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I’ve got some dead outlets in my garage. I know, it should be a flipped GFCI, but the way the circuit is laid out doesn’t make sense to me. And I can’t find a GFCI anywhere on this circuit. I’m a computer engineer and have lots of electrical diagnostic tools, but I’m stumped.

Background

This year, I went all out on christmas lights. They turned out great! However, when I arrived home today the lights were off. Upon confirming the outside outlet was cold (A), I discovered that the outlet (C) for our secondary refrigerator and freezer were on the same circuit.

Troubleshooting

I was able to confirm the breaker has not flipped. All circuit breakers are closed (hot). I have an attic for the garage, and I can roughly see how the romex is routed. In the diagram below, each number represents where the romex enters/comes out of a hole (presumably to an outlet or another junction box).

The line coming from hole 1 is hot. The line from 2-4 is also hot. However, the line from 2-3 does not have power.

outlet and wiring diagram

I believe hole 1 is coming from the panel. Hole 2 is above an internal and external outlet. The external outlet is used for the Christmas decorations. Hole 3 is above the outlet for the refrigerator. Even though the line into hole 4 is hot, there are no outlets (internally nor externally) on that side of the garage. I presume they planned to have an outlet there, but never installed it.

All visible outlets (A, B, C, D) on this circuit are dead.

There is a second, one outlet 20A circuit in the garage (outlet E), but that is working fine as expected. Outlet E is a GFCI outlet. No other outlets on the garage are GFCI.

Here are pics of outlets A and B.

outlet A outlet B

Is there anything else I should be checking? What am I missing?

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  • What is your estimated load from christmas lights (how many watts)
    – Traveler
    Dec 7, 2022 at 5:23
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    It's possible that the breaker tripped without moving the handle. Try turning off the breaker in question then turning it back on.
    – FreeMan
    Dec 7, 2022 at 12:55
  • And gfci receptacles do fail from time to time… (I like the breaker flipping and the loose wire search first, but keep that in mind) Dec 7, 2022 at 18:48
  • @Ecnerwal, If you can make your comment an answer I'll select it to close this out. It turned out that the GFCI outlet was in the basement bathroom on the other side of the house :(.
    – grocky
    Dec 8, 2022 at 16:25
  • Oooh! Basement and bathroom! In one!
    – Ecnerwal
    Dec 8, 2022 at 16:33

3 Answers 3

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Not uncommon to find odd things (with very odd circuit layout) like the garage being GFCI-protected from one of the bathroom GFCIs (though that is not to code at present,) or one in the basement, or outside, etc...

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Assuming E is actually on the same circuit as the others...

then it's most likely a backstab failure. Backstab connections are not all that reliable, and often function as "fuses". (they're not supposed to do that lol).

Cabling uses a tree topology (a vine is a kind of tree). Most circuits are cabled like vines in a linear string, but not all are. Regardless, any given outlet either gets power straight from the panel, or another outlet. (terminology note: "outlet" can include hardwired loads like lights).

So when part of a circuit goes dead, the problem is either at the first dead outlet, or at the (good) outlet supplying it.

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    E is on a separate circuit. However, the line going to the hidden junction box at 4 is hot, so your answer still makes sense.
    – grocky
    Dec 7, 2022 at 12:19
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This sounds very much like a loose wire connection.

Assuming you are trained/qualified to work with electricity?

Open the junction box #2 and check for loose wiring in there.

Give a tug to the individual wires making sure they sit tight.

Possible problem here is if backstab wiring method is been used.

Or more accurate use an Ohm meter to check for continuity.

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    Might be well to also suggest that if the receptacle at Junction Box #2 has been assembled with poke in back stab wire terminations that one or more of these may have become intermittent and should be replaced with a quality receptacle with screw clamp terminals.
    – Michael Karas
    Dec 7, 2022 at 5:37
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    Why "call a professional"? Opening up a junction box and either reconnecting a lose wire, or replacing the outlet with a higher quality one is well within DIY abilities. Dec 7, 2022 at 9:11
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    "Replace with quality receptacle" - and now would be a really good time to add GFGI too (unless there is protection at the breaker). Dec 7, 2022 at 9:13

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