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Tom 03-17-2005 09:44 AM

Three electricans said it was impossible!
I own a forty five year old house. It began with the lights momentarily flickering. Over a week this progressed to the electricity in 80% of the house going out for a few seonds (long enough for the clocks, timers, cable box etc. to go out). We had assumed it was a neighborhood problem and called our neighbors. They had no problems. We called electrican #1. When he came everything was fine. He checked the breakers (we have two boxes, a new "main" with only a few breakers and the old panel with about 18 old type breakers no longer available new). The old box had two bad breakers we could not replace due to not having any replacements available at that time. All wiring on the two bad breakers had previous to our buying the house two years ago, been doubled up on other good breakers. Electrician #1 tightened all the wiring in the old box and said he could not identify the problem due to nothing being wrong while he was here (very nice guy). The problem got worst with more and longer lapses. Electrician #1 was not available. We called electrician #2. At this point 80% or our house would go out for hours several times per day. The day prior to electricial #2 arriving my wife made a discovery!!! When she turned on the stove the lights came back on. She called me at work and I told her it was probably coincidence but if it made the lights work great. I come home around 9:00 p.m. and the 80% is out. She tells me she has not turned on the lights (stove) so I could do it. I walk over to the stove and turn the stove on. Yes, all the electricity instantly now worked. By this time I had drop cords leading from the 20% of the electricity that worked to the critical lights and small appliances(all the wall outlets on one and a half walls of the house) due the outages lasting for hours). Electrician #2 came, replaced the four circuit breakers that he said were bad with used circuit breakers, charged $400, said the "stove turn on" was impossible and left. Sure enough the within a couple of hours 70% of the electricity was out. Yes, 70%. With the replacement of the breakers we now kept an additional 10% when the majority went out. Now the interesting part. I got home my wife had me walk over to the stove, turn on the stove and the lights came on. She had waited for me again, to again prove her system worked. Electrician #2 came back the next day. He had Edison come out and open the main box, he checked out the main box, changed the main breaker utilizing a used breaker because the new he had with him was the wrong type, took my perfectly good main breaker he had taken out, and charged me $185. Sure enough within a few hours it was out again. This time the same amount of circuits was out, no improvement. The next day Electricain #2 came back with his brother who was both an electrician and general contractor. He seemed to have much more experience. They looked around, opened the junction box leading to the stove, this time both testified to the "stove turn on" being a total coincidence or there might be a junction box under the floor that by walking over the stove we were fixing the problem but no the "stove turn on" was impossible. They then said I needed to pay $8,300 to rewire my house plus I had to have the holes repaired they left. Nothing improved, the problem progressed and the lights would go out every few hours and my wife would turn them on with the stove. The next day I called and asked Electrician #2 if he would come back based on the warranty. He said no but he did return my second payment of $185. Now we had recommended to us Electrician #3. He was booked and could not come out for five days. We waited. The problem progressed as to frequency with our 70% going out within hours each time. Once during this period (yes I was here to observe and now testify) turing on one burner of the stove did not fully turn on the electricity. The previously out lights came on dimly. My fifteen year old son suggested I turn on a second burner. Sure enough the lights came on full intensity. Since that times the "stove turn on" has worked instantly and 100% with only one burner. During the period we waited for Electricain #3 we determined all the areas of the house going out were on circuit breakers #12 & #14. Electrcian #3 came,checked out everything, changed a couple of wires to heavier stock, he said one wire was definitely loose in the old circuit box, and said the "stove turn-on" was impossible due it being on a totally different circuit. He also charged very fairly and did not recommend we rewire the house. We did get a bid and it was 30% of Electrcian #2's bid. He said if we had additional problems he would rewire the circuit for only the circuit breakers #12 &#14 at minimal cost comparatively. Last night the electricity in the 70% went out only once and the "stove turn on" worked.

I am now very curious about the "stove turn on" since I know from observation it works (at least 25 occasions and only once partially until the second burner was turned on) and three electricians have said it is impossible. We of course trid walking over to the stove and not turning on the stove nothing happened. Turning the knob definitely activated the circuits. Additionally I appreciate any insight into the solution to my problem. My apologies about the length of this post but felt all information was necessary in order to understand the problem. Yes, I was venting about Electrician #2.

Teetorbilt 03-17-2005 09:57 AM

Do you know when the stove was installed? Does it have a plug/recptacle or is it hard wired? Do you know how many wires there are to connect it?

pipeguy 03-17-2005 11:00 AM

Since you don't actually say so, I'm assuming that your stove is electric, not gas. First thing I'd do is pull the breaker for the stove from the box, eat out for a week, and see if the problem stops. Very odd problem.

Tom 03-17-2005 11:05 AM


Originally Posted by Teetorbilt
Do you know when the stove was installed? Does it have a plug/recptacle or is it hard wired? Do you know how many wires there are to c
onnect it?

It is hard wired, There are 3 wires. The stove was here when we bought the house 2 years ago. I will guess the stove top is at least 8 years old, may be a lot older, the oven is separate. thank you for your help.


pipeguy 03-17-2005 11:08 AM


Originally Posted by Tom
the oven is separate.

Do you mean the 'stove' is a counter mounted electric cook-top only?

Tom 03-17-2005 11:12 AM


Originally Posted by pipeguy
Do you mean the 'stove' is a counter mounted electric cook-top only?

Yes, It is a counter mounted electric cooktop only.

pipeguy 03-17-2005 11:19 AM


Originally Posted by Tom
Yes, It is a counter mounted electric cooktop only.

Does it have a dedicated breaker, or does it share one with something else?

Tom 03-17-2005 11:46 AM


Originally Posted by pipeguy
Does it have a dedicated breaker, or does it share one with something else?

It has a dedicated breaker.

pipeguy 03-17-2005 12:16 PM

Like I said, I'd pull the breaker and see if the problem stops. Since you KNOW that the problem is influenced by the additional load presented by the cooktop, remove the cooktop circuit, in its entirety, from the equation and see if the problem remains.

Tom 03-17-2005 12:47 PM


Originally Posted by pipeguy
Like I said, I'd pull the breaker and see if the problem stops. Since you KNOW that the problem is influenced by the additional load presented by the cooktop, remove the cooktop circuit, in its entirety, from the equation and see if the problem remains.

I pull the breaker out but the problem still there.:confused:

jbfan 03-17-2005 02:24 PM

I'm thinking a loose hot on one side of the power in. When you turn on the cooktop, it creates enough current draw to overcome the loose connection and cause the other circuits on that line to work. I would begin by having the power company check to make sure the connections to your drop are tight! If they can not find anything wrong then you may have to shut the power down and begin looking for loose connections on the main breaker or the buss. I have run into this problem one time, had the poco pull the meter, tightened the connection at the main breaker and told them it was temp. fix. 3 months later replace the entire panel.

NormZ 03-17-2005 02:34 PM

[QUOTE=jbfan]I'm thinking a loose hot on one side of the power in. QUOTE]

I agree with jbfan that the problem is likely from the power source (ie, the power company's transformer or possibly the meter). The next time it happens, try to leave the power off and contact your electric company. They should be able to come out and check power at your meter. My experience is mostly with commercial/industrial, but typically the utility company responds fairly quickly (within hours) and and shouldn't charge you. As I said, if possible leave the power OFF so that they can see the problem for themselves.

Teetorbilt 03-17-2005 03:55 PM

Any chance that you have aluminum wiring? Seems to me that it was just about this time that they were doing it..

jeromekeating 03-17-2005 05:25 PM

thats very strange.

I agree that it is probably one side of the power in, except i think i have an idea of why the stove turns on the rest of the power.

I'm not an electrician but if I'm not mistaken, the two power sources are both 110V RMS but out of phase so that the voltage between the two is 220 (basically like they're 110V from the neutral, in opposite directions.) Half of your house's wiring will be hooked up on one of the sources and half on the other.

110V circuits draw from one source and use the neutral, while 220V circuits instead draw from one source to the other one.

Now lets say one of the sources, call it B, is cutting out and becoming grounded - the only way i could see this happening is if it was shorting out outside the house but you would see sparks like crazy and the electric company would notice - but lets say it did somehow. None of the 110V circuits on that source will work. The stove will still be able to draw a 110V current from source A since B acts similar to a neutral - that makes it justa 110V circuit. But turning on the stove (since a stove is one of the few devices that has a 220V cirtuit and it is capable of drawing a very large current) acts as a "bridge" for the current from the A source into the circuits on B. Turning on the burner allows the current to flow out of source A, through the stove, back to source B and some of it flows off into the circuits conected to B. Turning on another burner allows more of a current to be transferred from A over to B (which is dead) and provides more power for the B circuits.

That might explain the reason teh behavior of the circuits is changing. If the lights would turn on completely when you turn on the stove, then it means that source B is completely dead (btu not grounded - just an open circuit), and a large 110V current flows from A, through the stove, back to the breaker panel, and through all the circuits connected to B, and then to the neutral that all those cirtuits are connected to. This way there would only be 110 V running through your stove but it would still function at half power.

Then if the short is instead only shorting out slightly, or becoming slightly grounded, much of the current from A will flow through the stove and into whatever ground or short there is in B. Only a little current is left for teh circuits on B.

In any case, this would be caused by a problem with the source before the breaker panel, perhaps outside the house and you should call your electric company..

Supposedly you could do this, but i strongly advise you do NOT play around with the sources because you don't have a breaker panel to protect you and no way to turn it off... But just for theory - if the power went out on B you could disconnect the B power source and connect the B terminal in teh breaker panel to the A terminal - then you would not be able to use your stove or any other 220V device... and if you did this without disconnecting B, then when B comes back on there's going to be a large explosion of sparks in your basement.

It might be hard to imaging but if you want to see a picture, just pull off the cover for your main breaker switch panel. You'll see all the white wires from 110V circuits go to a neutral, and all the blacks go to one of the two sources. You will see a 220V circuit does not go to the neutral, instead it will go to both sources. Even if it appears that both wires go to one side, it's probably because the two sources are staggered so two adjacent breaker switches are on different sources (i.e. 12 and 14 are on the same source, 13 on the other.)

Go to the store and buy a circuit tester for about $30. When your power goes out, go down to the breaker panel where the stove is wired up. Test the voltage across the two hot terminals for the stove. I bet it won't be as high as 220. Then take the plate off your main breaker panel. Without electricuting yourself (watch where you put your fingers and those pesky nuckles can stick out) test the voltage in three places. first you shoudl find 110V between the neutral and source A. Then you should (but probably wont) find 110V between the neutral and source B. then you should (but probably wont) find 220V between the two sources.

If you find that those voltages are wrong, then test the voltages between each of the sources and teh ground. yes, one probe on source A and the other on the ground wire. You might find that one of the sources is either dead (0V) or has a very low voltage. If AND ONLY IF it's completely dead, and there is NO voltage between the source and the ground, then switch the circuit tester to test resistance (the greek letter Omega - ohms) and adjust the probes appropriately. Make sure your wife doesn't turn on the stove, and test the resistance across the dead source and the ground. There should be infinite resistance (tester may display the number 1 or somethign) because it's not supposed to be a circuit... But if there is some measured resistance then that means there is a short between the dead source and the ground. If you are testing this and either the stove is turned on or the power comes on again, then it will just blow the fuse in your circuit tester - no biggy.

then call up the power company...

jeromekeating 03-17-2005 06:22 PM


I just mentioned this to my father. He said the exact same thing happened at the old farm house a few years back. The problem was that the contact was loose on the main fuse - the big fat fuses for the whole house. All he had to do was remove the fuse and squeeze the metal contacts together to make a tighter connection. He had the same problems with the stove and everythign which I believe is as I described above.

But your problem may not be at the fuse panel. The short or the break in the circuit may be somewhere else, maybe not even within your home. Especially because it's something that comes and goes, I have a feeling it's outside and perhaps things like the weather conditions could affect how badly your source is shorting out... But definitely check all the connections for your power source BEFORE the main switch panel - but of course make sure what you're checking isn't live before you touch it. Even using rubber-handled tools you can get a shock so be very careful.

When the power goes out, if you say it will stay out for several hours, then tell teh electric company that you will call them when it goes out so they can rush over and start testing the outside wires while the power is out. This troubleshooting process will have to be quite interactive between you and the electric company since the power comes off and on.

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