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Any electricians in the house?

poltergeisty

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I have a wall outlet that seems like it bit the dust. Well, the breaker tripped. Looking at the outlet I can see some brown chair on the outside where a nightlight was plugged in. I don't know how this happened seen as how a nightlight doesn't consume that much amperage, but the outlet is very old. I have a tracer for locating circuit breakers but that requires power so since the breaker is off I can't use that. So I'm going to buy a toner and see if the line is good. Now I have a question. Can I check for continuity with my DMM and make damn sure the wires which are aluminum didn't fuse somewhere in the circuit? I'm thinking there should be no continuity, but if there is then I'm thinking the wires are fused or touching somewhere in the circuit. Is that correct? Will this be an issue testing for continuity with the breaker? Again, the breaker is off and it will remain off until I can diagnose this and replace the wall outlet.
 

krokus

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I have a wall outlet that seems like it bit the dust. Well, the breaker tripped. Looking at the outlet I can see some brown chair on the outside where a nightlight was plugged in. I don't know how this happened seen as how a nightlight doesn't consume that much amperage, but the outlet is very old. I have a tracer for locating circuit breakers but that requires power so since the breaker is off I can't use that. So I'm going to buy a toner and see if the line is good. Now I have a question. Can I check for continuity with my DMM and make damn sure the wires which are aluminum didn't fuse somewhere in the circuit? I'm thinking there should be no continuity, but if there is then I'm thinking the wires are fused or touching somewhere in the circuit. Is that correct? Will this be an issue testing for continuity with the breaker? Again, the breaker is off and it will remain off until I can diagnose this and replace the wall outlet.
You want to check between hot and neutral, but the problem is most likely loss of tension in the outlet contacts, or corrosion on the contacts.

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krokus

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Yeah, that's what I had in mind for continuity. Is this correct? If I get no continuity then I know the lines are fine.
That will rell you if they are not shorted, but could be damaged. (Of course, a short would trip the breaker.) A bad connection is most likely, and that is most likely the outlet itself.

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bharvey2

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Aluminum wiring is very likely the culprit. It's very common for the connections between the aluminum wire and the outlet to loosen up and cause a bad connection. (and eventually damaged components or a fire) Even though your nightlight draws little current, it doesn't mean that something else that was plugged in long ago didn't. As the electrical junction gets warm from current passing through it, the dissimilar metals expand at different rates and produce a bad/loose connection, exacerbating the problem until it "goes nuclear".

A common fix is to remove the outlet and strip back the aluminum wiring until clean, wire is present, then a copper wire pigtail is spliced to the old wire using special wire connectors rated for both aluminum and copper. The new copper pigtails are then attached to the new outlet. These wire connectors are more expensive than regular wire nuts but are a must in this condition. As a former electrician ( yeah right, I think that like being a "former" mafia member) and an owner of a home with some aluminum wiring, I've been down this road many times before.
 

poltergeisty

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Aluminum wiring is very likely the culprit. It's very common for the connections between the aluminum wire and the outlet to loosen up and cause a bad connection. (and eventually damaged components or a fire) Even though your nightlight draws little current, it doesn't mean that something else that was plugged in long ago didn't. As the electrical junction gets warm from current passing through it, the dissimilar metals expand at different rates and produce a bad/loose connection, exacerbating the problem until it "goes nuclear".

A common fix is to remove the outlet and strip back the aluminum wiring until clean, wire is present, then a copper wire pigtail is spliced to the old wire using special wire connectors rated for both aluminum and copper. The new copper pigtails are then attached to the new outlet. These wire connectors are more expensive than regular wire nuts but are a must in this condition. As a former electrician ( yeah right, I think that like being a "former" mafia member) and an owner of a home with some aluminum wiring, I've been down this road many times before.

You're exactly right because it is aluminum wiring.

How much are the special wire connectors? Can I get a parts list on this stuff so I can see if eBay will have it for cheap?

In some of my past wiring jobs with the aluminum wiring here I've used this type of grease that you rub into the connections with sand paper. But then I read you don't want to touch that stuff. I also read about that pigtail procedure you mention with aluminum wiring. I have also read about special outrlets that are made for aluminum wiring albeit it much more expensive. So I guess the proper way to do this would be a pigtail procedure.
 

poltergeisty

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Speaking of aluminum wiring. I installed a ceiling light fixture some years ago and now I upgraded the bulbs to 10 watt LEDs. Looking at the wiring that goes into each of three light sockets, I see each neutral wire has a portion of its insulation missing. How on earth would that happen? I do plan on changing out this ceiling fixture since I read on the LED bulb box that the bulb shouldn't be in an encloused light fixture. This particular light fixture is one of those foggy dome glass ones. When I had three 45 watt bulbs in there the sucker did get pretty hot.
 

bharvey2

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These wire nuts made by Ideal Ideal Twister Al/Cu Wire Connectors, Purple (10-Pack)-30-1765S - The Home Depot
are made for aluminum / copper (Al/Cu) and come loaded with the grease you alluded to. They usually run a couple dollars a piece. That anti-oxidant grease is also available separately. I used to get one brand, NoAlox that I used to get in large Elmer's glue sized containers but it's available in smaller quantities.

Don't use sandpaper on the connections. It leaves too much debris in the way of sand. You can use the green Scotchbrite pads. just make sure you wipe off any residue right before you connect the two wires and attach the nut. You want that connection clean and free of any oxidation. Using the nuts you shouldn't come in to much contact with the grease (which contains Zinc and Antimony) Wear heavy duty nitrile gloves if its a concern.

With regard to the bare neutral, I'm not sure what you're seeing. The neutral should be insulated with a white or grey thermoplastic unless it got to hot and eroded away. Is the insulation discolored or brittle? The other thing that comes to mind is that you're seeing the bonding jumper attached to the light fixture. This is the ground and SHOULD NOT be attached to the neutral. The ground and neutral are tied together only at the service entrance and nowhere else. Perhaps this is what you're seeing.

Lastly, duplex receptacles can be had that are used for aluminum wiring. These won't have Al/Cu markings but instead will be marked CO/ALR. They aren't the $0.99 receptacles but aren't crazy expensive. I think they can be had for $3-4 ea. at Home Depot like stores. If you need to replace the receptacle anyway, it's not a bad way to go. Just make sure that any wire you attach to it is in good condition. And yeah, it wouldn't be bad to employ a bit of grease at the wire / receptacle junction. As an aside, some receptacles allow you to push the bare wiring into the back of it rather than using a screw terminal. DO NOT go that route. That has FIRE written all over it.
 

poltergeisty

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As an aside, some receptacles allow you to push the bare wiring into the back of it rather than using a screw terminal. DO NOT go that route. That has FIRE written all over it.

Wow, never knew that. Is that true just for AL wire?

I'll have to take a picture of the neutral wires which are white I see have a part of the insulation eroded a way. It's on on white wires in the ceiling light bulb sockets.

Something else I just found very disconcerting was that I was moving one of the LED bulbs while it was dark in the room and it slightly glowed. :eek: I don't know if that's due to excess charge in the electronics or not. I also wonder if it's due to maybe some moron wiring the light switch to flip neutral rather than hot. If that's the case then crap! I don't think that's the case if I can remember right when I replaced the light switch years ago.

I went to a school called Job Corp in '98 and I wanted to take up being an electrician since I have a fair amount of knowledge in it. When I checked out the classroom the damn teacher wasn't even there! A fellow student said he was a drunk. So I was like screw that and took up welding which I regret since I don't weld for a living and don't want to since it's so hazardous. One of the electrical students was surprised at my knowledge in electrical and offered to teach me until a replacement teacher came along, but I passed up the offer. I really kick myself now.
 

poltergeisty

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I'm looking at toners on eBay. How does the continuity check in a toner work? I see toners have that feature which is something I like to check out in the line. I want to make sure nothing melted together in the wall. Albeit, it's probably not my issue, but rather just the wall outlet, but I just want to make absolutely sure. I don't trust AL wiring at all. Hate this stuff. About 75% of the house is aluminum wiring. I really should do the pigtail fix in all outlets and switches. Major PITA and a lot of money for all those Ideal Twister wiring nuts.
 

bharvey2

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The receptacles with the push on backs aren't made for aluminum conductors. In fact now, they are made to only accept #14 wire, not #12. I only pointed this out as a caveat. I don't like using the push in back at all. I use the screw terminal as the push in backs can even cause trouble with copper wire. It's just a bad design overall.

LED lights can be a bit weird. I have some in my master bedroom that will always have a bit of glow to them with the dimmers I use. I need to switch them off completely to stop the glow. That in itself isn't too much of a worry as some dimmers have a bit of leakage current.

If you only have one switch in a circuit, only the hot should be switched. Depending upon how the wiring is done, a white wire can be used in a switch leg although it really isn't a neutral. A schematic would be needed to show that. By and large though, it's best to switch the hot only and leave the neutral intact at all times.

The grease is only needed where at junctions that contain aluminum conductors. Copper to copper doesn't need it but it won't hurt it.

The toners work by inducing an AC signal over a conductor. A receiver picks up the signal on the other end of the conductor. In rough terms, think of it as a big transformer. You aren't actually reading continuity like you would with a DVM/voltmeter. You're picking up an induced signal. (As an aside, this signal can be greatly reduced or eliminated on twisted pair wiring such as CAT6)

Duplex receptacles are just the name give to the common outlets that can accommodate two plugs. Given your project, you can either use standard receptacles with the pigtails or find ones rated CO/ALR and connect them directly to the aluminum wiring. In any case, using the NoAlox at the aluminum wire joint isn't a bad idea.

Yep, aluminum wiring is a PITA. In my house, the receptacles are wired with copper wiring. But, the heavy duty appliances such as dryer, stovetop and hot water heater have aluminum wiring. The brand of circuit breaker in my house is very expensive. I had loose aluminum wire connected to a circuit breaker over heat and bur up a breaker and several above it. It const me several hundred dollars to repair. So now, every one in a while I check the connections on my aluminum wiring and make sure they're all up to snuff.
 

poltergeisty

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LED lights can be a bit weird. I have some in my master bedroom that will always have a bit of glow to them with the dimmers I use. I need to switch them off completely to stop the glow. That in itself isn't too much of a worry as some dimmers have a bit of leakage current.

You did make sure to buy the dimmer capable LED bulbs? I have a dimmer capable LED in a lamp controlled by a dimmer and it so happens this lamp is also a three-way. Well, the lamp flickers sometimes and I have a felling it's because it's a three-way that's also on a dimmer. I kinda don't like that and so I may just get an incandescent for it once again.

Now to think. This dimmer switch was used on the whole house fan when I moved in! Unreal! So I fixed that by installing a stranded switch for the fan and replacing the standard switch in the front room with the dimmer I removed. Then when I first moved in I was in the attic and noticed a fan in a vent that wasn't even spinning yet had electrical wiring connected to it. I promptly disconnected that crap. I swear this place is a fire hazard. Yet there was a home inspector go though the house. It's one reason why I have three fire extinguishers around the house and always test the smoke alarms. I'd like to add the optical smoke alarms to the mix as well. Now granted I'm sure I'm not the only house in this subdivision with crap wiring, etc and no one else has burned down, yet...


Here are the pictures of the ceiling light showing part of the insulation gone on the neutral wire. It's like this on all three sockets. I do have plans on replacing this ceiling light though.















My question about the toner was more about how the continuity check works. I know how they work with a tone, but not sure how a tone generator can check continuity. I'm assuming it passes a tone though one lead and detects if its present on the other lead. Almost certain that's how it works. Now, are there any flaws testing for continuity with this method or should I just use my DMM?


You know, I may just go the Duplex route instead of messing with pigtails. I'll also use the anti-oxidation grease as well.
 

poltergeisty

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Now that I think of it, I may have had 100 watt light bulbs in that ceiling light. :eek: And I see now the damn thing is rated for 60 watts. Boy am I an idiot. And yet I check for that sort of thing all the time when I replace a light bulb in a lamp. Thankfully there's only 10 watt LEDs in there now.
 

bharvey2

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It looks to me like they're rate for 660W which is a lot. It also looks like the base material is ceramic which would make since with that high of a rating. As far as the gap in the insulation on the neutral wiring, it looks like a clean cut rather than a break but I can think of no reason to do that. Is the insulation brittle? It might be wise just to replace the fixture.

With regard to the toner, The idea in checking continuity is that you'll only hear tone on the wiring connected to the tone generator on the other end. You son't hear anything or the volume will be greatly reduced if you're testing the wrong wire or if there is a break in it. With the toners you can get false positives once in a while. They aren't foolproof but they're a good way to go through a whole house or room to narrow down a search. Then when you have it narrowed down, you can double check with a DVM. Just make sure that the power is off.


With regard to my LED light issue, it's because Many years ago, before LED bulbs came out I installed a fancy new dimmer. It worked fine for incandescent bulbs. Later I purchased dimmable LED bulbs and they do dim. It's just that since the dimmer predates LED bulbs they don't shut the bulb off complete. You wouldn't notice that the bulb is on during the day but at night, you can see a faint glow. I just need to replace the dimmer to one that plays well with LEDs.

Oh and I've seen some really screwed up wiring attempts in my time. We're talking Darwin Award level.
 

bharvey2

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Well, its sort of a least common denominator thing. Just because the sockets are rated for 660W doesn't mean the whole fixture is. Go with the lowest rating unless you want some unplanned excitement in your life.
 

mmckenna

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Actually, you can see the silver sticker in my second pic, but the wattage is on the right.
The wattage rating molded into the socket is the maximum wattage rating for that socket by its manufacturer. The wattage rating for the fixture has to do with the capacity of the wiring and the ability to handle the heat generated by an incandescent bulb. Use the limits on the fixture.

As for the break in the wire, that's a really clean cut. Looks like someone started to strip the wire and then changed their mind. Could have been at the factory. Wrap some electrical tape around it and you'll be OK.

A toner, like used for testing telephone/data wiring probably won't work very well. First, all the neutrals are going to be bonded together at the panel, so that's going to cause some confusion. The hots will probably be split off for various fixtures/outlets along the way. You might be able to figure out which breaker it is.
 

poltergeisty

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Oh, I know what breaker it is because it tripped to off.

I'm hoping a toner and continuity check with my DMM will let me know two things:

1) That the wires have not fused together in the wall.

and

2) If there is no break somewhere between the outlet and the breaker.


I know what the watt rating means. That's why I implied I may have foolishly used 100 watters in there when the actual sticker says 60 watts.


No, these wires were never like this to my knowledge when I installed the celining fixture several years ago. And if you look at the wire it's kind of brown. I can take a better shot.
 
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