Electrical Circuit Out

Hi, I'm trying to fix a non-functioning electrical circuit. It started three weeks ago when our refrigerator would go out for a few
hours at a time and then come back on. It continued doing this, intermittently going on and off- the breaker didn't flip once.
1. I identified all outlets on this circuit.
2. I unplugged all devices on this circuit.
3. Using a multi-meter, I was able to measure the voltage between the HOT and NEUTRAL at ~65V. I measure the voltage between HOT AND GROUND at ~65V AC. When I measure the voltage between NEUTRAL and GROUND, I get < 1V. I think this means I have an open NEUTRAL. Yes? I tried jiggling the outlets to see if I could find a junction box or wall socket where the open exists. No such luck.
I'm not sure if this matters or not but when I plug in a lamp to these (HOT good, NEUTRAL open) outlets, it doesn't work as one would expect. However, when I plug the lamp in the voltage measured between HOT and NEUTRAL goes down significantly. The lamp has an analog knob that I can turn, and as I turn the knob in the brighter direction the voltage between HOT and NEUTRAL decreases- from ~65V down to ~12V. Not sure if that is typical of a circuit with an open NEUTRAL- i.e. that it can't maintain a voltage under a moderate load.
4. So, I took all the wall outlet covers off and checked connections in the back of the outlets. 4 / 5 checked out good with one left.
Is there any chance this could be an issue with the circuit breaker? The house was built in ~1984.
Any other advice? Or troubleshooting tips?
Thanks.
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foolio97 wrote:

Is this problem at all the outlets on the circuit? It sounds like a poor connection in the hot lead, could be a bad breaker or bad connection at the breaker.. Eric
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foolio97 wrote:

It could be a bad connection or an open neutral. Time to get an electrician out there, sooner rather than later.
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If you have an open neutral, then the voltage between hot and ground should be 120V. You either have an open hot, or open neutral plus open ground which is much much less likely.
If you want to be sure, measure voltage between hot of the bad circuit and neutral or ground of a good outlet. Then measure voltage between neutral of the bad circuit and hot of a good outlet.
After you do this you should know for sure whether you have an open hot or open neutral+ground.
Assuming it is an open hot (or intermittent open hot), you have to find every where the hot wire has a break and check. This includes all the outlets between the breaker panel and the outlet in question, the circuit breaker, the contact between the circuit breaker and the panel, and the wire-panel connection. Perhaps jiggling the breaker may help. Look for charred contacts/connection.

Do the easy checks first then call electrician.
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No, you have a problem with the hot wire. The voltage is the same H-N as it is H-G, making the hot the common problem wire. Also, the N and G have less than a 1 volt differential. This means that the connection between the N and G is solid. There is either a bad hot wire splice within the circuit or the breaker is shot.
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foolio97 wrote:

The 65 volts you are reading is capacitivly coupled into the 'HOT' wire, at a very low current. Make your tests again, with that lamp plugged in (and turned on). Now it will be zero volts, or a few millivolts.
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foolio97 wrote:

Short circuit it and let the magic smoke out. That's one way to find the problem. I would start at the circuit breaker to see if the connection was loose or the stab on the buss bar was burned. If you don't have the equipment to trace a circuit like a breaker finder, you can make use of a small battery powered AM radio to trace the circuit. Find the breaker that feeds the circuit and turn all the other breakers off and use the radio to trace the wire through the walls and outlets by tuning the radio to pick up the AC hum. I've used a radio and a telephone circuit toner to trace electrical wires throughout walls to find where they go behind the sheetrock and plaster. Improvising can be fun.
[8~{} Uncle Monster
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Your symptoms are consistent with a bad breaker or a poor connection either between the breaker and the feeder wire or between the breaker and the power connection where it plugs into in the panel. If there is a poor connection it will likely be discolored from excessive heat and need to be cleaned up.
Be careful. Turn off the main breaker before doing anything in the panel. Then still be careful. Sometimes electricity does not give second chances.
Don Young
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In article

I had a similar problem. Is your supply an Edison configuration? That is, do you have a neutral and two hots with 240 VAC between the hot conductors. Ifg that is the case, there is a good chance that the neutral is loose. I had two meters and put one from one hot to neutral and the other from the other hot to neutral. The two voltages added to 240 but the individual ones depended upon how the loads were balanced on the two hots.
Bill
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If you are using a digital multi-meter chuck it. Use a wiggy or an analog meter that loads the circuit. Digital meters give erroneous readings when troubleshooting power ciruits.
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