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Electrical gurus - GFI quandry

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by stee6043, Jul 6, 2012.

  1. stee6043

    stee6043 Minister of Fire

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    Well I hope at least a few sparky's are still around during the summer. I could use some advice. Today I installed a new outlet in my garage (swapped a beige one for white) and upon re-installation I find that none of my outlets in my garage work. I have no blown circuits which leads me to suspect I have a bad GFI plug. The outlet I replaced was at the "end of a line" with no others downline.

    So here is my issue - I have three GFI outlets inside and all are still functioning at the plugs themselves. But I'm pretty sure one of them goes to my garage outlets. Is it possible for a GFI to go bad only "down stream"? And if so, how do I figure out which one powers the garage outlets? Turning circuits on and off does me no good since the outlets in the garage are down right now, with all circuits on. Sooooo frustrating. Thanks for any advice!!!

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  2. blades

    blades Minister of Fire

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    First disconnect the outlet you just installed. tape ends of wires or use connection caps on each wire, neutral(white),hot( Black) and( ground- earth ( green or bare wire) general color code. One gfi on a properly wired circuit will protect that complete line. Check to see if one of your gfi is tripped. if not then somewhere in your wiring to that circuit in the garage there is a open circuit, because a short would trip the breakers or fuse at your service panel. Now a gfi works by detecting a very slight imbalance between the hot and neutral lines so if you have some sort of bleed or a lot of moisture built up in one of the outlets or perhaps the switch to turn the lights on ( if on that same line) could be cause of a gfi to open shuting down the line. Moisture in the earht/ground leg is something we have a lot of problems with on the gfi equipped extension cords. If that same line has a underground run to say a yard light , that would another area to check. Just some ideas for you to check, I am not an electrician, but I have to deal with a lot strange problems. I just thought of another one, way back in time, the practice was to use the conduit as the ground/earth leg, I had a intermittent problem at a customers place which I traced back to the the conduit connections ( the type that slip on and use a set screw) due to age of the lines some of the set screw connectors had come loose coupled with oxidation and many layers of paint and were intermittent in conductivity.
  3. StihlHead

    StihlHead Guest

    Well, first off, one of the GFIC outlets may be a double type: one GFI and one not, and you may be testing the 'not' one. Some of them came with metal side tabs that you could break off to connect a switched circuit to (like some regular outlets have). You may also have a string from another GFIC outlet someplace. I thought my outside light was strung from the bathroom GFIC, but it turned out to be from one of the master bedroom outlets. So you may have to hunt some more. Also if you have not done it, try tripping the GFIC outlets by pressing the test button (or use an outlet tester with a GFIC button on it to short the circuit and test it) on each one and resetting them all. Sometimes they will be half tripped and flutter. Also you may have tripped a breaker in the box, so toggle the breakers as well.

    The last option is that what you thought was the last plug in the line really was not, and you cut the circuit when you replaced it. There might be a pigtail from someplace else. Just a thought...
  4. Ehouse

    Ehouse Minister of Fire

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    you used the term "blown circuits" so do you have fuses or breakers? A breaker may not go to the off position when tripped but go to a center position which can be hard to see, also if you are using a metal box, the outlet may be shorting to it, just happened to me.

    Ehouse
  5. Jack Straw

    Jack Straw Minister of Fire

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    I wonder if you may have a 4th gfi somewhere that is tripped. The problem is almost certainly from replacing that outlet. Look for more gfi's.
  6. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    I have had this problem in two rental houses in recent years....half the kitchen goes dead, and we are tearing the place apart to find a GFI outlet buried in the basement behind a bunch of boxes two hours later. Enjoy your vacation.

    This is why I hate the practice of putting a whole branch downstream of one GFI outlet....folks should just put a GFI outlet in each site that needs protection for $10/box.

    To the OP...keep looking and happy hunting.
  7. stee6043

    stee6043 Minister of Fire

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    You guys have been most helpful. Well I kept hunting and I did find another GFI I never knew about - the outlet outside at my front door. It was indeed tripped BUT once I reset it I still have no power at the garage outlets. I pulled that GFI outlet out this morning and it seems odd - only one ground, hot and neutral. How is it preventing current from getting to the garage if it only has one set of connections? It doesn't look like anything is passing "through" the outlet at all. But since this was the only GFI outlet I found that was tripped it MUST be the problem...I hope. ha. Off to Lowes to get a new plug. I realized this morning that my lawn sprinkler control box is on the same circuit so this is a more serious problem - gotta get water on that grass ASAP! Thanks again guys. Hopefully I found the culprit. I'll definitely let you know.
  8. burnham

    burnham Member

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    That GFI is not your problem if it only has one feed in.
  9. stee6043

    stee6043 Minister of Fire

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    Yup....confirmed. I'm at a loss. I hate the thought of paying someone to come out and look at this. Before heading to Lowes I threw a normal outlet in the outside GFI just to see if it would change. Nada. I'm back at square one. I even replaced the "new" outlet in the garage today just for kicks. I cannot find any other GFI outlets in this house. This stupid problem is going to drive me to drink (more). Stupid beige outlet.
  10. Ncountry

    Ncountry Feeling the Heat

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    Do you have an electrical tester? I always start at the source . Are you sure power is being transferred through the breaker in panel box? I have seen them go bad.
  11. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Agreed. Could be a dead breaker or a dead branch. Could be a loose connection in any upstream outlet in the circuit. Is it an older house?
  12. nate379

    nate379 Guest

    I lived in a rental house like that and had the same problem as you actually. After it stumped me, the landlord and 3 different electricians the 4th figured it out. There was a GFI outlet in the upstairs bathroom that was in the cabinet BEHIND the drawers. The only way to see it was by pulling all the drawers out.
    That outlet was on the same branch as the garage outlets/lights, but nothing at all in the bathroom (WTH?!)

    Sounds like the same cheap electrician wired that place up as well! The garage should have a couple circuits on it's own breakers at least one for lights/door opener and one for the outlets, even better would be several circuits for the outlets (all depending on how big this garage is).

    You need to trace down the feeder line from the house to the garage outlet that has no power. Maybe that GFI is tripped, the wire isn't connected or who knows, a mouse ate it, your wife hung some photos and put a nail through it.


    Woodgeek, there is no reason at all to put many GFI outlets when just a couple will suffice other than to waste money. At $~20 each vs $1 for a reg outlet it adds up quickly.
    woodsmaster likes this.
  13. Don2222

    Don2222 Minister of Fire

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    Also you cannot put a GFI outlet on a GFI circuit because they will buck each other and trip out.
  14. Jack Straw

    Jack Straw Minister of Fire

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    Did you turn off the breaker for the garage before you replaced the outlet? The breaker may be bad, you may have a loose connection at the breaker or at the neutral bar.
  15. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    Sure. IF you have 5 outlets in your bathroom, go ahead and chain them (and the lights) to one GFI. And I can get them for $10.

    I suppose I can agree that all GFI protected outlets should be chained to a GFI in the same room, that is plainly visible. When this outlet is tied to a GFI on the other end of the house or the garage or the basement....then I see red.
  16. Ehouse

    Ehouse Minister of Fire

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    Look for a toggle box somewhere in the line, looks like a light switch but is a breaker. I have one in my basement. Older houses had branch circuits coming off feeds all over the place, some with smaller wire that they protected ( sometimes) with an individual breaker. I'm betting the garage circuit is protected by a device ( small sub panel, dryer box) other than a GFI in the main house wiring. Also check for a device that is plugged in (hair dryer, small heater, welder) that has its own GFI, although I'm not sure that would take down the whole circuit.

    Ehouse
  17. stee6043

    stee6043 Minister of Fire

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    Thanks again for all the replies. My home was built in 2003 so I'd say everything properly constructed as far as I can tell. I'd be shocked if there was a GFI hiding behind a cabinet but I guess it's a possibility. I've been around this house a dozen times and yes....I did find one GFI I never knew existed. I'm fairly certain I've found them all now.

    I do not currently know which breaker services the garage outlets. When I replaced the outlet I gave up trying to find it after trying three different breakers were not it. It's not clearly labeled. I know that I have no power out there I have no idea how I'd find the breaker. Tracing the circuit seems almost impossible at this point?

    Could a GFI outlet be "bad" and still function 100% at the outlet itself? I'm tempted to start replacing all of the GFI's I've located. Three outside and three inside...it might still be cheaper than an electrician. Any thoughts on that???
  18. basod

    basod Minister of Fire

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    You need to find the branch circuit feeding the garage - before you go replacing gfci's.
    I'm assuming you have a meter or light tester.
    Remove the sub panel cover and check the secondary of all the breakers to ground(make sure your ground lead is touching ground it'll be live when touching each breaker lug)
    If you have a simple non-contact tester you can just check each wire attaching to breakers. Do a hot-cold-hot test to make sure tester is working.
    If you have power on everything than its more than likely a bad connection at the first junction in the garage.
    Pop the receptacle covers off and see if they wrapped the wire around the screw lugs or used the compression connection in the rear - those connections can fail, or cause enough resistance to draw down the circuit.
    Check both hot leads to ground at the receptacles(I'm assuming they're parralleled) Check the light fixture as well(not sure if you said it was working - but it could be fed from upstairs bedroom)

    The only other way to easily trace out the circuit is with a tic-tracer, they plug into the receptacle and emit a frequency on the line that is then picked up by a moveable receiver.
  19. basod

    basod Minister of Fire

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    I forgot to add one more thing, you may have a multi-wire branch circuit with an open neutral at one of the receptacles, or at the light fixture.
    I think in 2003 the code required them to be double pole breakers or atleast have a bar connecting them. If you have any double pole breakers in your panel that don't turn off a stove, HVAC, well pump, dryer or other large appliance than you have a MWBC - two hots on separate phases with a common neutral, the current on the neutral is canceled out by each hot leg.

    When you say you don't have "power at the outlets" are you checking with a meter or just plugging in a light or other load?
  20. burnham

    burnham Member

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    Yes. you can remove the GFI with it live and check for voltage on the load side.

    You can also check the outlet that is not working for a neutral if you have a continuity tester. Check from ground to neutral for continuity, at the wires, not in the outlet. If you have continuity, you're just missing a hot leg and may have an open breaker or bad connection.
    If you don't have continuity, there's probably an open GFI somewhere upstream of the not-working outlet that is open/tripped off.

    When a GFI is tripped it opens the hot and neutral. A GFI breaker, and a normal breaker, will just open the hot leg.

    These are the first things to check.

    Also, check for voltage before you check for continuity. My voltage tester will do both, but a straight continuity tester may burn out if you test voltage with it.
  21. StihlHead

    StihlHead Guest

    It is possible for a GFIC to work and the down-wind connections to be disconnected, but that is unlikely. Any loose or faulty load wiring would trip the GFI outlet. If the house is that new I would pull and test all the GFIC outlets before calling the electrician. Find if one is feeding the garage with an ohm meter. If there is none (which I think is most likely), then the garage is on its own circuit from the service panel, or there is a sub panel for it. You really have to determine which breaker feeds the garage. Trip all the circuits one at a time and test the house outlets with a lighted outlet tester or volt/ohm meter and test/flip the lights on and off. Then mark the breakers on the box. This will save you a ton of time at some point in the future if/when some other circuit fails. Finding a tripped circuit that does nothing is likely the garage. Yes, it is time consuming, but paying an electrician is expensive and he will just have to do the same thing, but with better test equipment. Replacing a lone GFIC outlet leading to a failure indicates to me a tripped or bad breaker at the service box.
  22. nate379

    nate379 Guest

    You need to find out who wired that place and kick him in the baby maker. Goofy/cheap wiring job for the garage, not labeled panel, WOW... just WOW. What else is wrong? Was it wired by a pro even?

    One thing they cheaped out on my place that annoys me is 14 gauge wire/15 amp circuits for the garage outlets while the rest of the house is all 12 gauge/20 amp circuits. Cheap out on the ONE area that might actually need the power?!


    As far as your issue, sounds like it'd be worth your time to have a pro come in and take a look... and look at the WHOLE system while he's at it to make sure everything else is safe.
  23. btuser

    btuser Minister of Fire

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    When you pulled the outlet out of the wall, how is it wired? Did they back-wire it (little spring tabs you shove the wire into)? I've found that to be the #1 reason outlets stop working downstream. I've never seen a GFI with this kind of connection, so it might be another receptacle upstream, maybe the first one in the garage where the hot pulled out after it cooled down because you shut off the breaker. Anything's possible, and I've racked my head for days on some pretty stupid stuff.

    1. Find out which breaker feeds your garage. If you have to spend 1hr plugging a tester/lamp into every outlet at least you'll know which ones are the right ones.
    2. Find out how far down the garage circuit you have power.
    3. Divide the loop till you find your problem. Could be the receptacle, could be the wiring/connections. If they didn't label the panel correctly I'd look for how well they made their splices.
  24. Jack Straw

    Jack Straw Minister of Fire

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    Hey, could some dope have wired the outlets through a switch?
    StihlHead likes this.
  25. stee6043

    stee6043 Minister of Fire

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    Sorry, I should have been more clear - I have two panels (one smaller one for generator) and every circuit is labeled but none of them are labeled "garage outlets". The closest I can come is one that is labeled "garage lights" and that is definitely not the circuit. So I was guessing and trying other circuits for rooms around the garage trying to find the garage outlets. Never found it before I swapped out the outlet and then this fun started.

    I'm still at a bit of a loss. I guess step one as has been suggested is to find the circuit and begin tracing it to the garage. Perhaps I need not go any further than the panel if that breaker turns out to be bad. I do have a non-contact voltage sensor that I have been using...

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