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Old 06-27-2014, 02:24 PM   #1
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Power fades in and out


This topic has probably been discussed before, but I could find nothing appropriate to my question, so I'm asking it again.

The power in my apartment fades in and out. Periodically, lights dim and then brighten again, fans run faster then slow down again. This happens at random intervals, but I would say typically every few minutes. The lights will dim for a minute or two or five, then brighten again for another couple-three minutes. Sometimes it goes much longer in between, like for 10-20 minutes I won't notice any change. At other times it will happen every 30 seconds or so.

The "fading" isn't very intense, but it is noticeable. I have my computer equipment connected to an isolation transformer, and I can hear the transformer click occasionally as it steps up/down the voltage to compensate.

There is no relationship to any appliance turning on and off, like refrigerator or air conditioner. It happens on all circuits. I called ComEd, the electric utility, and asked them to check the outside wiring. They report that it's fine.

I do live in a densely populated area in the Chicago suburbs, with many apartment buildings nearby. So it could be that the transformers on the utility poles outside are overloaded, but ComEd reports no problems.

At this point my only option seems to be to call an electrician. However, before I do that, I would like to get the input of other members who have had similar experiences or those simply knowledgeable in this matter about what sorts of things could cause this problem.
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Old 06-27-2014, 02:36 PM   #2
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Sounds like a loose neutral.
Do you own the apartment, or are you a tenant?

The problem could be from the pole all the way to the panel.
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Old 06-27-2014, 02:59 PM   #3
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I would guess it may be from surrounding homes using high draw devices. When my neighbor's ac compressor kicks on I see my lights dim for a split second. For some reason when my ac compressors kick on there is no dimming.
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Old 06-27-2014, 03:17 PM   #4
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Are the affected lights/etc on a possible long run (far from your service panel) multi-wire branch circuit.

(When a multi-wire with a loaded 120 gets it's opposing leg to balance it out, you are effectively changing your voltage drop.)

However you did say that it did not seem related with any opposing loads... so maybe a bad splice somewhere.... except the irregularness of it does not seem logical.

I would ask a more knowledgeable person than me, if unbalanced loading between service panels, could be affecting your service voltage.... except you said you had the power company check your service voltage.

???????

Best EDIT: Forget my earlier comments,.... did not notice you said happens on all circuits...... have you checked your neutral lug for tight.?
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Last edited by MTN REMODEL LLC; 06-27-2014 at 03:19 PM.
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Old 06-27-2014, 03:25 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by mikegp View Post
I would guess it may be from surrounding homes using high draw devices. When my neighbor's ac compressor kicks on I see my lights dim for a split second. For some reason when my ac compressors kick on there is no dimming.
I thought of that, but don't you think that this would be very short? Like you said, your lights dim for a split second.

Mine aren't like that. They will dim and stay dimmed for anywhere from 5 seconds to several minutes. Then they will brighten, again for anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes. And sometimes they stay put at whatever level they are for up to 30 minutes. Can someone powering on a large device in the neighborhood do that?

Also, like I mentioned, they don't get VERY dim. It's hard for me to describe how dim because it's subjective, and eyes adjust after a while. But the closest objective measurement I can provide is that USUALLY they don't push my isolation transformer.

I have a 1000 watt isolation transformer for some of my computer equipment. It's got 5 LED lights at the front indicating incoming voltage. Normally the middle light should be on, but it'll switch to the lower lights if the voltage is too low and to the upper lights if it's too high. It also makes a loud clicking sound when it switches so I can tell even if I'm not looking.

I'd say 90% of the "dim outs" don't affect the isolation transformer, meaning that the voltage drop isn't sufficient for it to step up a level. Maybe 10% of the time the dimming is severe enough to push the transformer a notch. Now I don't know the exact steps on that transformer, but I'm guessing probably 10 volts.

I forgot to mention this before, but I have had this problem for about 10 years. That's why I bought the transformer in the first place, to protect my computer from these fluctuations. I have the feeling that lately the problem has gotten worse.
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Old 06-27-2014, 03:32 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MTN REMODEL LLC View Post
Are the affected lights/etc on a possible long run (far from your service panel) multi-wire branch circuit.

....

Best EDIT: Forget my earlier comments,.... did not notice you said happens on all circuits...... have you checked your neutral lug for tight.?
Not sure how long a long run is. I don't think I have any long runs, no outlet is more than about 30-40 feet from the control panel. That's straight distance, of course, the wire length would be longer since it follows walls.

Nope I haven't checked the neutral lug. That would involve taking the cover plate off the panel, right? I've never done that before and electricity scares me, so I'd probably need to read up the procedure and precautions first, or have a professional electrician do it.

What else might be causing this aside from a loose neutral lug? It's got to be something inside, because ComEd says they checked the outside wiring and it was okay.
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Old 06-27-2014, 04:17 PM   #7
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Open neutral somewhere. The brightening is a give away. Assuming you mean brighter than normal.
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Old 06-27-2014, 04:24 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by RArmstrong View Post
Not sure how long a long run is. I don't think I have any long runs, no outlet is more than about 30-40 feet from the control panel. That's straight distance, of course, the wire length would be longer since it follows walls.

Nope I haven't checked the neutral lug. That would involve taking the cover plate off the panel, right? I've never done that before and electricity scares me, so I'd probably need to read up the procedure and precautions first, or have a professional electrician do it.

What else might be causing this aside from a loose neutral lug? It's got to be something inside, because ComEd says they checked the outside wiring and it was okay.
That means nothing. The problem may not have been occurring at the time it was measured. Also how they tested it comes in question. If they just took a meter to the legs it wont tell much. If an open neutral is suspected or a long run load banking is the only reliable way. An open neutral will show up immediately on a load bank, as well as excessive voltage drop.

My advise to you is buy a digital volt meter. Preferably a true RMS type made by Fluke. Plug a table lamp into the outlet. When the lights dims or brightens, take a reading at the outlet. If its over 126 volts or below 106 you have a problem.

Last edited by Jump-start; 06-27-2014 at 04:29 PM.
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Old 06-27-2014, 05:21 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by RArmstrong View Post
1 - but ComEd reports no problems.

2 - At this point my only option seems to be to call an electrician.

1 - Probably normal proceedure, Unless they are there whilst the problem is evident, then it is a waste of time.
You need to find some pattern to the problem, so you can tell them when the best time is to check things out.

2 - You best first option - The problem could lie in so many different area's you will need a good electrician to determine which area the problem is in, but again it would be most helpful if you could tell him when the problem is most evident.

Finding intermittant problems like this can be time consuming, not impossable, but it will require a good experienced electrician and some time.

possable causes - over loaded trannies, over loaded power lines,
loose splices, over loaded switch gear and boards, burnt out wires and splices, poor load balancing.

Most of these things require the services of an qualified electrician !

Please come back and let us know what the problem turns out to be ?

Be careful !
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Old 06-27-2014, 07:47 PM   #10
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I found an article that referred to dimming/brightening lights this while educating myself on electrical systems. Hopefully it helps.
--------------------------

Single phase has two phases (yes, I know, it's not logical)

Each phase consists of electrical potential (voltage) oscillating back and forth (I will leave out voltage and frequency numbers, as they are not necessary to the explination.)

If you connect a load phase to phase, you can think of it kind of like two men on a cross-cut saw, or like pedaling a bicycle. one pulls while the other pushes.

Then some physicist realized that if you put a third wire into the system, that basically just goes along for the ride, then you can use that to allow some reduced power applications. Now the crosscut saw and the bicycle kind of lose relevance, because you are talking about using the power, while they were talking about making it.

Perhaps the illustration that will be relevant for you is a seesaw. you have load "a" on one side of the seesaw. this represents about half of the 120V appliances, lights, etc, and half of all the 240V appliances. load "b" is on the other side of the seesaw, and has the other half of the 240V appliances, and the remainder of the 120V stuff. as they go up and down, parts of the load will be getting on and off of the seesaw, and it will never be perfectly in balance. now visualize a person, who stands in the middle of the seesaw and lifts on one side or the other of the center point to keep the seesaw in balance. This is an illustration of the function of the neutral wire.

In an electrical system, the neutral wire connects to the midpoint of the transformer that reduces the transmission voltage to your household voltage. in a 120/240V system, the voltage from either end of the transformer to the center is 110-120V. the voltage from end to end is 240V. a load that is "in balance" carries the voltage from one end of the transformer to the other. This could be a 240V appliance like a water heater, or it could be two matching light bulbs on opposite phases. a load that is not "in balance" has different current flows at the midpoint connection, and the amount of current that is not "in balance" flows out of the neutral wire to the midpoint of the transformer.

The result of a failed neutral wire is frequently dramatic. If you return to the seesaw illustration, imagine that you have the half of the house that is on the "a" side all on, while very ittle of the "b" side is on. the "neutral" balancer slips and falls. The "a" side will come crashing down to the ground, while the "b" side flings upward, possibly even falling off the seesaw.

In an electrical system without a neutral, the voltage used will be divided across the midpoint of the circuit. the further out of balance the circuit is, the larger the voltage difference. I have measured fault voltages as far off balance as 180-190V on one side, and 50-60 volts on the other. this will quickly and efficiently fry most household appliances, and will (on the high side) rapidly burn out light bulbs.

*public service message* if you notice your light bulbs in your house getting alternately too bright and too dim as you turn lights on and off, unplug your expensive appliances and electronics, and call an electrician, and the power company right away.

Last edited by bilug; 06-27-2014 at 07:51 PM.
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Old 06-27-2014, 08:18 PM   #11
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Are you actually getting abnormal brightening, which is due to the voltage being abnormally high? As opposed to dimming (below normal) and brightening back to normal?

The difference is hard to see but measuring with a voltmeter will verify it.

If the voltage does not go abnormally high on any circuits then you probably do not have a neutral problem
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Old 06-27-2014, 08:24 PM   #12
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we are replacing a service for doing the exact same thing you are explaining...because we found water in the box comming down the service cable and getting the bus bar all wet and it started to corrode not allowing good contact....may want to see if that could be your problem...or have someone check it ...
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Old 06-28-2014, 12:56 AM   #13
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we are replacing a service for doing the exact same thing you are explaining...because we found water in the box comming down the service cable and getting the bus bar all wet and it started to corrode not allowing good contact....may want to see if that could be your problem...or have someone check it ...
Replacing a service may or may not solve the problem if it isn't the cause. Heavily loaded transformers and high loads cycling on and off, either your's or someone else's can cause dimming and brightening too.

The railroad replaced their gas track switch heaters with electric some years ago, and since then, whenever the temperature drops enough to activate them there is a noticeable dimming at my house. It doesn't concern me. It's be great, though impractical to put every customer on their own individual transformer.
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Old 06-28-2014, 07:16 AM   #14
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A single phase service is one phase, not two like stated above. The hot legs are 180 degrees shifted.
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Old 06-28-2014, 07:37 AM   #15
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Quote:
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Are you actually getting abnormal brightening, which is due to the voltage being abnormally high? As opposed to dimming (below normal) and brightening back to normal?

The difference is hard to see but measuring with a voltmeter will verify it.

If the voltage does not go abnormally high on any circuits then you probably do not have a neutral problem
Just as a note, the op is in an apartment. He may only be fed via one leg of a single phase service or 1 leg from a 3 phase service. A lot of older apartments get only 1 120 volt leg. In cases like that if he is on the leg that always has heavier loading he may never see brightening.
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