wall socket with voltage and no voltage? help!

jackvogelDecember 21, 2010

I have a situation where a number of wall sockets have gone dead and one of them is indicating voltage on a Non-Contact Voltage Tester but when I plug in my 3-Wire Circuit Analyzer Voltage Tester nothing lights up which should indicate that there is an open hot. The rest of the sockets give no indication on either meter.

To give some background, I've been helping a friend who had had some electrical work done when they had a ceiling put in in a room in their basement. The electrics in the house are 40-50 years old, reliant on a fuse box, and have been DIY modified by the previous owner.

The person who did the most recent work didn't really finish the job and made several mistakes after which he put up a drywall ceiling, closing off most access to the wiring. The end result of his work was that a wall socket in the basement was not working and the ceiling light at the far end of the basement was permanently on while the light closest to the stairs was controlled by a switch at the top of the stairs.

I pulled the fuse and took the switched light off the ceiling and found that there was a 2 hot 1 neutral wire carrying current into the box. The red wire was attached to the switch and the black was uninterrupted current. The hot leading to the broken wall socket was attacked to the black... and so was the neutral leading to the wall socket so that wasn't hard to fix. The wire leading to the other light was also attached to the uninterrupted current and I moved that over to the red (switched). The remaining wire in the box was a mystery so I wire nutted it off for the time being and left it.

Once I was done I put the fuse back and the basement was now wired to my friends liking, but we found that there was now a dead socket in the living room above. I realized that was the mystery wire so I went back down and attached that to the uninterrupted circuit, went back up and found it was working. However, at the same time, a number of sockets in the kitchen and dining room went out.

They are on the same fuse, but for the life of me, I can't figure out why they aren't working because there are no more loose wires. They WERE working when the one in the living room was out and the only change I made was to attach that to the one loose wire that feeds the living room socket. The other strange change is the one socket in the kitchen which is having the problems I described above.

If anyone has any idea what could be causing this please clue me in.

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First off, note that it is most likely not legal for you to work on your friend's wiring. It is OK for you to guide him while he does the work, AFAIK.

Sounds like your friend needs to start by pulling down that permanent basement ceiling. I'd wager it's covering up some junction boxes, a major code violation and hazard. He's going to need access to those boxes if he's going to fix this properly.

Then he'll need to trace everything out, using a continuity tester where necessary, and draw a diagram so he knows what he really has. Make the necessary corrections and rewire. And this time he should pull a permit and get it inspected.

A volt tick is useful for a quick check but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. (Great for troubleshooting Christmas lights though!) Better to test for voltage with a Wiggy, or a pigtailed rubber lamp socket and 25 watt bulb. Just tin the wire ends on the pigtails.

    Bookmark   December 21, 2010 at 8:03PM
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I don't see why it wouldn't be legal. The only things I've installed are wall sockets and lamp fixtures which any home owner can install. They just asked me to do it because I'm a bit more technically skilled, have time off between semesters, and have all of the tools required to do the job.

The possibility of other junction boxes in the mix here hadn't occurred to me. My friend or her husband may be able to tell me if there were any junction boxes in the ceiling prior to the installation of the ceiling and possibly tell me if one was added and then covered by the person who did this previous wiring and ceiling.

If there is a covered junction box (and we can find it easily) would it be acceptable to simply cut a hole in the ceiling covering it and replace that spot with an access panel?

    Bookmark   December 21, 2010 at 11:59PM
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Ron Natalie

It's not legal because you are NOT an electrician. Most local codes give you special dispensation for DIY on your own single family house. That doesn't apply to anybody else's house, multifamily units, or commercial buildings. The fact that there are issues that "hadn't occurred to you" is exactly the reason why it's not legal.

    Bookmark   December 22, 2010 at 9:05AM
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