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Old 11-16-2009, 08:13 PM   #1
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I am in the midst of updating some of the old 2-wire outlets in my 1957 house. I just bought the house 6 months ago and ll the electric appears original as I am the second owner and there has been no updating to any part of the house.

I have a circuit breaker finder (the kind with a transmitter that you plug in and a detector for the breaker box) and found the breaker (#20) that runs a block of outlets.

I turned off breaker #20 and started disconnecting everything and as I was running new romex I managed to shock myself from the fish tape.

I further discovered that the wires (BOTH black and white) that should be running off of the original breaker were hot. Yes, both of them. But, they didn't work as outlets - I guess that they are both hot, no neutral.

by turning off one breaker at a time, I found that turning off breaker #18 killed the charge on the outlets but, and this is where it gets weird, when both are off, two of the light fixtures on the original circuit (#20) glow. They are not all the way hot, just glowing slightly. Furthermore, the three way light switch for one of them makes cycle between glowing and off.

Seems like I have 18 and 20 crossed somewhere, maybe reversed polarity, but why would they glow with both off? it's very odd to be able to turn lights on by turning off the breaker.

Anybody have any ideas?

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Old 11-16-2009, 08:26 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by kbds61d View Post
when both are off, two of the light fixtures on the original circuit (#20) glow.
The glowing lights are in series with another load or a very bad connection, and in series with 120v.
If there is 60v across the light and it is 100w bulb, the other load/light/appliance is also 100w.

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Old 11-16-2009, 08:33 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Yoyizit View Post
The glowing lights are in series with another load or a very bad connection, and in series with 120v.
If there is 60v across the light and it is 100w bulb, the other load/light/appliance is also 100w.
Additionally. OP has an open Neutral. That would answer for a lot of the symptoms he describes. (The "glowing" lights when power turned off, Shocked with the power Off,...!) (No matter what)Don't Drink and Drive, Ever!!!
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Old 11-16-2009, 08:48 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by spark plug View Post
Additionally. OP has an open Neutral. That would answer for a lot of the symptoms he describes. (The "glowing" lights when power turned off, Shocked with the power Off,...!) (No matter what)Don't Drink and Drive, Ever!!!
Sorry, I don't quite understand what you guys are saying. What causes the glow? Do you have any ideas on how to troubleshoot or what to look for?

I understand how to wire things pretty well, but not all the right terms.

Thanks again
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Old 11-16-2009, 08:58 PM   #5
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What causes the glow?
Current passing through the incandescent's filament at a level much less than the rated value. Measure the voltage across the bulb.
If it's 40vac then there is 120-40 = 80vac across some other lamp or load in your house. You should try to find that.
Also try to find a 3rd breaker that turns off the glow.

Last edited by Yoyizit; 11-16-2009 at 09:26 PM.
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Old 11-16-2009, 09:35 PM   #6
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Current passing through the incandescent's filament at a level much less than the rated value. Measure the voltage across the bulb.
If it's 40vac then there is 120-40 = 80vac across some other lamp or load in your house. You should try to find that.
Also try to find a 3rd breaker that turns off the glow.
I need to replace my voltmeter but I will most definitely check the readings of both and find the other breaker.

thanks!
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Old 11-17-2009, 09:20 AM   #7
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Now is a good time to check all of the neutral connections at the main panel. Turn off the main breaker. Retorque (tighten but not using tremendous strength) all of the screws or set screws holding the neutral wires and ground wires in the bracket (bus bar) at one or both sides of the panel inside. Even better, loosen each set screw a half turn and then tighten, which will clean off any oxidation and make a better connection.

A few circuits (for 240 volts) will have both the white wire and black wire screwed onto (usually side by side) breakers. By the way also retorque the wires screwed on to the various breakers with the respective breaker turned off for the moment.

Almost nobody has a torque screwdriver or wrench (with a gauge to quantify tightness) but some electricians have rules of thumb such as tighten until the wire seems secure and then 1/4 turn (90 degrees) more.

For 120 volts circuits (black to white measures 120 volts) the white wire is never connected to a breaker screw but is always connected to the bus bar in the panel.

I cannot rule out the chance the previous homeowner mucked up the wiring with do it yourself projects. In modern wiring (modern day Romex type cables and conduits) there is supposed to be only one hot path back to the panel from any one light or receptacle, and only one neutral path back to the panel from any one light or receptacle. The hot wire and matching neutral are together all the way (except only the hot goes to and from a switch beyond the light fixture in a portion of a circuit known as a switch loop)

Sometimes if you see a light glowing dimly, there is a light glowing excessively bright elsewhere in the house or maybe some appliance getting excessive voltage. This is a hazardous condition that can damage electronic equipment including the timer in a stove. If you ever see this you need to shut down the applicable circuit(s) immediately, unplug everything, and fix the problem (it's in the neutrals). (You can do testing using incandescent lights.)
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Last edited by AllanJ; 11-17-2009 at 09:32 AM.
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Old 11-17-2009, 10:48 AM   #8
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Allan J (Poster #7) Let's put emphasis on what you say in the last Paragraph. I'll add to that list , GFCI receptacles. I once accidentally lost the Neutral at the Subpanel for a split Second. Two GFI receptacles fried up immediately. This is what is meant by the safety experts when they warn that people who know nothing about the fundamentals of electrical wiring should not work on it. It's not meant about the beginning DIYrs. who work with professional guidance. What is meant is that those individuals should not launch projects according to their "understanding", as did the previous owner of that house. I"m willing to bet that there are many Grounded Neutrals in that system. Eliminate confusion and hazards Through Education!!!
Don't Drink and Drive, Ever!!!
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Old 11-17-2009, 04:59 PM   #9
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When you start running into strange issues like the one described in the original post it would be a good idea to call in a professional.

BUT if you want to do it yourself then:

The reason you found a white wire hot is most likely because you lost a neutral wire connection. You get the voltage because it is bleeding through an appliance somewhere on the circuit onto the neutral wire.

The glow is caused by either a weak neutral connection or a high resistance short to ground (which could be a pipe or other metallic object). Switch wiring in older homes is often found in the light outlet box that the fixture is mounted to, you may find some connection coming apart or shorting in there. Also the wiring in the switch boxes is often VERY short and full of splicing issues.

18 and 20 are "Crossed" because they most likely have their neutrals spliced together somewhere in the circuitry. If the shared neutral is lost then they will both bleed voltage to the neutral. Since they are the same phase you won't find 240VAC between the black and white wires. Also since they are on the same phase it created a problem that could result in overloading the neutral, which may have caused the neutral to burn out. It goes like this, 18 is on 20 is off: voltage goes from 18 to neutral through an appliance, its then on the shared neutral, it then goes from the shared neutral to 20 through an appliance.

Use fiberglass fish rods (Fish Stix) to pull wires. Metal fish tapes are for empty conduit & never fished into a live panel, its dangerous and against OSHA regulations. It takes less than 1/10 of one amp to stop your heart.

One last note, if you plan on rewiring an old home you should ALWAYS start by replacing the existing aged panel & bring grounding to code. Just replacing circuits could lead to many problems.

Good luck, old homes are a can of worms (Many cans of worms)

Last edited by Grimlock; 11-17-2009 at 05:00 PM. Reason: typo
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Old 11-17-2009, 05:30 PM   #10
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Just replacing circuits could lead to many problems.
I would make a diagram of existing wiring so you can return to it if your elec. system becomes more and nonfunctional the longer you work on it.
Leave a paper & photo trail.

Each repair should have a hot wire eventually going back to a breaker and a neutral wire eventually going back to the panel busbar, and nowhere else.
You will have to account for each wire in each box.

In general, you remove and repair and live with the anxiety in the middle where less and less works [but only temporarily].
Open circuits are easier to fix than short circuits and easier to fix than unwanted paths that shunt circuits together that shouldn't be together.
Predict what your repair will do before you do it. If it doesn't act exactly like it should then backtrack or figure out why [see below "hair dryer"].
Each repair you do should be exhaustively checked against what each breaker and appliance were doing before the repair.

With a voltmeter, a 10A hair dryer and a 20A 240v load [like an elec. dryer] you can check your entire resi. wiring and connection integrity.
Otherwise, you can get Ideal's 65-165 tester, which will answer your questions even before you ask them. It'll pay for itself the first time you use it to correctly diagnose a problem and the intelligence/calculations are built into this gadget.
I am not affiliated with Ideal.

It might be possible that you are looking for a single fault, but more likely it is more than one. To make the wiring correct you may have to run new wires. The previous electrical wizard might have added these extra connections to avoid doing that.

If you fail, The Secretary will disavow all knowledge of your activities.

Last edited by Yoyizit; 11-17-2009 at 05:45 PM.
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Old 11-17-2009, 06:01 PM   #11
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I further discovered that the wires (BOTH black and white) that should be running off of the original breaker were hot
Multi wire branch circuit. Two hot wires share the same neutral. The power on the neutral was likely from circuit 18, trying to "get back".
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Old 11-17-2009, 11:10 PM   #12
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Multi wire branch circuit. Two hot wires share the same neutral. The power on the neutral was likely from circuit 18, trying to "get back".

I can see that for the neutral wire - but why would the black wire still be hot?
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Old 11-17-2009, 11:16 PM   #13
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Now is a good time to check all of the neutral connections at the main panel. Turn off the main breaker. Retorque (tighten but not using tremendous strength) all of the screws or set screws holding the neutral wires and ground wires in the bracket (bus bar) at one or both sides of the panel inside. Even better, loosen each set screw a half turn and then tighten, which will clean off any oxidation and make a better connection.
There actually is a small amount of rust from water at some point getting into the box that could cause such a bad connection. This could cause these problems?
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Old 11-18-2009, 10:01 AM   #14
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Yes, water getting into the breaker box or fuse box can cause connections to go bad even if the water does not actually drip onto the connections. The humidity inside the box can be raised so as to cause oxidation of metal parts.

From a given receptacle (outlet) the wires may have daisy chained through other outlet boxes. You need to make sure there are no loose connections along the way back to the breaker panel. I am not sure whether they had invented push-in-and-stick (back stab) wiring for switches and receptacles back in 1957 but if they had, you should undo the wires from the holes in back and re-attach them to the screws provided. (If the wires are held in place in the holes using clamps activated by screws on the sides, then they can remain there.)
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Last edited by AllanJ; 11-18-2009 at 10:08 AM.
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Old 11-18-2009, 12:15 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by 220/221 View Post
Multi wire branch circuit. Two hot wires share the same neutral. The power on the neutral was likely from circuit 18, trying to "get back".
Yes. But as Poster #9 (Grimlock) pointed out, they were not your typical and (legal) MWBC (multi wire branch circuit) that runs off Two Hot legs in the panel. Therefore they end up (probably) overloading the (common) Neutral, insted of canceling the load. In any case, I'll Bookmark Post #9.No matter what; Don't drink and Drive, ever!!!

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