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  #1  
Old 09-27-2008, 09:31 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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Electrical Question - Voltage Even when Switch is Off

I have a wall outlet controlled by a switch on the wall. Today I noticed that when the switch is on, the outlet reads 122VAC. When the switch is *off*, it reads 40-42VAC. Um...keeping in mind I'm going to call an electrician about it, is there a common problem that would cause about 1/3 voltage to appear at a wall outlet?

(FTR it's a 2-prong ungrounded outlet)
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  #2  
Old 09-27-2008, 09:38 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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As a follow-up question - I've just got the 2008 NEC book, all 1400 pages of it. I can't find in there where it says that new wall outlets must be installed ground conductor-side up, even though I've had not one but two actual electricians gruffly tell me that "the electrical code requires it". Can anyone point me to the chapter and verse?
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Old 09-28-2008, 02:08 PM
usedtobe usedtobe is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Una Persson View Post
I have a wall outlet controlled by a switch on the wall. Today I noticed that when the switch is on, the outlet reads 122VAC. When the switch is *off*, it reads 40-42VAC. Um...keeping in mind I'm going to call an electrician about it, is there a common problem that would cause about 1/3 voltage to appear at a wall outlet?

(FTR it's a 2-prong ungrounded outlet)
I actualy had this one - it was a case of the switch installed on the neutral, and the fixture (exterior light) had shorted to ground - the hot line was connected reqardless or switch position, but when it was "on", the return had a nice, spiffy route, when "off", it had to rough it over the ground. Is there a ground either in the switch box, or is the outlet grounding in some creative manner?
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Old 09-28-2008, 05:16 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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Originally Posted by usedtobe View Post
Is there a ground either in the switch box, or is the outlet grounding in some creative manner?
Hm...as far as I can tell, there is no ground at either the switch or the outlet (it's an old house, the circuits aren't grounded except for a couple which have long, circuitous lines running to the plumbing). I'll see if I can take a look when I get back home.
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  #5  
Old 09-28-2008, 06:35 PM
Rick Rick is offline
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Is it by chance an illuminated switch or socket and somehow you are reading the voltage drop across the little tiny neon bulb?
Other than that the only two things I can think of are a defective breaker, or (and this one is a doozy) you have:
  • You have a shared neutral
  • another consumer upstream from the socket turned on (electrically further away from the panel)
  • High resistance in the neutral leg between your socket and the electrical panel
  • You were measuring between the neutral and ground
Then I could understand 42V on the neutral leg.

Other than that, I got nothin. We need Danceswithcats he is our resident electrician IIRC
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Old 09-28-2008, 06:53 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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No illumination LEDs, bulbs, or anything. As far as the other items...don't know yet.

It's a mystery alright. I wish I had a wiring diagram of the house.

Defective breaker I guess could be a possibility. I'm trying to replace my breaker box but can't get any reliable electrician to give me the time of day. I should rant about that some time.
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  #7  
Old 09-28-2008, 06:53 PM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Una Persson View Post
As a follow-up question - I've just got the 2008 NEC book, all 1400 pages of it. I can't find in there where it says that new wall outlets must be installed ground conductor-side up, even though I've had not one but two actual electricians gruffly tell me that "the electrical code requires it". Can anyone point me to the chapter and verse?
I'd like to see that, too. (You are referring to the ground conductor pin on a 3-prong socket, aren't you?) I always thought the 3rd pin should be DOWN, as that's the way I see it most of the time. Is the new style UP, and if so, why?
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Old 09-28-2008, 06:59 PM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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Wikipedia is not official code of course, but in the worldwide sockets page, it says:
Quote:
Looking directly at a type B outlet with the ground at the bottom, the neutral slot is on the left, and the live slot is on the right. They may be installed with the ground at the top or on either side.
Still, the picture shows the 3rd pin at the bottom.
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  #9  
Old 09-28-2008, 07:18 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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Originally Posted by Musicat View Post
I'd like to see that, too. (You are referring to the ground conductor pin on a 3-prong socket, aren't you?) I always thought the 3rd pin should be DOWN, as that's the way I see it most of the time. Is the new style UP, and if so, why?
Yes, that's what I was referring to.

From what I can tell, the "it's in the code" I was told was really the electrician saying "I just want to do it this way", thinking Ms. Dumb Homeowner wouldn't know nothin' about no code. I also called my city and county and discovered there was nothing in the building codes either.

The number of times I've had someone say "it's in the code" and it be wrong is astonishing.
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Old 09-28-2008, 07:21 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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Hmm...just noticed, we can't edit our posts...anyhow, the ground-pin-up I've heard called the "Catholic safe" configuration. Because the urban legend goes that Catholics, leaning over to plug/unplug a socket, would somehow, against all logic, frequently get their rosary tangled up in it and electrocuted. And yet, I've had "master electricians" tell me this swearing they've "heard it happen so many times".
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  #11  
Old 09-30-2008, 12:19 PM
cornflakes cornflakes is offline
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What sort of meter are you using? A DVM will have a high enough internal resistance to read a voltage due to inductance. An old analog voltmeter will not.

Regarding having the ground up vs. ground down, a lot of commercial electricians like to put the ground on top. If the ground is down and the plug works partly out of a socket, then a conductor that falls on the prongs could cause a direct short. On the other hand, a lot of customers are used to seeing a "face" on the plug and think that the other way is upside down.
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  #12  
Old 10-01-2008, 12:44 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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It's a digital voltmeter (volt, amp, capacitance...you name it) but it doesn't have any problems with other outlets in the house - they read "0" or close to it when off.

More exploration has to wait until this weekend, where I will do testing and maybe, if it's interesting enough, post pictures.
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  #13  
Old 10-01-2008, 01:02 PM
Uncommon Sense Uncommon Sense is offline
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You have an open neutral somewhere in that circuit. Pretty much guarantee that.
Every time I find this phenomenon I can trace it to a loose or open neutral somewhere in the circuit. Every time.
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  #14  
Old 10-02-2008, 11:37 AM
Rucksinator Rucksinator is offline
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Originally Posted by Musicat View Post
I'd like to see that, too. (You are referring to the ground conductor pin on a 3-prong socket, aren't you?) I always thought the 3rd pin should be DOWN, as that's the way I see it most of the time. Is the new style UP, and if so, why?

I'm pretty sure there was a thread about this sometime back. I think the best logical explanation for this was: say you have metal covers, and a plug loosely plugged in, and the cover comes loose and falls onto the prongs of the plug. It would be better to rest against the ground prong instead of the other 2. I don't recall if anyone was able to cite the code. (Now I'm thinking that someone said it was in some juristiction's code book, but the book wasn't online.)

Do a search for it.
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  #15  
Old 10-09-2008, 12:34 AM
Snnipe 70E Snnipe 70E is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Una Persson View Post
I have a wall outlet controlled by a switch on the wall. Today I noticed that when the switch is on, the outlet reads 122VAC. When the switch is *off*, it reads 40-42VAC. Um...keeping in mind I'm going to call an electrician about it, is there a common problem that would cause about 1/3 voltage to appear at a wall outlet?

(FTR it's a 2-prong ungrounded outlet)
Are you using a digital meter?
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  #16  
Old 10-15-2008, 12:22 AM
Arjuna34 Arjuna34 is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Una Persson View Post
As a follow-up question - I've just got the 2008 NEC book, all 1400 pages of it. I can't find in there where it says that new wall outlets must be installed ground conductor-side up, even though I've had not one but two actual electricians gruffly tell me that "the electrical code requires it". Can anyone point me to the chapter and verse?
I just had my 2008 NEC continuing education class, and the trainer specifically said that's not a code requirement. However, most of the class (all three of us) seemed more knowledgeable than he was ....

A requirement like that is more likely to be in the UL listing, or in the UL standard for the device. In that case, the applicable UL standard is UL 498, Attachment Plugs and Receptacles. I've not read that one, but if someone's interested, I can check.
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  #17  
Old 11-26-2008, 01:12 PM
Sparky812 Sparky812 is offline
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Can I suggest that anyone with older homes (or even new) pick one of these up next time you are at the hardware store! I've used to countless times at work and home and it may help you here.

http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/...ctId=100062242

I also alway have one of these in my pocket :

http://global.flukebiomedical.com/us...(FlukeProducts)

Last edited by Sparky812; 11-26-2008 at 01:12 PM..
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  #18  
Old 05-10-2009, 09:37 AM
HongKongFooey HongKongFooey is offline
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Originally Posted by Uncommon Sense View Post
You have an open neutral somewhere in that circuit. Pretty much guarantee that.
Every time I find this phenomenon I can trace it to a loose or open neutral somewhere in the circuit. Every time.
I would put my money on this. Your meter doesn't have enough impedance to drop all the voltage across it because the open circuit is also high impedance (the voltage divider rule causes the largest voltage drop to be across the largest resistance which is usually the meter). Strange looking voltage readings like that almost always wind up being traced back to a loose wire somewhere. Finding that wire might be tricky. Start with the switch and the receptacle and work your way out from there.
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Old 05-10-2009, 11:47 AM
Rick Rick is offline
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Or it could be caused by zombies.
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  #20  
Old 05-10-2009, 11:59 AM
HongKongFooey HongKongFooey is offline
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Originally Posted by Rick View Post
Or it could be caused by zombies.
Oops!
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  #21  
Old 05-23-2014, 10:14 PM
jkleohart22193 jkleohart22193 is offline
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Bad nuetral?

So what was the answer? I have a similar issue where a switched outlet reads 16 VAC between neutral and hot when switched off and 118VAC when switched on. The outlet heats up too. I replaced the outlet. Something crazy us going on.
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  #22  
Old 05-29-2014, 12:13 AM
Chefguy Chefguy is online now
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Don't know about this particular problem, but it's likely an open or loose neutral in the circuit. It could also be that there is not a proper ground for the system in conjunction with an unbalanced load. I'd guess the former, but have seen the latter.
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  #23  
Old 05-29-2014, 08:19 AM
Musicat Musicat is offline
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Una Persson has had 6 years to work on it. Hope there is a solution by now.
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  #24  
Old 05-29-2014, 10:52 PM
Una Persson Una Persson is offline
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No, I ended up just replacing everything.
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  #25  
Old 12-23-2015, 02:40 PM
NB4U NB4U is offline
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ok, here is what I have, same as above, 42 Volts when off measured with a DVM, all switched outlets in the hose read the same when off. House is 8 years old, romex wiring.

I noticed this when I plugged in my LED Xmas lights and when I turned off the switch the LED's continued to glow slightly...

When I plug in a circuit tester with the three indicator lights on it, and turn on the switch, the circuit analyzer indicates correct wiring.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41k0DfHOl6L.jpg
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  #26  
Old 12-23-2015, 05:36 PM
Chefguy Chefguy is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NB4U View Post
ok, here is what I have, same as above, 42 Volts when off measured with a DVM, all switched outlets in the hose read the same when off. House is 8 years old, romex wiring.

I noticed this when I plugged in my LED Xmas lights and when I turned off the switch the LED's continued to glow slightly...

When I plug in a circuit tester with the three indicator lights on it, and turn on the switch, the circuit analyzer indicates correct wiring.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41k0DfHOl6L.jpg
Sounds like the place is ungrounded or inadequately grounded, to me.

Last edited by Chefguy; 12-23-2015 at 05:37 PM..
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  #27  
Old 12-23-2015, 06:24 PM
boytyperanma boytyperanma is offline
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NM

Last edited by boytyperanma; 12-23-2015 at 06:25 PM..
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  #28  
Old 12-23-2015, 11:45 PM
eulalia eulalia is offline
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Originally Posted by Chefguy View Post
Sounds like the place is ungrounded or inadequately grounded, to me.
Yes. Neutral should be bonded to ground at some point; it probably isn't. If you switch your meter to ohms and measure from the neutral side of the plug to earth ground it should be near zero ohms.
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  #29  
Old 12-24-2015, 11:03 AM
Chefguy Chefguy is online now
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Originally Posted by eulalia View Post
Yes. Neutral should be bonded to ground at some point; it probably isn't. If you switch your meter to ohms and measure from the neutral side of the plug to earth ground it should be near zero ohms.
I'd suggest killing the power first, to avoid frying the meter.
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  #30  
Old 12-24-2015, 06:23 PM
Snnipe 70E Snnipe 70E is offline
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Or check neutral to ground for voltage first. Then Ohms.
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  #31  
Old 12-25-2015, 11:10 AM
Crafter_Man Crafter_Man is offline
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Originally Posted by NB4U View Post
ok, here is what I have, same as above, 42 Volts when off measured with a DVM, all switched outlets in the hose read the same when off. House is 8 years old, romex wiring.

I noticed this when I plugged in my LED Xmas lights and when I turned off the switch the LED's continued to glow slightly...

When I plug in a circuit tester with the three indicator lights on it, and turn on the switch, the circuit analyzer indicates correct wiring.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41k0DfHOl6L.jpg
You need to take a closer look at the switch.

- Is it an illuminated switch (i.e. does the switch have a built-in light that illuminates when off)?
- Is it a dimmer switch?
- Is it a three-way switch?
- How old is the switch?
- Does it switch anything else other than the receptacle?
- Is it switching the hot or neutral side of the receptacle?
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  #32  
Old 12-25-2015, 12:10 PM
Me_Billy Me_Billy is online now
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Phantom voltage when using a digital multimeter...
http://support.fluke.com/find-sales/...105317_A_w.pdf

Analog meters do not do this...
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_no...log+Multimeter
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  #33  
Old 12-25-2015, 12:48 PM
cornflakes cornflakes is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Me_Billy View Post
Phantom voltage when using a digital multimeter...
http://support.fluke.com/find-sales/...105317_A_w.pdf

Analog meters do not do this...
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_no...log+Multimeter
(Pssttt - post #11 from 2008, though it's probably capacitance, not inductance.)

Last edited by cornflakes; 12-25-2015 at 12:49 PM..
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  #34  
Old 12-25-2015, 02:45 PM
Crafter_Man Crafter_Man is offline
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Originally Posted by Me_Billy View Post
Phantom voltage when using a digital multimeter...
http://support.fluke.com/find-sales/...105317_A_w.pdf

Analog meters do not do this...
http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_no...log+Multimeter
A "phantom voltage" is very real. What it really means is that the voltage source is modeled as an ideal AC voltage source (120 VACRMS in the U.S.) in series with a high impedance, and you're measuring the voltage with a meter that has high input impedance.

To explain further, let's say you wire a switch in series with a receptacle. When the switch is on, there will be 120 VACRMS at the receptacle. But what is the voltage at the receptacle when the switch is off? You might think it's 0 V. But in reality the voltage at the outlet (with the switch off) must be modeled as an ideal AC voltage source in series with a high but non-infinite impedance. Where does this impedance come from? Some of it comes from the switch; when the switch is off, there is still a finite resistance and non-zero capacitance between the terminals. Some of the impedance may also come from capacitive coupling in the wiring.

At any rate, when you measure the voltage at the receptacle with the switch off, your meter is really measuring the voltage of a voltage divider. Using this diagram,

Vin = 120 VAC
Vout = voltage reported by your meter
Z1 = impedance of the switch when it is off
Z2 = input impedance of your meter when measuring AC

Let's say the switch has an impedance of 100 MΩ when it's off.

If you use an ideal voltmeter, i.e. one that has infinite input impedance, then the meter will report 120 VAC at the receptacle.

If you use an old Simpson 260 meter, it will have an input impedance of around 1.25 MΩ, and the meter will report 1.5 VAC.

If you use a modern DVM (e.g. Fluke 87), it will have an input impedance of around 10 MΩ, and the meter will report 11 VAC.

(Note that I would expect a good switch to have a much higher resistance than 100 MΩ when it's off.)

Now if you measure 42 VAC at the receptacle with the switch off using a Fluke 87 DVM, this implied the resistance of the switch is 18.6 MΩ. Why would the switch have a resistance of 18.6 MΩ when it's off? A few possibilities come to mind:

- The inside surfaces of the switch are contaminated with something semi-conductive (carbon?).
- It's a illuminated switch.
- The switch has an RC snubber circuit across the contacts to help reduce arcing.
- Outside surface of switch is very dirty.
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  #35  
Old 12-26-2015, 08:21 AM
rbroome rbroome is offline
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Originally Posted by Sparky812 View Post
Can I suggest that anyone with older homes (or even new) pick one of these up next time you are at the hardware store! I've used to countless times at work and home and it may help you here.

http://www.homedepot.com/webapp/wcs/...ctId=100062242

I also alway have one of these in my pocket :

http://global.flukebiomedical.com/us...(FlukeProducts)
I just saw the date-a zombie thread. Oops.

Last edited by rbroome; 12-26-2015 at 08:22 AM..
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  #36  
Old 03-05-2016, 07:22 PM
engineer some engineer some is offline
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40 Volts between hot and neutral on 120V circuit when switch is off

I found that I had about 40 +/-Volts between neutral and hot when I had the switch turned off. I checked everything and finally resorted to looking on the internet and found these posts. I read several posts and was surprise to see that someone suggested that using a digital volt meter may give an incorrect reading showing a voltage where none existed. So, I tried two other volt meters, and the other two meters that I used showed no voltage where the first one I used showed 40 volts!!!! Boy was I surprised. My 30 year old analog meter showed no voltage and my free harbor freight one also showed no voltage, while my $40 home depot digital one was the one that showed 40 Volts. So, be cautious when using a newer digital volt meter.
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  #37  
Old 03-05-2016, 07:47 PM
Joey P Joey P is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by engineer some View Post
I found that I had about 40 +/-Volts between neutral and hot when I had the switch turned off. I checked everything and finally resorted to looking on the internet and found these posts. I read several posts and was surprise to see that someone suggested that using a digital volt meter may give an incorrect reading showing a voltage where none existed. So, I tried two other volt meters, and the other two meters that I used showed no voltage where the first one I used showed 40 volts!!!! Boy was I surprised. My 30 year old analog meter showed no voltage and my free harbor freight one also showed no voltage, while my $40 home depot digital one was the one that showed 40 Volts. So, be cautious when using a newer digital volt meter.
Or be careful when using a cheap DMM. Also, make sure it isn't swinging between V and mV. 40 millivolts is nothing but when you're trying to check voltages and you don't realize that the units changed on their own from v to mv because it's dark and the letters are so tiny, it can make things difficult. I usually lock mine to V. I had an old one that would do this and I threw it out because of that, it made it more or less useless. It was like trying to get a reading from an analog meter with someone shaking it for the first few seconds.

At that point, it's easier to just use my cheap neon tester when I just need to know if something is hot or not.
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  #38  
Old 03-06-2016, 09:03 AM
Crafter_Man Crafter_Man is offline
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Originally Posted by engineer some View Post
I found that I had about 40 +/-Volts between neutral and hot when I had the switch turned off. I checked everything and finally resorted to looking on the internet and found these posts. I read several posts and was surprise to see that someone suggested that using a digital volt meter may give an incorrect reading showing a voltage where none existed. So, I tried two other volt meters, and the other two meters that I used showed no voltage where the first one I used showed 40 volts!!!! Boy was I surprised. My 30 year old analog meter showed no voltage and my free harbor freight one also showed no voltage, while my $40 home depot digital one was the one that showed 40 Volts. So, be cautious when using a newer digital volt meter.
Each meter is reporting the correct voltage from the meter's perspective. (See post #34 for more info.) Though the reading from the $40 meter is more useful.

If the $40 meter has an input impedance of 10 MΩ, then it means the switch has an impedance of 20 MΩ when it is "off". When the switch is off, the max current is 6 mA, and this occurs when the hot and neutral are shorted together. If the hot and neutral are connected to anything other than a short circuit, the current will be less than 6 mA.
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  #39  
Old 03-06-2016, 10:03 AM
watchwolf49 watchwolf49 is online now
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Originally Posted by Una Persson View Post
No, I ended up just replacing everything.
Yup ... sounds like you were a bit overdue for this.
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