So I bought a home built in the '70s. The circuit in question includes a couple of garage outlets, half of the spare bedroom outlets/light which shares a wall with the garage, hallway light, and an office add-on in the garage. I started replacing outlets and light switches, taking care to keep black with bronze, and white with silver posts on the outlets. I found a light switch in the spare room without the ground connected. Stupidly I reconnected it and moved on.

Next thing I know one of our lights in the living room (shares a wall with the bedroom) would turn on but dim. And if I turned the garage light on, the dim living room light would brighten.

Tried disconnected the ground to the light switch but it didn't fix anything. Figured maybe my memory was wrong and began disconnecting grounds from outlets one at a time to see if the problem went away. It didn't.

Then the next day the hall lights started flickering and I smelled burning. No breaker was thrown. I turned off the breaker, pulled apart all the outlets and light switches, turned the breaker back on and tested voltage.

I'm getting Open Neutral on many of the outlets (not all of them) and reading about 88v at many of them instead of 120v. At the outlet closest to the breaker box, I'm reading 120 on top, nothing on bottom. When I tie those wires together, I read 88v at the outlet. Light switches are reading 88v.

Not sure how to chase this down. My original thought was to dismantle all outlets/switches and start closest to the breaker box testing for 120v.

I think there was some shoddy work done with the garage add-on, as well as an added outlet in the spare room closet. Any ideas on what could be causing this and how to continue testing?

  • Is the conductor aluminum or copper? I cannot see how connecting a ground on a switch could have caused this. If you did not find any wire ends with burned insulation, then you may not have have found the loose connection. If shoddy work is suspected, then there is always the thought of a hidden splice that is loose, but I don't know if that is actually ever done in the course of shoddy work. A simple loose connection should not give rise to low voltage (like 88 V) unless the circuit is under load. Where is this property? – Jim Stewart Jul 27 '19 at 10:02
  • How are you making the wire connections to the receptacles and switches? Are you using the spring loaded "backstabs"? At this point you probably have to disconnect all the wires and start reconnecting from the panel on. Verify proper operation as you go. Experts on this site may be able to save you this by pointing you to the most likely cause. – Jim Stewart Jul 27 '19 at 10:08
  • Are the switches and receptacles currently connected by spring loaded backstabs? If so, change all to the side screws or to backwired holes where the wires are clamped by the side screws. While you are doing this you might just change to new superior quality receptacles which are compliant with current code, e.g., tamper resistant. – Jim Stewart Jul 27 '19 at 12:03
  • If the house or any of the additions have the romex wiring I'd be checking the continuity of the wires. Whoever did the work could have put a nail through some wire. I had a case where someone put a nail into a wall and through the neutral.To "correct" the problem they disconnected the bare copper ground at both ends and reconnected it as the neutral... – JACK Jul 27 '19 at 20:05

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