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I have multiple outlets and lights in different rooms not working and the circuit breakers have not popped. Also, the boiler circuit breaker has not popped and it is not working either. I have tested all the outlets and circuit breakers and GFCI's and the circuit breakers are showing only one light on my tester.

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    You know, breakers are "overcurrent devices", they only detect overcurrents, i.e. too much current flowing. You have no current flowing at all. It doesn't detect that. It's like if you have a gas leak detector and your gas is shut off, you wouldn't expect the leak detector to tell you about that... – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 13 '18 at 19:04
  • Can you tell if the breakers are odd or even numbered, example 1,3,5,7 all out could be the main breaker lost a leg or the service, if 2 adjacent breakers 1,2 it could be a multi wire branch circuit that lost a neutral. I doubt it would be a hot issue because your tester lights 1 light , so is your tester showing open ground or open neutral and what are the breaker numbers or locations this info will help. – Ed Beal Nov 13 '18 at 19:57
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Given that your circuits are "dead", we know hot or neutral is bad. Since the magic-8-ball tester* is able to light any lights at all, we know hot must be good. Therefore neutral is bad.

Neutral broken on one single branch circuit

This is an annoying but ordinary failure. Unless you have been doing recent construction (nail through power cable), the cause is almost never the wire proper, but at the ends of the wire.

And there, the most common failure point is a cheap connection method called a "backstab", where a wire is jabbed into a hole and magic fingers grab it. They're not magic, they fail all the time just like this. This does not apply to types where you have to tighten the screw to clamp it. Most of us hunt down backstabs and kill them on sight, twisting the wires out (to preserve length) and moving the connection to a side screw or screw-to-clamp.

Neutral broken on exactly two related circuits

This is a neutral failure in a multi-wire branch circuit, which is a single circuit that carries two hots and shares 1 neutral. Like the above, it's a local problem you'll need to fix yourself, but like the below, it's a serious hazard, affecting only loads in that circuit.

Neutral broken on several circuits

Call your power company and report an outage. Now.

This is an emergency and you need to shut off all your breakers until it is fixed. Failing to do so can fry your appliances and possibly start a fire.

What's going on? North American houses are supplied ~240V power, on two poles, L1 and L2. At the midpoint (120V) a wire is brought out called "neutral". L1-neutral is 120V. L2-neutral is 120V. If you're wondering, the taller slot on your 120V sockets is neutral, the shorter slot is either L1 or L2 depending on which space the breaker is in.

Now if neutral breaks on the supply side, L1-L2 is still 240V. However Neutral is floating, which means L1-neutral and L2-neutral aren't 120V each, they only sum to 240V. Yikes: if one is significantly less than 120V, the other is significantly more and that is frying equipment and starting fires!

This is most likely on the power company, so call them up and tell them it's an outage, and tell them some guy on the Internet called it a "lost neutral". They know how urgent it is.


* So named because the "reasons" on its legend are made-up, confusing and wrong. But the three lights are useful.

  • It is both odd and even circuit breakers. No work was done in the house and I am baffled by why this is happening. We woke up two days ago and this is what was waiting for me. Prior to then, nothing was wrong with our electrical outlets' lights or switches. – Mark Nov 13 '18 at 20:17
  • For what it's worth, I'll have to concur with both answers provided. Call your power company ASAP!!! – BillWeckel Nov 13 '18 at 21:41
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Lost a Neutral

Initially, this sounded like you lost either one of the hot legs or neutral. Both are serious, though in slightly different ways.

But based on "odd and even breakers", I think we can all agree this is a classic Lost Neutral.

What kind of a tester are you using? Based on "only one light", it sounds like you are using something like:

outlet tester

Originally I was wondering "which light". But as Harper pointed out, if it were a lost leg then the outlets on that leg would show no lights so one light would also indicate lost neutral.

If you lost your neutral then everything will work in strange ways. Some things (e.g., LED lights that can accept a broad voltage range) may work fine. Other things may work slowly or not at all. Other things might get overvoltage and have more serious problems - e.g., light bulbs burn out, electronics "fry".

A lost neutral can be very dangerous.

However, in most cases, a lost leg or a lost neutral is a power company problem - and the power company will fix it. If you have had any recent electrical work done in your house then call back whoever did it. If not, call the power company ASAP and tell them you think you have a lost leg or a lost neutral.

  • It depends where he lost neutral. If he lost neutral on one single-phase branch circuit, then the branch will simply be dead. The magic 8-ball tester will display one light, the H-G light (no idea what they call it, probably "answer unclear - please try again later". Lost neutral on a MWBC or the whole panel would be quite dangerous. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Nov 13 '18 at 19:00
  • @Harper since he mentioned multiple breakers and boiler it sounds like something affecting the whole house and not one mwbc. Could also be a subpanel but he didn't mention multiple panels. – manassehkatz-Reinstate Monica Nov 13 '18 at 19:29
  • This is the tester that I used: – Mark Nov 13 '18 at 19:33
  • The tester I used is a vol-con tester. I hope someone knows what that is. I checked connections and made sure everything is tight. I have replaced two GFCI's and nothing yet. – Mark Nov 13 '18 at 19:40
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CALL YOUR UTILITY NOW

Considering that this is impacting both odd and even numbered breakers, and multiple breakers at that, this has several signs that point to a failure of the service neutral from the utility. This is the "center" wire in a 3-wire, 120/240V service or circuit, and keeps the two halves of the circuit "balanced" at 120V apiece. Without it, the "center" point of the loads can float off, undervolting one side while overvolting the other. BOTH scenarios can lead to fires (whether it be an electronic device that burns out and emits magic smoke when overvolted, or a motor that stalls and emits not-so-magic-smoke when undervolted), so turn your main breaker off and CALL YOUR UTILITY NOW, reporting a lost neutral.

  • I apologize for not responding to anyone for some time. I called the electric company, they came out and pulled our meter due to a short from a water leak. Well, low and behold I needed to get an electrician to replace the box and some wires. I looked at it and thought to my self and said, "self, yes I responded, you may be able to do this yourself? and self-said to me, damn your right you can do this!!!! Little did I know that you have to get a permit from the city to do the work. The house is in my wife's name only, so self and I had to do some quick thinking, which took 6 days. TBC – Mark Nov 21 '18 at 20:58

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