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Old 06-06-2012, 04:34 PM   #1
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Electrical Problems in a Rental Home


My wife and I rent a house. We've never had to use the second floor much. It's just been the two of us. But now we have a baby on the way. We're currently working to reorganize the house, and we're going to start using the second floor a lot more. One of the rooms, we'll use a lot.

The central air doesn't do a great job of cooling the second floor in the hot summer months, so we bought a small, single-room A/C unit from Lowes to use in one of the rooms upstairs. It was the most efficient and smallest unit they had. Problem is, it draws too much load. We can use it as a fan, but as soon as we switch it over to cool, the lights dim really low, and the A/C doesn't have enough juice to kick in.

I have never done electrical work before other than changing wall outlets and other very simple stuff. What needs to be done to fix this problem? I just don't know what to expect, and I'd like to know what to say to the landlord, and what I'm getting into when I start contacting electrical contractors. Any information is greatly appreciated.

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Old 06-06-2012, 05:03 PM   #2
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Electrical Problems in a Rental Home


Who is paying for this?

You need a short term or long term fix?

Note that renters cannot do any electrical work.

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Old 06-06-2012, 05:06 PM   #3
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Electrical Problems in a Rental Home


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Originally Posted by ztheday View Post
the lights dim really low
If it's all over the house it may be bad neutral connection that may have been always there, otherwise a bad connection in the AC/lights circuit that may have been always there.
You have a multimeter?
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Old 06-06-2012, 05:25 PM   #4
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Electrical Problems in a Rental Home


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Originally Posted by Yoyizit View Post
If it's all over the house it may be bad neutral connection that may have been always there, otherwise a bad connection in the AC/lights circuit that may have been always there.
You have a multimeter?
So, voltage drop is not a viable answer to the cause of the problem?
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Old 06-06-2012, 05:35 PM   #5
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Electrical Problems in a Rental Home


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Who is paying for this?

You need a short term or long term fix?

Note that renters cannot do any electrical work.
The landlord will probably pay for it. I'm willing to go half with him.

I'd like a long term fix.

I'm not planning to do the work . . . just want to have an idea what the problem is/what's involved before I take it to him.

Thanks.
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Old 06-06-2012, 05:37 PM   #6
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Electrical Problems in a Rental Home


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Originally Posted by Yoyizit View Post
If it's all over the house it may be bad neutral connection that may have been always there, otherwise a bad connection in the AC/lights circuit that may have been always there.
You have a multimeter?
Don't have a multimeter. I have a basic tester that tells me if a line is hot or not, but that's all.

What would fix the problem if it's a bad neutral connection? It does seem to be a problem throughout the house. When we run the vacuum the lights dim, the iron and the hair dryer in use in rooms next to each other will throw the breaker, etc.
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Old 06-06-2012, 06:28 PM   #7
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Electrical Problems in a Rental Home


Definitely sounds like that house has major electrical problems. How old is the house? And what is the company name on the breakers/electrical panel?
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Old 06-06-2012, 08:04 PM   #8
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Definitely sounds like that house has major electrical problems. How old is the house? And what is the company name on the breakers/electrical panel?
Okay, so the breaker box isn't labeled as to what goes where, so I just started turning off breakers to find the one that feeds the outlet in question, and hoping that maybe another outlet in the room would remain hot. Here's what I found:

1 15A breaker supports the entire upstairs (2 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, 1 hallway), the living room downstairs, the kitchen downstairs, and the dining room downstairs. This is all lights and outlets in these rooms. The electric stove and dishwasher in the kitchen are on a different breaker.

I'm assuming this is not normal? Is it up to code?

And the breakers/panel box look like they are all Square D.

Thank you.
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Old 06-06-2012, 08:20 PM   #9
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Electrical Problems in a Rental Home


If only one breaker covers all of those rooms, there is too much load on the circuit. How old is this home? It was typical for a house to be split into four zones or more zones, depending on how large the house was. You could see receptacles and lighting on one zone. It would probably cost more for the land lord to have the house wiring redone to bring it up to more current codes, than what they see as a investment into the property.

You need to find out if the land lord is willing to put a lot of money into this job, especially if you plan on renting from them for a lot longer. But personally, no matter how cheap a place is, when it comes down to electrical, all it takes is one item like a space heater, electric blanket, window a/c to set off a chain of events, and the next thing you know, you the renter have lost everything, and the fire department is there putting out the flames. Hope you have your renters insurance paid up to date.
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Old 06-06-2012, 08:33 PM   #10
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Electrical Problems in a Rental Home


Yeah, my wife is big on renters insurance!

The house was built in the 50s, I believe. It looks like the upstairs was finished off sometime later. My guess is they just added all of the new stuff onto an existing breaker.

If the landlord doesn't want to do a major rewiring, is it possible to just run a new breaker to the outlet for the A/C unit for now to get it off the 15 A breaker? I know that doesn't fix the whole problem, but it's a temporary solution that gets us through the summer.
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Old 06-06-2012, 08:51 PM   #11
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If the landlord doesn't want to do a major rewiring, is it possible to just run a new breaker to the outlet for the A/C unit for now to get it off the 15 A breaker? I know that doesn't fix the whole problem, but it's a temporary solution that gets us through the summer.
Problem is, your landlord does not want to invest in the property, if it was me, I would be looking for someplace else. There is no temp solution in your situation, other than find someplace else to live, that the ownership cares about the property and maintains it.

If you ran a new line from the panel, and something happened (ie home catches on fire, panel burns up, but house is still standing), you end up with the landlord stating that you caused it with your newfangled air conditioner unit.
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Old 06-06-2012, 08:57 PM   #12
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Electrical Problems in a Rental Home


Well, the thing is, he's a decent guy. When we first moved in there were some issues that needed to be taken care of, and he took care of them straight away. We've lived here now for 2 years and haven't asked for anything since the first couple of weeks. I'm not going to get ahead of myself and assume that he won't fix the problem.

I just wanted to gather some intelligence so I'd have some idea what we're facing. I'll bring it up to him, and I'm sure we can work something out. If we can't, then I'll talk to the wife about considering a move.

But it ain't gonna be easy to move when we're 8 weeks from a baby being born. Ugh.
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Old 06-06-2012, 09:12 PM   #13
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If you could have a dedicated circuit just for the a/c should be the answer.
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Old 06-06-2012, 09:30 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by gregzoll View Post
Problem is, your landlord does not want to invest in the property, if it was me, I would be looking for someplace else. There is no temp solution in your situation, other than find someplace else to live, that the ownership cares about the property and maintains it.

If you ran a new line from the panel, and something happened (ie home catches on fire, panel burns up, but house is still standing), you end up with the landlord stating that you caused it with your newfangled air conditioner unit.
I don't understand where the doomsday talk about fires and new places to live is coming from. And where did anyone say the landlord wasn't willing to invest in the property?

It sounds like you are approaching this the right way. Explain the situation to the landlord, tell him you're willing to split the cost (caveat that you would like to see estimates before final agreement), insist that he hire the electrician and approve the work. Assuming the panel has capacity, one dedicated circuit for a portable AC unit isn't going to put anyone in the poor house.

Last edited by silversport; 06-06-2012 at 09:35 PM.
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Old 06-06-2012, 10:35 PM   #15
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It sounds like you are approaching this the right way. Explain the situation to the landlord, tell him you're willing to split the cost (caveat that you would like to see estimates before final agreement), insist that he hire the electrician and approve the work. Assuming the panel has capacity, one dedicated circuit for a portable AC unit isn't going to put anyone in the poor house.
Thanks for the advice. I think he'll definitely work with us on this. I'm happy to split the cost with him. At least now I feel a little better equipped to know what the problem is.

Thanks everyone!

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