Receptacles Not Getting Full Power

By Dave Rongey - Summary:

Why Do I Have 70 Volts on a 120 Volt Receptacle? How to Troubleshoot and Repair Outlet Problems, The Most Common Problem with Electric Outlets and How to Repair Them.

Problem with Outlet Receptacle

Electrical Question: Why Do I Have 70 Volts on a 120 Volt Receptacle?

I have receptacles that are not receiving full 120 Volts, they are averaging around 70 volts, and the neutral side is reading hot on these receptacles.

  • The house is from the 1930’s and there wasn’t a grounding system.
  • The contractors added a grounding system and installed GFCI outlets in the kitchen and bathrooms, but the rest of the receptacles in the house are still only two wire systems with no ground.
  • What could cause the low voltage at the receptacles and why would the neutral side read hot?

Background: Paul, a Student from Bremerton, Washington.

Dave’s Reply:
Thanks for your electrical wiring question Paul.

How to Troubleshoot and Repair Outlet Problems

Application: Troubleshooting Outlets that Do Not Work.
Skill Level: Intermediate to Advanced – Best performed by a Licensed Electrician.
Tools Required: Basic Electricians Pouch Hand Tools and Voltage Testers and Meters.
Estimated Time: Depends on personal level experience, ability to work with hand tools and electrical troubleshooting skills.
Precaution: Identify the circuit, turn it OFF and then Tag it with a Note before performing any wiring or inspections.
Important: Electrical troubleshooting is best performed by a qualified licensed electrical contractor.

The Most Common Problem with Electric Outlets and How to Repair Them

Troubleshooting Guidelines and Examples:
When Wall Outlets and Receptacles Do Not Work, or They Do Not Have Full Power and the Voltage is Not Normal:

  • Lost Connection with the Circuit Neutral
    • This is a typical indication that a splice or connection to the neutral has been lost.
  • Locating the Lost Connection
    • The best way to troubleshoot this type of electrical problem is to locate the upstream outlet that is working and giving normal voltage readings. Turn off the power to this circuit and then remove this outlet and inspect the wiring connections.
    • Pay close attention to the neutral connections that may be made to the outlet or check any neutral wire splices.
    • In several instances such as this a bad connection is found where the neutral wire pushes into the back side of the outlet.
  • What Causes a Lost Connection
    • This problem can occur in rooms where high consuming electrical devices are used such as portable heaters, portable air conditioners and vacuum cleaners.
    • The electrical circuit load of these high consuming devices is placed on and through every splice or connection within the circuit.
  • Check Other Outlets on the Same Circuit
    • This process of inspection should be made on all of the working outlets and abnormal affected outlets until the problem is discovered.
  • Repairing the Electrical Problem
    • If the problem is due to the push-in type wire connection then replace the outlet and make a new splice.
    • Attach a separate pigtail of one wire that will connect to the neutral side of the outlet. This method should be applied to all of the connections to the circuit outlets.
    • This splicing method will prevent the load of the circuit from passing through the outlet, however the circuit load path will now go through the splice instead.
    • Be sure to make a good splice and use the correct size wire connectors approved for the number of wires, and the gauge of the wires.
  • IMPORTANT: Home Electrical Power Problems
    • If most of the home power does not seem to be correct then contact your electrical utility company or electricity provider so they may check their side of the electrical service to your home.
    • If the electrical utility company reports that the electrical service power is OK and the condition persists then it is best to contact a licensed electrician who can perform electrical troubleshooting tests at the electrical panel to identify the electrical system problem and make the necessary electrical repairs.

More about Electrical Wiring for Outlets

Electrical Outlet Wiring

Wiring Electrical Outlets for the Home

Home electrical wiring includes 110 volt outlets and 220 volt outlets and receptacles which are common place in every home. See how wiring electrical outlets for the home are done.
Electrical Outlets
The features and benefits of GFCI outlets and receptacles will give you a clear understanding of the importance why these safety devices are required by code to help protect you and your family against accidental electrical shock hazards.
GFCI Wiring
GFCI Wiring
This list of articles will help you learn about the features and benefits provided by GFI and GFCI Receptacles and how they are wired.

Electrical Grounding
Electrical Grounding Methods and Requirements

Electrical Grounding Methods and Requirements

Listing of electrical codes for grounding with examples of electrical grounding codes for home electrical wiring.
Home Electrical Troubleshooting and Repairs

Troubleshooting Electrical Wiring Problems

Licensed Electrician Reveals the Secrets of Successful Electrical Troubleshooting Methods used to solve the majority of the home electrical problems and wiring failures encountered.
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Complete Guide to Home Electrical Wiring
Perfect for Homeowners, Students,
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» Click here to learn more about Home Electrical Wiring «
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FAQs Frequently Asked Questions and Comments

11 Responses to “Receptacles Not Getting Full Power”
  1. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi John,
    If the reading of 203 volts is correct then the electrical system at your location may be 120/208volts, 3 phase. The electrical system voltage information may be identified by observing the equipment label on the electrical breaker panel which is supplying the outlet circuit power. If it is found that the circuit voltage is different than the voltage requirements for the machine then it may be necessary to have a transformer installed to correct the voltage. Make sure to check the equipment voltage on the machine because in many cases the machine wiring configuration may be adjusted for different voltages, however this will depend on the specific machine that you have. Consulting the installation and owners manual will provide specific information which will assist you as well.

  2. John says:

    We have a bakery machine that requires a 20amp 240 volt circuit. We checked the outlet with a meter and it reads that it only gets 203volts. Is this going to translate as a loss of power to the machine?

    John Chambers

  3. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Darren,
    We need to understand what the normal voltage should be so we know how far off the voltage is. It would be essential to have the electrical utility provider verify that the voltage on there side is within tolerance.
    Because you have mentioned that this is happening at work, then this could be a commercial or industrial facility that may have voltages other than 120/240. If the circuit breaker is reading 198 volts then the panel voltage should be tested, and if the panel voltage is low then the power source for the panel needs to be tested. If there is a transformer supplying power to the panel then the transformer may need to be tapped differently to provide more voltage.
    I hope this helps,

  4. Darren Kolb says:

    Our oven at work is only getting 198volts. The oven takes forever to heat up. The power at the breaker also reads 198volts. It is a 50amp breaker. Can you give me some tips.

  5. Josh says:

    No Neutral connection.

  6. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Cory,
    Yes, 122.6 volts from a wall receptacle is within the USA tolerance levels for a 120 volt circuit.

  7. cory says:

    I get 122.6 volts out of my wall socket, is that normal?

  8. robert says:

    Here’s a hint about low power at recepticle or doing any DIY electrical work: Write down on paper everything you move, remove, or adjust at the breaker box. I (apparently) removed the white wire from the ‘ground’ in a circuit to my garage outlets. I kept focusing on the breakers which I thought may have gone bad and in the process disconnected the white wire. There was a GFI that was no longer being used and I disconnected it and the good white wire. The was no way I could blame my wife but I took a few minutes to at least try.
    This site saved me from having to pay someone which is admitting defeat which means I can go to my wife and look up into the sky and simply say: “Genius”.
    Thank You

  9. Dave Rongey says:

    Hi Jim,
    It appears that the outlet circuit may have lost connection with the neutral, so the circuit wiring and connections will need to be examined to identify the problem. typically this involves turning the circuit OFF and inspecting each outlet for a burnt wiring splice or a faulty connection. This will require proper repairs and in many cases replacing an outlet that may be affected due to a burnt wire connection.

  10. jim says:

    When I test outlets in a room that has no power I put both tester probes in the outlet and I get a reading of 1.7 – 1.3 volts. When I test with one probe in the outlet and one on the ground it reads 122- 124 volts. All the outlets in the room are out. Where should I look to find the problem?

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