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        Dead electical outlet and mystery switches Sign In/Join 
        posted
        I bought a house that was built in 1958 and am replacing the outlets and switches. I have one outlet that only puts out about 20-30 volts on the meter compared to 120 on the other outlets. It does not supply enough power to operate a light bulb or a radio that I used to quick check the outlets. I replaced a nearby switch already (above it on the same wall), but that didn't help and it still doesn't work after I replaced the outlet. I haven't yet pulled out the other wires that are not connected to the outlet. They appear to be wrapped tightly (twisted and taped). I'm wondering how I should troubleshoot this?

        And also, how do you figure out what a switch operates? I have a couple other 3 way switches that don't seem to operate anything along with the one that I thought operated the troublesome outlet (but that's a simple switch).

        All 3 of these switches and the outlet are in the living room.
         
        Posts: 15 | Registered: Jan 14, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of CommonwealthSparky
        posted Hide Post
        It sounds like you have a poorly made up connection or damaged wire somewhere along that circuit. If you feel safe in performing electrical readings with a voltage meter start at the breaker and work your way out the circuit. Troubleshooting is not a picnic and following the path is a real challenge. While is does look like the problem is in the room we do not know that as fact. Good luck.
        Your second question can not be answered as while they surely control {or did} something in or near the room who knows what. Without being present this is next to impossible to do and only would be guessing.

        This message has been edited. Last edited by: CommonwealthSparky,


        Popeye only reached for the Spinach can as a last resort...
         
        Posts: 1527 | Location: Central Pennsylvania | Registered: Jun 02, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Thanks for your response. Problem is that I have no idea what the circuit even looks like.
         
        Posts: 15 | Registered: Jan 14, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of CommonwealthSparky
        posted Hide Post
        Well then it is time to call a qualified electrician.

        This message has been edited. Last edited by: CommonwealthSparky,


        Popeye only reached for the Spinach can as a last resort...
         
        Posts: 1527 | Location: Central Pennsylvania | Registered: Jun 02, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        i haven't failed until i quit trying. Big Grin
         
        Posts: 15 | Registered: Jan 14, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        in your shoes, I would surely quit trying and call the man. there is something quite wrong indeed behind the wall or in the panel that is blowing 100 volts into thin air, and that kind of wrong can burn down the house. the energy is almost certainly dissipating as heat because you cannot create or destroy energy, you can only transform it. not just a good idea, that one is the law... First Law of Thermodynamics.

        time to call a pro and breaker off that circuit until they get there.


        sig: if this is a new economy, how come they still want my old-fashioned money?
         
        Posts: 5808 | Location: North Burbs, MN | Registered: Mar 14, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of CommonwealthSparky
        posted Hide Post
        quote:
        Originally posted by Pat the Rat:
        i haven't failed until i quit trying. Big Grin

        Certainly can't fault a person from trying to get to root of the problem. Trouble shooting is far and away the hardest part when walls cloud the issue of tracing circuits. Good luck.

        This message has been edited. Last edited by: CommonwealthSparky,


        Popeye only reached for the Spinach can as a last resort...
         
        Posts: 1527 | Location: Central Pennsylvania | Registered: Jun 02, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of CommonwealthSparky
        posted Hide Post
        quote:
        Originally posted by swschrad:
        in your shoes, I would surely quit trying and call the man. there is something quite wrong indeed behind the wall or in the panel that is blowing 100 volts into thin air, and that kind of wrong can burn down the house. the energy is almost certainly dissipating as heat because you cannot create or destroy energy, you can only transform it. not just a good idea, that one is the law... First Law of Thermodynamics.

        time to call a pro and breaker off that circuit until they get there.

        Yes I agree to the dangers present. Not to second your post. Just an addendum to an earlier post.
        When you have such a low voltage reading it is most often the hot leg of the circuit the culprit.


        Popeye only reached for the Spinach can as a last resort...
         
        Posts: 1527 | Location: Central Pennsylvania | Registered: Jun 02, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        I have also learned that this may be "phantom voltage" from my analog meter, but I'll proceed with caution. will look at the twisted-together wires next after checking for current.
         
        Posts: 15 | Registered: Jan 14, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of CommonwealthSparky
        posted Hide Post
        Not sure where you learned that but I strongly disagree with that logic. But also not saying you are incorrect. While false readings will show up using "chirpers" because of induction {nearby wiring with current} meters tend to provide accurate information to the user. Trouble shooting can provide unexpected results but usually fall into certain groups. Not knowing if you actually have current present is a dangerous situation that you must be very careful working around. Be careful good luck.


        Popeye only reached for the Spinach can as a last resort...
         
        Posts: 1527 | Location: Central Pennsylvania | Registered: Jun 02, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        never heard of "phantom voltage from my meter" unless you are trying to read resistance in a voltage. the usual phantom is the magic smoke leaving the inside of the meter in that case.

        I have seen several volts of difference among neutrals in one ugly hack somebody did in the pre-wife's rental duplex. called that out to the landlord for correction quick, because one likely cause was wiring crossed between the two entrances for the two sides. I have covered a business fire due to that in a previous life, and checked out a network in yet another one where adjacent metal buildings needed to be bonded. almost fried a tech who got a hand on each building.

        MORAL: know your limits. if you have an issue you can't figure out with a basic function of a building, call the pro right quick.


        sig: if this is a new economy, how come they still want my old-fashioned money?
         
        Posts: 5808 | Location: North Burbs, MN | Registered: Mar 14, 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        After taking the old outlet apart and rewiring it with t new outlet, it now works just fine. Also added the ground connection to the metal box.

        I still haven't figured out why the 2 wall switches don't operate anything. Looks like the original switches. I replaced the switches the same way with grounds and it made no difference. I will most likely try to rewire those circuits to get them to operate the outlets below them so they can be used to turn on lamps in the room. One of these days I'll get around to it. They haven't hurt anything since 1958 and now they at least have a new switch and grounds.
         
        Posts: 15 | Registered: Jan 14, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        When you replaced the outlet was there a red and a black wire on one side of the outlet and a white wire on the other? If so, the switch could be designed to operate half of the outlet. If you put both wires back on the outlet you'd need to break off the little tab that connects the two connection plates together on the hot side that is the brass colored screws, where you should have your black and red wires attached.

        If there aren't black and red wires on this outlet there may be another outlet in the room that is half hot and half switched.


        General Disclaimer

        Any advice given here is general in nature and is not necessarily valid for your given area. If in doubt check with your local codes enforcement department for what is required when doing electrical, plumbing or structural work on your house. Permits may or may not be required in your area and home owners may not be able to DIY some tasks. I have no way of knowing if you have the skills needed to complete the tasks you are asking about, when in doubt seek professional assistance.

        My advice may be worth exactly what you pay me for it. :-) For the record I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.
         
        Posts: 824 | Location: Cary, NC | Registered: Aug 17, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        yes, there were black and red wires attached. i think i tried some other outlets in the room but it did not seem to turn it on and off when i plugged a light into them. i will check again, though, just to be sure. I did not clip the connector in the outlet because the old one was not clipped.
         
        Posts: 15 | Registered: Jan 14, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        If you have red and black wires connected to the outlet one of them is likely connected to the switch. You could verify this with a voltage meter but you'd need to remove one of the wires because as long as both are connected to the outlet with the tab in place it will show hot as long as the always hot wire and the switched wire are terminated on the outlet.


        General Disclaimer

        Any advice given here is general in nature and is not necessarily valid for your given area. If in doubt check with your local codes enforcement department for what is required when doing electrical, plumbing or structural work on your house. Permits may or may not be required in your area and home owners may not be able to DIY some tasks. I have no way of knowing if you have the skills needed to complete the tasks you are asking about, when in doubt seek professional assistance.

        My advice may be worth exactly what you pay me for it. :-) For the record I did not stay in a Holiday Inn Express last night.
         
        Posts: 824 | Location: Cary, NC | Registered: Aug 17, 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Yes, that's what I was figuring. Wouldn't be sure which was hot and which was leading to the other outlets. I do know which would be first in line, though, at least. Thanks.
         
        Posts: 15 | Registered: Jan 14, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of Frodo
        posted Hide Post
        in my opinion.as a plumber and certainly not a electrician..i would be replacig all the plug ins and switchs in the house, at the same time i would be testing the wires back to the breakers,,1958, you may have alluminium wireing in that house,,if you do,,,STOP..DO NOT GO ANOTHER FUTHER

        its time to rewire your home... aluminum is ilegal now, when you find it..by code you gotta bring it up to code
        if there is a fire, and the insurance co, finds new plug ins hooked to old wireing,,they will weasel right out of giving you a penney..oh yes, they will look!!!
         
        Posts: 4032 | Location: I live in southern mississippi | Registered: Jun 01, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of CommonwealthSparky
        posted Hide Post
        Important addendum: Actually rules governing homes with aluminum wiring depend the region. It is not a requirement per say with the NEC to replace the wire with copper. It is a requirement to use approved connecters though, and that use is paramount. Rather pricy per connector I may add. [Aluminum SE cable has never been a problem and is use all over the country.] Just using a product like ox-guard during the install on the metal prevents the oxidation from forming.
        As Frodo mentioned insurance companies most often will not provide insurance till a copper upgrade. And true the late 50's into the 60's was the time frame when that metal was most popular. As builders were looking for a cheaper electrical product. The passage of time taught all the wisdom of that move.

        This message has been edited. Last edited by: CommonwealthSparky,


        Popeye only reached for the Spinach can as a last resort...
         
        Posts: 1527 | Location: Central Pennsylvania | Registered: Jun 02, 2010Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        posted Hide Post
        Looks like all copper wherever I've replaced outlets/switches so far.
         
        Posts: 15 | Registered: Jan 14, 2009Reply With QuoteReport This Post
        Picture of Frodo
        posted Hide Post
        good, relace one at a time,,,tighten all old wire nuts and tape them...replace old breakers.
         
        Posts: 4032 | Location: I live in southern mississippi | Registered: Jun 01, 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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