Circuit breaker not tripped, but no power to two rooms

Discussion in 'Technical Repair' started by 120volts, Jan 18, 2017.

  1. 120volts

    Thread Starter Member

    Sep 26, 2014
    57
    2
    Hello. I need help trying to figure out a "no power situation" to some basic 120 volt outlets. Here's the scenario:

    First of all I am a jack of all trades (expert in none) handyman. Customer complained of two bedrooms without power that just went out. He had plugged in space heaters in each room and one day all sockets went dead. Ugh duh. The circuit breaker tripped and even when he reset it, the outlets still had no power. I spent a lot of time running some diagnostics...

    1. There are three outlets in each (upstairs) room that are not working. There are two switches in each room that control one of the outlets in the respective rooms (the controlled outlets are not split, btw.)

    2. There are no GFICs anywhere in the upstairs living quarters (bathrooms, etc.)

    3. I tested both "light" switches for continuity and they are fine.

    4. I opened all six outlets and found the sockets of the power outlet (hot, neutral, ground) all had good continuity to the wires themselves (so I did not change any outlets.)

    5. I isolated the 20 amp circuit breaker, and temporarily swapped it with an identical (working) breaker and still the same problem--no electricity to any of the six outlets and yet the circuit breaker is not tripped.

    6. In an adjoining hallway, there are two ceiling lights controlled by one switch. This switch shows continuity when turned on. One light works; the other fizzled a bit when I unscrewed the candelabra bulbs. And when I reinserted the bulbs, the light would not work. I removed the fixture and kept the hot and neutral wires open in case there was a short in this fixture, and turned on the power...still no power to the six power outlets.

    7. There is a very, very old, hard-wired smoke detector near the two hallway ceiling lights. I opened it up and found a blue wire that appeared broken. I found the other end of the blue broken wire in one of an unmarked terminal. So I stripped the blue wire and re-connected. Using the an electrical receptacle tester, I spot tested a couple of the power outlets in question and they read proper grounding and tested positive! Giddy as the day my first of three wives said yes, I plugged in a light to the controlled light switch socket, turned on the switch, and the light worked for a second before it went out! The circuit breaker in question did not trip. :(. Square one again.

    9. There are no other hard-wired smoke detectors in the house, just newer battery operated ones.

    10. There is one GFIC downstairs in a bathroom. It was not tripped and functions ok. I did not open it to see if it's an end run or if has a load going out (I didn't think any load would be wired from downstairs to upstairs.) I did put it in test mode for fun and still no power to the upstairs sockets.

    11. I drank a coca cola and it still did not help me think of anything else to do.

    12. I used a tone and tracer generator and all hot and neutral wires seems to be connected to one another in each room (no detectable breaks.) The tracer seemed to show continuity from the power outlet to the switches. For the record, I'm also using my Fluke multi-meter, the receptacle tester mentioned, the tone and tracer, and my Milwakee dual range voltage detector for quick readings here and there.

    13. Customer reported no new wiring done at the house recently. For the first time in my life, I believed the customer.

    14. There is one power outlet outside the house, not GFIC'd, but it works fine.

    15. I did all testing with no appliances plugged in.

    16. I should have said this first: when I first tested the outlets, the multi-meter showed no voltage, and the receptacle tester showed reverse ground. When the socket worked temporarily in item 7, the tester showed correct grounding.

    Well, I am at a loss, folks. I charged my customer for the 2 1/2 hours I spent for all the diagnostics but I am conscientious and would like to resolve it for him. I'd go back without a charge if I can figure out what might work next!

    Any ideas anyone?
     
  2. Kermit2

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 5, 2010
    4,158
    1,125
    It is jumped from another outlet somewhere and the jump has come loose.
    I chased one for weeks. The bathroom light, closet light and two outlets on that wall were dead. Turns out that the garage outlet (which was fine by the way) had a jumper leading from there across the attic and down to the outlets, then jumper ed to the lights.
    Keep looking, you'll find it. Also a good time to install brand new dollar fifty outlets anywhere you have one that doesn't grab hold tightly to an inserted plug. Check the screws securing the wires. Most of them will get loose over the years from constant heat cycling.
     
  3. DickCappels

    Moderator

    Aug 21, 2008
    5,396
    1,673
    I did not follow all of the details -you seemed to have and an awful lot of work troubleshooting this problem.

    The symptoms make me suspect that there is a bad connection or splice somewhere.
     
    Tonyr1084 and djsfantasi like this.
  4. Tonyr1084

    Distinguished Member

    Sep 24, 2015
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    745
    I agree with Dick. Power daisy-chains from one outlet to the next to the next. If you can determine which is the last operating outlet and the first non-operating outlet then chances are good you have a problem between those two.

    Also, find the last plug on the circuit if you can. Plug a simple lamp into it and turn it on. Then check the rest of the outlets for voltage between "NEUTRAL" and "GROUND". If you find 120 VAC between neutral and ground WITH the lamp turned on then you have an open neutral line somewhere. Again, likely between the last working and first non-working outlet. Also check from "HOT" to "GROUND" with the breaker on. If you don't get 120 VAC then you have an open hot line somewhere between the last working and the first non-working outlets.

    Wire nuts come loose. That's why you put electrical tape on them, to aid in them not falling off. They get loose because of heat expansion and cool contraction. A space heater is a good way to overheat one of those wire nutted joints. And like I said, it can be either HOT or NEUTRAL that has come open. Chances are decent you may have more loose wire nuts somewhere. AND possibly more than one problem at the same time, making it even harder to find the problem.

    I hope you don't have any hidden junctions inside a wall somewhere where there is no access. I had that a number of times in my own home. HUGE pain in the ars!

    Hope this helps.
     
    DickCappels likes this.
  5. shortbus

    AAC Fanatic!

    Sep 30, 2009
    6,418
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    I have always done this, too. But my grandson who is going through his apprenticeship told me that the latest NEC book and his teachers say not to. Don't know when this changed.
     
  6. Kermit2

    AAC Fanatic!

    Feb 5, 2010
    4,158
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    Did my previous post not appear?

    If not, then I thank you for repeating my warnings and advice for the TS.
     
  7. shortbus

    AAC Fanatic!

    Sep 30, 2009
    6,418
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    I've also found in old houses, that just because 'some' outlets in a room are on one circuit, that doesn't always mean all of them are. Check all of the circuit breakers to see if one is tripped. not just the one marked "bedroom".
     
  8. Reloadron

    Distinguished Member

    Jan 15, 2015
    4,162
    1,975
    My thinking is also an open starting with the first outlet. This is where I like a small voltage tester I have when looking for an open hot. The sensor type voltage sensors, no connection.

    A few years ago I was visiting a friend. Half his downstairs and part of the garage had no power. I was following up on someone else and really hate that. I kept getting to a downstairs bathroom. Here at some point a GFCI had been installed but installed backwards. If you look at a GFCI they are labeled Line and Load where load is outlets further down the line to be protected. The load side showed 120 V and the line side was dead. Never saw that happen but we nailed it. That was the strangest problem I have ever encountered. I have also seen problems with hidden outlets where the outlet which is hidden is the first in a chain and the problem. Saw a guy once rip out a section of wall in desperation before he found an outlet behind a bookcase. Make sure the breakers you swapped were the correct ones and make sure there is power off each and every breaker in the panel.

    Ron
     
  9. 120volts

    Thread Starter Member

    Sep 26, 2014
    57
    2
    Thanks everyone!

    NO circuits were tripped during all my experimentation.

    4a. I think I said I opened all six outlets but in retrospect I opened two in each room. I tested for voltage in all six. Maybe I can try to find the first feeding socket. Yes, the sockets were old but I measured voltage at the wires rather than the sockets to assure accuracy.

    10a. GFIC is downstairs and really old and had not been worked on so I doubt if the load/line were reversed. They recently plugged in an ass washer (bidet) to this GFIC so they have warm water to clean their asses now. Though I'm doubtful, I could in theory remove this GFIC and see if there is a open there, in case it does feed to the upstairs circuits, as this outlet is directly underneath the two bedrooms. I hadn't thought of this. Thanks @Reloadron.

    That and the fact the circuit breaker was swapped with another working one led me on my quest for an open wire somewhere. @Reloadron: I did not check for power off the circuit breaker in question; something to try! Will excessive heat from the overload create an open at the circuit breaker? I didn't they would here.

    5a. There are two double 20 amp circuit breakers next to one another that I used to do the swap. I hadn't not considered the other one going bad either (one for each room??) as I didn't experiment to see what circuits are affected by that second breaker.

    17. House was built in 1986 so should be fairly up to code. I didn't see any modifications. No hidden outlets/junctions. Owner is extremely frugal so I doubt he had any electrical upgrade done. In both bathrooms he's using power strips (CRINGE!!!!!) to power appliances (ass washer downstair, wifi upstairs.) Oh boy.

    18. All outlets were backstabbed, but I checked the voltage with direct wire contacts to assure accuracy.

    I <may> be going back for other work so I'm chomping at the bits to find a solution and get this resolved.

    Any other thoughts?
     
  10. Tonyr1084

    Distinguished Member

    Sep 24, 2015
    3,073
    745
    In the past few years I've replaced or installed GFCI outlets in certain areas, and already they are showing signs of not working. So I really need to get after them. You know, when you push the test button they're supposed to pop - some don't. One IS popped but for no apparent reason that I can find. Ground tests good, neutral tests good and hot is working just fine. So it's possible you have a failed GFCI. And like you said, who knows where it runs off to.
     
  11. 120volts

    Thread Starter Member

    Sep 26, 2014
    57
    2
    Hmm. Ok @Tonyr1084! I, too, have had GFIC's go out on me within a short period of time...

    Additional: The GFIC in the downstairs bathrooms (both 'no power' rooms are upstairs) worked fine though. Both sockets worked with a load and didn't trip at all. I pressed in the test button and it does shut if off. However, when I pressed the reset button, it would <not> click in (like it should), but the power would always resume right away. That is why I didn't mess with this one and only GFIC.

    But I think your are right...I can try seeing what's amiss in that junction box and even try installing a new GFIC. Might be worth the gamble and worth it if it fixes things. Thanks, @Tonyr1084 and all!
     
  12. rthomas12

    Member

    Dec 6, 2016
    32
    3
    With everything you have done, I'm sure you have checked other breakers for being tripped or off. It was very common years ago for 12/3 wire to carry two 20 amp circuits. The two circuits would share the same neutral and make twice the problem if there was a fault. Good Luck.
     
  13. Bungalow

    New Member

    Jun 15, 2018
    1
    0
    In our case (thank God) the fault was on our electric company's service drop. A crimped lug failed. Jason from PSO who has several times fixed power outages due to squirrels, put a 400 AMP load on the line; which at first looked like the fail was on our side. But he kept testing and that's when the lug failed. The power would fail in the early hrs. but once it got hot outside there was no issue. It affected 4 different circuits with no tripped breakers.

    Crimped Lug.jpg
     
  14. Tgnohs

    New Member

    Dec 30, 2018
    1
    0
    120volts can you please give us an update if you were able to find a solution. Thanks!
     
  15. SLK001

    Senior Member

    Nov 29, 2011
    1,267
    484
    Also, backstabbing an outlet with its feeds is very bad practice and one that should be corrected. Always (RE: ALWAYS) wrap the hot and neutral wires around the outlet's TERMINALS and tighten them. If a wire continues to another outlet, use proper pigtails/connectors to feed them.
     
  16. 120volts

    Thread Starter Member

    Sep 26, 2014
    57
    2
    Thanks, guys! But this customer is long history and I've had not contact with him. So we'll never know. So sorry!! I do have a similar problem and thread with another customer that I <WILL> be returning to soon...
     
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