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.
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, 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.
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.
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
Thanks again for taking the time to share your thinking with me.
email@example.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
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.
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.
firstname.lastname@example.org (Bruce) wrote in message
email@example.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
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
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.
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
Thanks again for your help.
On 1 Sep 2003 11:06:01 -0700, firstname.lastname@example.org (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
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.
On 2 Sep 2003 20:05:13 -0700, email@example.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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