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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.


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3 Responses to “Troubleshooting Electrical Power that Just Quit Working in Your Bedroom”

  1. Alan Paradise on February 11th, 2007 2:32 am

    I just replaced a wall outlet (back-wired) The lower outlet works perfect. The upper sparked when a lamp was pluged in. A circuit tester gives me a “correct” reading on both. Is there a broken wire, cracked wire insulation, or is it something else?

  2. Administrator on February 11th, 2007 8:58 pm

    Hello Alan,

    Thank you for your electrical question.

    Was the lamp on when you plugged it in? When you plug something into a receptacle that is on, you will get a spark because of the load. However, it nevers hurts to check everything out.

    If you suspect a broken wire, damaged insulation or a loose connection, check to rule this out. Turn off the power, open your receptacle and inspect for problems.

    When you check your receptacle, I recommend using a receptacle tester. This won’t tell you every fault possibility, but it will show you the most common.

  3. juan on April 27th, 2007 10:24 am

    So I recently changed the bulb of an old hanging light in a hallway which can be turned on from 2 different outlets. Now every time I turn on the light using either switch the breaker trips. My trouble shooting has narrowed it down to the one fixture. Is there a possibility that the light fixture itself can be causing this?