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I have this unusual electrical issue in our master bedroom. I was wondering if anyone else has experienced this.

We have this $3 LED night light in our bedroom and when we take it out, the power/lights go out. Other things also trip it up (It doesn't shut off the circuit breaker) When you put it back in, the power/lights come back on. Sort of reverse of what I would expect. Something is triggering the power to go off. I've reset the breaker, but still experiencing the issue. I believe it's a special AFCI breaker. Wondering if anyone has experienced this before.

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    Can you post photos of the inside of the boxes involved? It sounds like something got wired in series by accident...does the nightlight dim if you plug a large load into a bedroom outlet? – ThreePhaseEel Jun 17 at 23:11
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    Sounds a lot like an open neutral. Plugging in a device at that outlet allows current to flow from one of the hot phases through the open neutral to the other hot phase. This can create damaging voltages - call an electrician. I'd be surprised if there weren't other electrical oddities about your house if it is an open neutral. – J... Jun 18 at 12:29
  • @J... that would make sense if the load was a heater. However a sub-1W night light is simply too high-impedance to make any difference. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jun 18 at 17:06
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    @Harper Could be a cheap nightlight with a lossy converter in it, OP might not have a lot of high load devices on the other circuit that mysteriously activates. Particularly if it's a lot of electronics or LED lighting that works over 90-230V, the higher impedance nightlight might be driving up voltage on the other leg. Without having a look and troubleshooting with a meter it's impossible to say for sure. Maybe it's a crazy dangerous amazon marketplace nightlight with something stupid like an internal ground-neutral bridge. I've seen less credible things in the wild... – J... Jun 18 at 17:53
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    When you plug in something other than the nightlight do the lights go back on?? If so then It's almost certainly a defective wall outlet that the other circuits are "daisy-chained" through. – Hot Licks Jun 18 at 22:29
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Defective receptacle.

Kill it with fire, before it kills you with fire.

And if it has backstab connections (wires jabbed in back holes that auto-grab them) this is a good time to get rid of em. Because they cause this kind of mischief too.

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    More accurately, I'd probably say "hire an electrician to kill it". Always best to have a professional doing it when it comes to housefire-starting levels of electricity. (Which, okay, is technically any amount of electricity, but you know what I mean.) – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Jun 18 at 21:28
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    @NicHartley - if we cannot explain how to swap a receptacle out then there is no use having this site. – DMoore Jun 19 at 15:36
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    @DMoore Even if you explained everything absolutely perfectly, the reader can still make stupid mistakes, especially if they're inexperienced. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Jun 19 at 18:55
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    @NicHartley - and you can make a stupid mistake and hurt yourself on literally half the questions on here. I am sure the average adult can turn off power, take a picture of wiriing, undo receptacle, and replace it with new. Just like the average adult can cut a board without putting their finger where the blade is. Basic electrical work is not rocket science. – DMoore Jun 19 at 18:59
  • @DMoore That average adult doesn't have to ask how on a site like this, though. – Kaz Jun 20 at 8:05
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Chances are about 90% that you have a loose connection in the outlet. If I had to guess, I'd say it is a "stab-in" wire connection on the back of the outlet (as opposed to the wire attaching with a screw), so that when you plug something into that outlet, it pushes the connector tighter onto the wire to complete the connection, but when you remove it, the wire gets loose and loses the connection.

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    I don't think the problem description warrants 90% confidence in that assesment. It could be a lot of things. This problem requires inspection and troubleshooting, not jumping to conclusions. If OP is not comfortable with electricity, they really need to call an electrician. – J... Jun 18 at 12:47
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    @J... - Maybe not 90%, but 75 easy. – Hot Licks Jun 18 at 22:30
  • @HotLicks The point is that if OP is not capable of determining upon inspection whether the outlet is or is not the cause then they are at measurable risk of falling victim to the "if all you have is a hammer..." pitfall. – J... Jun 19 at 11:51
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    @J... - It's easy to test -- just remove the nightlight and plug in an extension cord instead. If that fixes the problem then it's the outlet. – Hot Licks Jun 19 at 11:54
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    @HotLicks Indeed. It would be great if that was in the answer. – J... Jun 19 at 12:05
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This could happen if the bedroom wall switch controls both the switched outlet and the overhead light, and is also a digital switch without a neutral wire. Try putting incandescent bulbs back in the overhead light, and if that fixes it (I'm assuming they're currently LED or fluorescent), then we have a better idea of what your problem is and how to help.

This problem sounds like the digital switch is only fed with hot and no neutral, so it needs a resistive load in line with it to switch on. That's why the night light makes it work, it's allowing a return path for the digital switch to turn on. Dimmer and motion switches are the worst for this, but any digital switch without a neutral would do the same.

4

The side screws may have come loose, possibly because the outlet was improperly mounted. Once you've verified the power is off, unscrew the outlet from the box and make sure they haven't come loose. If your outlet isn't screwed securely to the box (or there's a gap that prevents that) you're pushing (or pulling) solely against the wires now. Over time, they can work loose. You said you have an AFCI breaker. If so, anytime the wires fail to make complete contact, it creates an arcing situation, which the AFCI is designed to prevent.

I would go to your local hardware store and look for a premium (sometimes called preferred) outlet. Putting a new outlet in is not going to hurt. Now, make sure the top and bottom of the outlet can make contact with the wall. If they don't, add a box extender or outlet support to the part that is not supported. If your outlet can't move, the likelihood it will work loose again is very low.

  • More likely it's a "backstab" outlet, but the two scenarios are equivalent for all intents and purposes. – Hot Licks Jun 18 at 22:31
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    @HotLicks In my house that's primarily backstab outlets, I've actually had more issues with the sidescrew outlets. Neither one is really a good design. Someone needs to come up with something better. – Brian Knoblauch Jun 20 at 12:29
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    @BrianKnoblauch - There is a better design. Most modern outlets use back insertion with a screw clamp. – Hot Licks Jun 20 at 12:43

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