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GFCI Outlet Question

Discussion in 'Electronic Repair' started by mooseshoes, Dec 16, 2003.

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  1. mooseshoes

    mooseshoes Guest


    I have a house that is 2 years old and recently after testing my breaker box
    switches for an outlet match I lost power to a few outlets and switches in
    my home, including an external light, an outlet in the garage (used for the
    sprinkler system) and one inside. I read where sometimes the GFCI outlets
    get tripped so I paraded around my home and made sure every GFCI switch was
    set properly and that all breaker switches were on. Still no power.

    The likely culprit is a GFCI switch at the workbench in the garage. The
    kicker, however, is that that outlet is working fine. It is controlled by
    the breaker switch labeled "GFCI Garage."

    Therefore, I have no way of figuring out why those outlets aren't
    functioning. I've tried resetting all the breaker switches too...


    Any suggestions?

    Thanks in advance,

  2. Jeff Wiseman

    Jeff Wiseman Guest

    Your GFCI thinking might be a red herring in this case. Does
    "testing my breaker box switches for an outlet match" mean that
    you went through and turned each breaker off and then on again to
    determine which breaker was associated with which outlets? If so,
    consider the following:

    The problem may be with the main breaker that feeds those
    outlets. Since asking if you actually turned all of the breakers
    back on after your test might be a bit too obvious, I won't ask
    :) It's possible that the main breaker for those outlets had
    either tripped or failed internally when you returned it to the
    "on" position after testing it. If it is tripped, there will
    likely be a colored flag on the breaker indicating this and/or
    the lever on the breaker will not be all the way into the "on"
    position. A breaker that is tripped cannot be put directly back
    into the "on" position by just pushing the level in that
    direction. You must first reset the breaker by turning it off.
    Then you can put it back into the "on" position.

    If none of the breakers appear to have tripped, then you need to
    remove the panel on the box and go down the row of breakers with
    a meter to see if any of them have dead outputs even though they
    are turned on.

    - Jeff
  3. w_tom

    w_tom Guest

    Time to take inventory - to define the circuit. Where does
    wire go from receptacle to receptacle? First identify a
    problem by defining it. Don't yet try to fix it. What is the
    chain that interconnects those receptacles? Last receptacle
    (of daisy chain) would only have a single black, wire, and
    bare copper ground connected. Now work back; removing cover
    plates and examining (taking inventory) of what is observed
    behind receptacle and connected to that receptacle.

    One early suspect is a receptacle that uses that plug-in
    wire connector rather than wrapping wire around tightened
    screws. Always connect to the screw and never use that press
    in the back connection. This type of wiring is particularly
    bad for electronics such as computers; but is quite acceptable
    to incandescant lighting. Chances are a loose wire somewhere
    between the first non-fuctional recpetacle and last functional

    Inspection is required. If problem is due to bad
    workmanship, then only inspection will identify the problem.
    Often no need to remove receptacle from box. Inspection by
    just removing cover plates will be quite informative.

    Many tricks to locate this failure. This is just a simplest
    and first step. When wiring failures occur, a most likely
    reason is workmanship which is why visual inspection is so
    important in locating reason for failure. You are looking for
    a broken connection; not looking for a short circuit.
  4. mooseshoes

    mooseshoes Guest

    unpowered receptacle. I will take inventory.

    organized will be difficult without power with the exception of identifying
    the last in the chain.

    voltmeter which will come in handy.

    Thanks again for your assistance. I'll let you know how it turns out.
  5. mooseshoes

    mooseshoes Guest

    at this point. Yes, the breaker test was to see which one went with each
    of the outlets and switches.


    It's possible that the main breaker for those outlets had
    and it is on a funky set of four switches, the middle two of which are
    ganged and include the suspect switch. The outer two switches are ganged
    as well. The switches, however, don't have the external characterstics of
    being tripped because they switch quite readilty between an ON and OFF
    state and stay firmly in the ON position.

    to measure the voltage between the neutral bus bar (located near the top of
    the box?) and the terminal (is there only one?) from each of the switch

    Thanks again for your help.
  6. Jeff Wiseman

    Jeff Wiseman Guest

    I would go ahead and try removing the panel. As long as you are
    careful where you put your hands, you should be ok. DO NOT remove
    the panel over the main house breaker (i.e., the BIG one).

    Yes, you will measure between the neutral and the single terminal
    on each breaker. If you have a breaker with two terminals
    (screws) on the same side, it is basically just two breakers in
    one package (like having two separate ones with ganged levers).
    Note that the neutral bar is also attached to the box itself so
    for testing purposes, you can connect one side of your meter to
    any exposed metal on the box that is easy and safe to get to.
    Then with all of the breakers "on", carefully go down and check
    the AC voltage level on each breaker terminal. They should all be
    at the SAME standard line voltage (something like 110VAC to
    120VAC depending on where you live). For the sake of this test,
    you can just ignore the fact that some breakers are ganged
    together. If any of them has something less than that (say,
    0-90volts), then something is wrong at the panel.

    Although it is unlikely that a ganged breaker will be associated
    with your fault (they are used for 240VAC circuits such as
    airconditioners, electric stoves, and electic hot water tanks,
    etc.) you should go ahead and test all of the breakers in the
    main panel.

    Note that I feel you should do this before any other diagnostics
    at the outlets since you could spend hours tracing circuits at
    the outlets before you finally discovered that the main source of
    power to them has just been shut off.

    - Jeff
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