How to track a bad circuit


Old 03-02-17, 08:50 AM
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How to track a bad circuit

I'm comfortable around electricity - I've done a bunch of re-wiring in my 1950's home over the years. Recently a circuit went bad - perhaps two. The problem with with some receptacles - during vacuuming a receptacle went dead. I checked our circuit breaker - nothing was tripped. I tripped all the circuits, nothing worked. I checked various GFCI switches, all are working.

As it turns out I found other receptacles that weren't working in different parts of the house. I'm not sure if they are on the same circuit, they were wired long before I bought the house but I would expect that more than one circuit is involved.

I'm pretty sure I know at least one of the circuits involved - I could turn off the main and replace the breaker. Unfortunately I don't know where the 'early' receptacles are in the line - I suppose I could try to find those and see if I have a bad connection early in the circuit. However it seems to be related to a load being added (the vacuum cleaner) when the problem occurred which seems to point to a breaker issue.

Any thoughts on how to troubleshoot this?
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Old 03-02-17, 08:54 AM
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The problem is 99% chance a burned off connection somewhere in the circuit that was powering the vacuum. The likely candidates are the first non-working receptacle or last working receptacle in the chain of the circuit. To repair, one-by-one go to each receptacle, switch, junction and light fixture in this circuit and remake connections. You can't always tell by looking at the splices; undo and remake with wirenuts. Replace any backstabbed receptacle connections with screw terminal connections.
Old 03-02-17, 10:19 AM
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Old 03-02-17, 04:22 PM
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Now is also the perfect time time to identify everything and what circuit it's on for future reference in cases just like this.

I can't tell you how many homes I go into and the homeowner has no list or idea what is on each circuit. Since I need that information for servicing..... they pay me to do that easy but time consuming job.
Old 03-03-17, 05:18 AM
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Thanks for all the input - I'll start to track my circuits down. What's the best method of doing this - I know there are tools out there to do this, what is the best recommendation for one?
Old 03-03-17, 06:10 AM
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I've used circuit breaker locators, fox and hound tracers, etc. but the fastest and most foolproof way is to have a friend with a cell phone walk around with a lamp or radio and plug it into each receptacle while you flip breakers. When you find the right one, tell your friend the number and have your friend write the number on a sticky note on the receptacle. Also check all the lights and appliances in each room. Don't forget garage and outdoor lights and receptacles.

When you are all done, you can make a list, a sketch, write the number on the inside of the wall plate, whatever works for you. Then update the chart inside the breaker panel.

If you have to do it alone, just use a radio turned up loud. Just takes longer with more walking back and forth.
Old 03-03-17, 06:11 AM
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Long extension cord with a lamp or a loud radio. Plug lamp into cord and than into outlet take lamp to breaker box and flip breakers till it goes off. Number breaker and outlet or light on a map of house.
Old 03-03-17, 07:04 AM
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Some great ideas, thanks all!
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