What did I do wrong?

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by alt, Mar 6, 2008.

  1. alt

    alt New Member

    Messages:
    17
    Location:
    Utah
    My spouse and I are in the process of fixing up our 1952 ranch home, and we've encountered an electrical problem (that we probably caused :)

    We replaced the old exterior lights on both the front and back porch with new motion-sensor fixtures. We turned off the power at the correct breaker, and replaced the back porch fixture first. When we turned the power back on, it worked beautifully. So we flipped off the breaker again (they are connected to the same one) we proceeded with the front porch fixture. After it was finished, we once again turned on the breaker, only this time it did not work. Not only that, but ALL the light fixtures that are tied in to this breaker were not working (there are 4... front and back porch, plus hall and stairway light inside).

    We thought perhaps we had wired the front porch fixture incorrectly, so we undid everything, flipped the breaker off and back on again, and still none of the lights will work.

    If you haven't guessed, we are complete novices and don't know much about electrical work. But we did everything according to instructions, so we're a bit flummoxed. Any help you can provide is greatly appreciated.
  2. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,892
    Location:
    New England
    Are the lights on a 3-way circuit (can you turn them on or off from more than one location)? That type of light requires hot, neutral, and ground to be 'fixed' in location (on many of them anyways). When on a 3-way circuit, the hot and neutral can switch if I've got that right. You might get it to work if you flip one switch, then use the other one.
  3. alt

    alt New Member

    Messages:
    17
    Location:
    Utah
    Hi Jim, thanks for the reply.

    No, all of the lights tied to that circuit are operated by a single switch.
  4. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

    Messages:
    2,531
    Location:
    North Carolina
    In the outside light fixture box how many wires of each color are present?
  5. alt

    alt New Member

    Messages:
    17
    Location:
    Utah
    One black and one white.
  6. Bill Arden

    Bill Arden Computer Programmer

    Messages:
    584
    Location:
    MN, USA
    Some of the motion sensor lights have a "feature" where you can toggle the switch and lock them in a on or off position.

    My lights have a problem where they get stuck and I have to leave the switch off for 10 minutes to reset them.

    Edit: also wait for night since some of these lights have daylight sensors.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2008
  7. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,892
    Location:
    New England
    I have one that allows you to lock it on by flipping the switch from off to on twice within the first three seconds...read the operator manual to see if any of the modes might sync and make some sense.

    You really need a multimeter. You can often pick up an inexpensive one for less than $20 if you look around. They're often on sale for even less. An inductive test light can tell you if power is being applied, but may not be enough. Those are even less expensive.
  8. PEW

    PEW DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    487
    Could even be that the breaker went bad. Did the front light have more than one white and one black?
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2008
  9. alt

    alt New Member

    Messages:
    17
    Location:
    Utah
    Yes, I don't think it is the new fixture itself, because now none of the lights on that circuit will work, even with the new fixture removed.

    PEW, how can I tell if the breaker went bad?
    I'm pretty sure there is just one white and one black, but I will double-check when I get home tonight.

    I will look into getting a multimeter. Sounds like a useful thing to have around at any rate.
  10. mikept

    mikept DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    152
    Location:
    CT
    are all the bulbs still good?
  11. alt

    alt New Member

    Messages:
    17
    Location:
    Utah
    Unless something happened to all three of the other light fixtures at the same time to blow out the bulbs (which are new), then they should be fine. I'll check them as well when I get home this evening.
    Last edited: Mar 7, 2008
  12. Alectrician

    Alectrician DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    689
    Turn the breaker off and on a couple times. Make sure it "feels right". Old breakers can kind of get stuck. Sometimes they don't want to come back on.
  13. alt

    alt New Member

    Messages:
    17
    Location:
    Utah
    Hm. The breaker seems to be working smoothly.

    We're stumped. I guess it's time to call in a pro.
  14. PEW

    PEW DIY Senior Member

    Messages:
    487
    Just because it "feels" good, does not mean it is good. If you are not comfortable using some kind of volt meter, or other tester, your best bet is an electrician. Let us know the outcome.
  15. alt

    alt New Member

    Messages:
    17
    Location:
    Utah
    Thanks, I will. Any recommendations for an electrician in Salt Lake City, UT?
  16. Mikey

    Mikey Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek

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    Location:
    Central Florida
    Aw, come on. Spring for a $10 meter and at least check to see if the breaker is bad. Only problem might be that the test is best performed at the breaker, which means you've got to remove the panel cover and thus expose yourself and your loved ones to a bunch of 1952 wires carrying lethal currents and maybe electrocute yourself. And if the breaker IS bad, you'd have to replace it, which is even trickier. Maybe calling a pro isn't such a bad idea after all.
  17. jadnashua

    jadnashua Retired Defense Industry Engineer xxx

    Messages:
    21,892
    Location:
    New England
    Every homeowner that isn't a total clutz should own a multimeter. If, for nothing else, to see if a battery is any good. A poor substitute is an inductive voltage detecter or a test light.

    Yes, you can hurt yourself, but as long as you don't short the probe tip to something, or touch exposed metal parts of the probe while it's connected to something, it's pretty safe. The things come with some instructions...practice on a battery. Don't use ohms when power is applied, and unless it is autoranging, set the range to something above what you expect to read. Most of the newer meters aren't damaged unless you exceed the maximum it can handle...it will just say overload or something like that if it is on the wrong range (most these days are autoranging). Sears has one on sale this week that includes an inductive voltage probe - you just get it near the thing, and if there is power, it lights up.
  18. Mikey

    Mikey Aspiring Old Fart, EE, computer & networking geek

    Messages:
    2,714
    Location:
    Central Florida
    Keeping in mind, of course, that the meter alone won't tell you much, unless the battery is under load when being tested.
  19. alt

    alt New Member

    Messages:
    17
    Location:
    Utah
    Thanks everyone. We've found out that one of our new neighbors is a licensed electrician, and he is going to come and take a look for us.

    We will definitely be buying a multimeter to have on hand, but I'm happy to have him help out with this one.
  20. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

    Messages:
    2,531
    Location:
    North Carolina
    If you do buy an electrical testing meter be sure that you also get the proper personal protection equipment to go with it incase something goes wrong when you are testing the electrical equipment!
    click here
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