Household electrical outlet question

Discussion in 'Fred's House of Pancakes' started by cyberpriusII, Jun 4, 2019.

  1. cyberpriusII

    cyberpriusII Prodigyplace says I'm Super Kris

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    A room with wall outlets -- on the wall is a "regular" toggle light switch.

    Three of the wall outlets are powered by the toggle light switch being "on" or "off."

    BUT -- only one of the two outlets in each outlet are controlled by the switch -- the second outlet is always on.

    Does that make sense. So, on the wall is the outlet. I plug a lamp into the top cord "thingy" and it is controlled by the wall switch.

    If I plug the lamp into the bottom outlet, it does not matter if the wall switch is on or off, there is always power to the lamp.

    The wall switch no longer turns any of the lamps on. Now I have the lamps plugged into the bottom outlet, so I have to actually walk across the room and operate the lamps on/off switches.

    I replaced the wall switch with a super-duper Leviton "preferred switch." No difference.

    I just checked all the wall outlets. There is no power (well, the voltmeter reads in the 30s). on the top connections. The bottom connections all read 118v.

    So, I can replace all the wall outlets, but, since I am disabled, trying to avoid that solution. Any hints??
    kris
     
  2. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

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    common wiring, 'switched outlets'. there is a tab on the side of the outlet you can break off so one is pitched and the other is constant.

    you're gonna have to trace the wiring, sounds like a loose connection before the first outlet that doesn't have full voltage.

    any work done? vermin?
     
  3. ETC(SS)

    ETC(SS) The other One Percenter.....

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    Outlet or outletS?
    30 VAC or 30mVAC?

    They used to wire rooms with split receptacles so that the light switch controls one of the outlets in one or (more rarely) more than one of the outlets in the room....
    Something like this....
    [​IMG]

    or this....
    [​IMG]

    or....
    [​IMG]

    BUT...sometimes each half of the duplex receptacles are fed by a different branch circuit from the breaker panel (PLEASE tell me it's a breaker panel!) and one of these are switched at the room entrance....which might indicate that you tripped a breaker on one of the branch circuits and the 30VAC that you're seeing on the switched circuit is really just noise (like 30 miliamps.)

    If it REALLY is 30VAC....then we have to immediately find out why.
    Also if you haven't lifted a breaker and half of each of the outlets in the room are out then we also have to find out why.
    Hopefully it's a loose wire....or something else easily detectable (if you don't mind accessing each outlet and inspecting the wires....)
    I'm hoping that it's NOT the mouse playhouse thing again.

    Good Luck!
     
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  4. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

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    still do
     
  5. ETC(SS)

    ETC(SS) The other One Percenter.....

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    Yes they do, but more rarely now in my experience in newer houses that I'm seeing.
    With the advent of smart lamps and receptacles and everything else.....I expect this trend to continue.

    Kris, in the interim you may want to investigate using smart plugs....the cheapest of which are under $10 (I routinely find older ones for $5, but I re-flash them) and nearly all of then will speak Amazonian if you teach them.
    Sonoff and Tuya seem to be the industry leaders, and if you're averse to using a non-local server to switchy your lights you can discover the wonderful world of DIY home automation (i.e. TASMOTA) since you have so much free time on your hands these days.
    (sorry! ;) )

    Also....Wyze, a US company whose mission statement is to "democratize home automation" is launching $8 WiFi connected LED light bulbs. Their server is US based and they're not quite as "icky" as some of the other big players in IOT.

    Meanwhile....break out that meter!
    If you really are seeing 30-volts at your outlet then we need to find out where the other 85-90 volts are going....;)
     
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  6. cyberpriusII

    cyberpriusII Prodigyplace says I'm Super Kris

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    So, no rats, mice, bats (other than moi) in the house. It is actually very well built.

    But, it was built in 1970. Have had to replace a number of switches and outlets over the years. Never any in that particular room.

    My mind starts to spin looking at wiring diagrams. Sorry.

    My original solution was to replace the toggle switch (DONE) and then replace the first outlet after the switch. And, I can still do that -- and I do understand about breaking the tabs, or not.

    But, I do buy the expensive outlets and I REALLY would like to avoid being that close to the ground, if at all possible (still very painful to bend, etc.).

    So, I was hoping there might be a way to ferret out the culprit before willy-nilly replacing.

    House is controlled by what I have been told is a "split buss" panel of circuit breakers. There is no main shut-off. I checked the breakers first thing. None were tripped. Tripping the one for that room == well it turns off all the power.
    kris
     
  7. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

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    is there no power to the first switched outlet?

    is there power coming into the switch?
     
  8. cyberpriusII

    cyberpriusII Prodigyplace says I'm Super Kris

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    So: Can I --

    Set the voltmeter to AC volts

    Take the plastic plate off the wall light swtich.

    Then take off the screws that hold the switch in the wall.

    Pull out the switch

    Touch the "hot" (red) voltmeter probe to the screw with the red wire connected

    Touch the common (black) voltmeter probe to the screw with the black wire connected.

    ++++++++

    I am trying to avoid taking the wires off the switch. It is difficult for me to do so at this time.

    I guess I could have hubby do it, but trying to do things on my own.
    kris
     
  9. Trollbait

    Trollbait It's a D&D thing

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    It might have more to do with more rooms having hard wired lighting fixtures. I remember switch controlled outlets being more common in rooms without them.
     
  10. JimboPalmer

    JimboPalmer Tsar of all the Rushers

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    Ii the wall, a white wire should be neutral,
    a black wire should be hot,
    Bare copper or green wire should be grounded.

    So red on your volt meter (set to AC) goes to black
    and black on you voltmeter goes to white.

    On the receptacle:
    [​IMG]
    There is a metal jumper connecting the top outlet to the bottom one. If you stuck a flat bladed screwdriver in there, it would break off and the two outlets would be separate, as you describe. You would then need separate wires for each half, one behind each screw.

    On the outlet, the brass screws should be hot,
    the silver screws should be neutral,
    and the green screw should be ground.
     
    #10 JimboPalmer, Jun 5, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2019
  11. ETC(SS)

    ETC(SS) The other One Percenter.....

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    +1.

    Also, if there is a red wire in your outlet or switch box, then it’s also a current bearing (or hot) wire depending on how it’s used. You may want to take some pictures, because depending on how the room is wired (ceiling fans?) the red wire might be used to power the upper outlet in the 3 receptacles in the room that are controlled by the switch. They would normally be energized or “hot” when the switch is “on.” If this is the case, then all of the fun stuff is happening in the switch box, and you’re dealing with a misswired switch, loose wire nut, etc....

    What I would do:
    1. Always look where you’ve been. Open (turn off) the breaker for the room and have hubby make sure all of the lugs on the switch and all of the outlets are properly tightened. Likewise for the wire nuts (plastic cone-shaped caps.) Like Jimbo said, there should be a black or red wire on each copper colored lug and ALWAYS a white wire on each silver lug. Each switch or outlet should also have a separate green screw for the bare (ground) wire. On an outlet the smaller of the two slots is the “hot” side (copper screws.)
    If you only have one light switch for the room then it should be a single-pole switch and only have two screw lugs (for black or red wires) and a green one for the ground.
    If you think all of this is already confusing enough, sometimes a white (or neutral) wire will have black tape on the end or (more rarely) be painted or colored with a marker to indicate that it’s a hot wire.
    Since you were not around to take notes when the house was wired it can seem a little confusing, which is why good electricians make as much as a medium plumber, but it’s all fairly easy to sort out once you get the covers off and see what’s taped and screwed to what.

    2. If your meter costs more than....say $10 then it might be auto-ranging. These can be confusing since they can measure milivolts that look like volts on the display. Sometimes the easiest way to tell is whether or not the numbers are rapidly changing while you’re taking the reading or if there are three digits in the display. Again....a picture is worth many words.
    IIRC, the freebie Harbor Freight meters do not have this “feature”....which would mean that you’re really seeing 30-volts. This is almost always caused by a loose connection or something really creepy like a high resistance ground, or a conductor that’s almost but not quite broken-and it bears aggressive investigation.

    I probably have 3-4 of these meters, but I usually use them ONLY when I have to.
    They work OK if you use them CAREFULLY.
    I’m sure that’s you already know this but you should always regularly test the meter with a known source (lamp that’s lit, etc) before you use it for troubleshooting a faulty circuit.

    Good Luck!
     
    #11 ETC(SS), Jun 5, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2019
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  12. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

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    yes, you can open and pull the switch and outlets as you described, breaker off. no need to disconnect any wires.

    breaker on (be careful) test the wiring to follow the circuit path. as mentioned above, post some pics if anything looks funny.

    my daughter had a similar problem in her house in the catskills, there was a loose connection at one of the outlets, and no power after that.
     
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  13. jerrymildred

    jerrymildred Senior Member

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    Hey Kris. I just found this thread. You're getting some good tips here. Let me add one more. Since none of the switched outlets work, it would seem that you have a loose connection. You've replaced the switch and that didn't fix it, so odds are that the bad connection is in the first outlet in the circuit as illustrated in post #3. But since everything is hidden, you don't know which is first till you open up the receptacles.

    The only way I've found to chase that stuff down is just brute force. I turn off the breaker. Put tape over it in case someone comes along and decides to turn it back on. Then go one by one, starting with the receptacle closest to the switch and open them up. Make sure you check the hot, neutral, and any wire nuts in each box. My guess would be that it's in the outlet box closest to the switch. Last time I fixed one like that it was a wire nut on the neutral in a friend's kitchen.

    Ooh! That reminds me. If you check the hot against the ground and get full line voltage, you know it's the neutral that's loose. If you get low/no voltage against both neutral and ground, the hot wire is loose. You just have to find the first outlet in the chain.

    I say "just" but I know it can't be easy in your condition. :(
     
    #13 jerrymildred, Jun 5, 2019
    Last edited: Jun 5, 2019
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  14. sam spade 2

    sam spade 2 Senior Member

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    In house wiring, the black is the "hot" wire and the white is the "neutral".
    Any other color usually is a second "hot" wire, in your case going from the switch to the top outlets.

    The neutral does not go through the switch, so in the back of the box where the switch is located should be a "wire nut" with about 3 or 4 white wires all connected together. I think it is highly likely that your trouble is right there in that bundle of white wires.....bad connection.

    Are these 3 wire outlets ? If so, you can measure from the "hot" wire to the ground to prove that the neutral is the problem.

    Please turn the breaker OFF while pulling things out to get a good look.

    (and I now see this is pretty much a re-hash of what Jerry already said.)
     
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  15. jerrymildred

    jerrymildred Senior Member

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    I was thinking, "Didn't I just say that?" And then I got to the end and laughed. No worries. Confirmation doesn't hurt a thing. (y)
     
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  16. cyberpriusII

    cyberpriusII Prodigyplace says I'm Super Kris

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    I have not given up on this project. I just had a minor (my husband calls major) setback in health issues. But, I hope to try to tackle this again in the next few days!!!!

    Stay tuned. AND THANKS TO ALL> O.K., if you are curious, my hip went from "giving out" now and again to giving out LOTS more. Have doc appt. next Wednesday, but afraid to do any squat/bends until then.

    BTW, in this box, the single pole light switch has a red wire and a black. And my Klein multmeter cost $60 at Home Cheapo. Beats the analog Craftsman from 197x that I used before.
    kris
     
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  17. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

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    i'm sorry to hear it chris :(
     
  18. ETC(SS)

    ETC(SS) The other One Percenter.....

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    +1

    I'm thinking that @jerrymildred has the most useful advice.
    The most likely spot for the trouble is a loose connection in the first switched outlet.


    If you don't mind, I'll.....ah...."root" some more for your recovery. ;)
    There will be time for the outlet later.

    BTW....$60 is a fair price for a fairly good meter, and Klein makes good stuff!

    Good Luck!
     
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  19. jerrymildred

    jerrymildred Senior Member

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    Wow. Sorry about your setback.

    I agree with @ETC(SS) on the Klein. They make good tools. In fact, I have a Klein combination multimeter and clamp on amp meter.

    Red and black on the switch is proper since both are or may be hot. White would be against code since white wires are not supposed to be hot, although, if you mark them prominently with black or red tape at both ends, you can make do. But I'm not really comfortable with that.

    Get well soon.
     
  20. jb in NE

    jb in NE Senior Member

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    Makes sense. The electrical code requires that the wall switch control a light in the room, and if there is no overhead light, then a frequent solution is to split outlets so half of the outlet is always hot and the other half is switched. Then you put a lamp on the switched side, keep the lamp ON and you have a switched light in the room.

    "210.70(A)(1): At least one wall switch–controlled lighting outlet shall be installed in every habitable room, kitchen, and bathroom.

    Exception No. 1: In other than kitchens and bathrooms, one or more receptacles controlled by a wall switch shall be permitted in lieu of lighting outlets."

    In addition to the checks noted above, check that you have 120V on the load side of the wall switch as well, with the switch in the ON position. If this terminal is loose, you may not get full voltage at the loads (i.e. the switched receptacles).
     
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