on the second floor or attic.

Bascially, you want to identify the first service point (switch or outlet) that receives the cable from the service panel.
 

Thread Starter

DontVacuum

Joined Dec 10, 2019
9
Fixed, update in case it helps anyone else out there. It was a short along the daisy chain, finally found behind a light switch in one of the dead rooms. The wiring seems to go from the breaker up to the attic, then spreads down. (The power in the attic must have been installed later because it runs from the second floor back up. And it looks different.)
 

MrChips

Joined Oct 2, 2009
20,309
That does not make sense. A short in the AC mains wiring would trip the breaker.
No power in the rooms would be caused by an open circuit.

Nevertheless, I am glad you got the problem resolved.
 

Thread Starter

DontVacuum

Joined Dec 10, 2019
9
That does not make sense. A short in the AC mains wiring would trip the breaker.
No power in the rooms would be caused by an open circuit.

Nevertheless, I am glad you got the problem resolved.
My wording might very well be bad, sorry! That's important too. Hmm. I have a dozen excuses (tired, holidays, ok maybe just two) but instead I'll try again. Basically it was a loose wire behind a light switch panel under a cap, once he found it and got it reconnected it everything came back on. The breaker wasn't tripping all along I think? It just acted like a tripped breaker when it all started. After the start (plug in-vacuum on- vacuum and lights off) then the whole zone was no power all the time until he found the loose cap and wire.
 

denniscj7

Joined Oct 15, 2010
13
I fixed a problem for a friend several years ago in similar situation. I removed the covers from the outlets - one by one - and found that one of the wires which had been pushed into a hole in the back of the outlet had popped out. I attached it to the screw - next to the little hole and all was well.
 
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