Some Outlets Aren't Working After Repair

lisagisaMarch 8, 2013

Recently we had an outlet that was smoking, melting. Turned off electricity to whole house, because we weren't certain which breaker to flip. This is an older house, built in early 60's. Bought a new outlet, installed it. Wiring looked okay. There were 2 white, 2 black and one ground. We put the 4 wires on the 4 screws and the ground on the green. We feel certain that we have the hot and neutral on the appropriate screws. One of the wires seemed to have some plastic cover slightly melted, but not much. Turned the electricity back on, the repaired outlet works, but about 7 others, along with the dining room over head light, do not work. We bought an electrical tester at Lowe's, the breaker panel seems to have electricity in all circuits, however, we do not know how to trouble shoot. We went back to the outlet that we repaired and made sure that all wires and screws were tight, but feel certain, the problem goes back to that point. Any help offered will be greatly appreciated. We are pretty handy, just haven't encountered this before and would like to fix ourselves!

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Ron Natalie

If all the breakers are on (you may have to turn them individually off and back on to check this, some breakers do not have a real obvious trip indication), then a good chance is that the nonfunctioning stuff is stuff on the circuit you were working on.

First thing is to pull the receptacle and make sure that there the connections are secure (and that you've not done something boneheaded like put the insulation under the screw....believe me, I've seen that).

Second, look carefully at the receptacle screws. Usually there is a small amount of metal that connects the two screws on the same side. This can be removed if you want to feed the receptacle with different wires (for example, you want one connected to a switch). Make sure these tabs connecting the top and bottom are intact.

Heat damage usually only eats the insulation not the conductors, but examine the wires carefully to see if there is any sign that the wire may be broken. Also look to make sure there aren't other connections in the box (wirenuts or places where such fasteners should be) that may have been disturbed.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 8:26AM
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For a quick test of the other outlets remove the replaced outlet and wire the 2 blacks together and then wire nut the 2 whites together. Turn the power back on and the other outlets should work. If yes then the new outlet is at fault. If not then the wires are at fault.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 12:21PM
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When you get this working again, be sure to determine the underlying cause. It's possible the 50-year old receptacle just went bad. Maybe you had a high-current device like a space heater plugged in and the prongs were loose-fitting and heated up. Or maybe the breaker is too big or there is another wiring problem.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 1:47PM
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Great idea, Hendricus. We are going to try that momentarily. Quick update - my husband told me there are 3 whites, not just 2. 3 whites, and 2 blacks. We will screw all 3 of the whites together and try that test. Does the fact that there are 3 whites play into this issue in any way?

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 4:17PM
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i would only wire nut together the wires that were on the outlet. black to black and white to white. i don't know what the other white could be from unless you are on conduit rather than cable.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2013 at 10:13PM
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Ron Natalie

Something is very wrong here. Look carefully where those whites are coming from. I've never seen a cable that only had a white wire coming from it. I suspect there's an additional black somewhere as well.

Depending on the way things were initially wired, twisting all the same color wire together can be a mistake. If there's a switch loop, one of the white wires likely wants to be connected to the blacks.

    Bookmark   March 9, 2013 at 8:36AM
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