0

So I've been dealing with a faulty outlet for the last week now, and have done some debugging steps but am a bit lost on where to check next.

I first attempted to replace the outlet but then found that even with the new outlet I was still only receiving 20 volts.

I then removed the outlet and tested the wires directly with a multimeter. The direct wires also tested at 20 volts hot -> neutral so I can confirm that the outlets are not the issue. I also attemted to cut and re-strip the wires to ensure that the issue was not caused by dust on the wires, and the problem remains. I would highly appreciate any advice on next steps.

Do I potentially need a new breaker? Is this something deeper that will require me to call an electrician?

Thank you all for the help!

5
  • Test also hot to ground(normal 120v) and neutral to ground(normal 0v). Power goes from breaker to first outlet to next outlet to next outlet. Good chance the problem is a bad connection at an outlet before this one on the line. Change any back push ins to screw connections.
    – crip659
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 19:11
  • @crip659 So this is a thing that I'm a bit perplexed by. On the breaker it specifically says "microwave", and I havent found any other outlets on the same line. If there are no other outlets is the problem potentially the breaker itself?
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 19:44
  • Also can confirm that hot -> ground is also only putting out 20V
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 19:49
  • It could be, but a bit rare. Can test the breaker(very carefully) same as an outlet.
    – crip659
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 19:50
  • Most likely, if it's a singleton outlet (likely for a microwave) is a bad/loose connection in a junction box, or a bad/loose connection at the breaker box. If and only if it's an unbroken cable the whole way from the breaker to the receptacle you can assume the bad connection is at the breaker, or you're in the 0.1% where something broke the cable in between, not at a junction. Typically an errant nail/screw, or a rodent.
    – Ecnerwal
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:45

2 Answers 2

1

Do I potentially need a new breaker?

NO!

Removing a circuit breaker when there is an outlet problem is not a smart option.

You would need to eliminate a large number of other possible problems before worrying about a circuit breaker. Here are some of those possibilties:

  1. Are the other outlets on the same circuit showing the same problem?
  2. Have you found the other outlets? If you turn off the circuit breaker does everything else in the home still work?
  3. Do you have an open neutral? This is highly likely if hot-to-ground voltage at the outlet is 120 VAC. The earlier readings would be somewhat meaningless if the neutral wasn't even working.
  4. Do you have an open ground? If hot-to-ground and hot-to-neutral both have strange readings, it's still unlikely a hot wire problem. You might need to run an extension cord off this outlet so that you can try measuring hot voltage from a known good outlet against the neutral and ground of the bad outlet.
  5. Do you have an open hot and partial open neutral? This is more difficult to diagnose, and would cause other problems throughout the home. If you're experiencing lights flickering or dimming when you run 120 V appliances like a vacuum motor, then more diagnostics are required.
  6. Is there a switch, dimmer, or GFCI on this circuit? Receptacles are sometimes switched and won't work when off.
  7. Measure voltage at the circuit breaker. This is the quickest way to verify the circuit breaker is working, but requires extra safety precautions.

Is this something deeper that will require me to call an electrician?

This is a judgement call. If you've followed the above steps and still haven't identified the problem, then it will be necessary to trace the circuit in more detail.

8
  • 1/2. The breaker for this outlet says "microwave" next to it, and I haven't found any other outlet that turns off when I turnoff the breaker. I haven't seen this issue on any other breaker. 3. The hot -> ground is also showing 20V so I'm not sure about it being an open neutral. 4. I will try running an extension cord off of the outlet to test against another neutral/ground. 6. No known GFCI on this outlet. 7. How dangerous is it for me to open the breaker box as a novice DIYer?
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:07
  • 1
    @Daniel There are unfused power sources behind the cover. You have to be familiar with what they look like and make sure nobody and nothing will touch them. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:08
  • Ok so I just checked and running the broken hot -> a known working neutral also produces 20V
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:10
  • 1
    @Daniel And the known working hot to the ground or netural of the bad outlet? Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:11
  • the neutral and ground are both working just fine with a working hot (118V), so I do think the hot wire is the issue here.
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:20
0

Without a load, voltmeters can sometimes register phantom voltage from induction. It's possible that although the meter shows 20V, that if a light bulb or other load were attached it would fall to zero.

My first thought is that you have a bad connection on the line, either to a previous junction or to the breaker.

Does the voltage fall to zero when the breaker is off, or does the 20V remain? Can you measure the voltage at the breaker itself?

8
  • I can confirm that the voltage falls to zero when the breaker is turned off. As far as measuring the voltage at the breaker, how dangerous would opening the breaker box be fore someone like me who has very little experience in electrical work?
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:03
  • @Daniel There are unfused power sources behind the cover. You have to be familiar with what they look like and make sure nobody and nothing will touch them. Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:04
  • 1
    I'd never suggest someone that isn't comfortable doing this open up the panel. But it does mean that your problem might be in there (connection to breaker is loose for example). Unless there are other outlets on the same circuit, there's just not many other places for the problem to be. Nothing wrong with calling a professional after you've taken care of all the options that you're comfortable doing.
    – BowlOfRed
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:07
  • @RobertChapin Bowlofred I would love be able to do this myself, I just want to make sure I do so safely. My understanding is that if I turn off the main breaker, the main thing to be careful of is that all of the wires above the main that feed into it are still live. Other than that I just need to treat all breakers like hot wires (so only touch them with the multimeter while the main is on). Is this correct or is there more to understand here?
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:22
  • 1
    OH MY GOD. There are three outlets in the garage that are tied to this same breaker. I ran across a neighbor and she explained that the ex-owner installed these outlets himself to turn the garage into a tool room. So I have 4 outlets an a breaker that is only supposed to be meant for the microwave. This also explains why my microwave would trip my breaker whenever I ran the vent for too long. With this information what would you recommend? Is there a way to "reduce" the number of outlets? They are all returning 20V.
    – Daniel
    Commented Dec 2, 2023 at 20:50

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

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