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  #1   IP: 67.182.225.148
Old April 26th, 2011, 08:28 PM
jasonbx jasonbx is offline
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Default lost wire connection? breaker issue?

Problem description: Lights and two outlets in our home office are not working. 1950's era home, mostly original wiring in the walls. I think it is a fabric outer layer, surrounding single black and single white wire. No ground wire.

Noticed a few times over a week or so that the light would flicker and go out, then come back a few minutes later. Eventually it went out completely and stayed off. Every once in a while if you flipped on the switch it would light up for a second and then go off and stay off.

Has not tripped the breaker ever in this couple week process. Breaker box is very poorly labeled, not certain which breaker this circuit is specifically tied to, but narrowed it down to most likely 2-3 that seem to cover the nearby bedroom, etc.

What I have already covered:

Took out all the outlets, switches, light fixture etc, to check those. Replaced the outlets and switches since I had them out anyway, and they are less than a dollar apiece. (Figured it couldn't hurt to upgrade them, and one outlet had cracked plastic on the face anyway.) No obvious problems, and no obviously loose connections.

Wiring somehow goes from the breaker box outside the back door through the walls. No idea how the wires run to that point, but must go around a small bathroom between the breaker box and the room somehow. Comes into circuit at light switch first, then runs to outlet 1 and ends at outlet 2. Multimeter says no voltage at all at the light switch box at this point, outlets downstream obviously 0 volts also. (Lightswitch box has incoming wire joined to ougoing toward box, short jumper to switch itself and outgoing to light fixture.) Wiring gets to lightswitch box without going up into attic, or down to basement in any obvious way--have clear views in both and no wiring to be found going to this area. Little stumped on route, only guess is straight through studs in wall all the way, but confused how they deal with doorways, etc.

Breakers that I think it could be on all read 120 volts from neutral bar to the screw on each breaker.(Assuming that this means the breakers are still good, haven't ever really done much inside a box before beyond flipping a tripped breaker back on.) Everything else in the house is working fine--every single outlet and light. (850 sq ft house upstairs, with mostly unfinished basement down--checked all outlets and lights work in 10-15 minutes.)

My limited experience is now making me think that I have lost connection through a wire in the wall somewhere. Or lost a connection at a junction somewhere else along the line that I don't know exists, or istrangely set up on the same circuit. Is it possible that wire comes out of the breaker box, then splits in the wall to two seperate circuits? I would have lost one leg of the split in this case? Any other bright ideas before I break down and have an electrician come look at my problem?
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  #2   IP: 24.19.180.107
Old April 26th, 2011, 09:51 PM
suemarkp suemarkp is offline
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A common way of wiring in the 50's and 60's was to wire to a ceiling light then to a switch or receptacle or another ceiling light. So perhaps some light fixture between the breaker panel and your switch has this junction that has failed. If it was wired to code, there should be no hidden junction boxes in the wall -- but you never know what homeowners do... Did you replace any light fixtures recently?

You can buy wire tracers for about $30. You need to turn off the circuit and clip a transmitter to it. You then follow the wire with a held help beeper. These usually work up to about 12" from the wire through the wall and no further. So you'll need to be able to follow the exact wall and ceiling pathway.

Unrelated question: did you replace old ungrounded receptacles with new grounded ones? If so, where is the ground wire coming from as you have canvas jacketed cable with no ground???
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  #3   IP: 69.147.194.98
Old April 27th, 2011, 04:56 AM
6pack 6pack is offline
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not easy task to trace this type problem, usually ends up harder putting everything back together when working with old wiring.
Thought you said wire goes around this bathroom then into rm with problem?
If your not sure where it goes and whats on the circuit, possibly look in that bathroom?light, outlet?? may have loose conn in there?(if reading you right on your EXPL!
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  #4   IP: 207.35.6.2
Old April 27th, 2011, 05:42 AM
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joed joed is online now
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Is the entire circuit going out? If so there could be a loose connection in the breaker box, hot or neutral.
If only part of the circuit is going out then you have a loose connection somewhere on the circuit. The problem could be in a device that is still working.
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  #5   IP: 67.182.225.148
Old April 27th, 2011, 09:19 PM
jasonbx jasonbx is offline
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thanks for the thoughts! to answer a couple points that were brought up:

Prior to this issue I hadn't done anything electrical on the house that I remember, other than replace a dishwasher a year ago.(And kitchen is only side of the house that has new wiring, had been remodeled prior to my purchase of the home.) Certainly nothing had changed in the last six months.

Everything that I know about on the circuit is out, but I'm not certain if these three items are the only thing on the circuit since I can't figure out the route for the incoming line specifically. Nothing noticeably loose in the breaker box, but haven't monkeyed around in there much beyond looking at the wires, making sure screws are tight, and confirming I have correct voltage going through all the breakers.

Bathroom is wired completely seperate from the room as far as I can tell. Power comes up from floor direction into bathroom combination light switch box/single outlet, then continues from switch up to light/fan.(Ground for this is a single seperate copper wire coming into box from below, found where it leads to main water pipe.) Bathroom doorway is perfectly between the bathroom switch and other room box, so I don't think they could have a direct connection without running under the floor or somewhere, which I haven't seen from the basement.

Wires coming into both these rooms comes into initial boxes from below, and I can't figure out for the life of me how they get from the breaker box to there. I'm assuming holes drilled through all the studs in the wall, but that seems like an awful lot of work to save just a few feet of wire to avoid basement or attic. Without taking off plaster/sheetrock it seems like I have a couple magic wires that start from the center of my house. The wire tracing tool sounds like it may be an option that could potentially be very useful. (I am also considering making a simple floor plan sketch to show people where things are in relation to each other, maybe by the weekend.)

Grounding is its own special problem I have been considering. Several outlets around the house have been replaced with newer three prongs, and in this process I have discovered several aren't actually grounded. On this particular circuit I can probably run a grounding wire to the water pipe coming through basement for the bathroom relatively easily, and re-pull wires between the outlets.(They go up wall to the attic and over the room, just can't find the incoming wire.) I'm not sure how to deal with the other outlets on different circuits that aren't near the bathroom and had been replaced by someone prior to me.

The house definitely had a "do it yourself" owner at some point that did some strange things, but in general it appears they had left the main original wiring alone other than the remodel to the kitchen which was all upgraded. (Appears the current breaker box was probably installed at the time of the kitchen upgrade.)
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  #6   IP: 66.19.201.178
Old April 28th, 2011, 06:03 PM
AllanJ AllanJ is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jasonbx View Post
Wires coming into both these rooms comes into initial boxes from below, and I can't figure out for the life of me how they get from the breaker box to there. I'm assuming holes drilled through all the studs in the wall, but that seems like an awful lot of work to save just a few feet of wire to avoid basement or attic..)
For new construction it is very common to run wires horizontally through the walls, via holes in the studs.
Quote:
Originally Posted by jasonbx View Post
Grounding is its own special problem I have been considering. Several outlets around the house have been replaced with newer three prongs, and in this process I have discovered several aren't actually grounded. On this particular circuit I can probably run a grounding wire to the water pipe coming through basement for the bathroom relatively easily, and re-pull wires between the outlets.)
A reminder, you may not run a ground wire from an outlet box to the nearest pipe for grounding purposes. You must run the ground wire all the way to the panel with the breaker for that circuit although you don't have to follow the exact route of the circuit cable.
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Last edited by AllanJ : April 28th, 2011 at 06:10 PM.
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  #7   IP: 67.182.225.148
Old April 29th, 2011, 07:25 AM
jasonbx jasonbx is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanJ View Post
For new construction it is very common to run wires horizontally through the walls, via holes in the studs.
Yes, I am vaugely aware of that. But in this case they seem to have likely run it in the wall 20', then back 8' along the same wall in a different wire, then up through the attic and down to save going through an outside wall 15' in a new direction.(I am assuming they don't go through the outside wall for structural reasons.) I would have gone the first 10' or so to the outlet, then Y split the two directions to next outlet and light. But I'm not an electrician, and looking at the problem after nearly 60 years of probably flawless operation.

Quote:
A reminder, you may not run a ground wire from an outlet box to the nearest pipe for grounding purposes. You must run the ground wire all the way to the panel with the breaker for that circuit although you don't have to follow the exact route of the circuit cable.
Good to know. Is there a good description of why somewhere? I assume something along the lines that you close the loop somehow and don't keep feeding power from the box through the circuit to the pipes.(if breaker doesn't trip, etc.) Has already been done at least once in my house, so I assumed it wasn't a problem, hadn't actually thought it through. I think my main box may have a grounding wire that connects to the cold water pipe near it (as well as a grounding rod below it outside), have to look again to be sure.

I was planning to run any real changes like the grounding past an electrician before actually committing to them, was just sharing my general thoughts here to get a better idea what I should be doing. In this case the pipe I was looking at is only about 6' from the circuit breaker box anyway, so I can probably spring for the extra few dollars of wire.

If you can see the fat wire from the panel that connects to your water pipe, there would be no issue to put circuit grounds on pipe clamps adjacent to that fat pipe grounding wire. A big row of pipe clamps and grounds should tip off even the dumbest plumber not to cut that out.

Last edited by suemarkp : April 29th, 2011 at 08:25 PM.
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  #8   IP: 24.19.180.107
Old April 29th, 2011, 08:23 PM
suemarkp suemarkp is offline
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The return path is in the pipes because they are required to be connect to your panel ground. However, with the prevalence of plastic pipe nowdays, it is possible that sections of copper pipe could become electrically isolated. That would be bad if you have a fault on a circuit and use an isolated pipe as the return path -- you'll end up with shocking faucets. That is why current code requires you to run your circuit grounds back to the main panel, or ground electrode conductor.
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