Diagnostic Tree: Intermittent Outages

Why Do I Lose a Circuit for a While?

A tree losing leaves like this is natural; losing power in part of your home is not If you have reached this page without beginning at the Start of the diagnostic tree, you may do better to start there.

You have described an intermittent outage. [A recessed light fixture is designed to go off temporarily when it has overheated (from wrong light bulb or hot environment)]. When a whole set of lights and/or outlets stop working for a time, this is from a poor connection, usually at an electrical box or device along the circuit, but possibly at the panel or on the power company's line to your house.

While an outage is still going on, a procedure I describe for disturbing a poor connection back into working can often help. It is at Open. If power is currently still working, however, it is more difficult to find where this weakness has occurred. But the procedure just mentioned may be of value in bothering the connection back into an outage (which will tell you exactly where the problem lies). In addition it may help to notice and document details about the extent of the outages when they occur, so that you can narrow down where to look for the troubled connection. Namely, it will be at the last item of that circuit that still works when an outage strikes OR at the first non-working item of that circuit. Bad contact in or at the circuit breaker itself (or the neutral at the panel) would show itself as the entire circuit going out.

The tendency is for an intermittent problem like this to progress before long to a lasting outage. While power is still able to flow through such a connection, heat is sometimes developing there, so that a hot breaker or outlet might be a good clue; the heat is unable to start a fire, with rare exceptions. While power stays out, no heat can be generated, so there is no fire hazard at all then.

©2005-2020 Laurence Dimock