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Tluther 04-13-2010 06:35 AM

House lights dimming
We have a 1920's house. The electrical has been made pretty much up to date and the only change we have made lately is a fixture and switch was installed in our bathroom. For the last several days the refrigerator has been kicking on and off frequently and this is causing the lights to dim and brighten; the washing machine is also causing all the lights in the house to flicker in time with the agitation. These issues have happended the entire time we have lived in the house, but for the last week have been more noticeable. We did have a huge storm right before this happened and it fried our modem. Other than that we saw no obvious issues from the storm.

AllanJ 04-13-2010 06:53 AM

If some lights get dim and at the same time other lights get abnormally bright (a seesaw effect more noticeable with incandescent lights) then you have problems with the neutrals.

Exactly where depends on how many lights about the house are affected.

You need to unplug all electronics until the problem is fixed.

You can get a start on fixing the problem yourself by retorquing (undoing a quarter turn and then retightening not tremendously tight) all the wires, hot and neutral, in your panel. (Don't touch the big lugs next to the main breaker, though, since a slip of the hand can result in a big short circuit.)

You need to measure voltage between hot and ground at different places while you use a hair dryer or small electric heater for a second or two. Here you need to include the big lugs and incoming cable at the main breaker; someone with lots of electrical experience should do it.

It is possible for a neutral problem to be upstream of your panel including in the meter box or in the wire strung out to the utility pole where only the power company can fix it. The importance of doing tests at your panel is so you can narrow down on the problem and be reasonably sure the problem is on the power company's side of things before calling them.
Just dimming of lights, without abnormal brightening, can be caused by neighbors drawing large amounts of electricity for example for heat pumps.

Tluther 04-13-2010 07:35 AM

Your advice was much appreciated even though I really did not understand a single word of it. The dimming does seem to have abnormal brightness to it. We have tracked it down so far to the two instances I named; refrigerator kicking on and the washing machine. The washing machine is more of a steady pulse as long as the agitator is moving. I think I will have an electrician come in as personally I would be terrified to try any of the things you suggested.

Jim Port 04-13-2010 07:39 AM

Call your power company NOW. Most will come out an check their connections for free. They are available 24/7. Explain what is happening to the call center.

Tluther 04-13-2010 07:56 AM

I called our local Electric company and requested they check our lines for issues. She said she would call the dispatcher right away. We'll see if this is the cause of the problem.

Tluther 04-20-2010 02:16 PM

Sadder and wiser
Our power company came by and discovered that the electrical strike we had a few weeks ago fried our power line from the pole to the house and our meter. They replaced these and then red-tagged our house as the tech noticed we had a new supply line from their wire to the meter. This had been replaced by us due to extreme wear. Once we deciphered exactly what the power company wanted (an inspection by the city to clear the service upgrade); we called the electrician who did the upgrade. No, he had not had it inspected, but promised to take care of it immediately. He sent one of his guys over to inspect our entire system to make sure we would pass an inspection and surprise - our box was too full (no extra knockouts left); there were double pull breakers in the box; the system was not properly grounded; and the wires from the house to the garage were still the original knob/tube type. $2,500 later; we now have 200 amp service in our house and 100 amp in our garage. Makes the house more saleable and we passed the inspection with flying colors. Lesson here - make sure you get your electrical items taken care of properly the first time. Don't allow anyone to take shortcuts.

jbfan 04-20-2010 03:52 PM

Wow. Just think how much safer the house is now.
Great story and we are glad you came back and it to us!

frenchelectrican 04-20-2010 09:12 PM

That one reason why I always pull the permits for your and mine safety.

plus what more the inspector will doucoment for record.

The price of permit is not bad in long run it will really save your neck.


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