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Old 07-07-2019, 01:34 AM   #1
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Default Tracing circuits through walls? (residential + commercial)

So, I had a little side work today from a family member. Well, there was like 5 different electrical problems to do at her house but 4 out of the 5 I completed, and one REALLY got to me. I couldn't figure it out before time ran out and I had to leave. I'm sitting here upset yet determined now to figure this out.

The problem is there is an outside plug (none gfci) that has no power to it. No other outside plugs even remotely close to this one. It's basically the only plug outside in the backyard, recessed inside the wall. No breakers are tripped.

When I go inside, I've checked all GFCI's and none are tripped. I've checked all the wall switched inside that are very close to that outside plug, all hots have power. I've checked all inside plugs that are very close to that plug and all have power in each and every romex. I'm literally stuck, I've checked every box possible that this could be fed from and I simply cannot find the issue...

I tried hooking up a toner to the wires and tracing it through the walls but that didn't work too well, the toner isn't strong enough.

So next step is hooking up a circuit tracer that can trace dead wires and trace them through walls and floors... I have an ideal circuit tracer that can trace live circuits but not dead. Anyone know of a great tracer that is very good at tracing dead circuits inside walls? I know this won't be cheap, but I guess it's time to buy one now because this problem is starting to come up often.

Ideal seams to make one, it's 'Ideal 61-959' and it's like $1,500 for the model that comes with all accessories. They sell the base model without all the bells and whistles that will also work.... Just wondering what people think about it if they've used it before. Or if they know of another that works better. Or if anyone has any better ideas or good tips? Sorry for the long read, thanks for making this far!
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Old 07-07-2019, 02:25 AM   #2
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Are you sure you have found EVERY gfci? Kitchen, bathrooms, bedrooms, crawlspace entry, garage, underneath eaves, under decks, laundry room, inside of cabinets in those rooms? Look behind shelving and furniture. Check for power on the load side terminals of GFCIs too.

If that fails, check to see if there is continuity form neutral to ground the dead outlet. If you have continuity that means that at least the neutral and ground are making it back to the panel.

Kill the main.

Tie the neutral and ground together with a wire nut in that box.

Take the neutrals off the neutral bar one by one and check for continuity to ground. Test them all too, once you find one, there may be shared neutrals that shouldn't be shared.

OK, so you know what circuit(s) have continuity. Hopefully its just one.

Unhook the neutral ground wire nut at the mystery box, re-land your neutrals and energize just the circuit you found and find what all that breaker energizes and check all of those junction boxes and GFCIs.
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Old 07-07-2019, 06:43 AM   #3
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Backfeed the receptacle from a dedicated circuit like the washing machine (maybe use Romex with a cord end on it). Shut off all remaining 120V circuits. Wander around with your NCVT (or use your live wire detector). FWIW, live wire detectors aren’t very reliable but maybe that’s just my experience.

That’s after you check for a dud breaker or bad breaker connection.
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Old 07-07-2019, 06:55 AM   #4
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I have gone a long time without needing one of those expensive tracers. I don't think it is a necessity.

Plug an extension cord into a good outlet and bring the female end out to the bad outlet, see if the neutral and ground are connected. Someone might have disconnect that outlet completely.

That outlet might be fed from a junction box that has been covered over, such as when someone finished the basement ceiling. And the connection might have broke in that hidden box.

Someone might have fed that outlet from the attic, some random junction box might be buried under the insulation at the lowest part of the roof.

Any recessed lights in the basement? Sometimes people put junction boxes behind them.

No luck? Now it might be time to start cutting holes. I use a 4" holesaw and then a small piece of wood to screw the plug back in when I am done. Make a hole inside behind the outlet to see where the wire is going, then follow along.


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Backfeed the receptacle from a dedicated circuit like the washing machine (maybe use Romex with a cord end on it). Shut off all remaining 120V circuits. Wander around with your NCVT (or use your live wire detector).
This is a really awesome idea.

I would shut the main to the house off, use my alligator clip pigtail to get power from the service conductors, then use an extension cord with male to male plug adapter to backfeed the outlet.

I am going to make up that suicide adapter today
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Old 07-07-2019, 07:10 AM   #5
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I have gone a long time without needing one of those expensive tracers. I don't think it is a necessity.

Plug an extension cord into a good outlet and bring the female end out to the bad outlet, see if the neutral and ground are connected. Someone might have disconnect that outlet completely.

That outlet might be fed from a junction box that has been covered over, such as when someone finished the basement ceiling. And the connection might have broke in that hidden box.

Someone might have fed that outlet from the attic, some random junction box might be buried under the insulation at the lowest part of the roof.

Any recessed lights in the basement? Sometimes people put junction boxes behind them.

No luck? Now it might be time to start cutting holes. I use a 4" holesaw and then a small piece of wood to screw the plug back in when I am done. Make a hole inside behind the outlet to see where the wire is going, then follow along.



This is a really awesome idea.

I would shut the main to the house off, use my alligator clip pigtail to get power from the service conductors, then use an extension cord with male to male plug adapter to backfeed the outlet.

I am going to make up that suicide adapter today
You’re crazy.
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Old 07-07-2019, 07:35 AM   #6
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You’re crazy.
Noooooo! It's your idea!


I think it might work better by turning off the main because the tick tracer won't pick up ghost voltages, other than maybe from wiring that are near the 1 circuit being backfed, which might be a good thing.
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Old 07-07-2019, 07:56 AM   #7
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This is a really awesome idea.

I would shut the main to the house off, use my alligator clip pigtail to get power from the service conductors, then use an extension cord with male to male plug adapter to backfeed the outlet.

I am going to make up that suicide adapter today
Yea, but unless you have a helper inside to actually witness the explosion and start of the fire, how are you really going to know where the fault was?
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Old 07-07-2019, 08:02 AM   #8
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Looking for hard to find splice boxes is a last resort because splices rarely come apart on their own (and, no, I don’t want to resurrect the burying junction boxes discussion).
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Old 07-07-2019, 08:05 AM   #9
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Yea, but unless you have a helper inside to actually witness the explosion and start of the fire, how are you really going to know where the fault was?
Knocking out the utility Xmer makes for a bad day.
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Old 07-07-2019, 08:21 AM   #10
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Looking for hard to find splice boxes is a last resort because splices rarely come apart on their own (and, no, I don’t want to resurrect the burying junction boxes discussion).
It actually happens often in my experience. A poor splice was made, then after years of it heating and cooling, expanding and contracting, it finally comes apart. Most of the time it was very old wiring that was clearly spliced by someone who didn't know how to make a decent splice.
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Old 07-07-2019, 08:25 AM   #11
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It actually happens often in my experience. A poor splice was made, then after years of it heating and cooling, expanding and contracting, it finally comes apart. Most of the time it was very old wiring that was clearly spliced by someone who didn't know how to make a decent splice.
Okay, I’ll go along with that. I usually deal with construction 70’s and newer.
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Old 07-07-2019, 08:27 AM   #12
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Long shot but I had to replace all the ground fault breakers in a panel once after a thunderstorm. Weird.
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Old 07-07-2019, 08:30 AM   #13
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I find the tracer to be helpful in the mix of commercial and residential service I do. It's not 100% absolute, but fairly accurate. Like any fancy test gizmo we get, it takes some practice to be proficient with it. Otherwise, I think we are pretty creative as a group in finding things that aren't working and why.
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Old 07-07-2019, 08:44 AM   #14
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If you do the backfeed thing, Hack, make sure you turn on all the light switches.
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Old 07-07-2019, 09:46 AM   #15
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Are you sure you have found EVERY gfci?
Pretty sure, but I'll really do a thorough check and double check myself on that.

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If that fails, check to see if there is continuity form neutral to ground the dead outlet.
I do remember testing for this and there is unfortunately no continuity between neutral and ground.

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Backfeed the receptacle from a dedicated circuit like the washing machine (maybe use Romex with a cord end on it). Shut off all remaining 120V circuits. Wander around with your NCVT (or use your live wire detector). FWIW, live wire detectors aren’t very reliable but maybe that’s just my experience.
What do you mean exactly by wondering around with my NCVT? I will say, I've checked every outlet in the house and outside and every single one is reading live wires with my NCVT. All the outlets around the plug I went the extra step and read 120v with my meter. I'm pretty sure it's the only outlet on that property that is reading 0 volts, and all breakers are on.
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Old 07-07-2019, 09:49 AM   #16
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What do you mean exactly by wondering around with my NCVT?
If you shut off all of the circuits int he house and backfeed that dead outlet, you can then go around with your tick tracer to see where you have live power. That will help you figure out where the dead outlet is wired from.

Quote:
I will say, I've checked every outlet in the house and outside and every single one is reading live wires with my NCVT. All the outlets around the plug I went the extra step and read 120v with my meter. I'm pretty sure it's the only outlet on that property that is reading 0 volts, and all breakers are on.
Are you just testing power at the outlet face? Or opening up the outlet and checking the wiring in the box? An outlet might have power to it, but the power leaving it might be broken.
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Old 07-07-2019, 09:56 AM   #17
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Pretty sure, but I'll really do a thorough check and double check myself on that.


I do remember testing for this and there is unfortunately no continuity between neutral and ground.



What do you mean exactly by wondering around with my NCVT? I will say, I've checked every outlet in the house and outside and every single one is reading live wires with my NCVT. All the outlets around the plug I went the extra step and read 120v with my meter. I'm pretty sure it's the only outlet on that property that is reading 0 volts, and all breakers are on.
You said you had a live wire detector so why wouldn’t you energize the wire?

My guess is that you backfeed that circuit and find the live end in the panel (using your NCVT).

Last edited by 99cents; 07-07-2019 at 10:00 AM.
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Old 07-07-2019, 12:07 PM   #18
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You said you had a live wire detector so why wouldn’t you energize the wire?

My guess is that you backfeed that circuit and find the live end in the panel (using your NCVT).
Yes but if I turn off all the breakers and energize that one plug, the power won't be able to make it's way back to the panel. Because right now all the breakers in the panel are all on and working fine, and that plug is dead. So at some point the power from the panel stops and isn't making its way to the plug. I've also checked all the plugs in the house and they are all working fine, and all lighting in the house is working fine as well. So the circuit feeding that one plug stops somewhere, before reaching the panel.

I feel like I'm basically forced to have to use a circuit tracer that traces wires through walls. I've opened up all the plugs and switches anywhere near this dead plug, and they all seam to be just fine.

Before I turned out, she said she had hired 2 different electricians before me and none of them could figure it out lol... That's why I must figure this out

Last edited by JasonCo; 07-07-2019 at 12:11 PM.
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Old 07-07-2019, 12:38 PM   #19
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Yes but if I turn off all the breakers and energize that one plug, the power won't be able to make it's way back to the panel. Because right now all the breakers in the panel are all on and working fine, and that plug is dead. So at some point the power from the panel stops and isn't making its way to the plug. I've also checked all the plugs in the house and they are all working fine, and all lighting in the house is working fine as well. So the circuit feeding that one plug stops somewhere, before reaching the panel.

I feel like I'm basically forced to have to use a circuit tracer that traces wires through walls. I've opened up all the plugs and switches anywhere near this dead plug, and they all seam to be just fine.

Before I turned out, she said she had hired 2 different electricians before me and none of them could figure it out lol... That's why I must figure this out
Just a quick simple question when the last time did that house done some remodeling ?

that may give you some clue how long it been out .,,

is that house is on the slab or it have crawl space or basement ( I dont know if they have a lot of them in Texas ) if basement it may be little easier to find it.

a lot of members they posted have few good pointers to slove the issue and I am with 99 I have same idea as he was descruibing just run the whole thing in reverse you can able find the splice for it .,

did you notice which way the cable came in the box coming from top or bottom ? that may give you a clue a general direction which way someone ran cable that time.

Bon Chance to find it.
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Old 07-07-2019, 12:46 PM   #20
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Yes but if I turn off all the breakers and energize that one plug, the power won't be able to make it's way back to the panel. Because right now all the breakers in the panel are all on and working fine, and that plug is dead. So at some point the power from the panel stops and isn't making its way to the plug. I've also checked all the plugs in the house and they are all working fine, and all lighting in the house is working fine as well. So the circuit feeding that one plug stops somewhere, before reaching the panel.

I feel like I'm basically forced to have to use a circuit tracer that traces wires through walls. I've opened up all the plugs and switches anywhere near this dead plug, and they all seam to be just fine.

Before I turned out, she said she had hired 2 different electricians before me and none of them could figure it out lol... That's why I must figure this out
Nothing makes sense with troubleshooting until it does.
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