About a week ago I started blowing fuses on a particular outlet and I discovered the outlet would move when I pulled the plug in and out. I went to shore up the outlet a bit and found that after some pulling and tugging, I had a short somewhere in the outlet box. Since I didn't have enough wire to work with inside the box and the wiring is inaccessible except by opening up the wall, I opened up the wall, put in a junction box behind where I assumed the short was, and rewired things. However, to my dismay, I found that I was now only reading 12 vac on my outlet (both across hot and neutral and hot and ground)! Help!
Editor's Note: We send electrical questions to Dear Webby because he has lots of experience in electrical matters. Here is what he said.
That sounds like the final step in the repair, replacing the fuse or resetting the breaker, is yet to be done. A consistent random low voltage showing on a digital meter is from the wires acting like an antenna and picking up stray EMF from fluorescent lights, motors, nearby overhead cables and even street lights. There is no real current, and the random low voltage should be just seen as an indication of an overly sensitive digital meter. Even a small flashlight bulb won't light up from that.
If replacing the fuse or resetting the breaker won't restore power, then there is still a broken wire somewhere. There is a fairly cheap gadget available at building supply centers that indicates with a humming sound when a live wire is nearby. Following a cable buried in the wall, until the humming stops, pinpoints the break. Those tracer wands are called many different names, depending on the location, but building supply center staff will generally know it as a "wire tracing wand".
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