This week’s service call was to a customer who was having issues with plugs not working, and lights either flickering or not working. They complained that they were getting “weird voltages” so I figured I’d bring the camera along and go through my process of electrical troubleshooting with y’all.
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The first thing I always do when I get a call from a customer is ask an abundance of questions. Often times customers don’t know the same things we electricians know, so a lot of terminology gets mixed up, and or assumptions made, that can confuse the issues and waste your time. They said they were running into some “weird voltage issues” with a receptacle in the kitchen. They also said there were some workers doing a bathroom remodel above, so I figured this one was something better for me to just set eyes on for myself.
When I got to the job, I verified there was indeed a receptacle showing bizarre voltage between the neutral and ground conductors at the device. There was 120v between ground and neutral, 0v between hot an neutral, and a negligible but fluxuating voltage between hot and ground. I needed to figure out where the circuit went so I could see where else the issue was spread to. They mentioned there were other lights nearby that weren’t working or would flicker sometimes. So I pulled out my low voltage toner to see where the conductors went.
I found a dead spot in the ceiling where my tone disappeared, regardless what direction I toned from. I did some continuity testing with my multimeter as well, because the toner was losing a signal so it only helped me so much. The continuity test showed me what direction the circuit came from. Then I toned out toward the other problems with the lights and found it was all on the same circuit.
I knew from past experience that there was a high likelihood that there was a junction box buried in a wall somewhere. And my assumption was that it was right where I was losing signal. So I removed a nearby recessed can so I could see above the ceiling. Sure enough, I saw a metal junction box hiding up there. I couldn’t access it though so I had to cut a hole in the ceiling just to get the box open and look inside.
Once I opened the box I was able to see that there was a melted wirenut and grouping of neutrals that were losing their connection. I took all of this apart and remade the joints and retested the circuit. This solved the problem, returning normal 120v between hot and neutral, and 120v between hot and ground, to the entire circuit. I also made sure the voltage between neutral and ground disappeared. It did, back to 0v.
In this spot I put a 6-inch remodel can and used the junction box attached to the can as a junction box for the old wires, as well as ran a jumper off the existing lighting and installed it on the new can. Pretty simple issue, just a weird thing to wrap your head around at first. The important thing when troubleshooting is to remember to get as many knowns out of the way as possible. You’re going to have unknowns, but a lot of the time when finding values or information you uncover an answer to an unknown. The more knowns you have, the more educated guess you can make in the end.
#troubleshooting #electrical #electricalcode