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Thread: AFCI Circuit fails to energize

  1. #1
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    Nov 2014
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    Question AFCI Circuit fails to energize

    Head scratcher...

    I have had a 20-amp AFCI breaker serviced line working fine but, after making a slight modification to the fixtures on the line, the remaining fixtures no longer work. All my other circuits, AFCI and otherwise work fine...

    A little more detail: the circuit feeds several overhead lights in the master bath area, including a ventilation fan. In the electrical box servicing the ventilation fan and a couple over head lights, I had a pigtailed the "always on" line dropping down to an outlet receptacle. Okay, I'm near certain this in not acceptable* so, at least pending my final inspection by the code official, I resolved to pull the receptacle fixture, properly cap the wire and cover with a blank. Didn't think this should be a problem....

    After pulling the receptacle and flipping the 20-amp AFCI breaker back on and coming back upstairs into the bedroom I was surprised to see that none of the lights were working. When I flipped the breaker back on, the breaker did not "trip." I flipped the breaker on/off and repeated several times hoping that there was a problem with the switch - no such luck. I turned the breaker on and confirmed with my meter by touching the hot (black) screw and the neutral bar in the breaker panel. I am reading 125-V. I flip the breaker off and read zero. So it looks like I am sending adequate energy out of my panel and the AFCI breaker is not tripping either - so there is apparently no short along the line. Nevertheless, none of the lights are turning on. By the way, all the lights, including those built into the ventilation fan are LED lights - so not much draw on this 20-Amp circuit.

    Just to be clear, this receptacle was only fed by one 2-wire plus ground at a terminal end of its respective branch and worked fine before I removed it.

    I would appreciate any advice on solving this issue. In the meantime I intend to systematically open junction boxes along the line and check for voltage...

    Thanks, Eric (aka Logcabin1)

    P.S. * The lay out of the master bedroom/bathroom is unusual in that there is a large open arch 8ft x 10ft between the sleeping area and the garden tub area. I other words there is no clear separate "bathroom" leading the code official to tell me his interpretation of how the code should apply is distance between a receptacle and a water fixture. The vanity area does have a pair of receptacles on a dedicated 20-A GFCI circuit. Having said that, this receptacle location is within 6 feet of the water closet.

  2. #2
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    Problem still not solved.

    I checked the first junction box down current from the breaker panel and found no juice. So, it seems the problem must be between that junction box and the circuit breaker. I realized that with the breaker in place I was only checking whether current was flowing through the breaker to the screw on the business side of the breaker because the wire itself is not exposed in these AFCI breakers. Thinking I may have a bad connection between the breaker and the wire I started wiggling the wire back and forth and it did pull loose from the screw. I shut down the panel and pulled the breaker out, re-inserted the wire and tightened properly. Still bad news...lights did not go on.

    I plan on getting a new breaker and switching it out within the next couple days. Still hoping someone recognizes the symptoms and can feed me ideas to run down. Eric

  3. #3
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    First thing, AFCI breakers have their own hot and neutral terminals. To really know you have 120V coming from that breaker, you need to measure between the breaker neutral output screw and the breaker hot output screw. Measuring to the neutral bar could be misleading (that white pigtail coming from the AFCI may not be making good contact).

    I don't know why you think this outlet location is not legal. I don't know of a distance limitation for receptacles from sinks, toilets, or tubs. They would need to be GFCI's if too close though.

    Also, does the TEST button on the AFCI work?
    Mark
    Kent, WA

  4. #4
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    Suemarkp,

    Thank you for responding.

    I'm still developing a full understanding of the AFCI concept so I really appreciate your input and will put my full attention on each contact point from the AFCI.

    Yes, the TEST button on the AFCI does work. if I push the button, the breaker trips.

    Regarding that receptacle near the water closet, I'm just not 100% sure because the electric box is not serviced by the "dedicated GFCI circuit" that is currently limited to the two outlets at the sink/dressing table counter. I know I would be okay if I ran the feed wire to add a third outlet on that dedicated bathroom receptacle circuit (would require bringing wire down one wall, beneath the room and up an opposite wall). For my convenience, I pigtailed the energy out of the master bath area overhead lighting/vent circuit. All my circuits are 20 amp and very lightly loaded. Would that receptacle be perfectly code compliant if I simply used a GFCI fixture at the location? Again, it is a the terminal end of a branch (nothing downstream).
    Last edited by Logcabin1; 04-04-2017 at 07:25 PM. Reason: typo

  5. #5
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    Yes. When you have an AFCI breaker, the only way to get GFCI function is to either use a receptacle type GFCI or use a combination AFCI/GFCI breaker. Since there are lights and other things on this, I wouldn't want the whole circuit to be GFCI. If the location of that receptacle meets one of the criteria for GFCI protection, then just change it to a GFCI type and you'll be fine.

    The bathroom requirement does not require that all outlets be on a 20A circuit or be dedicated to a bathroom (unlike kitchens). You just need to have at least one receptacle on a 20A circuit in the bathroom. If that circuit only powers that bathroom, it may also power lights in that bathroom. If it covers other bathroom receptacles, then it may only have receptacles on it. Once you meet that rule, you can have as many additional bathroom circuits as you want that also have lights or other rooms on them.

    Residential GFCI requirements that seem to apply to this are:
    • All receptacle in a bathroom (how bathroom is defined can be tricky and varies by jurisdiction).
    • Any receptacle within 6' of a sink.
    • Any receptacle within 6' of the outer edge of a bathtub or shower stall.
    Mark
    Kent, WA

  6. #6
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    Sad night for me as Mr. Can't-Fix-it.

    New AFCIs arrived via amazon today. After first systematically testing voltage between the hot screw and the neutral screw (125V), hot and neutral pigtail (125V) and pulling the hot wire and white wire just to re-affix to confirm good contact once again I moved on to switching out the AFCI in the panel with a new one. BTW, even though I'm reading 125V indicating that my circuit should be energized, I'm not getting the lights to turn on. Once I replaced the AFCI I repeated all the same tests with the same results. The test switch continues to work and the circuit is not tripped when I turn it on. I'm beside myself.

    I'm not sure if it is possible that there is a problem somewhere downstream on the circuit so I asked my wife to keep an eye on the lights while I went to the basement, called her on my cell so we could communicate in real time, and pulled the black (hot) and white (neutral) - temporarily leaving the pigtail attached to the neutral bar and....then by hand, touched the black wire to the hot lug coming into the sub-panel and the white to the neutral bar, thinking that this would, for a moment, bypass the "breaker" and energize the circuit. To my dismay, Linda said the lights did not turn on....urgh!

    I'm at wits end and pretty sure that somehow this is a problem of my own making... not sure how, but based on past experience this is probably my fault.

    BTW Suemark, I did install a receptacle fixture with a GFCI outlet and will see what the inspector says.

    Did I mention the Inspector?? I'm a little more stressed than normal because last Monday I received a postcard from the Inspector telling me I must have an inspection within 30 days or my permit will be terminated...so crazy that I'm stressing, I may be slow but the result has been super cool stuff. Worse comes to worst, I will break down and hire a pro electrician to figure out how to fix it.

    Any ideas? Eric (aka Logcabin1)

  7. #7
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    Sounds like either you're on the wrong circuit, or there is some tripped GFCI on this circuit segment, or there is a break in the circuit. Either the hot or neutral could be disconnected (or worse, both). You can narrow that down if you have a 120V test light and a long wire. Connect the light to the hot and the bare ground and see if it lights. If it does, the neutral may be disconnected. If it doesn't light, connect the light to a hot of another circuit and to the neutral of this one. If it lights, then the hot in your original circuit is dead. Note that you don't want to do these tests on a GFCI or AFCI circuit -- using a power from a source outside of the protected loop will cause it to trip. You may need to put a non-AFCI breaker back in this circuit to do this. However, tripping an AFCI or GFCI could provide a clue as to what the power source really is. Also, you could use a volt meter for this testing, but digital meters tend to read "phantom voltage" on disconnected wires. Putting a small load on the circuit (e.g. an incandescent christmas light) will keep that from happening and drag the voltage to zero if there really isn't much voltage available.

    If both wires are dead, you need a cable tester that uses its own signal source (i.e. one used for testing phone and CATV wires). These testers aren't the greatest (at least the $35 ones), but they should allow you to follow the cable in the wall (get away from it more than 6" and it will lose the signal which can make it tough when it transitions into a joist space). This will tell you what boxes it goes to and where the disconnect may have happened.
    Last edited by suemarkp; 04-01-2017 at 09:04 PM.
    Mark
    Kent, WA

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by suemarkp View Post
    Sounds like either you're on the wrong circuit, or there is some tripped GFCI on this circuit segment, or there is a break in the circuit.
    Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! You nailed it Suemark!

    I borrowed a Greenlee Voltage Detector from a friend. Luckily a large percentage of the run is exposed in the crawl space. With the breaker on I traced the cable testing it every few feet until, to my surprise, the wire went into a wall that I wasn't expecting it to enter. The cable was energized entering the wall and dead as it returned out the base of the wall....I had forgotten that the first device on this particular circuit was a GFCI receptacle on an exterior wall! I've misplaced my circuit map binder and paid the price....All along the problem was just as SueMark suggested, a GFCI with a tripped breaker. I reset the receptacle and all is well with the world again!

    Thank you for helping me to figure this out. Eric (aka Logcabin1)

  9. #9
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    I would rewire that GFCI outlet so that the downstream cable is not GFCI protected (put all the wires on the LINE side and none on the LOAD side). This will give you a GFCI outside where it is required, but prevent a trip in that GFCI from killing the rest of the circuit.
    Mark
    Kent, WA

  10. #10
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    Ahhh. You are very good. I had just come to the conclusion that there is no reason to replace the receptacle near the water closet with a GFCI device because it is already protected by the outside GFCI outlet on the upstream side of the circuit. Your suggestion is far superior.

    I will rewire so only that exterior device is GFCI protected, not the downstream devices (master bath lights plus the one terminal receptacle). I imagine the best way to accomplish this is to remove the wires from the LOAD and LINE terminals and energize just the LINE terminals on the the exterior GFCI with a pigtail.

    Then, that GFCI receptacle near the water closet will be protected as well.

    Thank you for your time and expertise.

    Eric (aka Logcabin1)
    Last edited by Logcabin1; 04-04-2017 at 09:48 PM.

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