Troubleshooting dead outlets

I have a duplex with three outlets that are dead. One is in the bathroom, one's in the living room and one is outside on the back wall of the building. From what I understand, the bathroom plug went out a number of months ago, the living room plug has been out for as long as anyone remembers, and no one is sure about the outdoor plug. The unit is about 20 years old. None of the plugs appear to be GFI.
Although it would be nice to fix all three, the most important one for me is the bathroom plug. Although I've replaced all three outlets, there is no current coming to the outlets. I've checked the breaker box looking for loose connections or broken wires, and have checked the breakers themselves to see if any of them weren't conducting. From what I can tell, all seems fine in the box. I'm not aware of any other plugs, switches or lights that aren't working.
I'm stumped and would appreciate any direction on things I might do to make more progress troubleshooting this.
Thanks in advance for any help you might provide.
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Keep searching for a GFI. I used to live in a house of about the same vintage. The bathrooms and an outside outlet were all on the same GFI. When the outside outlet developed a cracked cover plate, that outlet got wet and tripped the GFI taking out the whole string. This may not have anything to do with the living room. That might be a separate problem.
Charlie
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Charlie, thanks for the direction. I've suspected that the bathroom and outdoor plugs are GFI problems but haven't found a GFI plug anywhere in the duplex and none of the breakers are GFI. I'll keep searching. I, too, suspect that it's a GFI problem. Thanks again.
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You should be able to determine if there is a GFI outlet anywhere in the house. If there are none, then a likely explanation is that there is a broken splice in a junction box or outlet box feeding the dead outlets. Also, the one in the living room could be a switched outlet with a broken switch. Are there any switches which don't appear to do anything?
The real dilemma here is how to determine where the feed to any given outlet comes from. You can make some plausible guesses and check those boxes carefully to see if there is a disconnected wire or other defect. There are also devices available which you can plug into and outlet and they let you trace the connections with a detector, but I don't have a source for such a gadget. They are probably pricey though.

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Donald, thanks for the direction.
I'm continuing to look for a tripped GFI outlet. I suspect that's the problem for the bathroom and the outdoor plug, but haven't found the culprit. The idea that the living room plug is attached to a switch is something I'll explore.
The challenge of finding where the feed to these outlets come from is something I'm experiencing as I try to track this down. I've been testing outlets and although I've found some things that looked suspicious, repairing them or replacing the outlets hasn't fixed the problem. I'm hoping that I won't have to crawl around in the attic to look in junction boxes up there for bad or broken splices. The idea of a tester that tracks the circuit even when there's a break in it sounds appealing, although I've not seen the tool. I am able to track circuits back to the breaker box, but they need to be working to do so.
Thanks again for taking the time to share your thinking with me.

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Since two of the three call for GFI, I would guess you have a GFI device somewhere (maybe even in the breaker box). Find it and I expect you will find the problem.
--
Joseph E. Meehan

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Thanks, Joseph. I suspect the same. I'll keep looking.

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In alt.home.repair snipped-for-privacy@jlipson.com (Sgana) wrote:

Do you have a VOM and know how to use it? When you say you've checked the breakers, the only way to "check" a breaker is with some means of measuring AC voltage or at least continuity.
1. Make sure the breakers are all on and voltage is present on the load side.
2. Go to the outlets and pull them out and look for power on the wires themselves, not in the socket.
3. If it is at the breaker and not on the wire at the outlet, uh oh, it is somewhere in the middle.
I doubt that is the case. It is probably corroded at one of the outlets. Are these all in a line? Start at the one closest to the breaker and work outwards if they are.
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Bruce, thanks for the direction.
I'm with you on all of the points you made, except for the very last one. When you say check the plugs starting closest to the breaker, I'm a bit confused as to what you mean. Since there's no power to the outlets I'm having trouble with, I don't know which breaker(s) operate any or all of these outlets. Is there a way to figure out which circuit an outlet is on if there's no power to the outlet?
Or, are you suggesting that I start with the outlets that are physically closest to the breaker box? My approach thus far has been to check outlets and, to be on the safe side, replace them as I check them given the potential for failure of outlets where wires are connected by pushing them in rather than using a screw terminal. So far I've only found one outlet that seemed as if it might be bad, but when I replaced it the problem of the dead outlets remained.
Any additional direction would be appreciated.
Thanks again.
snipped-for-privacy@nospam.com (Bruce) wrote in message (Sgana) wrote:

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In alt.home.repair snipped-for-privacy@jlipson.com (Sgana) wrote:

Yes, there are circuit devices you can buy that will plug in the outlet and then produce a signal that can be detected in the wire at the breaker or anywhere along the line. This won't work if you have no power on the line though. If you cut off the main breaker, you could jumper the plug with a large paper clip and check for continuity back at the breaker box to figure out which one you jumped. This will only work if there is no short in the line.

I did mean the one physically closest. I was thinking that they are daisy-chained and that if you fix the fault upstream, all of them will work.
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Thanks, Bruce.
snipped-for-privacy@nospam.com (Bruce) wrote in message (Sgana) wrote:

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Thanks, Bruce.
snipped-for-privacy@nospam.com (Bruce) wrote in message (Sgana) wrote:

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On Mon, 01 Sep 2003 11:06:01 -0700, Sgana wrote:

When you replaced the outlets were they wired as a chain using the backstab connectors? Chain wiring will have one wire-pair in and one wire-pair out for each outlet duplex. Backstab connectors are in the rear of the connector, a stripped wire is connected by pressing it into the duplex.
If cheap duplexes are backstabbed they start to fail in 15 to 20 years.
Make and exectrical map of your unit. Mark the location of each outlet, switch, and built-in light. Pull off the breakers one-by-one and use a meter or plug tester to determine which circuit each outlet is on. Your dead outlets may present some difficulty. If you are sociable with your neighbors you may be able to use their unit to complete your map and their unit is probable wired the same as yours.
If the backstabs are failing get a DIY electrical book and rewire each outlet and switch with pigtails and new outlets and switches. Plan five to 20 minutes per box depending on how complicated it is. Pay attention to how complicated outlets are wired as you pull them apart. You are likely to find such complications as shared commons, one switched and one unswitched outlet in a duplex, One box with four or five wire pairs in them, and switch boxes fed with more than one circuit inside. Take your time and makes notes, with help most people can do this. I took eight to nine hours to replace the outlets on a 2300 square foot house.
Richard Kaiser
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Thanks, Richard.
Based on the outlets I've looked at and replaced, they all appear to be backstabbed, some are chained, some not. I understand that backstabbed outlets are prone to failure, so I've replaced the chained ones I've tested, although I only found one that seemed potentially problematic. And although it was good to replace that outlet, replacing it didn't solve the bigger problem of the dead outlets.
It sounds like you're suggesting replacing all of the outlets if they're backstabbed. Given that they're prone to failure, it's probably a good idea and will probably save me a lot of grief in the future. Thanks.
Thanks again for your help.

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On 1 Sep 2003 11:06:01 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@jlipson.com (Sgana) wrote:

We had a similar problem where all the outlets in the back of the house stopped working one day. No power to any of the outlets, we replaced the breaker and that didn't solve the problem.
It turned out to be that they were all wired in series and there was a failure between the breaker and the first outlet in the series, causing all of them to fail. Once that was solved, everything worked again.
However, yours sounds like a different problem, perhaps rodents chewing on the wires. If things start failing at different times, it's time to start looking for individual solutions for each outlet.
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Thanks, Brian.
How did you identify the failure between the first outlet and the breaker?
(Sgana) wrote:

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Any chance you are in a Mobile Home? I have had the problem in my newer mobile home and haven't been able to track it. I guess I will use some of the suggestions the group gave you.
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On 2 Sep 2003 20:05:13 -0700, snipped-for-privacy@jlipson.com (Sgana) wrote:

Trial and error. There was power at the breaker (I replaced it first, just in case) but no power at the outlet or any of the outlets following. I got lucky and the break was visible at the breaker box (we're talking 40-year old wiring here) and repaired it. If it's in the wall somewhere, it's going to be a real pain to track down and get to, it might be easier to just cut the wires at both the outlet and the breaker and run new wiring, but depending on where you are, that might require a licensed electrician.
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Thanks, Brian.
(Sgana) wrote:

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