Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Trouble shooting an AFCI outlet circuit

The power stopped work on this bedroom circuit. This is how I trouble shot the circuit.

The first step was to open up a wall box and take a look at the wiring. This outlet had a loose ground. This made me believe that the electrician who wired these outlet was only a helper and not highly skilled. Lose ground connections are too common and can cause problem with your electronics.

To find the circuit that has lost power I tied the neutral and ground wire together. This should never be left this way. This is only done as a test. Tying this neutral and the ground together will create a continuity in the circuit back at the panel. In a normal circuit the ground and neutral would not touch.

Back at the panel, I know that the circuit is one of two AFCI circuits because the loss of power occurred in a bedroom. Starting in 1999 Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI) breaker have been required for all bedroom circuits. AFCI are designed to turn circuits off by detecting non-intended arcs. Arc faults in a home are one of the leading causes for household fires.
To test which circuit is connected to the outlets that are not working. All I needed to is see if there was continuity between the neutral and the ground. The circuit with continuity is the circuit that I put the ground and neutral together.

Now, that I know what circuit breaker is controlling the outlets that stopped working. I note everything in the house that is working. Then I turn off the circuit breaker that is controlling the bad circuit. With the circuit breaker off I then look to see if any of the outlets that were “on” turned “off “ when the breaker is off.
This time one did. Opening the outlet I found a bad connection in the back of the outlet. Power was getting too this outlet but not leaving it.

The stab-locks on the back of outlets fail too often for my liking. They are used in new construction because they are the fastest way to install outlet. They can also be installed by unskilled helpers. They are not the best way to install outlet. I do not let my technicians use the stab lock. We install outlet by using the screws on the side and making pig tail connections. These types of connections are much better. Connecting your outlets this way will improve the overall condition of you power.

The best way to wire an Outlet

This is the outlet with the pigtail connection. The wires are connected to the outlet on the screw terminals. The wires that go "IN" then "OUT" are connected at the pigtail. This outlet can be change without affecting the power anywhere else in the house.
If the first contractor wire the outlets this way they would have never failed
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