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Yesterday 4 outlets in my house stopped working. All of the lights on the same circuit seem to work fine but as far as I know, these are the only 4 outlets on the circuit and they have all stopped working.

circuit

The switch doesn't control the outlets but the box for the switch seems to be the source of the electrical for the line of outlets. As a result, I believe the problem is something either in the switch box or in the first gfci box or something between (hopefully not).

The switch box and first gfci are in the same bathroom and just close enough that I can stretch my voltmeter between the two to run continuity tests (audio tone). I have disconnected the gfci in the first outlet box and tested the neutral (white) and hot (black) between both boxes. The strange thing is that there is good continuity (solid tone) between the neutrals of both boxes but there also seems to be some continuity (broken tone) between the neutral in the switch box and the hot in the gfci box. Is this normal? There seems to be no continuity between the hot in the gfci box to any wire in the switch box.

In my mind, this makes me believe the wire is bad between the boxes. Is there other possibilities here? If so, how would I troubleshoot this further?

-edit- images of switch box and first outlet box. Note that in the gfci box, I labeled the wires line and load when I disconnected them. I was testing continuity between the line hot and neutral in the gfci box to the bare wires under the screw cap connectors (I took them off for testing).

-edit2- gfci is definitely good. I hooked it up in another outlet and it functions normally.

Switch box Outlet 1

  • Can you get us photos of the insides of the two boxes in question? – ThreePhaseEel May 21 '16 at 19:17
  • @ThreePhaseEel updated – kinar May 21 '16 at 19:38
  • I see four 2-wire NM(Romex) cables. The leftmost is switched by the left switch. The rightmost is switched by the right switch. One of the middle ones is supply. The other goes to an always-hot load, e.g. Outlets which are not switched. – Harper May 21 '16 at 20:32
  • @Harper that was my assessment too. – kinar May 21 '16 at 20:40
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The most likely failure point here is the GFCI's. #2 is the switch. Then the wire-nuts. Lastly, the wire.

Since the switch is not involved, I'd try temporarily replacing the GFCI outlet with a quality plain outlet. Buy quality, preferably one which uses the screws to clamp down on the wire, similar to the way it appears your GFCI grabs the wires. Avoid plain backstabs: they don't use the screw and are cheap and should not be used twice even if you wrestle the wire out of them.

Obviously if changing the outlet fixes it, it's the GFCI. I wonder why (or if) you have two GFCI outlets daisy chained with the LOAD of one connected to the LINE of the next. It won't hurt them, it's just redundant, and so, a waste of money. It can also create confusion: if the outlet goes out and you go to the GFCI and it's not tripped, you'll go nuts trying to figure that out... until you discover the other GFCI that has tripped.

I would also get some wire nuts, they have improved much mechanically in recent years, they are also color coded. Use red ones to join 4 wires of that size.

  • The only problem I have with the gfci being the culprit is that there is no voltage (measured with a voltmeter) at the line with the gfci disconnected. – kinar May 21 '16 at 22:09
  • I am always a bit skeptical of testers, but I would say the next thing to look at is the wire nuts. – Harper May 22 '16 at 1:05
  • Happened to have a new assorted box of wire nuts in my garage with 2 of the big red ones. Swapped them out and made sure everything was secure. Just in case, I also took the gfci and hooked it up in another outlet box and it works fine. This is looking more and more like it's actually the wire. – kinar May 22 '16 at 13:44
  • Indeed. And that is worrisome, as wires don't often fail by themselves. – Harper May 22 '16 at 19:57
  • 1
    Accepting this answer since it is the correct answer even if it didn't apply to my situation. The electrician came yesterday and flipped the breaker again (I had done it no less than 10 times while troubleshooting) along with the ones next to it and everything started working. But at least I got a chance to chat with him about some changes I plan on making in the future (power to shed and isolating a few rooms). – kinar May 26 '16 at 0:50

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