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Old 06-09-2011, 03:22 PM   #1
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


Hi,
We had/have two electrical problems and wonder if they are connected and so indicate something really wrong. I posted my first problem in a separate thread (burned out outlets - are we in danger of a fire?).

Background (also mentioned in the other thread - not sure if it's relevant or not): Our house is a 1967 raised ranch in central NY. We've owned it for almost 10 years but between when it was built and us, it had several owners. Each one probably did some work involving the circuits because the breaker box & the circuits are confusing. We did a garage renovation this winter/spring which involved changing some circuits (we switched a electric range to gas to free up power which went to the garage). We pulled a building permit and the electrical inspector said that our circuit breaker box passed but it was messy & crowded and recommended we have it cleaned up.

Last week, the following day after we lost power in the basement circuit, I started some laundry when I smelled something burning and noticed a little bit of smoke. I immediately shut the breaker to the W/D. Later I flipped the breaker back on to see what would happen. I saw another wisp of smoke and so shut down the breaker and unplugged the W/D.

Today the Maytag repair guy was here and he said there was nothing burned and near as he could tell, everything should work both washer or dryer. He could not get either to start and so started checking the outlet (a 240 dedicated circuit). He said that the readings were normal with the W/D unplugged but when he tried working the w/d, the readings from the plug were strange.

This is what he said he got for readings when the 240 outlet was under load:
red to black: 237
red to white: 236
black to white: 7

OK, I understand basic wiring but this info just whooses over my head. I've put in a call to our electrician (and yes, he's licensed) and will put it in his hands. That said, I have some questions:

- What in the world does this mean? Does it sound like the repair guy knew what he was talking about?

- The washer/dryer was working just peachy before - what could make the power go suddenly unbalanced like this?

- since this happened around the same time as the basement outlet burned out, could they be connected?

- the morning that the outlet burned out (and a day before I tried to use the W/D), a transformer blew up in a nearby neighborhood (huge bang) and our power went out briefly. Could that have affected our house electrical system in any way? I wouldn't think that could but at this point I'm getting paranoid. On the other hand, what do I know?

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Old 06-09-2011, 03:42 PM   #2
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


sounds like open neutral.

black or red to white should be 120

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Old 06-09-2011, 05:09 PM   #3
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


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sounds like open neutral.

black or red to white should be 120
I agree
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Old 06-09-2011, 05:21 PM   #4
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


Where is your transformer? Your neutral starts at the transformer and as other have said, it sound like a neutral problem.
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Old 06-09-2011, 06:42 PM   #5
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


Unplug all electronics including microwave ovens and washing machines with digital readouts.

Turn off all big appliances (240 volt appliances) including stove, air conditioner, water heater.

You need to another set of red-white and black-white voltage measurements at the big lugs in the panel, with some incandescent lights on. Turn a few lights off or more lights on and measure again.

If a neutral was loose you can have odd voltages here and there, and appliances can be burned out from this.
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Last edited by AllanJ; 06-09-2011 at 06:45 PM.
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Old 06-09-2011, 08:58 PM   #6
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


You need to call an electrician. Open neutrals can cause a variety of damage and are often difficult to diagnose, not to mention dangerous for the inexperienced. The problem can range from an mwbc, a loose connection or a possible problem with your panel. And that transformer which blew could be a contributor to this problem.....but the burned up outlets are not related.
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Old 06-09-2011, 09:14 PM   #7
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


Thanks for the replies. I'm not trying to be dense but I want to make sure I understand. Do you guys think the the open neutral is likely in the washer/dryer dedicated circuit? Or could this be a whole house issue? Which would mean the problem is in the circuit breaker box - right? We're cool with looking into loose/damaged wires in outlets but we draw the line on messing with the breaker panel wiring. If this is a whole house issue how serious is it? I called up to set an appointment with the electrician but they haven't gotten back with me yet and knowing how their scheduling tends to go, it'll probably be Monday before he's sent here.

Last edited by ChrisJJ; 06-09-2011 at 09:24 PM.
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Old 06-09-2011, 09:28 PM   #8
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


If this happened immediately after the transformer blew I would suspect a whole house situation. But if only the washer dryer is affected, it's most likely a wiring issue on that circuit. Does everything else in the home work? Do you have any other 240 circuits which have failed? Troubleshoot as much as you are comfortable with.
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Old 06-10-2011, 06:15 AM   #9
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


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I agree
I also agree. lol
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Old 06-10-2011, 12:27 PM   #10
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


Update: The electrician came by an hour ago and found the problem immediately in the circuit breaker box: 2 neutral wires were out of the neutral bar sockets (not sure if I have the terms right) and 2 were very loose (they came out with minimal effort). Three grounds were also out. He went through and reseated each one & made sure the screws holding them were tight. We tested the w/d and it works (well both washer/dryer turned on - I'm running a test load to see if they can complete the cycles). I had forgot to mention in my first post that the exhaust fan for our main bathroom had also failed this week - well it's working again.

Whew! I was really worried that this was going to mean an emergency majorly expensive repair, all my appliances & electronics were going to burn out or we were all going to die. I'm not sure which would've been worse. As well, it looks (knock on wood) like the w/d escaped damage from the power imbalance.

Thanks everyone for your advice & information.
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Old 06-10-2011, 12:36 PM   #11
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


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Originally Posted by ChrisJJ View Post
Update: The electrician came by an hour ago and found the problem immediately in the circuit breaker box: 2 neutral wires were out of the neutral bar sockets (not sure if I have the terms right) and 2 were very loose (they came out with minimal effort). Three grounds were also out. He went through and reseated each one & made sure the screws holding them were tight. We tested the w/d and it works (well both washer/dryer turned on - I'm running a test load to see if they can complete the cycles). I had forgot to mention in my first post that the exhaust fan for our main bathroom had also failed this week - well it's working again.

Whew! I was really worried that this was going to mean an emergency majorly expensive repair, all my appliances & electronics were going to burn out or we were all going to die. I'm not sure which would've been worse. As well, it looks (knock on wood) like the w/d escaped damage from the power imbalance.

Thanks everyone for your advice & information.
Glad to hear it's all working. They really do know their business here. What was the cost for the Sparky?
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Old 06-11-2011, 07:04 AM   #12
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Unbalanced power under load (question 2)


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Glad to hear it's all working. They really do know their business here. What was the cost for the Sparky?
Yes, I'm relieved. Don't know what the final bill will be. This company does not have the electricians do the billing on site but instead they send us a bill. Smart on their part because they are on the more expensive side.

We figure it's worth it because they're responsive and we trust their work. My SO & I are both careful & methodical and so do our own simple wiring (I'll admit I'm slow - I've got a bit of a perfectionist streak - but in the end my outlets are things of beauty ). I'm not dumb and could do more complex stuff (maybe even in the - gasp - panel!) but knowing me, it would take forever and a day and afterwards I would stay awake at night worrying that I missed something critical. I figure I'd rather spend the money and sleep at night.

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