Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown

 
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Old 08-01-2010, 12:02 AM   #1
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Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


Hi all, I have a funny problem I've never come across before. I did a job a while back with some minor electrical work, that I had my electrician do, on a 1970's house. nothing fancy, an extra switch, outlet, and ceiling fan with 14/2 romex and it's been working fine for a while now.
I got a call from this customer yesterday claiming that he plugged in his vaccuum to an outlet, started it up, and it cut out after a few seconds. Now a lot of outlets, switches, and lights in that part of the house don't work at all, and no breaker has been thrown! the outlet was no where near where the work was done, but in an adjacent room, however now the new ceiling fan that I installed doesn't work either. My electrician wants big cheese of course to come and look at it and I'm mostly just curious how the crap an entire circuit can just fail with no signs. A google search shows a lot of folks who have had the same problem, but of course no one with an answer.
To clarify, I took the outlet in question out, it looks fine. There is no voltage going to it. I can't find any voltage going to the affected receptacles, yet a test on the circuit breaker checks out (it's fine). I reset all the breakers, positively off, then positively on. Still no juice. Any ideas? Also should know, this house has alluminum wiring and a solar panel setup. only in austin.
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Old 08-01-2010, 12:25 AM   #2
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


Homeowner's are notorious for mis-diagnosing a problem, making false associations and leaving out key details, like the husband hung a picture last week using a 16D nail and of course that had nothing to do with it because she used the outlet just yesterday and it was working... oops nail through a wire... oh yeah, actually I didn't use that outlet, I remember now I was using the one on the other side of the wall...

Don't trust anything the homeowner tells you, do your own trouble shooting forgeting anything they have told you.

You'll likly find out the neighbor helped them replace a broken outlet in the garage which they will remember only after you find the outlet in the garage is new and mis-wired. Aluminum wiring is even more susectable to DIYer problems.

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Old 08-01-2010, 09:23 AM   #3
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


I'll put my money on a back-stab connection that finally 'let go'.
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Old 08-01-2010, 09:57 AM   #4
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


Or a GFCI buried in the wall.
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Old 08-01-2010, 10:24 AM   #5
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


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Or a GFCI buried in the wall.
I checked all the outlets and switches and none are "back stabs", they're all side posts and look fine. How could a GFCI be buried in the wall?? You mean an outlet? Plus this happened a little too close to my electrical work to make me think that didn't have something to do with it. Any other ideas? thanks for y'all's replies.
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Old 08-01-2010, 10:31 AM   #6
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


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Homeowner's are notorious for mis-diagnosing a problem, making false associations and leaving out key details, like the husband hung a picture last week using a 16D nail and of course that had nothing to do with it because she used the outlet just yesterday and it was working... oops nail through a wire... oh yeah, actually I didn't use that outlet, I remember now I was using the one on the other side of the wall...

Don't trust anything the homeowner tells you, do your own trouble shooting forgeting anything they have told you.

You'll likly find out the neighbor helped them replace a broken outlet in the garage which they will remember only after you find the outlet in the garage is new and mis-wired. Aluminum wiring is even more susectable to DIYer problems.
Serious question: if a nail went through one of the wires while it was under power, wouldn't the circuit go to ground and trip the breaker? Again, no breakers were tripped. There is the possibility with all the work that has been done that a screw or nail found it's way near one of the new wires, but doubtful. Also, all of the new wiring is switched and when the customer blew the circuit with his vaccuum all the new wiring was switched "off" so no juice was flowing to it anyhow. That and it's been working fine for at least a month. thoughts?
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Old 08-01-2010, 10:33 AM   #7
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


First thing I would do is locate the fuse/breaker for that circuit. Turn it off and see if anything else goes out. The physical location between those items and those that always are out will be the area that contains the problem.

If you are 110% sure you have the right fuse/breaker, and nothing else goes out, then the problem will most likely be in the panel. Either a blown fuse that can't be visually identified as opened, a bad breaker, or a poor connection at a terminal.
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Old 08-01-2010, 10:34 AM   #8
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


Daisy chained outlets.
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Old 08-01-2010, 10:34 AM   #9
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


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Serious question: if a nail went through one of the wires while it was under power, wouldn't the circuit go to ground and trip the breaker?
Who says a nail is required to short out between the hot and ground or neutral? Maybe it took out just the hot. Maybe it just broke the neutral.
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Old 08-01-2010, 10:47 AM   #10
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


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How could a GFCI be buried in the wall?? You mean an outlet?.
Yes, an outlet. I was half-joking about the buried in a wall part, though I really did encounter that one time. HO had his basement finished, and the contractor framed up a wall in front of a GFCI outlet mounted on the original block wall without bypassing it. The GFCI tripped a year and a half after the work was done.

More commonly, there's a GFCI somewhere in the circuit that's not at all obvious, and everyone's forgotten that it's there (in that circuit, that is).

From your description of what you've looked at already, my next step would be to put a toner on the line at the breaker box, and follow the signal to see where it disappears. If that wasn't productive, I'd put the toner on one of the dead outlets and attempt to trace in the other direction.

Should at least get you in the neighborhood.
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Old 08-01-2010, 10:49 AM   #11
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


I prefer a light rinse
to a toner.
Certainly not a full dye job.
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Old 08-01-2010, 10:52 AM   #12
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


Yer on a roll today, Ralphie.
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Old 08-01-2010, 12:38 PM   #13
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


You said Aluminum wiring, that could be the key.

A kink in Aluminum wiring will result in additional resistance at that point, even if the kink was straightened out. The additional resistance will, over time, further degrade the wire at that location. Eventually the wire fails. In the case of aluminum wiring that failure is not a short but the wire itself breaks, just like an old time glass fuse. When this happens there is no longer continuity in the wire.

This could have happened as a result of work you did, it also could have happened as a result of the original installation.

Adding on to a Circuit with AL wiring is just asking for trouble. You increased the potential draw on the circuit. In any event, in many jurisdictions this is not even legal. Since it is no longer legal to install AL wiring, a circuit wired with AL cannot be extended/increased, even if it does have additional capacity available.

Generally, any circuit you extend/expand must meet current codes all the way back to the panel, including its connection in the panel.
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Old 08-01-2010, 01:05 PM   #14
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


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My electrician wants big cheese of course to come and look at it

Of course he does, but in the end the electrician should have enough experience to be able to fix the problem and have everything up and running in short order.
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Old 08-01-2010, 01:10 PM   #15
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


Too many variables here to properly diagnose. The extra expense in hiring someone who knows what and how to diagnose the problem would be worthwhile. As said above it could be a poor or lost connection on the neutral or hot and it could be anywhere. You will have to take apart everything that is not working and even any circuits that still work so you can figure out where the feed is coming from and diagnose from there. I have found broken hot lines before in walls between receptacles that just stopped working suddenly. In fact i did a job just like this a couple weeks ago, the house sat vacant for 1yr, was inspected, owner used the receptacle for several days to have it suddenly stop working. After i diagnosed the problem and repaired it she called me back several days later stating she lost all of her kitchen lights. Again she lost a hot leg somewhere. This time i could not find where the circuit was fed from so i had to run a new circuit, i capped off the only power wire that i could not account for where it went too. I advised her to have the home checked for rodents as she is having to many problems too soon.
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Old 08-01-2010, 01:14 PM   #16
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


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Of course he does, but in the end the electrician should have enough experience to be able to fix the problem and have everything up and running in short order.

And will probably end up being cheaper when you consider you're going to spend forever and a day pokin' and hopin' you find the problem.
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Old 08-01-2010, 06:45 PM   #17
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


I had this happen about 6 months back and it turned out to be the main breaker. One side went bad, burned out or something. I noticed it first with one receptacle then realized a lot of different circuits were out.

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Old 08-01-2010, 07:49 PM   #18
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


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And will probably end up being cheaper when you consider you're going to spend forever and a day pokin' and hopin' you find the problem.
I'm still working on my sales pitch so HO's can better understand this. They get mad though when the troubled circuit gets repaired a little too quickly for over a hundred dollars. I could stay there pretending to be busy and charge them more if they like.
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Old 08-01-2010, 07:58 PM   #19
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


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I'm still working on my sales pitch so HO's can better understand this. They get mad though when the troubled circuit gets repaired a little too quickly for over a hundred dollars. I could stay there pretending to be busy and charge them more if they like.
LMAO Mag

When I get there and fix the problem in 3 minutes, I feel a little guilty too.

I take the time to open the panel and usually find more problems.
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Old 08-01-2010, 09:46 PM   #20
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Re: Entire Circuit Stopped Working, No Breakers Thrown


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LMAO Mag

When I get there and fix the problem in 3 minutes, I feel a little guilty too.

I take the time to open the panel and usually find more problems.
Obviously, as you know, it's not always a piece of cake.

That's a great suggestion about opening the panel and taking a look around but the problem with that is too many houses have the old FP panels that fail the minute you go poking around there, especially if the last guy working in it was a complete idiot. It's sort of like opening an old soldered knob and tube circuit, once you go messin with it you're bound to have something bad happen then of course the HO does not want to pay for your screw up!

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