220s don't deliver, lights dim


Old 10-20-04, 07:34 PM
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Exclamation 220s don't deliver, lights dim

Got a problem that cropped up during (but not necessarily related to) a storm.

None of my 220s deliver the amps. Stove lights and clock work, eyes don't warm up. Dryer spins, no heat. Washer doesn't even spin.

Additionally, the kitchen circuit has three outlets that drop out without tripping the breaker. I put the refrigerator on a separate circuit and that is no longer occurring.

I put a tester on the junction box and on the outlets. My two main hot lines in read combined 220. My stove outlet hots read combined 220. Combined circuit breakers (pears of 110s on stove, dryer, water heater) test 110 at both hot poles.

The box is 200 amp GE from 1977. House is from early 50s and hasn't been rewired.

Cold showers and microwaving dinner isn't so bad, the driving to the laundromat when I have my own laundry room is a major inconvenience. So is not having hot water for washing dishes.

So, two questions:

1. Where do I (or an electrician) look for the cause?

2. Does this sound like an unsafe condition?

My brother, not an electrician but a moderate handyman, says it's all a sign that the aluminum wiring is suffering metal fatique and failing when resistance/heat reaches a certain temperature - and that they are incapable of passing the required amps for the 220 devices.)

Last edited by DangerousDYIGuy; 10-20-04 at 07:40 PM. Reason: Subscribe to the forum
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Old 10-20-04, 08:32 PM
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: United States
Posts: 18,497
First, go to your panel and switch off all of your double-pole breakers.

Then come back inside and call your power company. Immediately! Now! Tonight! Not tomorrow morning--now! They work all night. Tell them just what you told us. They'll send somebody out.
Old 10-20-04, 11:00 PM
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And if the wiring is not aluminum?

I subsequently read that aluminum was not in use at the time this house was build or when airconditioning and a new junction box were added in 1977.

The two hot lines coming in are silver looking, as are a couple of the 110-pairs going to stove and dryer. However, one of those has a nick and it seems like the wire might by copper with an aluminum or other coat. Does that make sense?

What is going on here and what can calling out the power company do? They don't do home repairs. Is the problem with the meter? Is that what they would fix? Or would they take one look, pull the meter, and tell me to call in an electrical contractor?

I appreciate your strong warnings, but tell me what you think is happening that warrant calling the power company in the middle of the night. Especially now that it appears that the wiring might not be aluminum.


(I did turn off all of the 220s and turned off any devices, other than this computer.)

Last edited by DangerousDYIGuy; 10-20-04 at 11:24 PM. Reason: More information
Old 10-21-04, 04:43 AM
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Please follow John's advice and call the power company now.

From the description you gave, it sounds as if you have lost one of the phase (hot) wires coming into your house. This is absolutely unsafe and has nothing to do with whether your wires are copper or aluminum.

At any given wire size, it is true that aluminum wire has less current handling capacity than copper, but as I said, that is not relevant here.
Old 10-21-04, 04:45 AM
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Central New York State
Posts: 13,973
Call the power company NOW. Why are you waiting?

It sounds like you have a problem with one of your incoming service lines. The problem is most likely not in the house, but outside.

You are risking damaging your appliances the longer you wait.

Aluminum wiring has nothing to do with this.

Call your power company NOW.
Old 10-21-04, 07:30 AM
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Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: The Colony, Texas
Posts: 917
Have enough of us chimed in and convinced you to call the power company? Did they come out? Is the problem fixed? Don't mean to be annoying, but this is a common problem that many of the people on this forum have seen many times before. The symptoms are classic. The problem is usually at the transformer, meter, or somewhere in between. There are several types of damage that this can cause if left unchecked. This could easily have been caused by the storm - lightning, rain or wind or may be totally unrelated.

Doug M.
Old 10-21-04, 09:27 AM
Join Date: Jan 2004
Location: Oregon
Posts: 1,219

I hope that you have called the power company by now. The advice that you have been given is correct. You also asked for a bit of explanation; I will try to accommodate that.

The problems that you describe clearly indicate that you have a significant problem with one of the 'hot' legs feeding the house. Since you can meter correct voltages but loads are not being correctly driven, you suspected some sort of temporary failure. The reality is probably simpler: you probably have some sort of high resistance failure. With no loads connected, enough current passes to register full on a meter, but with loads connected the voltage drops tremendously.

This problem could be _anywhere_ from the power company transformer to point of commonality between all of the loads that have problems, eg. your main breaker panel. Somewhere there is a bad splice or a failed wire or connection.

The problem might also be the meter or your main circuit breaker or the points where the main circuit breaker connects to your main bus.

Clearly only some of these possibilities are the power company responsibility; but you should get them to check their part of the service, and if they localize the problem to your in house equipment, then an electrician will have to check that.

Because this problem is 'upstream' of your main breaker, there is no way for you to turn off the power to check things out yourself. This is most certainly a job for a professional.

Finally, while aluminium wire is no longer used for small residential branch circuits, it is still quite common and generally safe to use aluminium wire for the main service entrance conductors and for large circuits. Aluminium wire can be quite safe, but requires much more careful termination. For small devices it just isn't worth the effort to do aluminium correctly, so copper is used. But for large devices, aluminium is often worth the effort because it is so much cheaper than copper.

Old 10-21-04, 07:32 PM
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Toronto, Ontario
Posts: 91
Call your Hydro Company

When a problem like this happen to my neighbour I went and checked the panel power and one side was out. When We looked up there was a very large tree branch that had fallen on the power line and took out one of the wires leading in to the house.

Non the less I would listen to John Nelson and call your Hydro company emergancy services.
Old 10-21-04, 08:18 PM
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Thumbs up

Right on the mark.

The problem was cured by replacing the blocks on the meter base. Took the power company 10 seconds to look pull the meter, disconnect the incoming power, and tell me to call an electrician. However, they were nice enough to make their disconnect at the weather head. That saved me $100 because if it had been disconnected at the pole, I would have to have had a permit and inspection before they could turn it back on.

Took the power company 15 minutes to get here and cut off the juice when I called the first time. Took four hours to get them back out for the reconnect, but by then we had figured out how to cook soup on the gas grill out back.

Electrician charged $175 for the meter base repair. I had other estimates as high as $500. I didn't take the low bidder.

Thanks, fellas. There are two bright spots here: the house didn't burn down and I had about five extra hours of fiddle practice and an hour for mandolin. That's a personal best. (My wife disagrees.)


Last edited by DangerousDYIGuy; 10-21-04 at 08:20 PM. Reason: Clarifing

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