Troubleshooting Electrical Outlet

We bought an older home and the GFCI circuit in our bathroom did not work. I quickly replaced the circuit with a new GFCI and added an extension. All seemed fine, the green indicator light was on, etc. However at some point the outlet did not work.


I thought to trace the wiring and was sure it went to a kitchen switch. Well it seemed as thought we had to have a switch turned on for the outlet to work. But we were wrong because one night before we went to sleep the outlet was active, but when we got up and before we turned anything on (i.e. hair dryer, etc.) the outlet was out.

So we started turning switches on and off to discover none of them had any impact. It is a mystery to us today to have an unreliable circuit (on and off) in our house we are nervous. Please advise any additional troubleshooting tips. Thanks.



Troubleshooting Electrical Outlet

I would be nervous too, with wiring like that.
Your description would indicate either that at one time somebody tried an old English trick for shunting part of the load through a water heater to ground, so that it would not show on the meter, or that somebody at one time was not quite sober enough to do house wiring.


The mystery switch, that you can't find, is probably the thermostat in your water heater. I would recommend that you find a discrete independent electrician to quietly fix that. If your electrical company finds out, they can charge you the difference between estimated usage and what your meter showed, all the way back to when you bought the place or when your electricity bills dropped to the current level. That can bankrupt you.

Also keep in mind that that trick used to be a favorite with indoor dope growers who were trying to hide the high power usage of the grow lights. The electrical companies are required to report that to the cops. You could get all kinds of unwanted attention related to a previous owner of the building.

Since that kind of "creative" wiring is not according to code, your insurance company does not have to pay if you have a fire that can be blamed on electrical wiring. Best to get it fixed, quietly, but quickly.


Have FUN!

By ThriftyFun

Troubleshooting Electrical Outlet

Two of my wall outlets are now not working since construction workers used heavy equipment on my outside outlet. I have had this happen before and somehow the outlets became Ok. Maybe they got hot and in 1/2 hour became OK as they cooled. No circuit breaker ever was tripped. I am pretty sure the outside line which was used for the heavier machine also may lead to the other outlet inside which has a phone and stereo hooked to it. At other times another outlet will cut off for a while, but is OK if not overloaded. Should I try to replace the receptacle/s ? (05/08/2008)

By Dave

Troubleshooting Electrical Outlet

Hi Dave,

I have never heard of self-resetting receptacles for home usage.
Since it would be extremely dangerous, if for example a saw
turns on suddenly, they are not allowed by code.

Replacing the receptacles won't make a difference. That would be
replacing the messenger, not the cause of the message.

Best would be to:

  1. have the wiring checked by an electrician, especially if there is
    metal siding involved, and
  2. have a temporary sub panel on a 30 Amp BX or similar armored
    cable plugged into a dryer outlet, and let the contractors plug into
    that sub panel. That sub panel should have GFI breakers for
    outdoor usage.

Anything else could lead to somebody getting killed
AND/or very expensive damage.

Good luck.
DearWebby (05/09/2008)

By ThriftyFun

Troubleshooting Electrical Outlet

I had this problem at a earlier house. Problem: Water from rain or sprinkler getting into an outside outlet. On dry days everything worked fine. When it rained, the outside outlet shorted with rain water, but did not always trip the GFI. Solution: Caulk all outside outlets. Hope this helps. (01/16/2009)

By kk


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