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Old 01-28-2011, 11:16 PM   #1
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Is it an external ground issue.


A few weeks back I started noticing the lights dimming every time the garbage disposal or furnace came on.

A few days ago we started getting brown outs when running the microwave.

Tonight I came home and the living room light was flickering when the drier was running. The drier is gas and does not spin continuously. It rotates one way for 5-10 seconds, stops for a few, and then rotates the opposite way for 5-10 seconds. When the drier was sucking electricity the lights were bright and flickering. When the drier stop the lights were dim (in comparison, difficult to tell if they are dimmer than normal).

Anyway while I was watching this I started hearing a popping. It was my cable splitter (input splitting out to TV and cable modem). The splitter was smoking hot.

With the main breaker off I shown 123V on each leg and obviously 246 total.

Anyway this seems to me that it must be an outside problem, but how do I confirm?

Regardless of an inside or outside problem what could have caused the cable splitter to over heat.

Note as I am writing this the blower motor for the furnace just kicked in and the light went brighter.

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Old 01-28-2011, 11:30 PM   #2
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Is it an external ground issue.


How did you measure the voltage? It Potentially could be a failing service neutral?

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Old 01-29-2011, 12:49 AM   #3
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Is it an external ground issue.


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Originally Posted by Joe Chiasson View Post
With the main breaker off I shown 123V on each leg and obviously 246 total.
tests should be made with the main closed and stuff in operation.

This is most likely an internal problem - you have a broken or failing neutral.
This is a very serious problem as it will cause voltages to fluctuate. This is why your cable box blew up and why other stuff will too.
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:01 AM   #4
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Is it an external ground issue.


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How did you measure the voltage? It Potentially could be a failing service neutral?
With a multi-meter...both digital and analog.
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Old 01-29-2011, 01:05 AM   #5
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Is it an external ground issue.


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tests should be made with the main closed and stuff in operation.

This is most likely an internal problem - you have a broken or failing neutral.
This is a very serious problem as it will cause voltages to fluctuate. This is why your cable box blew up and why other stuff will too.
With the main closed I first noticed the higher voltage. The cable box itself is fine it was the actual splitter than was smoking.
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Old 01-29-2011, 06:30 AM   #6
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Is it an external ground issue.


This is a service neutral problem. CALL YOUR POWER COMPANY NOW!!

If it is not on their side CALL AN ELECTRICIAN NEXT!!

DO NOT hesitate, and do not bother try to diagnose or fix this yourself.
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Old 01-29-2011, 07:03 AM   #7
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Is it an external ground issue.


While waiting for the power company or an electrician, unplug all electronics including microwave ovens and digital clocks.

Incandescent lights will warn of this condition by becoming super bright.

The 123 volts on each side for a total of 246 is not a problem by itself. It is the way the voltage changes (one side seesaws much higher) that makes the loose neutral a dangerous situation (for your electrical appliances).

You can't prove that the problem is outside just by looking. If all lights and receptacles in your house are affected (some going high, some going low depending on what is turned on) then the problem is somewhere between your main panel and the pole transformer inclusive.

While you are at it, you could retorque* (loosen a tad and then retighten) all the screws and set screws holding wires inside your panel. But if you don't have much electrician's experience, leave the big set screws holding the fat wires for a hired electrician. Odd smells, unusual warmth, what looks like burned spots, any sparking (might be visible only with lights off) and in most cases buzzing sounds in the panel or in some cases buzzing from a nearby AM radio mean there is a loose connection in there.

Similar conditions (minus excessive brightening of lights) can also be experienced if it is one of the hot lines that has become loose.

* Do not use tremendous force. You will want to come up with a "constant" tightness for example tighten it reasonably firmly plus one more quarter-turn.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 01-29-2011 at 07:25 AM.
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Old 01-29-2011, 07:30 AM   #8
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Is it an external ground issue.


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Originally Posted by Speedy Petey View Post
This is a service neutral problem. CALL YOUR POWER COMPANY NOW!!

If it is not on their side CALL AN ELECTRICIAN NEXT!!

DO NOT hesitate, and do not bother try to diagnose or fix this yourself.
Yes, thanks. I entered a complaint with the power company last night and just waiting to hear back.
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Old 01-29-2011, 07:36 AM   #9
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Is it an external ground issue.


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While waiting for the power company or an electrician, unplug all electronics including microwave ovens and digital clocks.

Incandescent lights will warn of this condition by becoming super bright.

The 123 volts on each side for a total of 246 is not a problem by itself. It is the way the voltage changes (one side seesaws much higher) that makes the loose neutral a dangerous situation (for your electrical appliances).

You can't prove that the problem is outside just by looking. If all lights and receptacles in your house are affected (some going high, some going low depending on what is turned on) then the problem is somewhere between your main panel and the pole transformer inclusive.

While you are at it, you could retorque* (loosen a tad and then retighten) all the screws and set screws holding wires inside your panel. But if you don't have much electrician's experience, leave the big set screws holding the fat wires for a hired electrician. Odd smells, unusual warmth, what looks like burned spots, any sparking (might be visible only with lights off) and in most cases buzzing sounds in the panel or in some cases buzzing from a nearby AM radio mean there is a loose connection in there.

Similar conditions (minus excessive brightening of lights) can also be experienced if it is one of the hot lines that has become loose.

* Do not use tremendous force. You will want to come up with a "constant" tightness for example tighten it reasonably firmly plus one more quarter-turn.
Thanks. I unplugged most everything but the fridge and freezer last night...well I have the modem and computer plugged in right now. Anyway I checked everything in the panel last night and all seems tight and connected properly hence my hunch that this may be an outside problem. I put a call into the power company last night as well and am just waiting to hear back. I want to avoid the cost of a skilled electrician until I can prove that the problem is on the inside. If it turns out to be on the inside I'll have to bring someone in.
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Old 01-30-2011, 09:16 AM   #10
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Is it an external ground issue.


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Thanks. I unplugged most everything but the fridge and freezer last night...well I have the modem and computer plugged in right now. Anyway I checked everything in the panel last night and all seems tight and connected properly hence my hunch that this may be an outside problem. I put a call into the power company last night as well and am just waiting to hear back. I want to avoid the cost of a skilled electrician until I can prove that the problem is on the inside. If it turns out to be on the inside I'll have to bring someone in.
Added a neutral drop to the pole where my service comes from and all is well. I am the only one on this line so my neighbors were not experiencing the same issues.

Anyway the electrical company came out with 3 trucks seemingly knowing what they needed to do w/o checking into anything. As I listened in it seems that a month or so ago when a few lines blew off the transformer on the main line they never replaced the neutral going to my pole. Does this make sense? Glad I was home to catch the cable splitter popping and smoking before it set the house on fire. I mentioned previously that the box was OK, I think in the excitement I overlooked that it got fried as well...makes more sense.
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Old 01-30-2011, 12:03 PM   #11
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Is it an external ground issue.


With a broken neutral out on the utility pole you may get away with a few amperes of usage using ground as a neutral. This is very limited because the earth is not that good a conductor.

Also to the extent a larger usage is balanced on both the A (black?) side and the B (red?) side leaving just a few amperes of difference, you'll get away with that too.

To prove that a neutral problem is outside your house you need to measure abnormally high voltage on the A side and abnormally low voltage on the B side somewhere outside your house.

Given that you can generally make this measurement inside the meter box but you may not open the meter box, I conclude that it is kosher to call the electric company before calling your own electrician. But do verify that the problem is seen from your own panel just before the main feed cable exits the house, and calling the electric company first is the tiebreaker.
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Added a neutral drop to the pole where my service comes from and all is well.
You mean you did this yourself before the electric company came? In the form of stringing a wire along the ground from the utility pole ground rod (equipped with wire going up the pole) and through a basement window to your panel? This will almost prove whether the problem is outside your house although it is quite unsafe to do. (Slightly safer if you connect the end out at the utility pole first.)
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Last edited by AllanJ; 01-30-2011 at 07:12 PM.
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Old 01-30-2011, 05:59 PM   #12
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Is it an external ground issue.


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With a broken neutral out on the utility pole you may get away with a few amperes of usage using ground as a neutral. This is very limited because the earth is not that good a conductor.
Well, it seems that the shield on his incoming cable TV line was providing the neutral return path, since it ties his grounding electrode system to his neighbors' grounding electrode systems (who apparently have good neutral connections).

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You mean you did this yourself before the electric company came?
I think he's saying that's what the utility did when they arrived.

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