Household electrical problem

Discussion in 'The Steam Vent' started by Swerd, May 19, 2017.

  1. Swerd Audioholic Ninja

    Swerd
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    I have an electrical problem and I’m trying to see if I can repair it myself, or do I need an electrician.

    In my family room, behind some large, hard to move, cabinets that house my AV system is a standard wall outlet with the usual pair of AC outlets. One outlet works and the other, it seems, does not. My house was built in 1993; all AC circuits are at least 15 amps; and all are grounded. Until this problem, I’ve had no electrical problems.

    Here is what I know:

    Connected to one outlet is an AC power strip, to which I’ve connected a TV set, BluRay player, and an AVR. The other outlet has a stereo power amplifier connected directly. The power amplifier cannot be switched on, but the other 3 items all work as usual.

    My first fear was that the stereo power amp failed. It’s a B&K EX4420, built sometime from 1993 to 1998. I bought it used in 2008, and until now, it's always worked well. Until I could not get it to power up, it showed no signs of trouble.

    However, my problem might be the AC power line and not the amp.

    Upstairs, directly above family room, is another pair of AC outlets in my bedroom. It has a similar problem, one outlet works and the other does not. They share the same wall as the outlets in the family room, and they might be on the same circuit. I can get to this one with a power outlet tester, like this. One outlet was CORRECT (2 green lights) and the other was OPEN HOT (no lights at all).

    I checked all the circuit breaker switches. They seem alright, none were tripped.

    What do I do next?

    If possible, I’d like to avoid pulling out the heavy B&K amp from it’s place in the cabinet. It’s a very awkward job, and I’d need help doing it.
  2. panteragstk Audioholic General

    panteragstk
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    With what I know of electrical wiring you have two possible issues. One is that your wall outlets are simply old and need to be replaced. That is very simple to do.

    The other is that there is some sort of short between the two outlets and the wiring might be compromised. That is where the electrician will come in, but if this were the case the entire outlet would have stopped working, not just part.

    I'm leaning toward the first. I'd go grab some decent outlets at the local hardware store and install one in whichever location is the easiest. The only issue with that method is that they could be chained together and one outlet is faulty and causing the other to act up (which would usually be the entire outlet not just one plug, but still). If that is the case then you may have no choice but to replace both just to make sure none of your equipment is damaged since they both seem to be having odd issues.

    I'm not sure how much an electrician would cost you, but I'm in the better safe than sorry category and since this is a little outside the normal issue you may want to get one to come out and give you a quote. You don't have to let them replace anything if it's as simple as I think it might be.
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  3. slipperybidness Audioholic Spartan

    slipperybidness
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    I agree, this seems quite odd. As far as I know, those each "outlet" on a dual-plug outlet is chained together, so I really can't understand how only 1 could fail. Perhaps some internal failure, but that seems unlikely. Add the curve-ball with the same odd problem on the outlet directly above it, I'm a bit stumped.

    Me personally, I would certainly investigate to the best of my abilities before calling an electrician.
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  4. Swerd Audioholic Ninja

    Swerd
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    Thanks, I'm glad that I'm not the only one who thinks this is odd.

    I've noticed before that electricians seem to use "odd" ways (not obvious to me) to wire several outlets on one circuit. Maybe they do that to save a few minutes of time or a few feet of Romex.

    I'll take the approach you suggested panteragstk. I'll buy two new outlets, replace the easy to reach one first, and if that doesn't change things, then I'll change the other. I've done that kind of electrical work (changing outlets, switches, light fixtures, & ceiling fans while using existing in-wall wiring) before.

    The really hard part will be removing the TV and all the audio gear, plus books, CDs and records, just so I can pull the cabinets away from the wall. And after I replace the AC outlet, putting all that back and reconnecting things can be tough. I've done that before (when painting or getting new carpet), and I really hate it. This is when I could use help from someone young, strong, and male. I'd gladly pay with beer and the opportunity hear & fondle my speakers :p. (Just an observation, but I find most men or even teen aged boys understand how to work as a team to lift or move heavy things. My wife, who is neither young, strong, nor male, doesn't get these things even after I carefully explain them to her.)

    If that doesn't work, it's time to call for help. I know a local general repair/handyman who I've called before. He used to be an HVAC guy and he seems pretty smart and experienced. If he won't do AC electrical work, he'll know someone who does.
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  5. slipperybidness Audioholic Spartan

    slipperybidness
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    If you are lucky, you may just see the problem while you have it taken apart.

    I'm sure you know this--But be 100% certain to kill the circuit at the breaker panel before you pull the plate off the wall.
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  6. Swerd Audioholic Ninja

    Swerd
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    I'd thought the same, and I hope it isn't the amp.
    It never hurts to say that. I'll be sure to find which circuit breaker switch must to turned off while I do this work.
  7. Johnny2Bad Full Audioholic

    Johnny2Bad
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    Your outlets are wired so that there are two AC lines, one connected to each outlet on the duplex (means "two") receptacle. A duplex outlet is normally wired so that both outlets are live on one AC line, but can be modified so that they operate as yours do.

    The fact that the one outlet reads incorrectly means you need to have your home wiring examined and repaired. In it's current configuration it is dangerous and does not meet code.

    Repair will not likely require any rewiring of the line within the walls (although it's possible it may be, depending on where the fault actually lies), but will require proper re-wiring of both duplex outlets (and possibly others; you should confirm things with your tester on other outlets, especially those in the same room(s).

    Either buy a book on home electrical wiring or call an electrician. I would advise the latter, as you have non-standard wiring of the outlets (although it does meet code to wire them this way, it's just that they are wired incorrectly, probably by whomever owned the property previously) plus you have an electrical fault that poses a potential electrocution hazard.

    As yours are wired, it is sometimes done so that tripping one breaker doesn't shut down power to the entire room. You might also find it in kitchens, as that room has stricter requirements for wiring of outlets.

    Legally speaking a straight replacement of defective electrical parts does not require taking out a permit (which can only be done by a licensed electrician), but modifications to the electrical system does. (An example that comes up occasionally with HiFi nuts is replacing a 15 amp receptacle with a 20-amp one; that's a modification, not a repair, not to mention against code unless the line is already wired with 12GA Nomex and a 20A breaker instead of the 14GA allowed for a 15A line).

    In your case as long as the existing wiring does not need to be replaced, and the wiring problem can be corrected by properly wiring or replacement of the existing duplex outlets with identical spec ones, that would be a repair, not a modification.

    It's widely ignored by DIY'ers, but can come back to haunt you if your home fails an inspection by a prospective buyer and there is no permit on record for electrical work. An electrician will not fail to take out a permit if one is required, because he faces a stiff fine (here it's $2,000) if he fails to do so when one is required.
    Last edited: May 19, 2017
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  8. Swerd Audioholic Ninja

    Swerd
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    Johnny2Bad – Thanks for your input, especially the part about meeting code, and repairs that do and do not require a permit. I won't forget that as I proceed. I hope I can find the problem and fix it myself, but I do know my limits.

    Just so I understand clearly, you said (below) that:

    "A duplex outlet is normally wired so that both outlets are live on one AC line, but can be modified so that they operate as yours do."
    I got the impression from reading that to mean: this modification is commonly seen and meets code.

    You next said:

    "The fact that the one outlet reads incorrectly means you need to have your home wiring examined and repaired. In it's current configuration it is dangerous and does not meet code."​

    I'm confused. Does this meet code or not? And if not, am I to assume the wiring of the entire house is suspect?

    Until recently, both outlets of the two duplexes worked. Only sometime in the last week did one outlet in each of the two duplexes quit working, apparently at the same time. Nearly all of the wiring in the house is as it was originally installed during construction. It was inspected and passed before any drywall was put up.
  9. mtrycrafts Audioholic Slumlord

    mtrycrafts
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    Before you bring in help to solve this, did this outlet in the family room work before now?
    If yes, it is the outlet. If no, then it may be on a switch so a light can be turned on as you enter the room.

    Bedrooms are more likely to have one or more switched outlets for a lamp to be plugged into one half of a duplex.
  10. Speedskater Full Audioholic

    Speedskater
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    As above, a dual receptacle may be split in two, with one on a switch.
  11. William Lemmerhirt Audioholic Chief

    William Lemmerhirt
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    Yes. It was common in the 80's and 90's to wire 1/2 of a receptacle on AC from the panel, and 1/2 from a switch. As mentioned, more common in bedrooms but that's probably debatable. The top and bottom 1/2 of a receptacle(outlet) is connected by a thin piece of brass, so it doesn't matter if which set of screws you wire with(top or bottom pair). The brass piece keeps both openings hot. If you intentionally wired it to be switched, the brass piece has to be cut, disconnecting the two outlets in the receptacle. Then both are wired separately. I saw the question asked but wonder, was this pre-existing or a new condition?
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  12. Alex2507 Audioholic Slumlord

    Alex2507
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    The suspense is killing me. Did you swap out the receptacles?
  13. Irvrobinson Audioholic Ninja

    Irvrobinson
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    I've heard of problems like this caused by rats chewing the wires.
  14. Alex2507 Audioholic Slumlord

    Alex2507
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    What are you implying? :D
  15. Johnny2Bad Full Audioholic

    Johnny2Bad
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    Q1: It is not common but is allowed.

    Q2: I said it does not meet code simply because an uncorrected fault is not allowed by electrical code. Without knowing exactly what is wrong it's difficult to say but it is a potential fire hazard. Once the improper or open circuit wiring is corrected it would meet code.

    On North American 60 Hz / 120V service, there are three wires on modern systems.

    There is a Hot line (Black), a Neutral Line (White), and a Ground (Green). Both Hot and Neutral, despite the terms used, are normally live. The terms are used because in reality a 120V line is one half of a 240 V line (which can have one or more Hots (single, dual and three phase), one Neutral, one Ground).

    The breaker at the panel switches the Hot line(s) on or off. The Neutral is always connected to the Utility power, so it is important that they are wired properly at outlets and switches in the home. If improperly wired they will still work but may not be safe, because it's the Neutral that is connected to Ground (elsewhere in the system, at multiple points), diverting the power from the Utility line in a fault condition.
    Last edited: May 20, 2017 at 8:32 AM
  16. TLS Guy Audioholic Overlord

    TLS Guy
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    It is common to wire the two outlets separately so one could be switched for lamps.

    My best guess is that you have a neutral problem. Neutrals used to be allowed to be daisy chained all over the place. They no longer are. In times past loads were mainly pretty much continuous, with little stress on neutrals. Now there has been a huge rise in discontinuous loads. This has created neutral gouging, and lots of neutral problems including house fires. The neutral is not fused and can become overloaded with no fuse blowing. This is a huge problem. It is probably significant that this is the circuit used by you AV gear. Electronics is a massive generator of discontinuous loads and neutral gouging.

    Now any change in a circuit demands that neutrals be separated and an arc detector breaker installed. These type of breakers will not work on a circuit with daisy chained neutrals.

    These changes to code, make house modifications very expensive now and require extensive opening up of walls. So this is leading to a massive increase in houses being pushed over.
    The house next to me has been pushed over for this reason.

    My son finished a major renovation to a lovely turn of the previous century home in Minneapolis. It was a labor of love, and because of the new electrical codes it would have been cheaper by far to demolish the home and start again. This is a very controversial issue in older neighborhoods in the Twin Cities now and I'm sure other jurisdictions.

    I you buy a home now before these code changes with the idea of doing extensive renovations, then the price you are paying for the home is for the lot only, and you will have demo costs if you push it over.
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  17. Johnny2Bad Full Audioholic

    Johnny2Bad
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    Note that your outlets may be wired "in split phase". In that case you may have four wires to each outlet, which go back to the panel and to two 120V breakers. This is far more common in Kitchen wiring, but meets code. Presented here more as a FYI in case the colours of the wires seem funny behind the outlet.

    It is fairly obvious, as each Hot (two 120V circuits) is coloured differently; one black, one red. The Neutral (White) and Ground (Green) are shared, so there is only one of each.
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  18. highfigh Audioholic Warlord

    highfigh
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    When you say that one outlet works and the other doesn't, so you mean one in a pair, or are they in different junction boxes? If you mean one of the two in a single box, it's common for newer homes to have the upper one wired to a switch and the other left hot.

    Buy one of these if you don't have one-

    https://i5.walmartimages.com/asr/10....jpeg?odnHeight=450&odnWidth=450&odnBg=FFFFFF

    Don't be surprised that a switch is hidden. If you recently painted or had the walls cleaned, it's easy to flip a switch.
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  19. Irvrobinson Audioholic Ninja

    Irvrobinson
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    When I lived in SoCal I knew multiple people who had electrical anomalies that were ultimately traced to rats chewing on wiring. During an attic inspection, one person I knew found a dead rat with its teeth embedded in 14 gauge Romex. The symptoms just sounded similar to Swerd's; a light or an outlet that didn't work and nothing was outwardly amiss.

    (As an aside, SoCal is infested with rats. So many homes have fruit trees, and to rats fruit trees are like supermarkets where everything is free. Rats also love living in the "ice plant" (vine-like succulents) that cover the hillsides. They like curved tile roofing so much that roof rats are a common problem.

    I came out of work one day while living there to my car not starting. An under-hood inspection revealed that while I was at work rats had chewed the wiring. The car had to be towed, and it took days and hundreds of dollars in labor to repair the wiring harness.)
    Last edited: May 21, 2017 at 11:30 AM
  20. Swerd Audioholic Ninja

    Swerd
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    Thanks everyone for your input :D. I especially appreciate comments from J2B who seems to be a licensed electrician.

    I have not had time to get into this problem this weekend. My son & his fiance are visiting, along with her parents from Connecticut. There is a bridal shower going on today, and, although my son would be a great help to move things, there just isn't time to get at this problem.

    My son is getting my old SongTowers. When he said he would love to have them, I gave up trying to sell them. I had transported one of them up to where he lives in NY the other week. Tomorrow the other one goes north with him.
    Thanks for clarifying that.
    Of a pair of outlets in one junction box, a duplex, one works and the other does not.
    To my knowledge neither outlet of this duplex is switched. I do have switched outlets in all the bedrooms of my house, but not the family room.
    For what it's worth, I've had my AV gear installed this way since January 2000.

    Although I don't think I have rats, I did catch a mouse in the house the other week. I've never seen a field mouse with teeth big enough to bite 14g Romex. There was one and only one mouse. I left traps out for another 3 days, without catching any more.

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