Electrical outlet failure

I have an outdoor outlet, two three prong plugs, installed by an electrician. Both plugs stopped working, and I think that the outlet itself, being exposed to the elements is probably bad. Unfortunately, no circuit breaker is thrown, and I have no idea what circuit the electrician attached this to. After I get the cover off, assuming the wires have power, what is the safest way of shorting the thing out so that I can trip the unknown breaker and work on the problem safely?

The very safest thing to do is just to throw the main breaker while you work on it. Yeah, you’ll have to reset all your clocks, but it beats risking getting hurt.

If you really don’t want to do that, go to Radio Shack or an electrical supply store and purchase a non-contact voltage sensor. Have someone flip breakers one by one while you hold the sensor near the outlet. When the light on the sensor goes out, shout at them to stop.

The fellows at work trip breakers by inserting the stripped ends of a number 12 or larger wire into the socket. There may be a flash before the breaker trips, BUT, if the outlet is bad, contact may not be made so the wire creates a short. You may think the breaker has tripped, but it might not have done so.

I’d suggest buying a breaker finder. This consists if a transmitter that plugs into the outlet and a receiver that you pass over the breaker panel. The transmitter will indicate which breaker is connected to the circuit in question. BUT again, if the outlet is bad this might not work.

You could disconnect the outlet while the wires are live and connect the breaker finder directly to the wires with a socket adaptor. It’s a little risky, but not bad if you’re careful.

QEDs method is safer. but you will probably have to reset the clocks, and TV, and microwave, and answering machine, and…

An outdoor outlet should include a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). If yours does and this was tripped, it could explain the symptoms you report. If this is the problem, the solution should be simple - press the “popped out” GFCI button.

Nah, checked the circuit breakers twice. And while an certified electrician did the initial work, he did not put it on a GFI circuit, as best as I can tell. It was put in while he installed a hot tub, which does have a GFI circuit. The two plug outlet is not on the same circuit, and I assume he just tapped into a preexisting line, but which one I do not know.

Just to make sure you are aware, the GCFI outlet can be anywhere on the circuit. Just because you don’t have a GCFI breaker in the box and the specific dead outlet doesn’t have GCFI outlet, doesn’t mean you dont have a tripped breaker.

I learned this the hard way. I bought a house and couldn’t get and of the half dozen outlets on the deck and porch to work. I was on virge of starting to pull out wiring when I found a hidden outlet with a GFCI outlet. It was tripped and controlled all the others.

I’d take this opportunity to do things right and label your breaker box. You’ll still have to reset the clocks, but with the addition of some masking tape and a marker, you can prevent such mind bogglers from cropping up in the future. :slight_smile:

You could call your electric company & ask them to come look at it. This they should do, ours does & for free. They even come & light pilot lights for us for free. Esp when “no circuit breaker is thrown”

Why would the electric company light pilot lights? And what sort of pilot lights do you have that are controlled by circuit breakers?

Most electric companies will tell you to hire an electrician. If they do send somebody out and determine that the problem occurs after the service entrance (which it most certainly does in this case), they will charge you for the visit. There may be some that don’t, but very few.

If you hired the electrician who installed the circuit, call him and ask him to come out and fix it. An exterior outlet be GFCI-protected (GFCI circuit breaker, GFCI outlet, or downstream from a GFCI outlet) to meet code requirements. If it isn’t GFCI protected, demand that he correct it free of charge. If it is GFCI protected, he should be able to tell you where the GFCI is so you can reset it. He’ll probably charge you $150 for pressing the reset button, but at least you’ll know what to do next time.

Handy prpbably has Pacific Gas & Electric which does both things.

Handy probably has Pacific Gas & Electric which does both things.

A winner!
robcaro is correct!

Been there, done that!

dauerbach, Are you sure that the outlet is not wired through your spa disconnect? Many spa disconnects also have a 120 GFCI breaker included to allow for lights, etc. Open the hinged cover of your disconnect box (if your spa was installed to code, you will have a seperate disconnect) and check to see whether there is such a breaker. In your second post you mention that you assume it was a seperate circuit, wouldn’t hurt to check.

Damn octothorpe, no I am not at all certain that the outlet is not wired through the spa disconnect, which I assume is the grey metal box containing a pull-out copper plate. I never thought of looking in there, and tho I have opened the box, I didn’t pay that much attention to it. I had a hard time tracking down the number of the electrician who installed everything, but finally left him a message on Thursday, he has not yet called back.

The electrician in charge when we built the house was amazing and compulsive. The neatness of our utility closet, and the careful labeling of all the breaker, and all 17 cable runs is fantastic. The wiring I speak of was added afterwards, by someone else.

I will check when I get home from work first thing in the morning.