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hoping to pick your brain about some electrical issue I'm having. The outlets in 3 of my rooms stopped working - the AFCI breaker (15 a) for that circuit is tripping and won't reset. The lights are on a separate circuit and work.

When I turn the breaker Off / On the power doesn't come back and as soon as I press the TEST button the breaker trips. I'm only giving out this detail because I'm not sure if it should trip on its own or if the fact that it doesn't give power and only trips on "TEST" is an indication the breaker is faulty.

I unplugged everything and that didn't help. Took apart the 15 outlets and nothing seemed out of order. Disconnected the outlet wires hoping to isolate the issue and that got me nowhere.

Ended up disconnecting the wires from all the outlets and making sure the wires don't touch to short - am I wrong to assume that all the wiring now being disconnected wouldn't cause a new reason for the breaker to trip, or would this indeed rule out the outlets / outlet wiring as being the culprit?

I have a few similar breakers in the panel - could those be swapped in an attempt to rule out the breaker or is that a bad idea?

Breaker still trips with all other circuits turned off, so the breaker can't be picking up something from another circuit.

Before anyone asks, I know this is better left to a professional but I'm renting and my landlord insists on doing all the repairs himself. He's a slow & lousy handyman, so I'm trying to avoid having him over for 10 days or trying to pay for a professional myself and ending up with a 4 figure bill.

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    I'd be careful doing electrical work in a unit you're renting. If anything goes wrong in the future, you could be held responsible. – JACK Dec 26 '19 at 13:49
  • What make and model is the breaker in question? What make and model is the panel for that matter? – ThreePhaseEel Dec 26 '19 at 16:10
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You don't need to swap breakers, just swap the wires on the breakers.

If the problem changes breakers, then I'd take a closer look at the first outlet on the chain. Backstab wiring is basically un-inspectable, unless a wire is bared too far (bare copper visible ); that can catch a ground wire. Also, where backstabs are used, screws are often left "high" at travel limit, and those can snag a ground wire or contact the metal box. Unfortunately, the AFCI will prevent the usual telltale: arcing sputter. Further, backstabs are a hotbed of the core thing AFCI is made to prevent, arcing.

I would convert it to side screws. And then, wrap around all 4 sides of the outlet with electrical tape to insulate the screws.

Leave socket #2 unhooked until socket #1 tests out.

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  • All 15 outlets were backstab only so I thought those should be replaced regardless of whether the breaker or wiring was faulty. I did that first and it ended up solving the issue. Thanks. – Rubens Dec 29 '19 at 0:52
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Swapping breakers as a test to see if the breaker is working is a good idea. If both breakers trip then the only real method you have at hand is to isolated and find the area in the circuit where you are having a problem.

Isolation is the key. First disconnect the breaker and see if it will rest with no conductors connected. If it does then your problem is downstream. If you can try and figure out the order of the connections of the devices. In other words find the first device closest to the breaker, then the next and so on. Now you can disconnect all devices and begin to connect them together one at a time. Each time turning the power off reconnecting then turning the power on and see if the breaker trips. Once it trips now you have found the area of the circuit that is causing the trip. This will tell you the location of the fault in the circuit. Check each connection and splice working your way back toward the breaker and make sure they are mechanically and electrically sound and polarization is correct.

Also if you go through stack exchange you will find several remarks about plug-in connections on the back of a receptacle. Meaning make those repairs also.

It is a long and tedious process but the problems can be found and repairs made.

Hope this helps.

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  • Thanks for the answer. The odd thing was that the breaker would trip with no load at all and I have no experience with troubleshooting AFCIs. As you and the other answer pointed out, the issue ended up being the backstab receptacles - I replaced them all with side wire connectors and that fixed my issue. – Rubens Dec 29 '19 at 0:58
  • @Rubens - Thumbs up – Retired Master Electrician Dec 29 '19 at 16:59

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