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Hello, We have an old house with pretty jumbled circuitry.

Hello, We have an old...
Hello,

We have an old house with pretty jumbled circuitry. The wiring is probably 40 years old. We've never had any real problems until this past week when whole groups of receptacles (outlets only, no lights) stopped working and the breakers at the main panel remained untripped. Then, several minutes later (in one case almost an hour) the power would return. I don't like the vibe on this, and have called an electrician, but he won't be able to come until well into next week. I know the basics about electricity and have replaced receptacles and fixtures before, but have never encountered this. Any idea on how to troubleshoot this while waiting? Any advice appreciated . . thanks
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Answered in 5 minutes by:
5/10/2013
Rick
Rick, Master Electrician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 467
Experience: 10 yrs as a electrician. Have my own company.
Verified

Sparky :

Hello, my name is XXXXX XXXXX I'm here to answer any of your electrical questions.

Sparky :

Sounds like you have a loose connection somewhere along that line. have you identified which receptacles are effected?

Sparky :

Do you have a voltage tester?

Customer:

I have identified most (there are a lot)

Customer:

I do have a voltage meter, but haven't used it yet.

Sparky :

What is the model number, and brand so i can look it up and see what you got. Then I will be able to help you troubleshoot what is happening.

Customer:

Hang on a minute while I check?

Sparky :

ok

Customer:

Of course I can't find it . . . I'm 90% sure it's from radio shack . . . can we be generic . . sorry

Sparky :

Sure no problem. Are you at the home now, and is the electricity current working, or not working?

Customer:

I'm not at the home now. It's our old (former) house next door. We have tenants there now. The electricity is working. The latest episode was this afternoon.

Sparky :

Got it. I was hoping to be able to walk you through it, because this can go in many different directions depending on what we find. Is it possible for you to log on while you are home and communicate with me then? Or would you like for me to give you a few ways to troubleshoot and where this may go?

Customer:

I'd prefer to second option, even though I understand the first would be better hands on. It's 10.30 PM where I am and I'd be definitely disturbing the tenants right now. Any suggestions / possibilities would be welcome and we'll see where it goes.

Sparky :

Not a problem. First thing you are going to want to do is identify all of the receptacles that are affected, then when it is working, if you have someone there with you to help you want to start shutting off the breakers until you find the one that controls those receptacles. This way you will know which breaker you are working with as well. What parts of the home are being affected?

Customer:

Quite a few, that's what I don't get. It's more than one circuit and one breaker. A little background. It's a farmhouse. The breaker panel is in the barn (of all places), then all the wires run (in large groups) through a 30 foot long shed into the kitchen then branch to other rooms. When the outage occurs (from what I can tell and what the tenants tell me), all the receptacles in the house except for the bathroom GFI and one bedroom go out. All the lights stay on Except for the lights in the shed. The lights in the barn stay on, even though the receptacles in the barn go out. It probably sounds like I'm making this up, but I swear I'm not. Why so many circuits

Sparky :

After you identify the breakers re identify all the receptacles that are affected. There may be more now. If there are more, then there is a loose wire. More than likely at one of the outlets. Especially if the outlets are stab in the back type of receptacles that do not have screws to tighten the wires onto.

Sparky :

After reading your description. You may even have a a main breaker going bad. You will need to test. I'll post a picture for you to try to guide you

Sparky :

At your main breaker you will want to check the voltage from your ground wire to each of the terminals on the breaker to make sure you are getting 120 volts to each. Then you will check from terminal to terminal and make sure you are getting 240 volts. It's going to take quite a bit of time since the barn is a distance away. There is going to be a lot of walking back and forth unless you have someone there to help you and let you know if the power is off and on. Because obviously you want to know the outlets are not working when you are testing.

Sparky :

It could also just be a loose connection at the main breaker as well.

Sparky :

The first thing will be to identify the circuit, or circuits being affected. This way you will know if it is 1 circuit 2 circuits, or more.

Customer:

Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX should start with the panel testing before going on to check the outlets?

Sparky :

I would first identify. This way you know if you even have to take the cover off of the panel at all.

Sparky :

If the outlets are not working when you get there, go ahead and start with the panel. But make sure someone is inside communicating with you, because if the breaker is going bad, and you touch it, the power might come back on. Wiggle it around a little bit, and you may hear some sizzling, and the power turning on and off.

Sparky :

If you hear sizzling, or lights going on and off then you know it's a bad breaker, or bad buss bars which is what the main breaker attaches to.

Customer:

So, just to get this straight, am I "jumping over" the breakers one by one with the voltage meter (bypassing them) to see if they're working or not. But If the electricity is on and working when I'm doing this, then what is that telling me ..

Sparky :

First of all you have 2 leads on your tester. Make sure you have it on AC voltage. You are going to take 1 lead and put it on the ground bar as illustrated on the picture I posted for you. With the other lead you are going to touch every terminal on each receptacle. You should read 120 volts at each one. If you have 120 volts at each one great. If you find one that does not. Turn it completely off, then back on. This is how a breaker is reset. Next you will test the main breaker. You will know which is your main breaker because it will be the biggest one. It could be a variety of sizes. Usually 100 or 200. You will have 2 terminals on that breaker. You will put one lead on one terminal, and one lead on the other terminal. You should get 240 volts. If the power is on while you are there, then you are going to have a little troubleshooting because you are probably going to get regular readings. If they are working what I want you to do is plug a lamp into one of the receptacles that you know is being affected and take your plug tester to every outlet and wiggle it around and see if the lamp shuts off. This is a easy way to find a loose connection. Then try the same with the breakers as well wiggle them a little bit and see if you can get it to either shut off or turn on.

Sparky :

Please don't forget to rate my service. If you have further questions. I'll be here for you.

Customer:

Thanks. I'll see what I'll find.

Rick
Rick, Master Electrician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 467
Experience: 10 yrs as a electrician. Have my own company.
Verified
Rick and 87 other Electrical Specialists are ready to help you
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Just wanted to say thank you for the good rating. It is greatly appreciated. If you have any more electrical questions, please let me know. Here is my profile page. Thanks again.

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Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 467
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