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Kevin, Licensed Electrical Contractor
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 3591
Experience:  30 years Licensed Electrical Contractor in Illinois, Adjunct College Electrical Instructor, Former Electrical Inspector, Diploma: Digital Electronics, FCC Technician License
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My wife was vacumming in the living room and the receptacle

Customer Question

My wife was vacumming in the living room and the receptacle died. I thought she had tripped the breaker but it wasn't tripped. Not only is that outlet dead but all the outlets and the wall light switches in that room are dead. Don't know what the problem is. Tried throwing the breaker and resetting it but that didn't work.
Submitted: 4 years ago.
Category: Electrical
Expert:  Kevin replied 4 years ago. name is XXXXX XXXXX I will be happy to assist you with your electrical question. My goal is to exceed your expectations on Just Answer!


1) Try to turn the circuit breaker completely to the OFF position and then turn it back ON and re-check the living room outlets and light switches.


2) If completely resetting the breaker does not solve the problem, you most likely have a loose wire or a faulty wire splice in one of the receptacles. Possibly at the receptacle where the vacumm cleaner was plugged in? I would recommend to use the "Wiggle Procedure" at that receptacle.


3) Refer to the following pic as well as the following procedure to assist you in determining the faulty receptacle location: Let me know how you make out. If you still encounter problems or are unable to determine where the loose wire connection is, let me know and we will need to open up some receptacle boxes. If you have a 2-prong AC voltage tester or an AC voltmeter, we may need to use one.


Wiggle Procedure


You have a circuit with dead outlets and maybe some dead lights on it or you're experiencing flickering on a circuit. You will need a 2 wire voltage tester to check the outlet. A Multimeter or a Volt/Con are suggested. I prefer the Volt/Con because there are no settings to make, it does continuity and is audible. Success begins with knowing what you're looking for.


1] No voltage reading between the hot and the neutral or ground indicates an open hot.


2] No reading between the hot and the neutral but 120V between the hot and ground and 120V between the neutral and ground indicates an open neutral.

3] No continuity between the neutral and ground - Check for tripped GFCI device first


4] If all the branch circuit breaker are on you have a bad connection on the hot or neutral wires. The usual cause is a bad connection, either a termination on a device or connection in a wire nut.


Over the years I've found the easiest way to locate the opening needing examination and correction is to wiggle the devices.

5] The first step in this exercise is to get a lamp to act as an alert. Make sure the lamp works and in the on position. You may also use something like a vacuum cleaner or blow dryer, for an audible alert. Don't use anything electronic, like a radio.


6] Plug it into a dead outlet.


7] Now with a cube tester or any plug you will need to go to all the dead outlets and any live outlets in the area, insert the plug and wiggle the device side to side slightly. Watch the test lamp or listen for the other alerts as you wiggle the devices.


If the loose or bad connection is present the wiggle action may make it contact briefly and the lamp or the other things will alert you . Having found the suspected outlet all that is left is to correct the bad connection.


If the device is a push back wired device, this probably is the cause of the circuit failure. All wires must be terminated under the screws. Also you should never put more than one wire under a screw.

This troubleshooting procedure works in most cases and won't have you open boxes un-necessarily.


Keep in mind that the problem is in one of two places in the circuit, either in the first dead outlet or the live outlet just ahead of it.



Expert:  Kevin replied 4 years ago.
1) Hello Darryl.........any luck in determining where the loose or faulty wire splice connection is? If you have a 2-prong AC voltage tester, let me know and I can assist you in troubleshooting the problem................Thanks............Kevin!
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

No, just got the chance to mess with it today. Tested the breakers with a volt sensor and all are good. Used GFCI tester on all the outlets in questions and they all read "open hot". Wiggle test showed nothing. I assume the next step is to start replacing the outlets one at a time to see if i get the power back

Expert:  Kevin replied 4 years ago.

1) Hello Darryl..........if you are using a non-contact voltage sensor, those testers are not adequate to troubleshooting electrical problems. You will need a 2-prong AC contact voltage tester or an AC voltmeter. Refer to the pic below. If you do not have such a tester, is it possible that you can borrow one from a neighbor or a friend? If not, these are inexpensive testers and you can purchase one at your local Home Depot, Lowe's or Ace Hardware stores for around $15 and even less as shown in the link below.


2) There is no need to start replacing receptacles, you have a loose wire or a faulty wire splice somewhere in the circuit. Replacing receptacles is not required and is a waste of time & money. Obtain a 2-prong AC voltage tester and we can get your living room back with power. Start with the living room receptacle where the vacuum cleaner was originally plugged into. If your receptacles have the hot and white neutral wires terminated and inserted into the back of the receptacles, those are prone to failure and eventually will come loose. The wires for receptacles need to terminate onto the screw terminal and not stabbed into the back of the receptacle. Let me know what you find and we can take things from there.


Home Depot has an inexpensive tester as shown on the link below:


Other types of testers that you can use are shown below as models: "C, D or E".







Customer: replied 4 years ago.

I have a 2 prong tester like the one in your home depot link. When i put it in the outlet holes of the effected outlets the light does not come on. I pulled out the receptacle that the vaccum was pluged into and tested on the bare wires, and the light still did not come on.

Expert:  Kevin replied 4 years ago.

1) OK, very will need to physically look for a nearby receptacle and/or wall switch that is on the same circuit breaker that is logically installed going back towards the circuit breaker. A loose wire or a faulty wire splice can be anywhere inside another upstream (towards your main electrical panel) receptacle or wall switch. Open up some other upstream outlets (receptacles and wall switches) in the living room that are on the same circuit and test those one at a time. No need to remove any wires, just temporarily back the device out from the box and leave the wires connected as-is.


2) Use your tester & measure from hot to neutral as well as from hot to ground to determine if you can measure 120 volts.

Expert:  Kevin replied 4 years ago.
1) Any chance that the Living Room is protected by a GFCI receptacle or a GFCI circuit breaker?
Customer: replied 4 years ago.

No its not

Expert:  Kevin replied 4 years ago.

1) OK good, so no GFCI's.... that makes this a bit easier.


2) Logically and physically downstream from the original receptacle. temporarily remove the next receptacle and you will most likely not be able to measure 120 volts. If no voltage at the next downstream receptacle from the original one, then you know the problem is upstream from the original receptacle as working your way back towards the main electrical panel. Try the "wiggle" procedure in all upstream receptacles before temporarily backing them out from the wall.


3) If you recently replaced or installed any other receptacles, lights, switches, etc in this area or on the same circuit.... check those as well.

Customer: replied 4 years ago.

Thank you kevin, I will try that procedure and let you know the results

Expert:  Kevin replied 4 years ago.

1) Thanks Darryl....... let me know how it goes. Troubleshooting is a process of isolation and elimination. Keep working back logically upstream towards the main panel and you will most likely locate a loose wire or a faulty splice. If no voltage present at one receptacle and/or wall switch, then move back to the next device always going back towards the electrical panel.


2) You can also use your tester at the breaker and check if you can measure 120 volts from the breaker hot wire to the neutral bus bar or from the breaker hot to the grounding bar or bare copper ground wire. This will confirm that the breaker is working OK. If 120 volts is present at the panel, then the problem is downstream from the panel or towards the living room area.


3) Not sure if your house was wired using Romex or EMT metal conduit? If EMT conduit, you can tug on the wires to determine an upstream or downstream device and listen to where the wires go to. If the house is wired with Romex, you will not have the luxury to tug on the wires as Romex cable is stapled to the 2 x 4's.

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