electrical outlet not working (but has power)

karkalecSeptember 17, 2009

I have an outlet I run my microwave on. Just now I started the micro, heard a kind of fizzling noise that sounded like it came from the outlet, and the microwave went dead. I have a little voltage detector thingy with two prongs and a little light bulb. The light lights up, indicating electricity, but the microwave and other appliances I try in the outlet do not power up.

Any ideas?



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Turn of the circuit breaker for the outlet and remove the plate and receptacle.

One of the wires attached to the receptacle is probably loose.

The current from a simple tester like you have is very small, but almost any appliance is much higher.

A wire that is simply touching may easily carry enough current to light the tester, yet heat up enough to open when a larger load is connected.

    Bookmark   September 17, 2009 at 8:04PM
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I agree.. and you will probably find that the wire is inserted in the back of the outlet instead of using the screws.

Replace the outlet and use the screws this time.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 8:52AM
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Thanks a lot for the tips. Actually, I replaced this outlet a couple of months ago already because of the same problem. I replaced it with a side screw version and believe all connections are snug. One thing I'll mention is I tiled the backsplash and have the outlet on those rubber extenders so it kind of wobbles a little. Is it possible a screw touching the metal box is causing this?



    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 6:43PM
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"Is it possible a screw touching the metal box is causing this?"

If the hot screw touched a grounded metal box the circuit breaker would be tripped and the GFCI also (though the faster one will go first).

It the neutral touched a grounded metal box the GFCI would trip.

Check the connections.

Receptacle screws are tightened more than most folks think to ensure a gas tight connection that does not come loose under repeated thermal cycling as the receptacle heats up and cools down in use.

If the receptacle is wobbling around you may have worked a wire loose.

The plastic extension rings that go all the way around the front edge of the box are better than the smaller standoffs that just go on the device screws.

    Bookmark   September 18, 2009 at 7:21PM
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Ok, so the latest is I tightened all the screws and put the outlet back in. The outlet will work for a couple of days, then go out for a day. Today we realized that two other outlets in the same room are also working only occasionally. Does that change the diagnosis? All outlets have been replaced in the last 2 years, so nothing is old.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2009 at 6:00PM
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Have you checked the wiring integrity at each of the malfunctioning receptacles? Sounds like one has a poorly contacting wire that malfunctions as it heats up. This would be the cause of all of the ones downstream from it -- whichever it is -- going out at the same time.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2009 at 10:19PM
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Ok I checked the wires on all of the receptacles. Nothing was obviously loose, but I retightened all of the screws anyway. I noticed on the back of one of the receptacle plates a tiny bit of brown, which seems like it would indicate heat being generated by the outlet, right? Is that a concern or normal?

So now everything is working, but I'm just waiting to see if they go out again, as they have been on again, off again for a while now.

By the way, I've seen some mention of GFI being the culprit of dead receptacles, but I have no GFIs that I can find (house is pretty old), and anyway if that was it they wouldn't be functioning intermittently without a reset, right?



    Bookmark   October 3, 2009 at 8:20AM
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You might also check the wiring on all of the other devices upstream on that circuit. There may be a loose connection on the output side of a device that would not affect the device itself.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2009 at 10:48AM
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Ok those 3 outlets are now dead again. Upstream receptacles are working. I need to tighten wires on them anyway?

    Bookmark   October 3, 2009 at 7:22PM
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Yes, you need to investigate nearby receptacles that might always be working fine, but could be causing trouble for downstream outlets.

(P.S.: you're correct re your question about GFCIs)_

    Bookmark   October 4, 2009 at 2:08PM
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Sorry, I meant to address that to karkelec, not randy...

    Bookmark   October 4, 2009 at 2:10PM
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I have a outlet that has low voltage I'm assumming I must have a short somewhere in the line,but how can I find the source of the short.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 6:40AM
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Please create a new thread when you have a new topic.

If you have a "short" in your circuit, you'll have no voltage at all, and hopefully the circuit breaker has tripped. Low voltage is usually either devices wired in series instead of in parallel, or if very low, it's just a phantom voltage induced from another circuit.

I'd call an electrician.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 10:33AM
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"I have a outlet that has low voltage I'm assumming..."

Start a new thread please, and notice the first three letters off assuming.

The first question is what did you measure the voltage with?

    Bookmark   April 1, 2011 at 2:57PM
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