I have a couple of weird things going on. So all of a sudden three outlets went dead. I checked the circuit breaker and nothing was tripped. To make sure, I turned the breaker that controls the 3 outlets on and then off again. Still nothing.

To research, I removed the plates on all three outlets to expose the wiring. All three have 2 black and 2 white wires and a ground. This makes me think they're connected in a series somehow. Two of the outlets are on the same wall within 10 feet. The other outlet is on an opposite wall across the living room.

Things I've tried to diagnose: With circuit breaker and and off I've check for voltage on all three outlets and all the wires and the two that are on the same wall have absolutely nothing whether the breaker is on or off. The outlet that is on the opposite wall however, has a low voltage reading whether the breaker is on or off. The weird thing that I can't understand is that when I check for voltage on the outlet that is on the opposite wall while my sandals are on, I get the low voltage beep on my voltage pen. However, when my sandals are off and I'm barefoot, I don't get and voltage beep. Why is this?!!

Second question, how can I troubleshoot and try to fix this? Is it a problem at the circuit breaker? I checked every other outlet to make sure nothing is tripped and all the other outlets on the floor are working fine.

  • 1
    First thing go check, maybe not a likely thing for the living room; check all your GFCIs to make sure that none are tripped – Ack Mar 15 '20 at 20:39
  • 1
    I already tried that. If any were tripped I wouldn't be getting power from them right? I have a plug in light that I plugged into every outlet on the entire floor to test if any are not powering on. – mo_maat Mar 15 '20 at 20:42
  • 1
    Got it. I don't think there are gfcis in the panel from what I'm seeing. I already thought of the switched circuit and tested that so I highly doubt it. But I'll double check again just as a due diligence. So that leaves it as potentially a wiring issue. However, how do I diagnose that beyond a visual check. Also, what about the weird barefoot vs nonbarefoot voltage reading issue? – mo_maat Mar 15 '20 at 20:58
  • 1
    Also, if there are no live wires in all three outlets would that mean that the issue is somewhere else? Perhaps on a functioning outlet that should be feeding one of the three non functional outlets? – mo_maat Mar 15 '20 at 20:59
  • 1
    Ok. I did notice that the outlet that is acting funny with shoes on or off has a seemingly loose or at least not snug ground wire. Could this be a problem. – mo_maat Mar 15 '20 at 21:18

Non-contact voltage testers can be very sensitive and misleading. So don't worry too much about that.

This may have been asked before but do ANY of the outlets on the breaker that controls the dead ones have power? If you do, there is probably a connection failure in one of the outlets downstream. That doesn't eliminate the first outlet in the circuit having the failure though, so it's not a perfect test.

2 things come to mind: 1) The infamous "back stab" outlets that frequently fail. You should get a real multi meter and test between hot and neutral, hot and ground, and neutral and ground. If you have power from neutral to ground, you have an open neutral someplace. Multi-meters can be very sensitive as well as non contact testers. It's often useful to have some sort of a load plugged in (such as your lamp), to eliminate any spurious, induced voltages.

With the POWER OFF (Check with meter or non-contact tester to be sure), you might want to start removing the outlets and inspect for damage, loose connections, etc.

2) I had this issue in a previous house I lived in and it turned out to be rodent damage. A mouse had chewed thru a cable. First breaking the circuit and then electrocuting himself! I know because when I opened up the sheetrock there was his little fried body.

  • 1
    I would place hard money on this being caused by a loose wire in a backstab. This is so common it could practically make for a community wiki answer on here. – dwizum Mar 16 '20 at 15:33

How well do you know what other connections are on the same circuit as the outlets you're troubleshooting? Since the "opposite wall" outlet isn't behaving the same, it might be experiencing a completely different issue. So the first thing I'd do is try to figure out definitively (a) what breaker are the outlets on, and (b) what other outlets or fixtures are on the same circuit. If other outlets or fixtures on the same circuit are working, then I'd think it's a wire problem between the last working opening and the failed one. If you want to map out your circuits, a circuit detector is nice to have around.

Do you know what type of wiring is in the walls? conduit, romex, knob and tube? And how old -- is this 70 year old wiring or 5 yo, etc.?

Be safe: make sure you know that you can cut the power to the affected area that you're going to be working in. If a junction box has wires from multiple circuits going through it, and you only cut power to one of them, you could be at risk.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.