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Old 11-06-2010, 12:37 AM   #1
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I'm stumped! Weird power losses at home!


Long story here, this is all the info I have on this so far. I'm in Olympia, WA if it matters for codes or other reasons.

I've been having a odd problem at home for several months now. From time to time I lose a few outlets and several overhead lights. Not everything but a few random ones.

When this happens I noticed that running the dryer seemed to restore these circuits. Only when the heating element is on though, the only circuit that uses 240v in the dryer. Sometimes the elec stove/oven also does it.

For a while it seemed that whatever the problem was it would actually be temporarily fixed by the dryer or stove trick. This didn't make sense as neither item should be asking for heat continually when working right. Recently as the problem grew more common I've realized that although the lights and stuff returned, there actually wasn't 240v at either appliance, as the elements didn't heat. I'd guess that when the appliances connected the two legs through the elements, that connection provided voltage to the circuit that was out.

I'm an appliance repairman by trade so I can verify that both of them are in working order, and do work perfectly when the problem isn't at hand. Rather I found that one leg of the 240v outlets was only delivering 30v (or less) when the lights went out elsewhere.

At the panel outside I am also only seeing 30v at places so I opened the meter side to see what is in there and checked at the two large lugs under the meter that are connected by large bars to the distribution side. 120v on one and 30v on the other.

SO what I am trying figure out is where, in between the meter output and the pole the problem is likely to be. I had to trim a lot of overgrown bushes away from the overhead lines where they enter the conduit to the dist panel/ meter box. There is some damage to the insulation at that point from the branches. I'm brave with elec but that's a bit beyond what I like to play with so I haven't gone up close to see it.

Thanks for any help you can offer! I'll put up pics of the panel and meter next time I am off work in the daylight (probably about April around here)!
Drew


Last edited by delawaredrew; 11-06-2010 at 12:49 AM.
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Old 11-06-2010, 06:41 AM   #2
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I'm stumped! Weird power losses at home!


You hve about 30 volts between one hot and ground and the normal 120 volts betwee the other hot and ground out at the meter. That means there is a broken or loose connection beyond the meter out to the utility pole. Your electric company will need to fix that.

Unplug everything from the receptacles in your house (about half of them somewhat randomly located) that appear to be dead. Plug your refrigerator into a good receptacle using a heavy extension cord if needed.

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Last edited by AllanJ; 11-06-2010 at 06:45 AM.
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Old 11-06-2010, 07:27 AM   #3
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I'm stumped! Weird power losses at home!


OK, so we know a few things for certain:

1) You've verified that this is a problem that is not inside your house. (It was almost certainly illegal and extremely dangerous for your to open your meter enclosure BTW).
2) This problem has been going on for quite a while.
3) You just now decide to post on an internet message board late on Friday night.

Considering #1, HAVE YOU CALLED YOUR POWER COMPANY YET ??????
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Old 11-06-2010, 09:37 AM   #4
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I'm stumped! Weird power losses at home!


Thanks for the replies! I wasn't sure who was responsible for lines going up to the pole.

It has been 4-5 weeks since we first noticed this, and being renters we've been waiting for the owner to address it. Unfortunately he is an older guy who travels all winter so I am going to take it as my problem and deal with it. Previously it would be off a few minutes then disappear, the past few days it has been off for hours at a time. It was off Friday when I came home from work for instance, but all is normal this morning. It doesn't affect any crucial circuits.

I don't see any danger opening a door in the panel at the meter, I have to work on live 240v for testing all the time as part of my work and don't take unnecessary chances. It wasn't secured in any way, and only had access to the bars that connect the dist panel to the meter, there is another panel up higher covering the actual connections to the overheads. As far as legality...
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Old 11-06-2010, 07:09 PM   #5
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I'm stumped! Weird power losses at home!


You are renting?????
You should NOT be touching ANYTHING electrical there!!! ESPECIALLY the meter or meter pan. I don't care what you do for a living.

You have two options:
-Call the power company.
-Call your landlord.
Period
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Old 11-07-2010, 12:09 AM   #6
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I'm stumped! Weird power losses at home!


I trust you know that you may not break the power company provided seal on a meter pan or meter mounting.
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Old 11-07-2010, 06:14 PM   #7
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I'm stumped! Weird power losses at home!


Drew, we had some strange power losses, but discovered that the
drop lines, or three wires that come down from the power pole, had
a loose connection on one line only. So, we would lose power to
half of the house, but, then, the connection would come back on, and
every thing would be working just fine. Naturally, I checked all circuit breakers, and even the Main Breaker, all worked just fine.
Then, I was just standing out in the back yard, and looking up towards the sky and power pole, that is when I saw the one connection
spark, it was just a lucky find, so, I called out the Utility company, and they climbed up, installed a new connector, yea, all worked just
fine, and that was about five years back, good luck, hope that this might help you, Steve
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Old 11-07-2010, 10:06 PM   #8
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I'm stumped! Weird power losses at home!


Hey, many times, it can be a loose white Neutral wire,
those wires can expand and make contact, all will then be working,
but sometimes like when Cold, they contract, and lose contact.
You might open the Breaker panel, and get out a screw driver of the correct size, and then tighten ALL white neutral wires,
usually they are all in a row on a bar with many screws, all wires will
be white, also it doesn't hurt since you will be in the Panel, might as well check all the HOT wires that go to the Circuit breakers, usually the
color is Black, maybe Red, they can get loose and that can cause a
outlet to work and or Not work. this is a easy task, but be very cautious around any especially Hot wires, don't touch a ground area.
I like to use a totally insulated screwdriver, and still use care, safety is
always the top priority. PIGEONS
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Old 11-07-2010, 11:39 PM   #9
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I'm stumped! Weird power losses at home!


Um. OK.

Do you have an electric water heater? If so, I'm gonna go ahead and suggest the connection is NOT "loose". It is COMPLETELY OPEN. Stuff works most of the time because the water heater is 'heating' most of the time. This is because it its power is limited (due to the resistance of all the other loads on the bad leg). As these loads vary, the amount of power available to the water heater varies, thus the speed at which it heats water. Eventually (sometimes) it reaches the set temperature and shuts off, causing your power failure.

Next time stuff goes off, instead of turning on the range or dryer, run the hot water for a few minutes.


In any case, fixing it . . .


You obviously have a voltmeter. Turn off ALL double-pole breakers then check L-N voltages BEFORE the main breaker. If one side is 0 (or otherwise really low), then the problem is at the meter or upstream, and is a power company problem. I won't jump down your throat for breaking the seal but you're not usually supposed to (actual policy varies with poco) and there are significant risks in there. It's not about voltage, but rather available current. If you slip with a screwdriver at work and short hot-neutral, the breaker trips. If you make this same error inside the meter base, the screwdriver melts (explodes would be a better term), the heat causes the surrounding air molecules to expand VERY RAPIDLY, and you get a face full of molten metal.

If voltages before the main breaker are okay, obviously check after it. The most likely failure on your side, not counting simple loose connections (which I'm sure you've already investigated) is probably that breaker itself. If that seems to be the case, cycle it off/on "sharply" a few times. I say this based on my own experience. The official answer is to just replace it, but I've had a couple "bad breakers" that had just "jammed up" somehow. Both GE in my case.
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Old 11-08-2010, 06:06 AM   #10
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I'm stumped! Weird power losses at home!


I didn't read all the replies, but I had a similar issue on my last house. Turned out to be a lug inside of my meter box that was broken. Because of this, only half of my panel had power all the time, the other half had power, whenever the lug arched over, thereby completing the circuit. Running 220 appliances, also sometimes would help complete the circuits and allow partial power as well. I believe that's what led my electrician to the problem. Maybe I shouldn't say this, but my electrician did open the meter can, replaced the faulty can, and had me back up and safe within a few hours. Luckily they had a similar can at their shop as mine was older. This mattered because I guess certain meters fit certain cans. They told me if I had contacted the utility company my power would likely have been off for a few days.

I'm not saying what my electrician did was correct as far as codes, etc, but it was better than my house burning to the ground, they kept my power on except for a few hours while they changed stuff out and had me back up and safe in a matter of hours. Being as you are a renter, you probably shouldn't touch anything without the landlord's approval, but then again if he can't be reached, you do deserve to live in a safe house and I doubt he'd want his rental to burn to the ground. My suggestion is to call him, then get a licensed electrician to come out and fix it ASAP.

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