bathroom heater/light power loss

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by Master Brian, May 24, 2010.

  1. Master Brian

    Master Brian DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    368
    Location:
    Kansas
    I doubt this can be answered with the limited information I have been able to find out so far, but I'll give it a go. Maybe something will

    My parents have a 3 story house built in 1915. A 2nd floor bathroom has an older heater/light in the ceiling. On the light circuit of this is also a vanity light above the sink. On the wall is double switch. About 1 foot away is a GFI, in an adjoining closet is a light and receptacle as well as a light and receptacle in the attic above.

    My dad had a vacuum plugged into the receptacle in the closet and lost power. At this point, the heater still has power, but nothing else. I figured maybe a GFI tripped, but there isn't any power going to it.

    I opened up the heater/light unit and there is a black ROMEX® 12/3 w/ground coming in. The black wire goes to the heater and it gets power. The red goes to the light and it doesn't. I don't see any other wires coming or going to this unit. That would somewhat tell me that this is fed via a switch. Correct??

    The strange part is I tried tracking this wire down to the basement and found a black ROMEX® 12/3 wire that had no power with breaker off, but it does get power when turned on. I tracked it back to the breaker box and of course the black wire is connected to a 20amp circuit, but the red is capped off. So logic would tell me this wire makes a stop somewhere else before going to the heater/light.

    The crazy part is I can not find another 12/3 black encased ROMEX® wire going into any other junction box. Everything I open up has 12/2 white wire.

    The double switch has power going to the hot leg of the heater switch, but the tab between the two switches appears to have been broken off and there is no power going to the light side. There is a fair amount of knob and tube wire in the house, but so far I haven't "seen" any on this circuit.

    Any ideas?? We are trying to find an electrician, but at the same time trying to figure this out to be on the safe side in the interim. It just makes no sense to me that a black ROMEX® 12/3 wire would come from the breaker box and a black ROMEX® 12/3 would go into the light/heater unit, but no where else....

    Thanks for anything??
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 7, 2011
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,316
    Location:
    New England
    If the light and heater are both switched, they could very well have used the black wire for one, and the red wire for the other, so there'd only be one leg that needed the 12-3. If the overhead light and the ones over the vanity are both switched at the same time, the 12-3 may run from there, look in that electrical box.
  3. Master Brian

    Master Brian DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    368
    Location:
    Kansas
    Both heater and light are switched indepently. The overhead light and vanity both come on via the same switch. I checked in the vanity light and no 12/3 either. After I came home and typed this I realized that I don't think I actually opened the box up in the closet that has a light switch and receptacle, so and had him check that. He said there is a red wire in there, so I'll go check to see if that is correct later this evening. I had stuck one of those cicuit testers that beeps when power is present in there the other day and it didn't make a beep, but I don't think I actually opened the box. I know those things can lie, but I was just doing a quick search.
  4. Master Brian

    Master Brian DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    368
    Location:
    Kansas
    Ok, just got back from my parents. Turns out there are two seperate circuits feeding this. I was messing with one of the switches when I realized the GFI had become energized at some point. Luckily, I am pretty careful about touching contacts even when I know there shouldn't be power, so I didn't get any shocks.

    Still haven't found the problem, but we are getting closer. Like I mentioned he said he plugged something in and the circuit went dead. No breaker tripped, and with it suddenly back on, I am leaning towards a loose connection somewhere. Tomorrow I am checking a few receptacles and if that doesn't show anything, it's time for an electrician... Hope we can find someone good in our area. I think the problem area is in the attic area above the bathroom or possibly a receptacle in the 3rd floor right off the attic, just no time tonight to check those. In the meantime, I told him to flip the breaker off and install a smoke alarm up in that attic!!!
  5. Terry Ray

    Terry Ray Electrician

    Messages:
    4
    Location:
    Washington State
    Brian,

    I would start with the outlet that the vacuum was pluged into.
    sometimes a big load like a vacuum cleaner can cause the connections (especially the older stab in type) to fail.
    This would explain why the circuit stopped working and mysteriously re-energized.
    A loose connection at that convienence outlet will cause heat and eventually burn up
  6. Master Brian

    Master Brian DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    368
    Location:
    Kansas
    I didn't have a volt meter with me, just a pen tester, but I never found any current at that receptacle. I also believe all connections were made via wrapping them around the screw, not stabbed in.

    My best guess is the receptacle on the 3rd floor just off the attic. It's an old two blade receptacle and we moved the wire feeding it. My plan tomorrow is to open it up, disconnect the feeds and see if the same items are without power!
  7. Master Brian

    Master Brian DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    368
    Location:
    Kansas
    Well, I finally made it back over there today. I opened up several wall outlets on the 3rd floor, which are on this circuit. I noticed, most of them were connected using the push in connections, vs the screw terminals. I also noticed most of the push in connections felt as if there was play in the connection. I basically worked my way down the wall unhooking the receptacles until I found the one that appeared to be the last working point prior to loosing power. That receptacle had the line feed in a push in connection, a feed in a push in connection and a feed in a screw in terminal.

    Is it likely that one of these push in connections could have caused the power downstream to go off? My dad tells me all he did was plug something into the convenience outlet in his closet and the bath lights, closet lights and several outlets lost power, but not everything on the circuit and the breaker didn't trip. I realize it is possible, but what concerns me is that I never messed with that receptacle prior to gaining power to the entire circuit again. I did redo a neutral wire in a vanity light fixture that had some copper exposed, but that fixture showed no voltage with the breaker on, so that tells me the problem was further upstream. The only other thing I messed with was a junction box, which supplied power to the heater, which is on a separate circuit, as well as a pigtail from the light side of the heater/light unit that supplied the light with power. Again, no voltage appeared in that box, so again, it tells me problem was further upstream.

    I did go in and replace 4 of the receptacles that I found used the push in type of connection with new receptacles, just because I figured if in there, might as well update, and went only with the screw type of connection. I am curious what others would do, would they feel confident the problem is gone or keep searching for a problem area? All the wire I see is ROMEX®, probably from the 70's-80's. Should I replace the circuit breaker that didn't trip??

    Thanks again and I hope all of this makes sense...
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 7, 2011
  8. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    22,316
    Location:
    New England
    A CB only trips if there's an overload...if you have an open (loose) connection, there's no overload. This sort of problem is one reason the code was updated to require arc fault detectors for (at least) bedrooms (and other areas may be included, depending on the code in force). If there was a loose connection, the arc fault detector (breaker) would sense it and trip. A normal once, even a GFCI, wouldn't care. If things are now stable, you've probably found the problem by replacing the receptacles.
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