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My Lights Are Not Working; I Have 125 Volts Between the Neutral and Ground Wires; What’s Wrong?

February 10, 2007

Q: I have 3 lights with 3 diff. switches (one for each). Through the circuit breaker, I see they are all connected to the same power line. All 3 lights went out at the same time. I checked the power between the lines that go to the switches to see if they had power, which they did. Up by the light, I had 125V from the BLK wire to GND and 125V from the WHT wire to GND, but i still can’t get the lights to work. Is there something that I missed here?  Thanks, Dave

A: Dave, this is very dangerous; you have an open neutral. You need to turn off the circuit breaker to this circuit immediately and do not use this circuit until it is repaired.

You shouldn’t have voltage between the neutral and ground. This means the neutral has opened somewhere. When the neutral opens on a lighting circuit, you will get a back-feed through the filaments in the light bulbs.

If you check voltage between the hot and neutral right now it will be approximately 208 volts instead of 120 volts, as it should be. This high voltage will “smoke” all of the light bulbs on this circuit. If this circuit also controls receptacles, this open neutral will “smoke” almost everything that is plugged into these receptacles. 

Turn off the circuit breaker and open every electrical box on this circuit. You are looking for a loose or disconnected neutral (white wire). If you recently repaired or replaced an electrical device on this circuit, start at this box. If not, you need to go through every electrical box, including the breaker box, on this circuit until you find the problem.

If there are receptacles on this circuit and you did not recently replace any electrical devices, I would start at the receptacles. I also recommend unplugging everything that is plugged into these receptacles until this circuit is repaired.  

Sometimes, older receptacles do not have screws on the side where the wires terminate to. Instead the wires plug into the back of the receptacle and are pinched in place with spring steel. This is a very poor connection that fails a lot. If you have these receptacles in your home, I recommend replacing every one of them.

Troubleshooting an electrical circuit with an open neutral is very dangerous and challenging. I recommend hiring an electrician for this repair. If you need immediate assistance with this electrical wiring problem, I offer this service for a small fee. Please visit for the details and options.

If you need further assistance, please submit your questions in the comment section of this post.

Troubleshooting Electrical Power that Just Quit Working in Your Bedroom

February 4, 2007

Q: The outlets in one bedroom in my house just quit working. Our house was built 15 years ago and these outlets have worked fine the whole time. The breaker looks fine. How do I figure out what the problem is?

A: If the power to these receptacles has worked fine for 15 years and the power just quit, I’ll bet you either have a tripped breaker, a bad breaker or a bad receptacle.

Sometimes a circuit breaker will trip internally and it will appear to remain in the on position. First, try turning off your breaker and then back on again. If this doesn’t work, try testing the breaker. Sometimes you can feel it in the handle. A properly working breaker will “click” off and then “click” on again. Compare the feel to another known working breaker. A faulty breaker will typically feel loose in the handle and slide off and on and feel like it isn’t doing anything.

If this doesn’t work, remove the breaker box cover and test for voltage on the output side of the breaker. Your breaker box is live 240 volt power and not really a place for an inexperienced person to be. That said, it’s not rocket science either. A good pair of leather gloves will provide limited insulation between your body and the live bussing or wires while testing.

If there is voltage on the output side of your breaker, you probably have a bad receptacle. Fifteen years ago, we were permitted to use “stab lock” or “back wired” receptacles. These are receptacles with no screws on the side. The wires just plugged into the back of the receptacle.

These receptacles were a good idea, but a bad design. The wires pushed into the back and were held in place by being pinched in between some spring steel. After a while, the spring steel loosens, causing the connection to fail and the power to stop flowing downstream to the rest of the lights and receptacles on this circuit.

To determine if this is the problem, turn off the circuit breaker to this circuit and verify that the power is off with a volt-meter at every location. Go to these receptacles and open each one up (be sure to verify that the power is off before removing the receptacles or touching any wires). Most times, you will find the loose connection just by doing this. When you remove the receptacle, one wire will most likely be disconnected. If not, give a tug on each wire.

When you find this loose connection, replace the receptacle with the newer style and be sure to wrap the wire (clockwise) around the screw. The bad receptacle could also be in an adjoining room or hallway.

If you have these “stab lock” or “back wired” receptacles in your home, I recommend replacing every one of them with the newer style and wrap the wires around the screws. This is a much better connection.


Testing a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter ( GFCI ) Receptacle

May 2, 2006

Q: I bought a plug-in type GFCI tester at Home Depot or Lowe’s, I’m not sure. On the back of the package it says that the tester is listed and designed for testing the operation of GFCI receptacles. Sometimes when I plug the tester into a GFCI receptacle, it does not trip. However, when I press the test button on the receptacle, it does trip. Should I be concerned because the tester does not trip the GFCI?

A: Most, if not all, GFCI receptacle manufacturers recommend using the test button on the device to ensure proper operation. If a small load, like a table lamp or floor lamp, is plugged into the GFCI receptacle and turned on, then the test button on the GFCI is pressed, and the lamp goes out, the GFCI receptacle is working, and is properly wired. If the unit trips, but the lamp remains energized, the GFCI receptacle is miswired. To correct this situation, the wires connected to the receptacle’s “line and load” terminals must be reversed.

A plug-in type GFCI tester causes current to flow from the ungrounded conductor to the equipment grounding conductor when it is plugged into the receptacle. This method allows an unbalanced current flow through the GFCI. If the tester does not cause the GFCI to trip, the tester could be defective, the receptacle could be miswired, or there could be an open or no equipment grounding conductor in the circuit.

An equipment grounding conductor is not required for GFCI receptacles that are being installed as replacements for existing receptacles during remodeling of a dwelling unit. Section 210-7(d)(2) requires GFCI receptacles as replacements where other Sections of the NEC specify locations that must have this protection. And Section 210-7(d)(3)(b) requires that these receptacles be marked “No Equipment Ground.”

If the plug-in type GFCI tester does not trip the GFCI and you know the tester is functioning properly, the receptacle should be removed from the outlet box to check the presence/absence of an equipment grounding conductor. If the conductor is present, it is not continuous to the outlet. If it is not present, the receptacle should be marked “No Equipment Ground.”

There is a revision to the UL 943 GFCI Standard for Safety which is scheduled to take effect on July 28, 2006. The revised standard incorporates the following changes:

  • End of Life Provision: When a GFCI receptacle is incapable of passing its internal test function (it can no longer provide ground fault protection), it will comply with either (a) or (b):
    1. Render itself incapable of delivering power
    2. Indicate by visual and/or audible means that the device must be replaced
  • Reverse Line-Load Miswire: A GFCI will deny power to the receptacle face if it’s miswired.

Electricity & Safety

November 1, 2005

When it comes to electricity, safety should be your primary concern. Although most basic home wiring repairs are simple and straighforward, always use good judgement when working with electrical wiring or devices (plugs, switches, lights, etc…).

The first rule of electrical safety is to turn off the power to the circuit or device you are working on. Always turn the power of at your fuse box or circuit breaker panel. Never trust a light switch to kill the power for you.

Light switches can be wired a number of different ways. The power could originate in the light box you are working on. If this is the case, turning off the light switch will not shut off the power in the light box you are working on. In some older homes, you may even find that the neutral wire is being switched instead of the hot wire.

If you have a fuse box, you would simply turn off the power by removing the fuse of the circuit you are working on.

If you have a breaker panel, you would simply turn off the breaker that controls the circuit you are working on. However, someone could come right behind you and turn it right back on. Be sure to lock the door to the electrical panel or put some type of note on the door stating that you are working on the circuit and not to touch.

After you have turned off the power, go to the circuit or device you are working on and test it to be sure the power is off. Never assume the power is off or the panel is labeled correctly. Always test to ensure the power is off before touching any wire or device.

Always wear rubber soled shoes when you are working on your residential electrical wiring project. If you are going to work on a damp floor, then stand on a rubber mat or dry wooden boards.

Always use fiberglass or wooden ladders while working on electricity; especially if you are working near your overhead power. Never use an aluminum ladder or a wet wooden ladder while working on or near electricity.

Never touch metal pipes, faucets or fixtures while working on electricity. These items may provide a direct path to ground allowing the electricity to flow through your body.

Never alter the prongs of a plug, so it will fit into a receptacle. I have seen many people remove that ground prong so the cord will fit into their old 2 wire receptacle. Never do this, always buy an adapter or replace the receptacle. If there is not a ground wire in your receptacle box, you can’t just install the newer style of grounded receptacle. We highly recommend hiring an electrician to do this for you.

Always use extension cords for temporary connections only. Never run your extension cord under a rug, of fasten them to walls, baseboards or other surfaces. Using extension cords in these manners has started many fires.

Always use common sense when working with electricity. Never tackle an electrical project if it is beyond your confidence or skill level.

Always check with your local electrical inspector or authority having jurisdiction before beginning any electrical project. Most jurisdictions require you to pull an electrical permit before beginning any electrical work. Some jurisdictions will not allow home owners to work on their own electricity. Others limit what you can work on.

Good luck and be safe!


Where Can I Get Help With Electrical Questions I Have?

October 31, 2005

Ever wish you could pick up the phone and ask an experienced electrician a quick question?

…Well, now you can! 

eGilchrist, Inc. is now offering Electrical Consulting Services by phone, instant messenger or email. Now, it doesn’t matter what type of home wiring project you are working on, help is just a phone call, instant message or email away.

We decided to do this because of a phone call we received first thing Monday morning from a customer requesting us to come out to their house and repair an electrical short immediately. They said that they repaired a receptacle (plug) that wasn’t working in their bedroom Saturday evening. However, all day Sunday and so far that morning their house smelled like something electrical was burning. So I hung up the phone and rushed over there.

I couldn’t believe what I found when I arrived. One of the wire connections was loose and arcing against a roof truss. The roof truss was blackened for about 6″ in either direction of the loose connection. These people were very lucky. If they waited a few more hours, they would have had a fire on their hands.

From this and several other experiences like this, we have learned that most homeowners are willing to tackle their own residential electrical wiring projects. We just want to be sure the wiring is done safely.

To use our service and solve you electrical wiring problems immediately, please visit today.