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Old 06-27-2009, 08:11 PM   #1
Michael Homeowner
 
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


I've told a bunch of people what's going on, and they just tell me, "that can't be happening, call an electrician..."

(I posted this on another thread, because someone was discussing a problem that seemed similar, but it was suggested that I should start a new thread, so here goes...)

I'm not against calling an electrician, but hey, times are tough, and I do have some professional experience repairing appliances and electronics. I'm not very familiar with home electrical stuff, and I'm confused by what's happening. I have asked some folks at the local hardware store, so I think I have checked the basics, but

HERE'S THE PROBLEM:



Power goes out in our house. Not all of it, just some. Outlets and lamps that are on different circuits lose power, but no circuit breakers are tripped (no, flipping the breakers for those circuits to the fully "off" position and then back to "on" does not help). It's the same group of circuits every time.(I mean that it's a bunch of outlets that is powered by different, separate circuit breakers),



Power will later come back on, all by itself. If I unplug some stuff, or play with the GFCI's (test +/or reset), it will sometimes come back on... WHILE I am pressing those buttons. I am uncertain whether the GFCI's are part of the problem, connected, but it seems to be that way. Or maybe that part is coincidence.

I removed the cover from the circuit breaker box and I noticed a little bit of corrosion "fuzz" on some of the terminals on the buss bar that runs up the left side of the panel. The large (finger sized) white wire connected to the top of the buss bar looks blackish grey (the metal wire is dark, not the insulation/covering), the two fat black wires going to the main breaker are very clearly copper.

The corroded/discolored wire seems like a something that would definately cause problems. If this was a vehicle, I would already be done replacing all of that.

The house is about 90 years old, but the panel and gfci's are less than 5 years old, and some of the circuits involved are about 3 years old.

I'm comfortable with replacing components like outlets and breakers, although I'm hoping I don't have to check every wire nut and terminal in the house.

If nothing else, I'm hoping that I can steer an electrian towards the problem, because I can see that this deal could quickly eat up a lot of trouble shooting time.

Thank You for your time!

Michael

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Old 06-27-2009, 08:23 PM   #2
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


This sounds like a loose connection on one of the main lines feeding your panel. First call should be to your utility to make sure the problem is not on their side of the service. That check is free. If the problem is on the feeder side of your main breaker, the meter will have to be pulled to check that. Ask the utility guys nicely, they may check it for you.

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Old 06-27-2009, 08:36 PM   #3
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


You have two hot bus bars in your box; one along the left side and one along the right. Are the circuits that are cutting in and out all on only one hot bus bar while the other hot bus bar is unaffected? If that is the case, then you likely have a problem where the power from the street comes in at the service hood outside.

This happened to my house a few years back. There are three services wires coming into your house; two hot and a neutral. There are connections at your house where the wires come in and down to your service panel. Sometimes one of those connections gets a little loose and you may lose power in one of those two hot lines intermittently or all together.

So double check what circuits are going out. If they are all on only one side of the panel, call your electric company and have them check the connections outside.
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Old 06-27-2009, 10:26 PM   #4
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


There are two fat black leads going to the Main breaker, on the left side of the panel, there is one fat white (it's actually just wrapped in white tape) lead going to the bus bar on the right.

I'm attaching a few pictures I took....

I'm including a picture of the panel with the cover on - the affected circuits are each marked with a red dot. All these circuits go off - NONE of the breakers trip.


I'm also including a picture with the cover off, and one with a detail (hopefully) of the corrosion on the bus bar on the right. Is this enough corrosion to be causing this type of problem?

My wife just dug out the bill from June of 2003. (time flies when you are having fun, huh?)

On the bill:

"Installed New - 125 Amp Panel and Meter base and Mast.
Installed GFCI in kitchen working fine."

(this was before I "entered the picture", she said she was having trouble with a GFCI outlet in the kitchen, as well, it kept tripping).

Oh, and one more thing, there are two refrigerators and a freezer on the various circuits involved, should there be a GFCI on that circuit? I heard somewhere that they should not have one, is that right?

(oh, and one other thing, the smoke detectors in the affected rooms "chirp" when the power is off, I assume they are trying to tell me that they are on battery power?)
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Old 06-27-2009, 10:57 PM   #5
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


Michael H - I am a DIYer who has taught herself how to wire her house. I now feel quite comfortable running a new circuit, planning installs, putting in recs, switches, and light fixtures, etc. I get my permits and do a clean job.

All my Awesomeness aside, I would NOT feel comfortable trying to troubleshoot someone else's electrical work. Nor would I consider service entrance work a good idea for a DIYer - too much personal safety risk and too much chance of causing really big problems.

I feel you on the money issue. But, there's a reason professionals cost money: experience, liability insurance, familiarity with national and local codes, etc. etc. etc. Good luck and let us know how it turns out.
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Old 06-27-2009, 11:13 PM   #6
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


From the way you marked those affected circuits, they all appear to be on the same leg in your panel. Notice that every other breaker seems to be affected.

The problem here is in your incoming main, either the main breaker, or further upstream at the meter box, or a power company connection.

Call your power company and report an outage. Have them check and verify all their connections before spending any more time troubleshooting this problem.

They should be able to tell you if you need an electrician or not. Worst-case scenario is you might need a new main breaker, or have to replace the service drop and meter box outside.
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Old 06-28-2009, 12:35 AM   #7
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


$6000. They installed a new 125 amp panel, and meter base, and mast. That's all stuff on our side, rather than the electric company, isn't it? Is it normal to have a problem that soon? Is that what this sort of service costs?

"You don't always get what you pay for.... but you always pay for what you get!"

We don't mind paying for what we get, as long as we get what we pay for.

(other stuff we are curious about)

Is it ok to have the refrigerator and freezer on GFCI circuits?

We noticed today that it pretty much goes on and off by itself all day long.... less at night, tho...


and is the corrosion a significant problem?
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Old 06-28-2009, 06:38 AM   #8
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


I would start with calling you local POCO.
Let them check all of the connections comming into you house.
They should check all the connections upto and including the meter pan.
If they say it's all good, then you may have to call an electrician.
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Old 06-28-2009, 10:06 AM   #9
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


I have concern about a "loose" connection that causes outages without a constant dimming of lights as well. "ON and Off " for a loose connection is a little strange without other symptoms.

Quote:
Originally Posted by hpp58 View Post
I would start with calling you local POCO.
Let them check all of the connections comming into you house.
They should check all the connections upto and including the meter pan.
If they say it's all good, then you may have to call an electrician.

Good advice.
From a POCO point of view though, sometimes it's hard to fix something if it's not doing it when they're there.
We have recording devices that can plug directly into your meter socket to monitor the voltage and current, usually leave them about a week, and ask the customer to document everytime the event happens. Then we can compare his history against the recorder to help isolate the problem to your side or ours.
This way the customer isn't out an electrician fee for something we may have caused.
If the crew doesn't find anything, ask if they have this service. We don't charge for it, but yours might.
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Old 06-28-2009, 11:23 AM   #10
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


A quick test to do next time the power on those circuits quit, is turn the stove and dryer on. If power is restored when they are turned on, you have a loose connection bewteen the bottom of the main breaker and the transformer connections.

Of course you don't have to try this teast, because you have a lose connection between the bottom of the breaker and the transformer!
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Old 06-28-2009, 12:43 PM   #11
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


(copied from another forum)

You might take the time to make sure all the connections are tight. Check each set screw in the neutral/ground bus although don't wrestle it with a lot of strength. Also turn off each breaker in turn, unsnap it from the panel, inspect where it clips on underneath, and snap it back in (This cleans the contact also). Check the screw holding the wire in for tightness before turning that breaker back on.

Should the lug under where the breaker goes be burned away or corroded, you should not use that breaker position. Also replace the breaker if the clip on the breaker underside is burned or deformed or corroded.

Do not touch the big set screws that hold the service wires on the main breaker. Only a skilled electrician should be touching that.

It is preferable not to have GFCI protection on the refrigerator and freezer circuits. So you don't have the GFCI trip without your knowing it and food then spoils.

Any part of the panel that feels unusally warm means that there could be heat damage, likely from a loose connection.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 06-28-2009 at 12:50 PM.
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Old 06-28-2009, 02:18 PM   #12
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


Can refrigeration appliances cause failures in GFCI's? Can a failing GFCI cause these types of problems? The POCO's office is closed... should I call their emergency outage line? (oops, it looks like allan answered some of these already, while I was working on this entry).

The power was going on and off all day yesterday, but worked fine after 8 pm or so. Most weekdays, it starts having trouble around 6:30 am. Today (Sunday) it went off at 10:25 and is still off almost an hour and a half later (I haven't messed with it at all today, I thought I would just monitor it and keep a log).

We have GFCI's in the kitchen, the laundry room, the bathrooms, and a kitchenette. The two kitchens and the laundry room have refrigerators and a freezer using the GFCI circuits in those rooms (some are plugged directly into GFCI outlets). I heard somewhere that it is better to not use GFCI's on circuits with refrigeration compressors cycling on and off. Should I replace the GFCI receptacles standard one?

I am completely confident in my ability to safely replace an outlet or switch or light fixture, if that's the problem. I also realize that there may be safety related codes and regulations that might require the knowledge of a seasoned professional electrian.

I like the idea of calling the power company.... I get nervous asking someone to diagnose a problem when they get paid more for bigger problems.... I want to believe that people don't do business that way, but I know that some people will do "whatever the market will bear".
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Old 06-28-2009, 03:25 PM   #13
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


Stove comes on fine, dryer won't start at all...
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Old 06-28-2009, 03:30 PM   #14
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


Quote:
Originally Posted by AllanJ View Post
(copied from another forum)

You might take the time to make sure all the connections are tight. Check each set screw in the neutral/ground bus although don't wrestle it with a lot of strength. Also turn off each breaker in turn, unsnap it from the panel, inspect where it clips on underneath, and snap it back in (This cleans the contact also). Check the screw holding the wire in for tightness before turning that breaker back on.

Should the lug under where the breaker goes be burned away or corroded, you should not use that breaker position. Also replace the breaker if the clip on the breaker underside is burned or deformed or corroded.

Do not touch the big set screws that hold the service wires on the main breaker. Only a skilled electrician should be touching that.

It is preferable not to have GFCI protection on the refrigerator and freezer circuits. So you don't have the GFCI trip without your knowing it and food then spoils.

Any part of the panel that feels unusally warm means that there could be heat damage, likely from a loose connection.
Allan, I had already tightened all the connections to the breakers in the panel. inspection of the breakers and lugs showed no problems. I am using extension cords to run the refrigeration on different circuits, because power would come and go, and I'm not sure how long it would be out before coming back on. So far, no food has spoiled due to this.
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Old 06-28-2009, 04:30 PM   #15
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Power on several circuits comes and goes all at once, never trips breaker


Ideal makes a tester, Model 65-165, that will answer your questions before you ask them. Just reading through the manual for this meter is an education in itself.

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