How To Track Down Fault I

John:
J > I have a house that is 3 years old and recently I discovered that 6 or 7 of J > the outlets and a couple of light switches no longer have current. One of J > the outlets and one of the light switches is near the main electrical box. J > It is actually inside the garage directly behind the box. I opened the J > electrical box on the outside of the house and tested each circuit against J > the common and all circuits seem to have power at least at the box. J > J > Additionally, it appears that my electrical fireplace is also impacted by J > that circuit. J > J > I have opened each outlet and switch to see if there is a loose wire and I J > haven't found a problem. J > J > I'm not sure where to go from here. J > J > Any suggestions?
Worse comes to worse you'll have to call in an electrician. Can we assume all the outlets, light switches, and fireplace are on the same circuit? Wiring is relatively straight-forward: if connected it works, if not connected it doesn't work. It requires two wires to complete the circuit, generally the black is "hot" and the white is "return". (For the electricians, I'm really simplifying on purpose.) If the black is open the circuit stops working. If the white is open the circuit also stops working.
Outlets are usually wired in (relatively) straight line: if there are four outlets on a wall they're more than likely going to be wired in sequences (A, B, C, D), not random (A, D, B, C). Outlets in two different rooms sharing a common wall can be on the same circuit and wired in sequence.
A light switch can be tapped (connected to) the same circuit powering the outlets. So..., if there isn't any power to the outlet there might not be power to the switch either.
So let's say we have a circuit like this:
Switch---->Fireplace | Circuit | Breaker ----->Outlet1---->Outlet2----->Outlet3-----Outlet4 A B
If Outlets 3 and 4 don't work then the problem is probably at either Point A (the output of Outlet 2) or Point B (the input to Outlet3). The problem could also be in a junction box located somewhere between the two, or possibly Outlet2's output goes into the switchbox and there is a bad connection there:
Switch---->Fireplace C ^ | | | Circuit | | Breaker ----->Outlet1---->Outlet2 v-->Outlet3-----Outlet4 A B
An open at A or C would cause the switch (fireplace) and Outlets 3 and 4 to not function.
Check for a broken wire at the screw terminals or loosened from the pigtailed leads (wirenutted together).
There is another strange 'quirkie' to look for. There is a piece of metal between the top and bottom outlets, on both sides. Removal of the link will open the circuit -- generally done on purpose for switched outlets (one outlet is on constantly, the other of the pair is controlled by a switch, such as for turningon/off lights from a wall switch). If this link is accidentally broken it will open the circuit. You may think the duplex outlet is fine because you happen to have something plugged into the working outlet. So..., test _both_ the top and bottom outlets. (To test you can use an incandescent lamp. I use a $5-10 outlet tester because it is more portable and also tells me if the outlet has been wired correctly [tests all three wies].)
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