CommunityHow to Troubleshoot an Electrical Problem

How to Troubleshoot an Electrical Problem

Problem: A few weeks ago, my hot water ran out, upon investigation, I figured out the outlet the hot water heater is plugged to stopped working. To remedy the situation, I plugged an extension cord to the hot water heater and a working outlet in the basement just to get it working. But I wasn't able to fix it.

Background info: the house is only about 4-5 years old. I haven't made any repairs or anything that would make cause an outage. I looked for GFI's that may cause this but didn't find any, I doubt the outlet for the hot water heater would be on it anyway. The other electrical items I noticed that doesn't work is a humidifier that's plugged into an outlet 10 feet from this hot water heater outlet, and some lights and outlets on the first floor that is directly above there the hot water heater is located.

Attempts I made so far: I used an old multimeter and checked the wires inside the hot water heater outlet, no power, no ower in the humidifier outlet either. I checked the panel and all breakers were on, with the multimeter, all seemed to be putting out power (although it measured 220 when I placed the leads on the metal plates and wire coming out of the circuit breakers, I expected 120).  I suspected a bad breaker and turned off the one I thought was controlling the lights and outlets, when I did that, additional lights in the bathroom went out.

Any suggestions on the best way to trouble shoot this? Are there other tools I can use to determine which breaker is connected to my powerless boxes? I have this tool you plug into the outlet and a “receiver” end makes a noise when you hover it over the panel to tell you which breaker it's connected to but the power needs to be on for it to operate. Any help is appreciated.

The Money Pit Answer

Well, I must certainly give you a lot of credit for your knowledge and efforts, but keep in mind that safety is always first!

Most water heaters are 240 volt appliances and should never be connected via outlet.  They must be hard wired to circuit that powers them. If yours was connected by outlet, there are opportunities for electrical breakdown in that outlet which can be dangerous. 

Some of these attemps you made to investigate are downright dangerous - this is beyond your skillset, so please contact a qualified electrician to address them.  Some DIY projects can be done without outside help, in this case I have concners about yoru safety and safety of  your home and suggest it may be best to turn to a pro.