Stumped: dead receptacle

Chris_July 1, 2013

Just outside my back door, there is a light and a receptacle.

Just inside the door, there is a switch and a receptacle in the same box. The indoor receptacle is on a different circuit and works fine.

The switch controls the light. The light works fine. In the light's box, there is only one, two-wire cable that powers the light. Nothing goes back out.

The switch has one black wire in, and two black wires out. Checked all three with a direct contact, "real" voltage meter. The "input" is hot. When the switch is on, the two "outputs" are hot.

As for the receptacle outside the door, it's dead. I used the same voltage meter to check the black wire (itself, not terminal) against neutral and ground.

This is a relatively new house (What I've tried/checked/considered:

- Cut end off black wire, stripped, retested.
- One GFCI in whole house. Not tripped.
- Tried every light switch in the house.
- No other outlets are malfunctioning.
- Never noticed smoke/sparks/smell.
- No modifications to light fixtures, receptacles, walls.
- Also tried non-contact tester, same results.
- Used 3-light wiring tester on other outlet. Fine.

I've tried everything I can find in various forums, short of opening the wall. I'd really like to avoid that.

Any other ideas? I'd really appreciate your help with this.

Chris

This post was edited by Chris_ on Mon, Jul 1, 13 at 12:37

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bus_driver

Making no claim to know about wiring conventions in Canada. But I suspect that another GFCI is hiding somewhere. In the basement (perhaps near the ceiling) near the receptacle location? At another outdoor receptacle location? One simple but time consuming exercise would be to check every receptacle on the entire premises for power.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 12:32PM
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Chris_

Thanks for the reply, bus_driver.

I just checked every outlet in the house, including the basement and garage, and the ones on the ceiling (basement, garage, front porch).

Hoping for more suggestions!

Thanks again,

Chris

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 12:57PM
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saltcedar

If there's only one GFCI then your basement, kitchen & and bath outlets would be daisy-chained to the one you found. That said you'll need to go from receptacle to receptacle to find which one has an open connection outbound to the outside outlet. The inbound connection to that outlet is also suspect especially if they are back-stabbed connections. If you find any back-stabs redo them to sidewired.

Here is a link that might be useful: Back-Stab Switches and Receptacles

This post was edited by saltcedar on Mon, Jul 1, 13 at 15:50

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 1:08PM
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hendricus

The switch controls the light. The light works fine. In the light's box, there is only one, two-wire cable that powers the light. Nothing goes back out.

The switch has one black wire in, and two black wires out. Checked all three with a direct contact, "real" voltage meter. The "input" is hot. When the switch is on, the two "outputs" are hot.

As for the receptacle outside the door, it's dead.

Turn the switch by the back door for the back light on and then check the outlet.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 2:37PM
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Chris_

Thanks, saltcedar.

You wrote that I'll "need to go from receptacle to receptacle to find which one has an open connection outbound to the outside outlet."

How would I be able to tell?

Appreciate the help,

Chris

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 2:43PM
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Chris_

Thanks, hendricus.

I have tried several times while testing other things, but the switch does not control the outlet.

Thanks for the thought, though!

Chris

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 2:45PM
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saltcedar

Most likely it's the GFI protected outlet closest to the outdoor outlet They use the shortest run of wire possible. If it's outbound you may see a loose or charred wire at that receptacle otherwise look for loose or charred connection on the outdoor receptacle. It'll definitely take some detective work. I'd probably start with the outside receptacle first since it's likely at end of the run from the GFCI (assuming all basement, kitchen & bath outlets work).

This post was edited by saltcedar on Mon, Jul 1, 13 at 15:49

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 2:54PM
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Chris_

Saltcedar,

The only GFCI is up a floor and a room over from the back wall. I'll look, but it seems a long way to go...

I checked the actual wires on the outlet with the voltage meter, not just the outlet. They're dead on that end.

Could anything have happened inside the wall? We don't have mice or anything that I know of that would gnaw on wires. As I said, it's new wiring. I'm just concerned that something might have happened in the wall that could start a fire.

I'll keep looking. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 3:46PM
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saltcedar

Here's a clever way I'd never heard of to locate a loose connection.
As always YMMV.

PS look for the Mystery Junction Box in the basement.

Here is a link that might be useful: Ah⦠backstabbed again!

This post was edited by saltcedar on Mon, Jul 1, 13 at 15:58

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 3:53PM
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saltcedar

I find it hard to believe that a home less than ten years old wasn't required to have separate GFCI's or GFI Breakers for the basement/exterior, the kitchen and the baths at least. 4 minimum as I believe Canadian code requires two circuits for the kitchen.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 7:16PM
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Chris_

I don't know about the codes. I'm handy, but not an expert. I've only got the one GFCI outlet, but I don't know what kind of breakers I've got. There are two circuits for the kitchen, though, plus kitchen lights.

Thanks for the other post. I've tried using the three light tester. I'm gradually working away from the dead outlet. The GFCI outlet was fine, and all the other outlets have been fine so far.

I can't find anything with wires going "someplace unknown" that might be the outlet.

This is getting really strange...

Thanks for the ongoing help!

Chris

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 7:46PM
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yosemitebill

This is actually a fairly simple problem to solve if you have the proper test equipment.

What you want to use is known as a "fox & hound" wire tracer. The "fox" is connected to the hot and ground and generates a tone on the wire. The "hound" is an inductive receiver that picks up the tone on the wire and provides a variable audible tone and/or visual display to trace it. Most will work up to about 12 inches as long as it's not in metal conduit.

So, you simply put a tone on the receptacle wiring and use the probe to follow the wire through the wall to it's source. They usually run anywhere from $50 to $200 depending on features - search around.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 8:39PM
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stash-hdy

GFI is somewhere, My front door outside plug is GFI protected by the GFI in the jack and jill bath upstairs. The rear outside plug has the GFI in the garage. My neighbor could not find the front outside plug GFI because it was behind the freezer in the garage. I have also seen them in closets.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 9:03PM
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Chris_

Thanks, yosemitebill.

I looked up the fox & hound tracers and found a local supplier for one reviewed on youtube (extech).

That looks like a much better way to find it than opening the wall!

Thanks, stash-hdy. I pulled all the furniture away from the walls today and checked every outlet in & out of the house, but this seemed to be the only dead one. I'll keep an eye out for more GFI's though.

We thought of a spinoff from one of saltcedar's suggestions.

-Black wire in outlet is dead according to voltage meter.
-So, black somehow disconnected--GFI/loose connection.
-So, can't use black to see where cable is supposed to go.
-Unlikely white wire is affected by GFI or second loose connection.
-Turn off main breaker.
-Plug extension cord into dead outlet.
-Inside, test white wire of dead outlet against white of nearby outlets to find where it branches off from.

Haven't tried it yet, but any thoughts, anyone?

Thanks for all the suggestions so far!

Chris

    Bookmark   July 1, 2013 at 10:20PM
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bus_driver

Not sure if your abilities extend to this suggestion. I would, after trying in my own way all the things you say you have done, turn off all the branch circuits, power a cord from the panel and backfeed from the receptacle location the conductors that were connected to the receptacle. Then find the powered conductor at another box.
I suspect that you have overlooked/missed something with all that you already have tried.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2013 at 5:44PM
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