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Old 02-24-2010, 10:33 PM   #1
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Weird wiring in house


I'm working on an electrical repair, replacing a circuit breaker box with a new box and breakers. Before, an entire section of the house lost power, and I could tell that the box was damaged, worn out and just not serviceable. I picked up a replacement box and breakers of the same amperage, and hooked the entire system up.

Now, the part of the house that was out is working again, but ANOTHER part of the house (that previously WORKED) is having problems. Lights and outlets in that area appear to have no service, except that one flourescent fixture DOES hum when I turn its switch on, but does not light up. This indicates to me the possibility of an open neutral. I looked in the panel but don't see anything wrong, like, no loose connections or anything. That part of the house doesn't have grounded outlets so my 3-prong tester won't work there. I could test for a live hot with my proximity detector, but that won't tell me if it is for certain that we have an open neutral.

The main panel is confusing me, as its wiring appears to have been expanded more than once and just sort of "added" onto the system. This was ALL done by "qualified" electricians, as far as the owner knows. (The entire time they've owned it, every time something major at the main was done it was done by claimed licensed people) There's a main-range-four panel and three subpanels in the main cabinet, but I can't tell exactly which branches the subpanels are feeding off of, and one of them may be feeding off the "range" circuit for 240v service. (I think the range circuit is being used for the A/C because the house is fully gas-heated and has a gas range)

The part I can figure out for sure is as follows: there's two 60-amp cart fuses in the "main" side, and two 60 amp "heavy duty" (with a higher breaking capacity) in the range side. There's two 30-amp plug fuses and two 20 amp plug fuses in the branches. One of the branches is a 4-fuse panel with three 15-amp fuses and one 20-amp fuse. (This panel is labeled, with the 20 amp fuse labeled "Heater" and the other three labeled as sections of the house. I don't get the "heater" fuse because the house doesn't and has never had electric heating beyond the furnace motor, as the entire system is gas) Another panel leads to two 30-amp breakers which, by flicking off, I can tell control the basement circuits, which were added later when the basement was remodeled. The third panel has two 30-amp breakers (this is the one I replaced) and at least powers the parts of the house that were out.

I want to do some tracing though and figure out EXACTLY which wires are leading to which parts of the house. The system could be mislabeled, or the labeling could be outdated. There's clearly a few thick K&T type fabric-sheathed wires leaving that four-fuse box, so that's likely going to the older parts of the house which still have K&T, but the box I replaced apparently feeds a part of the house which I believed still had K&T, but it's wires are Romex... (Splice in the wall somewhere, possibly?) I could probably figure out what circuits go to the subpanels with my continuity tester, but beyond that, I don't know exactly to which parts of the house the subpanels are going.

So, is there a simple way or some good tools I can get that will let me figure out exactly which wires are going where? I'm thinking something like some kind of signal tracer, similar to what you'd use for tracing Cat5 cabling, but with a pigtail that you could attach to any circuit to trace its connection in the main fusebox.

I've heard of tracers made for *breakers*, but they seem to require that the outlet be functioning and they're made for circuit breakers. Ideally I'd like something self-powered that shoots a signal down the line that a receiver can trace.

Ideas?

fm


Last edited by fdmillion; 02-25-2010 at 12:42 AM.
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Old 02-25-2010, 12:49 AM   #2
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Weird wiring in house


A good tool for testing power is a multimeter...
http://www.google.com/#hl=en&source=...a94940edcea411

Then they have various wire tracing tools at an electrical supply. Might go see what they have.

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Old 02-25-2010, 09:18 AM   #3
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Weird wiring in house


Oh, I've got a good multimeter already, but I can't test for a live circuit if I don't have a ground point. The hot wire could be live, but if the neutral is open, I'll get no volts across the circuit, won't I?

I'll ask an expert at the local shop, but was just wondering if anyone on here had ever had to deal with something like this.

fm
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Old 02-25-2010, 11:34 AM   #4
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That is how you find where the neutral is open (if that is in fact the case), with a multimeter...

How to use a multimeter...
http://www.google.com/#hl=en&source=...a94940edcea411
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Old 02-25-2010, 04:55 PM   #5
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I believe that Minnesota is a state that requires electrical work be done by a licensed electrician. Are you an electrician? Or are you doing work on someone's house as a "handyman"? Did you have the original panel change permitted and inspected?

There are a variety of different tools to trace circuits in walls. Ideal makes one: http://www.idealindustries.com/prodD...?prodId=61-954
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Old 02-25-2010, 08:46 PM   #6
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Weird wiring in house


I think what you should have done was rip all those panels out and install 1 panel to take care of everything. When you start installing subpanel after subpanel you are bound to start haveing problems. The who worked on the previous remodels/additions were probably not licensed. I have been doing electrical work for 15 years in commercial, industrial and residential settings. If I were called to your home to do a remodel/repair/troubleshoot, and I see more than 1 main panel and 1 subpanel, the first thing I would do is rip out all the panels and combine them into 1 panel. The problem is most people want stuff done in their house the cheapest way possible instead of it being done right.
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Old 02-25-2010, 09:48 PM   #7
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Weird wiring in house


Quote:
Originally Posted by Jupe Blue View Post
I believe that Minnesota is a state that requires electrical work be done by a licensed electrician. Are you an electrician? Or are you doing work on someone's house as a "handyman"? Did you have the original panel change permitted and inspected?

There are a variety of different tools to trace circuits in walls. Ideal makes one: http://www.idealindustries.com/prodD...?prodId=61-954
Two Points; 1)fdm is NOT an electrician; 2) The circuit tracer by IDEAL is not Ideal; I did not have the greatest experience with it. It will work on "Thick" (1/2") breakers. But not on "Thin" (1/4") breakers. In the latter case, it will "beep" on the six breakers closest to the "traced" circuit. That's not good enough.!

Last edited by spark plug; 02-25-2010 at 09:49 PM. Reason: Two distinct points not identified.
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Old 02-26-2010, 12:57 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by fdmillion View Post
Oh, I've got a good multimeter already, but I can't test for a live circuit if I don't have a ground point.
Get a three prong extension cord, plug it in to one of your outlets that DOES have three prongs and run the extension cord to the outlet you're trying to test. Use the ground in the extension cord as your reference point. If you don't have enough extension cord, you can get common 50' outdoor rated extension cords for less than $10.
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Old 06-13-2013, 09:58 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by juni1971 View Post
I think what you should have done was rip all those panels out and install 1 panel to take care of everything. When you start installing subpanel after subpanel you are bound to start haveing problems. The who worked on the previous remodels/additions were probably not licensed. I have been doing electrical work for 15 years in commercial, industrial and residential settings. If I were called to your home to do a remodel/repair/troubleshoot, and I see more than 1 main panel and 1 subpanel, the first thing I would do is rip out all the panels and combine them into 1 panel. The problem is most people want stuff done in their house the cheapest way possible instead of it being done right.
@ Juni: I totally agree! If you are a licensed to experienced electrician.. knowing the code, proper way to having electrical installed/upgrading where it is operable, do it the right way as you suggest. In the long run it saves time especially money on a bunch of troubleshooting, tracing which could take a whole day or two depending on what all is involved that's screwed up. Having one panel that feeds everything.. even a combo panel with it as its needed corrects allot. Your able to identify problems easier, isolate issues where they wont be recurring ones!!!!
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Old 06-13-2013, 10:04 PM   #10
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Weird wiring in house


I had to troubleshoot a problem before where when the cable guy went to plug in the dvr device.. then the usb in the tv.. the usb shorted the tv out. The receptacle tested hot/reverse neutral. The cable tech told the owner that there was a loose ground- but obviously that wasn't the case.. which I know in the beginning. The problem wasn't in the receptacle either. Guess where the problem begun?
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Old 06-13-2013, 10:12 PM   #11
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Weird wiring in house


Shut off your main, get an extesion cord/wire, and check for continuity between panels.
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Old 06-14-2013, 04:32 AM   #12
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I started this thread 3 years ago. (LOL!) The house I was discussing was my parent's house. I have now "inherited" their house as they have relocated to a more accessible home as they age. In light of this, I've finally taken the opportunity to completely eliminate the old wiring system.

Here in my county in MN we are allowed to do all the installation ourselves except for the connection at the weatherhead to the PoCo outside the house. We can install our own meter box and just leave it empty, the PoCo will install the meter and lock the box up when they energize. We only need have a licensed electrician inspect the world done and sign off so the power company can energize the new service; there is a county provided licensed inspector who charges extremely reasonable rates ($75 for full single house inspection as long as everything is visible; extra if he has to do extra work to get to stuff to check it or if it's a particularly huge house or job).

So, all of the old wiring I originally wrote about is piled in the garage, so I can strip it for the copper. :-) New wiring is going in the entire house and everything is being updated to current code. The overhead wire feeding the garage is being converted to an underground feed, with a new single 200A subpanel running the house and a full 60A subpanel out to the garage for my new tool shop I'm going to setup out there. It's a lot of work, but I know it's going to be extremely well worth it!

F
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Old 06-14-2013, 09:43 AM   #13
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GREAT
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Old 06-14-2013, 06:49 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fdmillion View Post
I started this thread 3 years ago. (LOL!) The house I was discussing was my parent's house. I have now "inherited" their house as they have relocated to a more accessible home as they age. In light of this, I've finally taken the opportunity to completely eliminate the old wiring system.

Here in my county in MN we are allowed to do all the installation ourselves except for the connection at the weatherhead to the PoCo outside the house. We can install our own meter box and just leave it empty, the PoCo will install the meter and lock the box up when they energize. We only need have a licensed electrician inspect the world done and sign off so the power company can energize the new service; there is a county provided licensed inspector who charges extremely reasonable rates ($75 for full single house inspection as long as everything is visible; extra if he has to do extra work to get to stuff to check it or if it's a particularly huge house or job).

So, all of the old wiring I originally wrote about is piled in the garage, so I can strip it for the copper. :-) New wiring is going in the entire house and everything is being updated to current code. The overhead wire feeding the garage is being converted to an underground feed, with a new single 200A subpanel running the house and a full 60A subpanel out to the garage for my new tool shop I'm going to setup out there. It's a lot of work, but I know it's going to be extremely well worth it!

F
GREAT!!!! Glade see you doing it the right way= saves allot of time, and much safer way to go!

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