electrical question

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The outlet in one of our bedrooms is such that when you wiggle a plug in it the power to the plug goes on and off. Experienced that many times, but what's odd, to me, is when the power is disrupted by wiggling it, it also cuts out the power to the overhead light/fan, which is operated by the switch at the door.
There are two switches by the door, one of which is controls the switching of some/all of the outlets, but that switch is taped ON, so not a factor in this. When I move the outlet, with it pulled partly out of the box, the power goes on and off, so there's a loose wire/connection in the outlet. Question is, based on what's happening, can you tell if it's a specific wire? By pulling (with power off) I can't tell that one is loose. Or should I be replacing the outlet? Thanks.
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In a receptacle/outlet in one of our bedrooms, you can wiggle the plug and the connection will go on and off. We've all experienced that, but what's unique (in my experience), is that when it goes off, the power to the overhead light, operated by a switch at the door, goes off, too.
What's the connection between these two, and what do I need to do to fix it? I opened the receptacle, and don't see anything obviously loose, though I'm inexperienced at electrical things. I did turn the power off before taking the receptacle out, though (do know that much!). Thanks.
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Without getting into the detail as to how the overhead light is wired into the receptacle, consider this:
If the wires are all tight on the receptacle, and any other wires inside the receptacle box are connected properly (wire nuts tight, etc.) then the next logical step is to replace the receptacle. They do go bad. Note where all wires are attached, take 'em off and put them on the same place on the new receptacle. If that doesn't fix the problem, then start digging deeper.
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That outlet feeds the light in you room. Usually the incoming feed and the outgoing feed are at the sides terminals and are just screwed tight. make sure the terminals are tight.
Or the wires could be "stab-locked" to the back of the outlet. This is just basically a quick-connect spring loaded terminal which can come loose over time. I personally don't like those type of connections, I like the side terminals better.
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I would bet money that the OP will find that the wiring is stab-lok'd to the back of the receptacle and that that is why he's having a problem. Something is broken/bent/loose inside the recep. assembly and when the plug is wiggled it is making/breaking the connection to the wire feeding the light switch. I suspect that a recep. in a bathroom is used quite frequently - and by this I mean that plugs are inserted and removed quite a bit. for that reason I would recommend a "spec grade" receptacle, or if it is an older house without a GFCI breaker for the bathroom, a GFCI receptacle (which usually appear similar in construction to "spec grade" anyway.) And I would definitely use the screw terminals and not the stab-loks.
nate
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Yeah, they were backstabbed. I re-wired the same outlet in the bedroom, and am now debating the replacement of all outlets. I could see the bathroom ones, as they do get more active use. What are "spec grade" ones? I don't have GFCI outlets, though my house was built in '88, and I was told in another thread that it would have to be based on that. So I guess it's on a GFCI upline somewhere? If so, then are you saying to simply use a spec grade, since the GFCI is already elsewhere on the circuit? Thanks.
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albee wrote:

I would use "spec grade" wherever you find yourself plugging and unplugging appliances frequently.
I just went back and reread your post and originally read "bathroom" where you really said "bedroom." So my comment about the GFCI does not apply, and my other comment about frequent usage may not either.
If your bathroom does not have a GFCI receptacle, you likely have a GFCI breaker feeding that circuit in your breaker panel. '88 should be more than new enough that that was a requirement back then.
nate
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replace "roosters" with "cox" to reply.
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Power to the light is obviously fed through connections at, or on, that receptacle. Not especially unusual.

Turn the breaker off again, and remove the receptacle from the box. You'll probably find four wires -- two black and two white -- going into holes on the back of the receptacle (so-called "backstab" connections, which are notorious for loosening up over time, and causing *exactly* the problem you're seeing).
If that's what you find, then locate the slot next to each wire where you can push in a screwdriver, toothpick, wire, or some similar tool to disengage the spring catch that holds the wire in place. Undo all four wires, and connect them to the screw terminals on the sides of the receptacle, making sure to bend the wires clockwise around the shafts of the screws.
(If this receptacle does not have screw terminals on the sides, throw it away, and buy one that does.)
Connect black wires to the brass screws, and white wires to the silver-colored screws. Tighten the screws securely, and reinstall the receptacle in the box. Turn the breaker back on. This will probably solve the problem; let us know.
--
Regards,
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
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Doug's advice is good but I'd take it a step farther: while you're in there anyway, why not replace the receptacle?
Go to a hardware store or HD or Lowes, get a receptacle that's *not* the cheapest they carry. Might cost you $1.50 instead of $0.50, but will last longer and make a much better connection!
Eric Law
wrote:

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Same thing as a recent previous post with the TV set. Unfortunately working with Romex involves "cutting the load run" a LOT more often than working with plain wire in conduit where you can center strip the wire easily without cutting it and "christmas light along" on an unbroken run. If the Romex electrician is not careful about ensuring a good load run as they go, with all that cutting, then loose connections take out devices farther down the wire, that simple. I'm not real familiar with Romex wiring as I have only used it once many years ago, but I'm learning a lot on this group about it (I'm in Chicago where we really dont ever see Romex, its all plain wire in conduit).
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Man I'm glad I dont live in a Romex wired house.
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If screw connections, tighten all the screws.
As someone asked, are they the stabbed type? Does the outlet also have screws that are not being used? If so move the wires from the stabbed to the screws. Otherwise replace the outlet.
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wrote:

Thanks so much for all the quick, great answers. Sorry for the double-post; I happened to entitle this the same as someone else's old post, and it got put in the middle of it on my reader way back several months. Glad I found it now!
Kind of a "duh" re: the why, if I knew anything. Now I do! As for what went wrong and the fix, indeed, they're going into holes in the back, and there are screws on the side, so I'll be switching them to there. Thanks a ton!
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albee wrote:

For sake of completeness I'll say that just because there are wire holes in the back the outlet is not automatically a "back stab" type. There is an extremely high quality sort with holes in the back where tightening the screws actually physically clamp the stripped wire ends rather than depending on the backstab's feeble sprung contact. The easy way to tell is whether there are little slots on the back of the receptacle where one inserts a small screwdriver tip to release the wire. If you see them then the receptacle is a backstab.
Personally, I would avoid re-using an old backstab type. They are cheaply made and if the circuit has been compromised in the past there may have been overheating that could have caused other unseen problems. Even good receptacles are relatively inexpensive, so why not replace it?
Oh. And to provide the usual warnings: "power off before you mess with it!" and "it can't hurt to make a drawing and label the conductors before you mess with things so you can put it back together correctly".
--
John McGaw
[Knoxville, TN, USA]
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wrote:

Speaking from experience- fighting with those usually-too-short wires is enough of a pain, that it is crazy to not spend the two-three bucks and put a new high-quality duplex outlet in there. 'Wiggling the plug' tells me the springs in the slots are getting tired, and the outlet is about shot anyway. If an outlet is over a few years old, and I have to take it apart, I just replace it as cheap insurance.
IMHO, it falls in the category of Life Is Too Short To Mess With This Twice.
aem sends....
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wrote:

OMG. Simple enough. Indeed, they were backstabbed, and after getting done with re-wiring them (BTW: coincidence or not, turns out the best thing to use to disengage those suckers is the prong of a cord! Tried about 10 things before I came up with that). Anyway, got done with it... and nothing. Nothing. So, I decide to test other outlets in the room, stick my multimeter in another one, and as soon as I do, all lights and power come on throughout the room?! Including to the one I just re-wired. Yet, this was an outlet that was behind a dresser and hadn't been used in eons. What happened? I decided not to take it apart to check it, since we're not using it and it's working now. Stumped... But problem solved.
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Bad idea.
You KNOW there's a problem there. You know, too, that the problem is a loose connection. What you may not know is that loose connections can start fires.
Fix it.
BEFORE you go to sleep tonight.

Stumped? Why? The symptoms are identical. It's almost certainly the same problem -- and the outlets are telling you that it's time to at least re-wire, if not replace, ALL of them. In the entire house. As soon as possible.
While you're at it, check all the switches too (chances are they were done the same way).
--
Regards,
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
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On Wed, 22 Aug 2007 00:29:44 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@milmac.com (Doug Miller) wrote:

Thanks for all the replies (and Rich, no, they're not aluminum). Can anyone explain what happened after I re-wired the one outlet, and suddenly I wasn't getting any power to it, and then tested the other outlet, that hadn't been touched in years, and all of a sudden it appears to have a loose wire? Did the wire come loose from turning the breaker on and off? Guess I'll go in and replace it/both with new outlets, but then shouldn't I be doing that throughout the house, if these are all original, and all backstabbed, and two in one room have gotten loose at the same time? Jeez, sounds like a fun week ahead! Thanks again for all the help!

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Most likely, there's been a problem there for a couple years. You just found it.

Like I said below... YES. You have a potential fire hazard.

--
Regards,
Doug Miller (alphageek at milmac dot com)
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On Wed, 22 Aug 2007 12:07:21 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@milmac.com (Doug Miller) wrote:

Thanks for the heads-up on the switches, too. Boy, as bad as backstabbed things appear to be it's hard to believe codes allow it. My "stumped" was because the other outlet hadn't been used, and was behind a dresser and not even touched during this ordeal with the other one. Yet a conncection appeared to have gotten loose during this one day period, without it being touched. So I was stumped, and wondering if it could have happened as a result of the power being turned on and off to it at the breaker. Tha'ts the only thing that's been done to it from the time it was working and when I tested inside it, triggering the power to come back on. Anyway, thanks so much for the help and cautionary words. I will address them all.
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