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Recently, I purchased a new small appliance and when I plugged it in, it did not work. After using an extension cord, I used another outlet and figured out that the original outlet was at fault. As I removed the outlet plate before going to switch the breaker off, the outlet suddenly sparked.

After the spark, I noticed that the GFCI outlet in my kitchen was not resetting and thus not working. I then noticed that a few outlets around the house, along with a couple of light switches stopped working. I checked all breakers both main and the sub, and none had tripped, but reset them anyway.

As I thought the issue may be the faulty GFCI in the kitchen, I was about to replace it and when I checked to see if there's activity, the meter showed nothing. This may sound like a ridiculous question, but could a GFCI that is not hot when connected work properly after it is connected? If this isn't the issue, could it possibly be a circuit gone bad or a fuse (even though none had tripped and all were reset)? Any input is greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

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    There are a few questions you need to answer before we can help you resolve your problem. First did you plug your small appliance in the kitchen? Second when you unplugged your appliance was it on or off ? Third did the outlet spark or did the cord arc when you pulled it out? Forth are all of the outlets not working on the same circuit? Finally are you sure all of your breakers are on and not in the tripped position? Please answer as many of these questions as you can since it will help us identify the problem. – Retired Master Electrician Dec 8 '18 at 14:09
  • Thanks for answering. The small appliance was technically plugged into the kitchen (I have a small divider wall that divides the main kitchen from a "nook" area" but that wall was built by myself and was initially an open kitchen floor-plan. When I unplugged the appliance, it was in the off position. All I saw when it occurred was a fairly decent sized spark. I assume it was from the outlet itself but on second thought, possible from the cord itself. 2 of the 3 outlets are not working (1 is the GFCI). After reading you response I went ahead again to make sure no circuit was tripped. Than – Sean Peters Dec 9 '18 at 6:53
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Another backstab casualty

We get these all the time.

First, the arc flash when you opened up the first box had a simple reason: the receptacle shifted position, and the "hot" screws on the side of the receptacle hit the grounded metal box. Possibly contributing was the screws being all the way out in their highest position, because the screws were not used to attach the wires. This surge was massive, in the hundreds of amps, and it caused the root problem.

The root problem is most likely one we've seen before: "backstab" connections in receptacles upstream of the incident socket. Backstabs are intended for high production assembly of house wiring e.g. In developments. The "electrician" jabs the wires in a hole, and the hole grabs the wire. However, these make "point" contact with the wire in just 2 places, quite unlike the long edge contact you get on a side screw. As such, they are very vulnerable to "failing open" under heavy load, even when loaded only with ordinary household loads such as a 12A heater.

This is made much worse when a wire is pried out of a backstab, and the hole reused; extracting the first wire weakens the spring. It is, after all, only 1 of 4 springs in a 60 cent socket. I've seen backstabs designed to make edge contact, but they respond badly to side strain on the wire, and it's hard to avoid that when shoving wires into the junction box.

The upshot is, I bet you will find a lot of backstabs in this house. If you knew the circuit layout, you could focus on the first failed outlet and the one before.

Twist/pull the wires out of the backstabs, don't cut them because a) it's a waste of precious wire length, and b) you can then inspect the wires for evidence of arcing. Move them to the side screws, and torque firmly (Code now calls for a torque screwdriver). Also run down all the side screws. Bonus points for wrapping the outlet a few turns of electrical tape to cover all the screws. Don't back screws all the way off, that wrecks the receptacle.

  • Harper--thanks for the input and after rereading your instructions ( to make sure I have it all down), I am going to test it out tomorrow. I'll move the wires to the side screws and see what happens. I've always been a sucker for bonus points since I was in grade school, so I'll definitely be wrapping electrical tape; easy task for some point :) Thanks again! – Sean Peters Dec 9 '18 at 6:59

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