Any Electricians out there? Need some advice.

Discussion in 'Community Discussion' started by margotspop, Jan 28, 2011.

  1. margotspop macrumors regular

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    Jan 12, 2004
    #1
    So two nights ago a circuit in my house stopped working - well, not quite. At least two receptacles on that same circuit are working but everything else isn't - both ceiling lights and receptacles. The breaker did not trip. It's not the circuit breaker itself (I tested the circuit with another breaker with the same result) and besides, if it was, nothing on that circuit would work, right?

    So I'm guessing that a mouse or something has interrupted the circuit somewhere. A couple of questions: if a mouse did chew through the wire why didn't this cause the breaker to trip? I checked, and the breaker didn't trip. Second, what's the best way for me to determine where the fault occurs? I'm dreading going up in the attic and hunting it down.

    I'd be very grateful for any help/advice/suggestions. Many thanks.
     
  2. maflynn Moderator

    maflynn

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    #2
    I'm not an electrician but I do play one on tv :D

    Perhaps the wire completely broke/chewed through without causing a full short. That might explain why you didn't trip the breaker.

    Try unhooking and testing each device that's on the circuit, sounds like you may have some work ahead of you, or an expensive electrician's bill to resolve the problem.
     
  3. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #3
    Certainly in the UK the sockets and lights would never be on the same circuit, as they are fused at different rates. Maybe it's different in the States. I suppose you've checked the bulbs?
     
  4. margotspop thread starter macrumors regular

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    #4
    I haven't checked them. But a bulb blowing wouldn't break the circuit, would it?
     
  5. balamw Moderator

    balamw

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    #5
    It shouldn't if things are wired in parallel, but could if someone wired things bass ackwards in series. (Think Christmas tree lights).

    B
     
  6. Tonsko macrumors 6502

    Tonsko

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    #6
    Not unless the RCD is extra sensitive.
     
  7. barkomatic macrumors 68040

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    #7
    Unless its something simple like a blown bulb or a tripped breaker (which you said it isn't) I'd get a licensed electrician to take a look. I know its expensive but home wiring is most definitely not a do it yourself project. Please don't try to fix this yourself based on advice here. When people try they get blown fuses, fried electronic equipment, and sometimes electrical fires.
     
  8. mstrze macrumors 68000

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    #8
    Are you certain the recepticles that work are on the same circuit?

    Seems odd that something would have happened to only a portion of your circuit.

    Agree though, that if a wire was simple broken (mouse chewed through it) it would not have tripped the breaker.

    Check and make sure that all of your breakers are working. You may simply have two circuit breakers serving that same room. Heck, in some older houses, I have even seen two seperate breaker boxes, as additional lines were added later. Check and make sure there's not another box down the line.

    How old is the house?
     
  9. margotspop thread starter macrumors regular

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    #9
    So is it more likely that I'm looking at a fault somewhere in the circuit (faulty wiring, for example) or an instance of a mouse, say, doing some damage? Would one instance be less likely to trip the breaker than the other? I'm trying to figure out where to start. Ideally, I'd like to start with the easy possibilities and work up to to the more problematic ones (like going up into the attic and ripping up flooring to get to the wiring).
     
  10. margotspop thread starter macrumors regular

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    #10
    The house was built around 1970 so the wiring is fairly modern - we had the fuse panel replaced by a circuit breaker panel five years ago.

    Yeh - I'm pretty sure that the receptacles are on the same circuit - when I switch that circuit breaker off those receptacles stop working.

    So if a mouse chewed through a wire it wouldn't necessarily trip the breaker? And everything downstream from that point would stop working but everything upstream would still be ok? Is that possible?

    Thanks to everyone helping me here!
     
  11. mstrze macrumors 68000

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    #11
    Yes, but you have to ask yourself why would a mouse chew through a wire? If you cut a wire, it wouldn't trip a breaker. Only if you cross one wire with another (in simplistic terms) will it trip.

    A broken connection would not trip the breaker...and I guess that sounds like what you have. Did anything out of the ordinary happen recently? High winds? Weird noises? New appliance installation?

    I cannot see how you will avoid an attic trip...or a call to an electrician.

    Keep us updated.
     
  12. margotspop thread starter macrumors regular

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    #12
    Well, it's funny that you say that because we did hear a loud thump the other night. I had thought my daughter had fallen out of bed but it wasn't that. But there was no problems with the circuit that night or the next day. The circuit went a couple of nights later - my wife thinks she did hear a bang before it happened but can't be sure.

    Yeah - I am getting an electrician in. I just wanted to get an idea of where the problem might lie do some of the heavy lifting (clearing the attic, for example) to cut down on his time.

    Thanks.
     
  13. wct097 macrumors 6502

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    #13
    ...or if you ground one wire.

    Have any GFIC receptacles on that circuit? Any light switches? Could be as simple as a GFIC popping, or a switch going bad, though that would only apply to anything beyond the GFIC or switch.
     
  14. Tomorrow, Jan 28, 2011
    Last edited: Jan 28, 2011

    Tomorrow macrumors 604

    Tomorrow

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    #14
    Correct.

    Breakers trip on an overload of current (amperes). Opening a circuit - such as breaking a wire - causes no current to flow, so it won't trip the breaker, but it WILL cause current to be interrupted downstream of the break in the conductor.

    This is an electrician's job, unless...

    A 1970 house isn't necessarily "modern" as far as wiring goes - many houses from around this time frame had branch circuiting run with aluminum or copper-clad aluminum, rather than copper. Aluminum is not as good a conductor as copper, which means it has a tendency to heat up as it's used. This has caused connections to come loose before.

    Many times in houses, the conductors are daisy-chained from the breaker in the panelboard to several receptacles or light fixtures, going from one to the other to the other, etc. It's possible, especially (but not necessarily) if your wiring is aluminum, that the connections at one or more receptacles has come loose. You could start by checking each of the "dead" receptacles for their connections, if this is something you're comfortable doing.

    Please, though, if you're in doubt at all, hire a professional.

    Yes, but like I said, I would first check the fixtures and receptacles on that circuit - kill power to that circuit at the breaker, first!!

    EDIT: Here's a website with more information.
     
  15. margotspop thread starter macrumors regular

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    #15
    No GFIC's on that circuit, no. But I'll take your advice and check the switches and receptacles first before I do anything else. Thanks.
     
  16. margotspop thread starter macrumors regular

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    #16
    Thanks for taking the time to reply. I'll check on the fixtures and receptacles - hopefully that's where the problem lies.
     
  17. mstrze macrumors 68000

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    #17
    But that is equivalent to crossing two wires...the live wire and 'ground'.

    I was speaking in simplisctic terms. :)

    My bet is a loosened connection too. Hopefully you find the one early without having to go through them all.

    Try to start at an outlet or light near one of the ones that work. It's likely to be the first in line to feed the others, and would likely be where the disconnection would be.
     
  18. margotspop thread starter macrumors regular

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    #18
    So now I'm confused. I tested the light switches in a couple of rooms. These switches control the ceiling lights. Neither light works but both switches have power coming into them i.e. when I use a voltage tester against the black (hot) wire coming into the switches the voltage tester lights up. But if the rooms were upstream of any break then the lights should work, if they were downstream of any break then there wouldn't be any power going along the hot wire, right? What's going on? How can power be coming into the switches but not to the lights? In both rooms?

    Any ideas?
     
  19. mstrze macrumors 68000

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    #19
    Your break could be in the white wire...so electrons could flow to the switch...but not from to complete the circuit?
     
  20. Tomorrow macrumors 604

    Tomorrow

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    #20
    Possibly there's a break (or open) between the switch and the light fixture - I would check the light fixture itself.
     
  21. mstrze macrumors 68000

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    #21
    Not in two seperate rooms.
     
  22. margotspop thread starter macrumors regular

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    #22
    Let me clarify a little. In both rooms I tested there is a double switch on the wall. One switch controls the ceiling light, the other controls a switched outlet. It's the same in both rooms. Neither the ceiling lights nor the switched outlets are working yet power (along the black hot wire) is coming in to the switches. At least, when I touch one prong of my voltage tester to the black wire and the other prong to the metal switch box, it lights up. That means power, right?

    I'm hoping this is a good sign albeit a confusing one. I appreciate the input, really.

    (As if this wasn't bad enough I've just discovered an ice dam above our living room is bringing in water through the ceiling. Just what I need)
     
  23. Tomorrow macrumors 604

    Tomorrow

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    #23
    It means the black wire is indeed hot. Are BOTH switches (OH light and switched outlet) receiving power? Typically one is daisy chained to the other.
     
  24. skunk macrumors G4

    skunk

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    #24
    Your primitive foreign electrical systems send shivers down my spine. Power and lighting on the same circuit? No ring mains? Scary stuff, even if it is only 120V. :eek:
     
  25. snberk103 macrumors 603

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    #25
    I am not electrician - but I have done some electrical work around the house, and nothing's burnt down. I've also learned some from watching electricians work, and asking questions.

    Only do the work you are really comfortable with.

    Start with the simple stuff first.

    Replace one of the switches with a new one. It's possible the switch has gone bad. That will also identify an loose connections at the switch. If you do have aluminum wiring, do some research before connecting it back in - aluminum has to be handled differently than copper.

    Also check the connections at the ceiling fixture.

    Also check the connections in the switched receptacle. The electrician may have run all the wires to the switched box from the switch, connected the plug to the wires going back to the switch and then connected a the wires going to the ceiling back to the switch. I don't think that's actually how it's supposed to be done, but it's possible someone was lazy or something when the house was built.

    Even if you don't want to go messing around with the connectors, if you identify that there are too many connectors in the switched receptacle box, you will make your electricians job easier and cheaper.

    One working theory is that some water got into the ceiling fixtures, and that put just enough strain on the system that an "about to fail anyway" connector popped before the circuit breaker did.

    I don't think it's mice that chew through wires as much as rats. At least here on the west coast.

    Good Luck.
     

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