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Last night we were experiencing some power glitches then around 1am it went out completely, but only part of the house. Thinking there could be a potential fire hazard somewhere, I stayed home today to trace the problem.

I have 3 outlets along an exterior wall that went out. My voltage tester indicates they have power, but barely register 5v. I found the first socket in front of these in the series that tests 120v and show 120 leading out of it towards the others. My thought is that somewhere in the wall between these two outlets there is a bad wire.

The old wire is pretty stiff and my past experience with pulling wire through old metal boxes was a huge pain.

In this current home I'm not trying to replace any drywall so wondering if there are any tricks to getting a new wire fed through without having direct access in the wall. If this is the only bad wire, I only have to run about 7ft.

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    Are the wires in conduit? Make sure the connections from the good outlet to the first bad outlet are tight and that the backstabs are not causing the problem
    – JACK
    Sep 8, 2020 at 18:23
  • Why are you assuming bad wires, the next outlet could have a loose connection. Also based on your question and description of the problem, how do you know the first outlet had power going out? Did you measure 120v on the wire going out to the next outlet? Sep 8, 2020 at 18:38
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    The wires are normally stapled within 12” of each box so pulling is not an option in most cases with Romex. If it was in conduit it would be easy. Wires rarely fail mid run the failure is most commonly at backstabs as jack points out the failure is at the last working device or the first non working one. A nail or screw through a cable is a possibility if you have been working in that area but it is more likely a bad connection.
    – Ed Beal
    Sep 8, 2020 at 18:55
  • Are the existing outlets connected using side-screws or back-stabs? Sep 9, 2020 at 0:17
  • First thing I checked on the outlets were the wiring connections. Yes I tested the wires at the end near the first bad outlet and only detected 5v, but it was 120 leaving the good outlet. I tested the at the ends of the wires directly, not just the socket.
    – Phaelax z
    Sep 9, 2020 at 12:43

2 Answers 2

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It's significantly more likely that the first "working" outlet or the first "dead" outlet is bad, rather than the wire being bad. Outlets are inexpensive. Try replacing one or both of them first.

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  • I have had wires go "bad" multiple times. I agree with you but wouldn't rule out an issue with the wire. Often a crimp in a wire produces a weak point and over time it loses throughput ability.
    – DMoore
    Sep 8, 2020 at 19:33
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Thanks for the responses, but it was indeed a bad wire. Replacing the wire between the two outlets fixed the problem. I lucked out I think on the wire placement, as each outlet ran straight down to the basement and ran along the sill. I only had to cut a small hole in the drywall under the outlets to reach the staple holding them in place. It'll be a simple patch job.

I will note that the last good outlet appeared to show some burn marks near the side screws. Even though it's working fine and showed the correct output voltage, I'm replacing it. If its the first outlet on that series connecting to the panel, I may just replace that entire wire going back to the breaker so at least that part of the house is grounded. (everything is 2-wire)

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