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Circuit tester, open hot, now what?

smith2423's picture


Just got into a rental house and one outlet didn't work, so I used my handy dandy circuit tester and none of the lights came on (supposedly that means "open hot." )

(The circuit tester does work, it shows normal on other outlets.)

Now what? I am a renter, so all I really care about is safety, fire, etc...I do not want to spend $ just to make this outlet work, if it is nonfunctional but not a fire hazard, I'm happy to leave it alone. If it is a potential hazard I can bug the owners to have it looked at by an electrician. (I want to know whether it is worth doing that, not interested in the vague thought of "just to be safe, have it looked at" -- before calling someone in, I want to know, what are the possible reasons for this test outcome? )

I did turn off the main power and took it apart, looks like it's hooked up right to me, black and white wires going to the right places, and a copper (ground) going to the side screw.


(post #109637, reply #1 of 9)

I suppose it wouldn't be a switched outlet?


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(post #109637, reply #2 of 9)

switched outlet... good question, but no, I turned on and off the nearby wall switches with no change.

(post #109637, reply #3 of 9)

Since you know how to shut off the power, and know what wires go where, change the receptacle...chances are the receptacle itself is broken. After changing out the receptacle, plug your tester in and read what it says.  If it's still not reading right, you then know for certain you have a wiring problem for sure. Then it's time to notify your landlord and have an electrician look it over.

If you don't feel comfortable changing out the outlet, then simply notify your landlord.


(post #109637, reply #4 of 9)

First make double sure that this is not a switched receptacle. While your at it sniff and inspect the receptacle for damage and heating. Once your sure the problem is not in the receptacle or its box then:

1) Grab a radio that uses house current. Avoid older radios that use tubes.
2) Plug it into a receptacle that is working and tune in a strong station.
3) Plug the tuned radio into the receptacle that is not working.
4) Moving around to all devices, receptacles and switches, within 20 or 30" of the bad receptacle and give each device a wrap or two with the handle of a screwdriver. Listen for the radio to make noise. When it does you will know which box the problem is in.
5) If nothing triggers a noise grab your tester and repeat the process by inserting the tester and wiggling it around gently but firmly. It's likely that you will get a response from one of the boxes.
6) If none of this works go around and sniff each box. An acrid smell will tell you the location of the problem.

Sometimes, lots of times, this works. The sniffing and tapping can add to the mystique of an electrician. It looks like magic but is based on sound principles.

If none of this works identify what breaker the surrounding receptacles is on and while staying on the same circuit work outward from the bad receptacle. Look closely at the connections. Use all your senses. Be systematic, methodical, patient and most of all safe. Good luck.

(post #109637, reply #5 of 9)

How about taking the cover plate off, and using a tester to see if you have power at the screws on the side of the receptacle?

Give a man free hands, and you'll know where to find them. [Mae West]

(post #109637, reply #6 of 9)

First thing I would do is call up the landlord and ask him whats up with this.

I would bet the problem is the first connection upstream, wherever its fed from.I would pull the nearst likely outlets--the ones to the left and right and check these connections. Use a continuity tester with the circuit off to check the likely culprits.Don't forget the outlets on the other side of the wall.

Once you figure out where the line comes from, trace back the connections.

The ones I find go wrong the most are the ones that are inserted right into the back of the outlet, rather than wrapped around a sidescrew--these are the ones that usually go bad, often because the wire is in the wrong hole. Another thing is when people put pliers on the wires and twist the hell out of connections sometimes they break under the wire nut but you can't tell by looking at it--if all the connections are twisted like this, this may be the culprit--this is often the meaning of a low voltage reading to ground

Just a guess: make sure its not on a GFCI. I recently had a trouble shoot job where, in an illegal, pogued in 2d unit, some of the outlets went off erraticlly. When I traced it down, I found out that part of the ct was governed by a GFI in the bathroom of the first unit. I discovered this by just walking around checking stuff with the littl 3 prong ct tester.  I might say the owner had enother "electrician" out here for 3 hours who said he'd fixed it but hahahaha obviously did not have a CLUE! .I made the connection straight  through and went home with $125 for 20 min work.



Edited 9/11/2002 10:52:52 AM ET by EXLRRP

Edited 9/11/2002 10:59:01 AM ET by EXLRRP

Edited 9/11/2002 11:10:56 AM ET by EXLRRP

(post #109637, reply #7 of 9)

More outlet stuff

When people strip wires for connections, they often use the smallest hole on the stripper--what this does is nick the wire, substantially and when the wire is bent there (like when its crammed into the box REAL tight) it breaks. when  I see low voltage or no voltage to ground but everything LOOKS right and the wires have been plier twisted, I can almost count on this being the problem.This is also the cause when wires go directly into the back of the outlets, then are bent.

I have'nt done a scientific survey on this, this is just my own experience.

Also , call the landlord about this--I'm a landlord and I don't want people doing stuff to my houses I don't know about, esp electrical. I would fix this right away but I'm aware other landlords aren't like this so much


Edited 9/11/2002 11:29:06 AM ET by EXLRRP

Open hot circuit tester (post #109637, reply #8 of 9)

Hi my socket didn't work so I go out my circuit tester it read open hot but the tester shows correct when have way in but when I push it all the way in it shows open hot why is this ?

Sounds like one of the little (post #109637, reply #9 of 9)

Sounds like one of the little spring strips in the outlet is broken or bent.

Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed.  --Herman Melville