Mysterious voltage, hot to 'nothing'...

cc_riderJune 9, 2013

It all started when I was a small child... No, not really.

Our skeeter misting system stopped working. Simple enough, right? Ha. Turns out the outlet did not have power.
It's outdoors so it has a GFCI. Reset no worky. Used the voltmeter on it, the hot-to-neutral voltage was nil.
Okay, fine, breaker tripped. Checked all breakers, all were on and hot.
While checking the breakers, I removed the panel and checked 'hot' at each breaker. Here's where it gets weird. Just touching the red (pos) wire of the meter to the hot circuits gave a reading of about 15 volts. The black wire wasn't touching anything! The meter is reading somewhere around 15 volts, using just one of the meter's probes!

- Is the meter bad? It's a cheap-ish Chinese digital one.
- Is it reading voltage between hot and 'me'? Wearing rubber shoes on dry concrete. That seems like a bad thing to be happening.

The main house is old but has had upgraded service and works fine.
The outdoor outlet is in new construction, and has been operating normally until just now.

Any ideas? Suggestions? Yeah, a call to the electrician may be the next step, but I'd like to see if it's something stupid (like, uh, me) before I do something that drastic.

Thanks all!

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Phantom voltage.

The meters input impedance is so high it can read voltage to the electric field in the air.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2013 at 4:38PM
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So... it's nothing to worry about, right? Please tell me it's nothing to worry about...

I still have to figure out why the GFCI outlet wasn't showing power to it. I'm thinking it may actually be attached to ANOTHER GFCI on the same circuit, so I've gotta track down all of the dang things and reset 'em. I can't imagine anything else causing no power at the outlet without a breaker tripped.

Thanks so much for the quick reply... now back to hunting down stray GFCIs...


    Bookmark   June 9, 2013 at 5:44PM
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Did you pull out the GFCI and see if the power is getting to it.? If yes then GFCI is bad, if no then keep looking.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2013 at 6:00PM
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House wiring troubleshooting usually goes along better using an analog multimeter. They are equally cheap compared to a DVM multimeter and while less forgiving of some measuring mistakes, tend to get you where you want to go a bit faster without getting sidetracked. If you have both, you are good to go when dealing with almost all types of electrical equipment problems found in the home.

    Bookmark   June 9, 2013 at 6:12PM
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I think I found the problem. I'm 99% sure I found the problem. The circuit has a GFCI farther up the line! Somehow it tripped (there was nothing plugged into it, but hey, it happens), and the rest of the circuit went dead like it's supposed to. The GFCI is on an interior wall, well away from a door, so I'm going to replace it with a regular outlet and keep the GFCI outlet on the exterior. Everything will still be protected. And I won't have to chase multiple GFCIs on the same circuit...

Thanks everyone. It was that 'stray voltage' that was really worrying me.
I'm gonna get a cheapo analog meter too, I used to have a little teeny Rat Shack meter that worked great, but it disappeared ages ago.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 11:08AM
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Do you have GFCI receptacles in each bathroom? Depending on the age of the house, it is possible the GFCI you just removed protected more than just the outdoor receptacle in question.

    Bookmark   June 10, 2013 at 4:35PM
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