I have an outlet in a small bar area that does not have any power coming in to the wires. It's been like this for as long as we've been here (4 years, house is 20 years old). I checked every breaker, every light switch, and every GFCI and it didn't appear to be attached to any of them. I found an empty receptacle in a cabinet in our mudroom with the 2 white wires, 2 black wires, and 1 ground wire. One of the black wires has 120v with one of the white wires while the other pair has zero.

I'm assuming the pair with 0v is going to my "dead" outlet. I have no idea which circuit it's on so I'm going to cut power to the entire house and put the black wires in a wire nut together and do the same thing for the white wires. Any issues with this? Do I need to do anything with the loose ground? Thanks for any comments/suggestions.

Missing connection?

  • 5
    When in doubt, hook wires together and hope your house doesn’t burn down. But in reality, I would hire an electrician who can operate a circuit tracer to figure out what is actually going on snd why there is no power on that circuit. Apr 2 '19 at 2:31
  • 2
    What you can do is short together the two "dead" wires (white and black coming from the same romax), and then measure the resistance between the two wires at the other end, to see that it's essentially zero ohms. If it is then you have found the right wires. (Note that you should probably check resistance before shorting the wires to be sure it's "infinity" and nothing else is producing the short.) (And before measuring resistance, though, check the voltage -- putting an ohmmeter on a "live" circuit will blow the meter (something I learned at about age 14).)
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 2 '19 at 23:42
  • 1
    It's not at all unlikely that finishing this outlet was simply overlooked when the house was wired.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 2 '19 at 23:46
  • Do the wires go up into a roof space? I'd suggest visually looking at the wires whereever possible and see if there's a problem. Perhaps get an assistant to wiggle/push-pull the pictured end and see if you can find the cables in the roof. If they depart sideways, it gets much harder.
    – Criggie
    Apr 2 '19 at 23:50
  • The "loose ground" is there because when the electrician roughed in the box he connected the grounds together with a wire nut and added a third bare wire to serve the receptacle in the box. This is standard practice.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 3 '19 at 2:26

This is answer is based on the wires in the pictured box were found that way - just hanging loose - and not capped with wire nuts. If they were capped with wire nuts then I would much more likely (but not guaranteed) consider this more of a "are these the right wires - tone/test to find out" situation. But as is...

The problem is you don't know why the previous receptacle was removed from the box. The likely possibilities, which you are counting on, are:

  • There was something wrong with this receptacle, so it was removed, leaving these wires hanging. Nobody needed a receptacle here and nobody noticed or cared that another receptacle wasn't working and that was it. or
  • (As suggested by Harper): There was nothing really wrong with the receptacle here, but the previous owner had some reason to remove it - e.g., it was valuable (GFCI? Timer? Dimmer?) or it was flagged as a non-code-compliant device and removed. But the previous owner did it himself and didn't bother to cap the wires and didn't know or care about the other receptacle that stopped working.

But it is also possible:

  • Something was wrong with the circuit in general - e.g., the breaker wouldn't reset. Somebody removed this receptacle as part of the troubleshooting process. The problem went away. Nobody needed a receptacle here and, while they knew the other receptacle (the one you are trying to fix) wasn't working, they didn't care because the rest of the circuit was working again.

You have no way of knowing which of these scenarios (or some other one I haven't thought of) actually happened. As a result, while it is easy enough to connect these wires together and see if the receptacle works, you might be reactivating an old problem, such as:

  • A bad connection at the receptacle you are trying to fix, that might arc and cause a fire.
  • A damaged wire between this missing receptacle and the receptacle you are trying to fix, which might cause an intermittent hard to find until it is too late problem, causing a fire.
  • A damaged wire leading from the previous receptacle to this missing receptacle that has a problem that isn't evident when there is no current flowing (as there hasn't been since the receptacle was removed).

You simply don't know.

Are there ways to check things out? Yes. You can test the wires in each section to make sure they are low resistance and not shorted. You can check (even replace) the broken receptacle to avoid any problems there. But you are starting in a really bad place - with a receptacle that was removed and the wires were not properly capped. So you really don't know what is going on with these wires.

Anyone who would leave the wires hanging doesn't know electrical safety 101. What other problems might be lurking???

  • Is there any way to know if they are safe to use? Would putting an arc-fault breaker on the circuit change the situation?
    – JimmyJames
    Apr 2 '19 at 14:52
  • 1
    AFCI would help to catch a lot of the potential problems. If it were me, I'd 1 - do a tone test to make sure the wires between "missing and dead" locations were (a) connected to each other and (b) not connected to the panel (including the neutral), 2 - check resistance on the wires between "missing and dead" - should be very low, 3 - install AFCI in the breaker panel for this circuit (if not already there), 4 - install GFCI either in the breaker panel, at the missing location or at the bar (where it is likely required, as noted by Mazura), if not already installed somewhere upstream. Apr 2 '19 at 14:59
  • 1
    Thanks. What kind of issue might not be caught by AFCI?
    – JimmyJames
    Apr 2 '19 at 15:03
  • Any high-resistance (== generates heat) problem that doesn't also result in arcing. Admittedly, most resistance (bad connection or nearly broken wire) problems will either be constant - and therefore affect usage of the receptacle and be obvious, or be intermittent and also cause arcing. If you put everything together, I'd check voltage under load to make sure it stays close to nominal (120V in most areas, but could be a little lower - compare to other circuits in your house). Apr 2 '19 at 15:04
  • 1
    @manassehkatz - Note the drywall mud in the screwhole.
    – Hot Licks
    Apr 3 '19 at 1:58

An easier way to figure this out is to use a tone generator. What you can do is hook the generator to the wires in your existing outlet and use the wand to see if it's hooked to that. No tone there means it's not the wires to your outlet. It might also provide you a clue where it might be hooked up.

It's also safer, since you aren't hooking up electricity and crossing your fingers that it doesn't end in more cut wires somewhere else.

  • 1
    This is the safe way to check for continuity between the two locations. But it still leaves open the question of "was there something else wrong that the wires were left this way?" Apr 2 '19 at 3:32
  • 3
    Another option here is to plug a three prong extension cord into the dead outlet and use a multi-tester to check the resistance (Ohms) between the outlet and the wires in the box that have no power. If it's connected, you should get basically no resistance between the black and small slot, white and large slot and the ground wire and ground from the plug. Note: Do not test resistance on a live wire.
    – JimmyJames
    Apr 2 '19 at 14:46
  • 1
    To add, if all of that looks good: also test all the other possible combinations black to large, white to small, black/white to ground. You should get infinite resistance between all of these. If not, there's something seriously wrong.
    – JimmyJames
    Apr 2 '19 at 15:20
  • I would add more steps to the not connected outlet ohm test yes you want infinite readings on hot to neutral but I would also check hot to ground. After that I would connect the dead black and white together and verify at the outlet that now it's close to zero ohms. If it is I would then either add an outlet at that box or wire nut the wires to power the bar outlet.
    – Ed Beal
    Apr 2 '19 at 16:50
  • 1
    My plan now is to get an AFCI/GFCI outlet and hook up to the mystery outlet and then test everything to make sure there is power at the dead bar outlet and nothing that trips the breaker or AFCI/GFCI. Anything else I should be looking out for?
    – Guest
    Apr 2 '19 at 19:22

Hmm. That setup with the added particle board wall being very, very proud of the receptacle is not a pretty thing. I suspect there was a something here that was ripped out because the home inspector redflagged it, possibly because it wasn't attached properly. I don't see where any mounting holes were ever used.

Either way, I don't see a problem with your strategy to splice.

However, you will need a proper junction box cover here. They make steel blank covers that are quite narrow. Look for one small enough that you can wangle it past the irksome particle-board, and have it make contact with the drywall behind.

Now, if you're confident that particle board will never move (you mentioned it was part of a cabinet), you could stick an "extension box" there. (Thanks Jim and Micah) I say use a drawn steel handi-box type because they are the smallest and most likely to clear that hole.

enter image description here

  • 4
    "outlet in a small bar area" - if it was a GFCI, it possibly should be again.
    – Mazura
    Apr 2 '19 at 7:51
  • It would be much easier to use a box extender rather than cut away the particle board to try to get a cover plate next to the drywall. youtube.com/watch?v=SgWbrfalwjA Apr 2 '19 at 14:15
  • The particle board, drywall, etc. and how it is done is fine. They just need a box extender to ensure safety. Apr 2 '19 at 16:19
  • @CactusCake Last guy might not know they're not. Anyway from a total lack of any mounting holes anywhere, I doubt there was ever anything here. Apr 2 '19 at 17:47
  • At first glance it looked like nothing was ever there. One of the mounting holes still has plaster guard stuck in it. But it has a pig-tailed ground and those wires sure are lined up as if they were in something before...
    – Mazura
    Apr 2 '19 at 23:29

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