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I tried finding a similar question but nothing really specific to my situation came up. Forgive me for the exhaustive scenario.

Here's the situation:

I have an outlet outside of an office in the hallway that is not working. The outlet is powered by a breaker that delivers to six other outlets in the office and I'm pretty sure the outlet in the hall is the final one in the circuit.

I used a Klein Tools breaker finder to see what reading it would give me and none of the lights came on which apparently means "Open Hot". My voltage detector goes off when the breaker is on but no power. I figured there must be a loose connection in the outlet. I took the outlet out and saw that it was backstabbed but the connections were tight.

Naturally, I went backwards to, what I thought was, the next outlet in the circuit to check for a loose connection. The next outlet has two hot and two neutral wires so I'm assuming this is the outlet giving power to the one in the hall (as it is directly behind hall outlet in the office, so same wall). Also backstabbed and also tight. This outlet, however, has power and gives "Correct Wiring" reading on my breaker finder.

As I continued thorough the office, I saw that every outlet, all backstabbed, had a good connection, power, and correct wiring.

I also put a multi meter to the hot and neutral wires on the problem outlet in the hall and got essentially zero voltage when the breaker was turned on.

Does anyone have any idea what's going on here?

P.S. I also changed out the first two outlets for brand new ones just to be sure there wasn't a faulty outlet. Still no change. Also, the light switch in the office is on its own separate circuit.

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    90% of the time it is a bad connection at the outlet. 10% inside the wall, broken or cut/damaged wire. I would first turn off the breaker and change all the backstabs to the screws. Did you put any nails/screws/drill bits into the walls lately?
    – crip659
    Jan 3 at 12:34
  • It could be that it is the outlet itself is bad, but is rare and usually requires abuse/many years of plugging/unplugging multiable times a day
    – crip659
    Jan 3 at 13:02
  • I did not change the backstabs to any of the working outlets because they are all working fine, wouldn’t that indicate that the connections are secure? I tugged on them and they were tight, no exposed wire.
    – DJM3991
    Jan 4 at 16:32

2 Answers 2

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"Backstabbing" is notorious for poor connections.

Remove the backstab wires and check them for 120V hot to neutral. If you have the power and neutral there, turn off the breaker and reinstall the wires on the outlet's screws. (Use a new outlet if necessary.)

Turn power back on and retest the outlet.

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    The voltage detector indicating voltage in the hallway box, but getting none on the actual plug, would support the connection or outlet being bad. Don't forget to torque to spec if the new outlet has a spec.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 3 at 15:10
  • So you’re suggesting that i rewire all of the working outlets to the screws? Forgive my ignorance but I assumed because they were working fine and had tight connections in the back that there was nothing wrong going on. Can a bad connection be present even with tight backstabs and working outlet?
    – DJM3991
    Jan 4 at 16:36
  • @DJM3991, Test the wires and if you have proper voltage at the problem outlet, then move the wires to the screws. That should correct the problem. If not you need a new outlet. Moving all the other wires to the screws is up to you.
    – RMDman
    Jan 5 at 12:51
  • Ok, so this is where I'm at presently. I rewired problem outlet to the screw terminals of a brand new outlet. I went into the office and rewired the last working outlet in the circuit to screw terminals with another brand new outlet. I have power and proper voltage at the last working outlet. Problem outlet is reading very low voltage and same "open hot" reading on the breaker finder. All other outlets in the office only have 1 neutral and 1 hot, so I'm assuming the problem was between the last working outlet (which has 4 wires) and the problem outlet in the hall.
    – DJM3991
    Jan 7 at 19:15
  • Any, "problem outlet should have the wires securely attached to the proper screws and not backstabbed.
    – RMDman
    Jan 7 at 21:41
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Three-light testers (Harper calls them "Magic 8-Ball") are nothing fancy. They just have lights going across each pair of wires:

  • Hot to Neutral - this should light up
  • Hot to Ground - this should light up
  • Neutral to Ground - this should not light up

Each combination of lights nominally means something. But it is not a perfect system. In particular "Open Hot" = no lights. That could be:

  • Breaker turned off
  • No wires connected
  • Neutral and Ground connected but Hot not connected
  • Hot connected but Neutral and Ground not connected

Since the presumed use is when the breaker is on (possibility 1) and the simplest "not working" is a single wire out (as opposed to 2 or 3), the label calls it "Open Hot". But it really doesn't "know" that.

In any case, the most likely cause when there are no obvious wires disconnected is a bad backstab, as correctly noted in another answer.

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    I’m going to do as you all have suggested and rewire all of the working outlets to the screw terminals and then see what happens from there.
    – DJM3991
    Jan 4 at 16:38

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