Electrical outlets stopped working

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I just plugged in a 4.1 amp vacuum on one of my 2nd floor outlets, turned it on and all it did was make this noise as if it had just been turned off and everything was "spinning down." I tried plugging it in on the 1st floor and the vacuum worked fine. I went back upstairs to that outlet and the outlet isn't working. So I went into the 2nd floor master bathroom and pressed the GFCI reset button with no luck. So I went and tested a few more outlets and the two 2nd floor bathrooms aren't getting any electricity. I pressed the reset button two more times but nothing happened. I've had the outlet in the one bathroom stop working before and was fixed by pressing the GFCI reset button. But I've never had the lights actually go out in the bathrooms. So I'm not sure if this is something I need to call an electrician for. Is there something I can do at the breaker box to see if this is just a fluke? I don't know if this matters but the electrical wiring in my house is "piggybacked", whatever that means.
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*Normally only the bathroom receptacles would be protected by the GFI and not the lighting. You could try going to the circuit breaker panel and resetting the circuit breaker by pushing it to the off position and then on. If that doesn't work and you are not comfortable taking apart outlets and switches, you should call an electrician.
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Thanks, I'll try that, though it's easier said than done as the circuit breaker is in an inconvenient and hard to reach place. Does it sound like the vacuum cleaner was responsible for causing this or is it just coincidental? I've never used that particular vacuum cleaner before so it just seems odd that the outlets would stop working the first time I tried to use that vacuum cleaner.
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Jo wrote: ...

If it were the vacuum, it would have tripped the other breaker as well.
I'd venture one of two possibilities...
a) There was something (or several somethings) else on the circuit at the time so that the added load was sufficient to trip the breaker, or;
b) The particular outlet you plugged it into had/has a loose connection that just was the final time it was used that caused the problem to occur then.
Obviously try the reset breaker route first, then check what else is on that circuit--you may have forgotten about something that's routinely there.
If that doesn't cure it, it's likely time for a friendly handy neighbor/friend followed by a pro...
--
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dpb wrote:

Small addendum:
While it is likely the outlet into which the vacuum was plugged is the culprit, it is also possible that ANY upstream outlet could be at fault.
If you have, say, six outlets that are "piggy-backed" and "backstabbed," and you plug anything into outlet #4, #s 4, 3, 2, or 1 could have just died of shame and refused to pass on the current.
Also possible is a bad forwarding connection at, say, #2 even though #2 works properly.
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wrote:

Thanks, I'll try that, though it's easier said than done as the circuit breaker is in an inconvenient and hard to reach place. Does it sound like the vacuum cleaner was responsible for causing this or is it just coincidental? I've never used that particular vacuum cleaner before so it just seems odd that the outlets would stop working the first time I tried to use that vacuum cleaner.
The starting current of a vacuum cleaner is very high, so they're notorious for tripping circuits. They're also notorious for causing open circuits in connections that are not real tight to begin with. The easiest thing to check is of course, the circuit breakers, but if it's not that, it is likely a loose connection at one of the daisy-chained outlets in that circuit. Unless the outlet you plugged the vacuum into was in a bathroom, it is unlikely to be controlled by a GFCI device, although in a twenty year old house, that outlet could share the same circuit as bathroom outlets.
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Have your dad make the breaker more conveint for you, by law it should be. Back stabbed means the wires go into the back of the outlet.
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***
I'll agree with the lighting part of that statement, but the part about "bathroom receptacles" might need to be expanding to include bedroom and/or hallway receptacles.
Someone may have wired the second floor so that receptacles outside the bathrooms are GFCI protected, perhaps in order to install 3 pronged receptacles on an ungrounded circuit.
We can't tell from the OP where the outlet that she used was located. She said:
"I went back upstairs to that outlet and the outlet isn't working. So I went into the 2nd floor master bathroom and pressed the GFCI reset button with no luck. So I went and tested a few more outlets and the two 2nd floor bathrooms aren't getting any electricity."
Since she went *into* the master bath to reset the GFCI that tells me that the receptacle she was using was outside of *that* bathroom, but we don't know if that receptacle was in the *other* bathroom or someplace else.
All I'm saying is that we don't know what the GFCI protect and what they don't and if they are even involved in this situation.
Professor Plum in the Library with the Candlestick!
***

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I am happy to report that the problem has been solved. There was a switch in the circuit breaker that was in between being on and off. So I turned it off then on and everything is working now. Although, now I need to relabel the circuit breaker switches. That switch was just listed as being "lights", which isn't very helpful.
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One last thing, I'm a little confused by some of the things that people have posted. Maybe someone can help me understand something.
I only have one GFCI outlet in my house, which is located in the master bathroom. Whenever any electrical outlet inside or outside the house stops working, it can almost always be fixed by pressing the reset button on that GFCI outlet. Is that normal? It sounds like it's not normal for all the other outlets in the house to be affected by that one GFCI outlet. It sounds like to me that if that GFCI outlet doesn't work, then no other outlet should work either. But that isn't true, because I just went through that today. So could someone please explain this.
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This will probably be just one of many answers you'll get to your quesion...
GFCI outlets can be used to protect "downstream" receptacles.
First, you need to understand the purpose of a GFCI:
The GFCI itself monitors the current between the hot and the neutral wires in the circuit and if it differs, it trips. There doesn't have to be an overload or a short like a circuit breaker needs, just an imbalance between the 2 wires. This protects the user because if the current coming into the receptacle is not exactly the same as the current leaving, then the GFCI assumes it's going through the user and kills the power before the user can even feel it.
If there are receptacles that are wired to the "load" side of the GFCI, then not only will the user be protected from a problem at the GFCI, but at any receptacle downstream.
Often times a GFCI will be installed in that manner in older homes where there is no ground wire in the circuit. You are not supposed to install 3-prong receptacles in a circuit without a ground wire, but code allows you install a GFCI in the circuit and then wire 3-pronged outlets downstream so that they are protected. Keep in mind that the *user* is protected in those cases, but equipment will not be since there is still no gorund.
If the GFCI is used to protect 3-prong receptacles in an ungrounded circuit, each receptacle is supposed to be labeled to note that it does not have an equipment ground.
Hope that helps!
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The way it is connected is that at the breaker box a wire goes to the GFIC. From the GFIC you can run a wire to other outlets. Depending on what the electrical code was when the place was built, it may have been the bathroom and outside outlets had to be on a GFIC. It sounds like a lot of outlets were put on the GFIC instead of using more than one GFIC for each outlet or a small number of outlets.
The GFIC will not usually trip on an overload, but the breaker going to it will trip. The GFIC measures the current on the wires and if they are not the same it trips. That is usually caused by leakage current to the ground. The GFIC is made to protect people when there is a fault with the device plugged into an outlet. Say you have a lamp with a metel base and there is a short to the base. This will not make any differace to the operation of the lamp. When you touch the lamp and another part of you is grounded, you will get shocked. The GFIC is usually fast enough to cut off the electricity before you are dammaged or killed. The breaker in the box will not be affected.
If there is a short between the wires inside the lamp, the GFIC may not trip. The wires heat up and can cause a fire. The job of the breaker is to triop before that hapens.
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*It sounds as though your home was built in the 80's. At that time it was allowed in the electrical code to have all of the receptacles that were required to have GFI protection on one circuit, except kitchens. I have found that it is very common in homes from that era to have the outside receptacles, the garage receptacles and the bathroom receptacles to all be protected by one GFI. Sometimes even the basement receptacle is on that same circuit. The builders saved money on material costs that way. The current electrical code now requires that the bathroom receptacles be on a separate 20 amp circuit.
I recently had a customer call me because the receptacles in her three bathrooms stopped working and she could not find a GFI anywhere. I went over and looked around and found the GFI receptacle behind some boxes in the garage. Resetting it energized the bathroom receptacles.
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On 1/7/2011 6:42 PM, John Grabowski wrote:

This place resembles that remark, at least in the 1978? addition. Outside outlet was dead, and it looked weathered and cracked, so I swapped it out with no joy. Sitting there cussing, the penny dropped and I remembered a thread on here a few years ago about outside outlets being linked to bathroom. Sure enough, press the little button on the outlet in the seldom-used second bath, and the outside outlet came back.
Not gonna bother to rewire it- no inspection to speak of in this township, and it doesn't cause me any problems since I got a decent extension cord for the leaf blower. I won't claim the wiring in this place meets modern code, but it is a hell of a lot safer than when I moved in, with the various repairs and reworks I have done, cleaning up after previous owner. Next project is to clean up some hillbilly wiring in basement so I can heat those strings again, and fish a wire to put a light in stairwell.
--
aem sends...

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re: "There was a switch in the circuit breaker that was in between being on and off. "
As I mentioned in an earlier post, that is typical of a "tripped breaker".
Many (most?) brands of breakers don't turn "off" when they trip, they just open and stop half way.
In many (most?) cases you can't reset it until you turn it off in order to reset the tripping mechanism.
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re: "There was a switch in the circuit breaker that was in between being on and off. "
Just some clarification of terminology:
The "switch" you mentioned *is* the circuit breaker. The "case" or "box" that all of the circuit breakers are installed in is typically called the "breaker panel".
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Being halfway between off and on is typical when a breaker trips due to overcurrent. Another thing to note is that if there is no voltage coming into a GFCI, you will not be able to set and then trip/ test the GFCI since input voltage is needed to operate the internal citrcuitry inside the GFCI.
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wrote:

If, which you say, more than one outlet has quit working, the two main things to check will be the GFCIs and the main circuit breaker. (If the GFCIs are hot, they are not the problem)
If you verify neither over current device is the problem, you should carefully pull out the outlet the vacuum was plugged into and check connections.
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Please excuse my ignorance but what do you mean by a hot GFCI? I can tell you that there is only one GFCI in my house and it's located in the 2nd floor master bathroom. That outlet is not getting any power and the lights in the bathroom aren't working either. Any time any outlet stops working, whether it be inside or outside, I always have to press the reset button in that master bathroom.
The outlets in my house shouldn't be "backstabbed" as the house was built by my father who made sure everyone was doing their jobs properly (he's a perfectionist). But if I can't get things working at the circuit breaker, I'll have my father check out that outlet.
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In the past, when you've had to reset that GFCI, were the lights out also?
If not, but they are now, then the problem is most likely not with the GFCI but with the power to the bathrrom itself - assuming the lights and GFCI are on the same circuit.
When you check the breaker box, you might have to look carefully to see what has tripped. Some brands of breakers only move a little bit when tripped, rarely do you get one that trips to fully Off. (Discalimer: At least in my experience)
To reset it, turn it to Off first, then to On. If it argues with you (by tripping again) step away from the breaker box and call Dad.
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