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Sir Sparks
Sir Sparks, President/Owner/ Master Electrician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 2532
Experience:  US State Certified & UK Electrical Contractor for all electrical fields/disciplines
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The electric outlets on the same circuit in my house are dead.

Customer Question

The electric outlets on the same circuit in my house are dead. I checked the circuit breaker outside and none of them had been flipped. I turned each breaker off and then back on but the outlets are still dead. This has happened before and about a third of the outlets on the same circuits in my house remain dead so I'm running out of outlets to run everything. This time it affected my fridge, all the outlets in the living room and the outdoor lights. Nothing works. Prior to this happening this time I had 2 portable heaters running at the same time. I'm on a limited income so I can't afford to hire an electrician. That's why some of the circuits have remain dead for so long. Please help. Thanks.
Submitted: 3 years ago.
Category: Electrical
Expert:  Jason replied 3 years ago.

Jason :

Hello. Thank you for asking your question on Just Answer...

Jason :

What brand is your electrical panel?

Customer :

I don't know. It's dark now. I'll have to get a flashlight and go outside. Can you wait a few minutes?

Jason :

Sure. Also, do you have any idea how old the panel is/

Jason :

?

Customer :

I didn't see a name on the panel but the round glass that's on top says Westinghouse. The house was built in 1984. The circuit breakers are horizontal: 2 light green 4 reed then something that says "20", then another 4 rend and then two that say "100" each. Does that help?

Customer :

Sorry, that should be red -- not reed and rend.

Jason :

Yes, it sounds like a very old Westinghouse pane. Since multiple circuits have gone out over time, I'm wondering if the breakers are starting to fail. Power loss such as you are experiencing is fairly common on one circuit. But it would be unusual to have multiple circuits come apart, even over a fairly long period of time. It's never happened at my house, and I've been here for about 12 years.

Jason :

Partial power loss in a house can happen for multiple reasons. But the two main reasons are breakers failing, or loose or broken connections. Loose or broken connections can be located anywhere in an affected circuit. This includes the breaker panel, and any box the circuit goes into. This would be outlet boxes, light switch boxes, or light fixture boxes.

Jason :

Do you know anyone who is capable of taking voltage readings with a meter at your breaker panel?

Customer :

No. I bought a gizmo that says whether there's juice in the switch box. Is that the same thing? I replaced a bad switch box a couple of months ago but it took me over an hour to do it but I got it done. How hard is it to replace an old circuit breaker. What should I start checking? How much does replacing the old panel with a new one?

Jason :

Panel replacement will cost you approximately $1200. It's not terribly difficult to replace a circuit breaker, but if you've never done it before and you think you would be nervous, it would be much safer to have a friend or family with some experience do it for you. It doesn't have to be an electrician, it could be a handyman who has replaced breakers before. That would likely be less expensive than an electrician.

Jason :

If you can get a digital meter with a numeric display, I can help you take voltage readings tomorrow.

Jason :

Basic digital multimeters (with 2 test leads) cost about $20 or so at Lowe's.

Customer :

What I've got is a GB Instruments HI-VIS two level voltage tester. Is that what you're talking about? What do I need to do? Test the circuit breakers first or each switch box?

Jason :

It would be much easier to start at the breaker panel.

Customer :

Tell me what to do first. Thanks.

Jason :

Let me look up your tester Online, to familiarize myself with it. I need to do that before I can tell you how to properly use it.

Jason :

You can use the tester you have, but it would be much better to get actual numeric readings at the panel/breakers. Have you ever worked in a live electrical panel before?

Customer :

I'll get a numeric reader. What brand do you suggest? I've never worked in a live electrical panel yet.

Jason :

I believe the basic (least expensive) models at Lowe's are made by Greenlee. Are you okay with continuing the troubleshooting tomorrow?

Jason :

After you get the new meter?

Customer :

I'll go to Home Depot. I live out in the country so it takes some getting into town. If I get the new meter, can you help me on Tuesday as I don't know what time I'll back and if it gets late it will be too dark to start. Can you help on Tuesday? Thanks.

Jason :

Right now, my Tuesday evening is wide open. And I'll try to keep it that way for you. I work full time for an electrical contractor, so I don't usually get home until 4 PM or so. It's 10:15 here now. If money is extremely tight for you, we can continue the troubleshooting (in daylight) with the tester you already have, and potentially save you the cost of the new meter.

Customer :

I'd like to try without buying a new meter if possible. If that's okay with you can you help me tomorrow during daylight. If so, what time? It's 7:19 p.m. now. I live in California. Thanks.

Jason :

We have a three hour time difference. So if I get home at 4, it will be 1 at your house. That's actually good for me, because I have a commitment tomorrow after work. I don't think it will take very long, so I'll look for a reply from you after that.

Customer :

How do I get you back tomorrow?

Jason :

You can follow the links in your email to get back to this thread, or log onto the site and click the "My Questions" link at the top of the page.

Customer :

Okay. I'll do that tomorrow about 1:30 my time/4:30 your time. Okay?

Jason :

That should be okay. If you can log on a little earlier and the system shows me as "Online", that would be okay too. By the way, can you look on your tester and confirm for me that it is rated for at least 120 volts AC?

Customer :

I'll log on earlier. The tester says 120 240.

Jason :

OK, that's perfect. If I am delayed at work, I'll try to get back here to help you as soon as I can.

Customer :

The uses directions say Tests from 100-300 V AC.

Jason :

OK, that should work alright for us.

Customer :

Thanks, Jason. Good night. Talk to you tomorrow.

Jason :

It will at least tell us if a breaker is passing power. We just won't know the value. You are most welcome. Looking forward to it.

Jason :

You can hold off on Accepting for now. Let's try to get your problem solved first (tomorrow).

Customer :

Jason: I'm on. I went to Home Depot this morning and got a digital multimeter reader but apparently one of the screws that holds the case together is stripped cause I can't unscrew it. I'm taking it back to exchange with another and will get the circuit breakers. Can we do this tomorrow when I have everything? Are there any other tools or products I need?

Jason :

We can do this whenever you are ready. If I am offline when you are ready to proceed, just leave a reply in this thread, and I'll find it as soon as I log on. By the way, I don't know for sure yet that you need new circuit breakers. You may have a hard time finding the right ones, but I believe Cutler Hammer is an acceptable replacement for Westinghouse.

Customer :

Jason, I'm online now. I picked up a new digital multimeter and two types of breakers to see which one works. Are you ready to help me?

Jason :

Sure. Let's proceed. Do you know how to set the meter to AC Volts?

Customer :

No. I got the panel off. There are wires screwed in at the bottom of the existing breakers. The two types of breakers I got are QO and HOM but both have screws at the bottom.

Customer :

The digital multimeter I got is a Commercial Electric MAS830B. I installed the battery.

Customer :

The multimeter has a red and black wires. Which go in what?

Jason :

OK, I know for sure the QO won't work. But the HOM may work. If you can, set the meter to AC Volts, and touch one probe to the neutral bar, where all the white wires are connected. Touch the other probe to the screw on any breaker. Watch the readout of the meter to see if the breaker is putting out power. Keep the meter probe on the neutral bar, but move the other meter probe from breaker to breaker, one at a time, until you have taken readings on every breaker. Please stand by while I look for your meter Online, so I can tell you how to set it up and use it.

Customer :

In the panel there are two strips of screws connected with the wires going out of the panel and into the house. These strips are vertical to the breakers going horizontal. I don't know what you mean by the neutral bar.

Jason :

Do you see several white wires connected to a common point in the panel?

Customer :

There's a number of white wires each connected to the vertical strips of screws. Is that the common point? Also, the probes on the multimeter. Where do the green and red probes get connected to the multimeter and the probes go where in the panel box?

Customer :

Right now the multimeter is on "off." Which way do I turn the knob and on what number?

Jason :

Both of the vertical bars (with multiple white wires connected to them) are neutral bars. So once you start your testing, you can touch one meter probe to either of those vertical bars. I am having trouble finding your meter Online, so I need to ask you some questions about it.

Jason :

How many holes does the meter have to plug the probes into?

Customer :

The face of the multimeter has 3 holes on the bottom where the two probes can go. Two's are marked 10A/250V, one of which is also marked ?10A/250V and that one is also marked MAX 600V 250mA/250V so the one in the middle is marked 10A/250V and MAX 600V 250mA/250V.

Jason :

Thank you for the additional information. I am going to try again to find a picture of the meter Online. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to tell you how to set it up.

Customer :

The dials start at the top as 600, in white, on both sides of the "Off" position. Then it's 200 on both sides, in white. Then the left side going down says 20, 2, 200m, all in white. Then in green 2M, 200k, 20k 2k, 200. On the right side going down after the 200, in green 20 and 200 with a symbol I've never seen before, then 2m, 20m, 200m and 10A. The directions don't help.

Jason :

I know you don't want the green, that's for Ohms. We won't be reading Ohms, at least not initially. Is there a letter "V" anywhere on the dial?

Customer :

Yes. The instructions that make some sense says to connect the red test lead to the VQmA jack and the black test lead to the Com jack which I did. The instructions say to set the rotary switch at desired ACV position. I don't know what the desired ACV position is.

Jason :

Do you see a range of numbers in the ACV area? If so, set it to the highest number.

Jason :

And tell me what that number is, just so we don't take a reading that is out of range for the meter setting.

Customer :

I guess that's the right side of the face, in white 600 and 200. Set at 600? All the other numbers are lower and in green.

Jason :

Yes, set it to 600. Did you see my instructions earlier about how to take readings at the breakers?

Customer :

I set it at 600. Your instructions were the vertical screws and wires is the common point? Correct? But what probes touch what? The red one and the black one touch what?

Jason :

Either one to either bar where there are several white wires connected. Touch the other probe to the screws on the breakers, where the wire connects to the breaker. You will be reading one breaker at a time.

Customer :

I have to go outside to do this. I have a desktop computer so it'll take a few minutes.

Jason :

Take as long as you need. The goal is to get some answers as to what is going on with your wiring.

Expert:  Sir Sparks replied 3 years ago.
Hi.Jason needed to go to church. He asked me to assist as I don't go too often (although I do plan one final trip)

There is a lot to read here have you measured voltages at the breaker and at the receptacles yet? Did you measure hot to ground as well ?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

None of the breakers except for two registered anything. The readings stayed at 0.00. The two that registered said "-0.00" Inside one of the receptacles registered 120 121. Others that work register nothing. What am I doing wrong?

Expert:  Sir Sparks replied 3 years ago.
I don't understand what "inside breaker" means?

Are you saying that ALL breakers in the panel read zero volts?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
"Inside" I mean inside the house I checked on some of the outlets at well. Yesterday I checked each breaker outside to see which ones gave power inside to what parts of the house. There are 15 breakers. One is a double 30 and another is a double 100. All the breakers between the 30 30 and the 100 100 are thirteen 20s. Of these 15 breakers only 6 gave power.
Expert:  Sir Sparks replied 3 years ago.
First off, and free to you, Call ther Utility Company andtell them you have a partial power outage. They will investigate for free. If the problem is NOT on their side get back with us.
Customer: replied 3 years ago.
I'll call Cal Edison tomorrow to see if they can check it out.
Expert:  Sir Sparks replied 3 years ago.
OK. Let us know.

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Sir Sparks
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US State Certified & UK Electrical Contractor for all electrical fields/disciplines