I have 8 outlets on the same line that are all registering less that 0.5 volts each. They used to register 120v and I’m not sure what happened. Just as goofy is that the voltage seems to slowly drop when I attach a multimeter, from .5 down to .1.

My current thought is to, one-by-one, unwire all the outlets then check each wire set to see if I can narrow down the problem line / problem outlet.

Is this a common problem? Is this a good method of troubleshooting? Cheers

1 Answer 1


What you are seeing is "phantom voltage". The problem is likely a loose wire/bad backstab (always use the screw connections)/bad screw connection/bad wire nut somewhere. The most likely places are the last receptacle that is working or the first receptacle that is not working, if you have an idea of the sequence of the wiring. If you have no idea then you have to check them all, one at a time.

Be careful! Even though there is no power at the receptacle, you might have a live wire in the box behind it. And sometimes (MWBC) there can be multiple breakers unexpectedly involved. Use a non-contact voltage tester like this Klein:


to check things as you open them up. If you get an indication of power where you think the circuit is totally dead, you need to head back to the breaker box and figure out the correct breaker and turn it off.

Depending on the problem you find, the solution may be as simple as redoing a connection (remove backstab and move to screw; replace a wire nut over a loose connection; etc.) or you may find a receptacle that appears to be damaged - e.g., burn marks. If you find a damaged receptacle, replace it. A cheap receptacle costs less than $1. A really good one ("commercial grade") might cost $3 or $4 and be better built and include screw-to-clamp wiring which has the advantage of backstabs (no need to make a loop in the wire) with the advantage of screws (solid connection).

  • 1
    It ended up being an “old school” outlet where the hot screw had come loose enough that the connection was poor. The screw held onto both the incoming & outgoing hot wires.
    – Jacksonkr
    Commented Sep 9, 2023 at 18:19
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    Which is why code/manufacturer instructions generally does not allow two wires under a single screw. There are two exceptions that I know of - ground bars in panels and "screw to clamp" - but in both cases the wires are going in straight (no hook needed) and they are designed to handle two wires. On an ordinary receptacle (or switch or whatever) where the screw is only supposed to have one wire with a hook, putting in two wires will inevitably lead to problems. Commented Sep 10, 2023 at 0:50
  • I think it was a quick/hack job done by the people who originally built out those rooms. One of the rooms is unfinished and if/when it's finished there will be too many outlets on that one line to pass code so I'm going to run the "piggy back" line back to the breaker box since there are a few more slots available.
    – Jacksonkr
    Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 15:42
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    My understanding is that in most areas there is no strict limit on the number of receptacles on a single circuit. And in any case, breaking one rule doesn't justify breaking another - two wires with a pigtail isn't much harder than two wires under one screw. Commented Sep 11, 2023 at 16:14

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