Selective outlet not working, tested all breakers and breakers are good

Thread Starter

bucky

Joined Aug 10, 2019
2
Hello all. I am trying to troubleshoot why some outlets inside and outside my house are not functioning, as well as a light switch. Two of the outlets are upstairs in two different washrooms; however, the light switch for the washroom works fine. All the other outlets upstairs are also working fine. I tested the wires connected to the outlets and they have no power. Then one outlet that's located on the outside of the house is also not working, as well as a light switch for an outdoor light that's close to the outside outlet is also not working. The outdoor outlet I'm not sure if there is power to the wire, but for the light switch there is no power. I tested all the breakers for power and they are all showing 120v. I am not really sure where to go next and would really appreciate any guidance. Thank you in advance.

Edit: House is about 40 years old.
 

MaxHeadRoom

Joined Jul 18, 2013
23,797
Washrooms and outside outlets should be all GFI etc, but if they do not show power on the incoming conductors then you have an open circuit somewhere in the circuit.
Did you test the power on the actual conductors entering the outlet boxes?
Max.
 

Thread Starter

bucky

Joined Aug 10, 2019
2
Thanks Max for the prompt reply. The outlet in the washrooms themselves are not GFCI outlets, but the circuit breaker does have GFCI. I am not sure if that makes a different. I was thinking for the open circuit, I would imagine it would affect more than a couple outlet especially within its close proximity. The light switch also seemed to have been affected at a different time.
I did test everything that I can test within the outlet box and none of it have any power.
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
13,307
Something upstream from the outlets that aren't working may have come loose. From experience, it'll be a pain to trace, but that's life.

An non-contact voltage tester may help; some stud finders have one. Walabot has a product that lets you trace wires behind walls, but I haven't gotten mine to work satisfactorily (yet).
 

WBahn

Joined Mar 31, 2012
26,398
It's quite possible that all of the non-working switches and outlets are fed from a GFI outlet upstream that you haven't spotted. These are not always located in the areas that have to be protected, especially if they are being used to protect multiple such areas. We have such an outlet located on the outside wall of a bedroom that sits between the two upstairs bathrooms. It took me quite a while to find it when it tripped since I was focused on the bathroom. It wasn't until I happen to notice that the nightlight in the other bathroom wasn't working that I started looking at all of the places that could conceivably be common places.
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
13,307
Edit: House is about 40 years old.
Have fun with that. I have the outlets and switched lights for 2 bathrooms, a bedroom, and most of the outlets in the living room on the same circuit... What were those people thinking?
 

WBahn

Joined Mar 31, 2012
26,398
Have fun with that. I have the outlets and switched lights for 2 bathrooms, a bedroom, and most of the outlets in the living room on the same circuit... What were those people thinking?
They were thinking that this situation is far better than having all of the circuits in a given room on the same circuit. When a circuit blows, isn't it useful to be able to have power somewhere in each room. If nothing else, this allows you to continue using the room with limited inconvenience until a suitably qualified repairman can come out.

Ideally you might have two or three circuits that serve a room and only that room. But this would result in massive overkill on the number of breakers in the panel. Plus, the total number of breakers allowed is usually limited by the total capacity of the service to the panel. So the alternative is to attempt to fully utilize each circuit but have it feed portions of multiple rooms.

Another factor, of course, is economy of wiring. Routing a separate circuit to each room and then distributing it to the entire room will often result in a lot of excess wire run. But routing a circuit to a wall shared by two or more rooms can significantly reduce the amount of time and materials needed.
 

dl324

Joined Mar 30, 2015
13,307
They were thinking that this situation is far better than having all of the circuits in a given room on the same circuit. When a circuit blows, isn't it useful to be able to have power somewhere in each room. If nothing else, this allows you to continue using the room with limited inconvenience until a suitably qualified repairman can come out.
What I meant was that *all* of the outlets and lights for 2 bathrooms and 1 bedroom were on the same circuit; plus most of the outlets in the living room. When the breaker trips, 3 rooms have no power at all.

I'd hate to be taking a shower in one bathroom and have someone trip the breaker and be left standing in complete darkness (no windows). It's not like I could come out of the room wet, soapy, and naked to investigate.

It was probably code back then, but still dumb.

We did a kitchen remodel almost 25 years ago and it has 8 breakers.
 

WBahn

Joined Mar 31, 2012
26,398
What I meant was that *all* of the outlets and lights for 2 bathrooms and 1 bedroom were on the same circuit; plus most of the outlets in the living room. When the breaker trips, 3 rooms have no power at all.

I'd hate to be taking a shower in one bathroom and have someone trip the breaker and be left standing in complete darkness (no windows). It's not like I could come out of the room wet, soapy, and naked to investigate.

It was probably code back then, but still dumb.

We did a kitchen remodel almost 25 years ago and it has 8 breakers.
Ah, I see what you mean now. The house I grew up in was built in 1970 and, to the best of my knowledge, it had at least two breakers that served each room. That proved very fortunate since it also had aluminum wiring but Cu-only receptacles. We lost a couple of circuits due to this (and almost had one fire) and, at the time, we didn't have the money to have them fixed. So my parents bedroom went for many years (eight, I think) with two working outlets on the far wall and nothing else. It turned out to be more practical for my Dad to dust off three coal-oil lamps and put them on the dresser (with the mirror behind them) to use for light. It worked and we got used to it -- we didn't get it fixed until we where getting the place ready to sell.

Given the generally shoddy construction in the homes in that neighborhood, I doubt the builder put rooms on multiple breakers out of a desire for quality. So it was either required by code (in Colorado) at that time, or it just happened to be the simplest way to wire the house (probably the more likely).

I don't know how many outlets were allowed on a single circuit back then, but I think the number has gone down quite a bit. Back in those days there were relatively few electrical things that people used and most didn't pull that much power. A house commonly had at most one television and most bedrooms usually had one light, one clock, and perhaps a radio. You had the basic set of large appliances: fridge, stove/oven, washer, dryer, furnace, and perhaps a freezer. Other than that you only had some intermittent loads like a vacuum cleaner and it was unusual for several such loads to be on at all, let alone on the same circuit. So a house generally needed fewer outlets and you could put more outlets on the same circuit because the expected draw per outlet was smaller. Both that house and the one I lived in last (built in 1971) had a pretty small number of breakers in the panel -- something like a dozen 120 V breakers. The house I'm in now probably has at least forty between the main panel and the subpanel. The house I grew up in had just two (duplex) outlets in each of the small bedrooms and the bathrooms only had one -- even the living room only had three; none of these rooms had a ceiling light, either, but rather the top half of one outlet was controlled by the switch near the door. The kitchen only had three.

I've often wondered how many of those houses had to have their electrics upgraded to be truly usable today, although it's possible that the situation has peaked and is now coming down -- not long ago a house would have several TVs and stereo systems and computers and many of them would be on at the same time and all of them were power hogs. Today there might be an even larger number of items, but the per-item power usage has generally dropped considerably.
 
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