Bizarre Circuit Breaker Functioning - Help!

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  #1  
Old 07-23-06, 07:05 AM
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Bizarre Circuit Breaker Functioning - Help!

I have a very odd situation on my hands.

Yesterday, I installed new outlets and light switches in the kitchen. Afterwards, several breakers, some of which had nothing to do with the kitchen showed very strange properties:

Their circuits only worked when the breaker was OFF.

Why would this be? What could I have done to cause this?

I currently have four breakers off, so that several rooms can have light and AC, but I know that the breakers are there for a reason, and I don't want to leave them off permenantly.

Someone, please help. My limited understanding of circuit breakers says that this is impossible, but yet, here I am.

-Lindeman
 
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  #2  
Old 07-23-06, 07:18 AM
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Due to the moring hour, my head seems a bit fuzzy and I cannot think of a situation that would casue what you have so lets get to what you did.

Did you simply replace existing switches and receps? Did you hook them up exactly as they were before?

I would suggest revisiting each of the new devices and check all of your connections. That should keep you busy until the coffee kicks in (for me). Just kidding.

If this change happened when you did the work, logic states you caused this. Check your work.

were any switches installed replaced with like kind (single pole, 3 way, 4 way etc.)?
 
  #3  
Old 07-23-06, 09:44 AM
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lindeman,

Since you seem to be having unusual breaker function, you might consider shutting the main breaker, if feasible, for extra safety while you check your work on the individual circuit(s). Just my opinion.

Are all the the outlets/switches you worked on part of the same circuit, or are they on separate ones? Hope you figure it out.


Nap,

If the outlets/switches are on separate circuits, is it possible the circuits being worked on are part of multi-wire circuits and that a wiring mistake is causing the problem on the other breakers that share the neutrals? Just wondering.
 
  #4  
Old 07-23-06, 10:25 AM
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still wonky

Thanks for the replies.

I'm fairly sure I replaced all the switches with like switches and did them correctly, as they all work. I replaced two regular 2 way switches, two dimmer switches, and four outlets.

I agree that I must have done something, but for the life of me I can't understand how I could possibly make the breakers control power-flow in the seeming opposite direction (i e only allow power through when they're off).

Here's some more info that I realized might help you problem-solvers. After the switches were all installed, I went to flip the breakers back to turn on the power, and the main breaker blew. I realized that I had misinstalled a switch, corrected it, and flipped the main breaker back on. Now, could the position of the breakers when the main breaker blew and then was turned back on have anything to do with this?

Any more thoughts?

And thank you for the concern about saftey. I flipped the main breaker earlier when I was looking at everything.
 
  #5  
Old 07-23-06, 11:03 AM
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Take a look at both sides of the receptacles you removed....any tabs broken off?
 
  #6  
Old 07-23-06, 11:24 AM
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OK, since you reviewed things in your mind , I am absolutely satisfied you made no mistakes.

If that sounds anything but mean and judgmental, you are misunderstanding the intent. I am an electrician by trade and training. Even I make mistakes and "think" I haven't. The only way to be assured of the proper installation is to actually look at the stuff. But enough chastising. Lets get you repaired and safe. Something about this situation really spooks me, and that isn;t good. I make no apologies for being critical of you and your actions. Electricity can become a very serious issue very quickly and I take it very seriously.

If you want my continued assistance after that, read on. I am more than willing to continue but realize, I do take electricity very seriously and expect those I assist to do the same.

First we have to determine how comfortable and capable you are with electricity. If any of the directions "seem" unsafe or you are unsure of yourself, do not attempt them. Mistakes can be deadly. Not trying to scare you, just apprise you of the real truth.

Ok , you have power with the breakers off and not when they are on. How are you determining this? You need a volt meter to deal with this. and you have to remove the front cover of your electrical panel.

Start by taking a reading (of the involved breakers) with them off. Read from the wire terminal (of the breaker) to a ground source .What is the reading? Then turn them on and re-read the voltage.

Now, what is the voltage between the two incoming lines in the panel? (usually located at the top of the panel)

When you changed the devices, did you "forget" where a wire actually came from and attached it to where you thought was correct?

If you do not have access to a volt meter or are uncomfortable there are other things to do.

Start with turning off ( I would consider the main breaker because of the odd situation) the appropriate breaker for any ONE device you replaced. Remove that device and check your overall power situation after turning the breaker back on. Be sure to cap off any exposed wires (including the neutral) before turning the power back on. Do this with each device until you cause the system to return to normal. I would suggest leaving each device detached when moving on to the next one.

If you do not remedy the situation at this point, we absolutely need to get into the panel (if you haven't before this point) so do what you need to accomplish this, including dragging the neighbor over to help, if necessary.

Post back with any results and we can continue after that.
 
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Old 07-23-06, 11:32 AM
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[
Nap,

If the outlets/switches are on separate circuits, is it possible the circuits being worked on are part of multi-wire circuits and that a wiring mistake is causing the problem on the other breakers that share the neutrals? Just wondering.
[/QUOTE]

I am suspecting something along this line. That is why in my abusive post I wanted the voltage coming into the panel. She may have lost a leg into her panel and if there is anything plugged into the receps or the lights are installed and turned on, she may be getting a feed through via the neutral.

Lindeman, remove anything you may have plugged into the receptacles for the entire circuits involved (not just the receps you replaced) remove light bulbs in the lighting, if possible, as well in any fixture in the affected lighting circuits as well.
 
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Old 07-23-06, 04:43 PM
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Originally Posted by nap
Ok , you have power with the breakers off and not when they are on. How are you determining this? You need a volt meter to deal with this. and you have to remove the front cover of your electrical panel.
I am making the claim that I have power when the breakers are off and not when they are on with the following observations:

1) Lights, outlets, fans, etc do not work when the breaker is on.

2) Lights, etc turn on when the breaker is switched off.


Now, while replacing switches was in my capabilities as a diy-er (or at least I thought it was until yesterday), anything involving going in the electrical panel makes me think it's time to hire an electrician.

My question is, can someone please explain how installing a room full of switches and outlets can make my breakers work backwards? I still do not understand how power can get to a circut if the breaker is off.

-Lindeman
 
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Old 07-23-06, 05:09 PM
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Lindeman, I would like to take a moment and apologize to you.
As I stated before, electricity can be a very serious entity to deal with, especially if one is not experienced in this area.

I did get upset when you would not recheck your work. Based upon your situation, it is more than likey something you did that has caused your problem and when one sits on this side of the screen, one can do nothing but advise and suggest. We cannot make anybody do anything. Your situation truly does concern me and I was attempting to do anything in my power to aid you but I could not get you to look into the probable root of your problems.

If you are willing to work at it, a repair may still not be out of your hands.

To your question of the breaker situation:

without actually taking readings for myself, I can only suspect and surmise what the problem truly is with no way to confirm my suspicions. I would love to take the time to explain my suspicions but honestly, I think it would be a waste of both of our time at the moment.

I believe you should go back and remove each of the devices, prefferably one at a time and check your situation after each removal. I would start with the switches first as I believe that may be where you may have made a mistake.

a question for you that may help with a diagnosis:

are the lights of normal brightness and does the fan run normally when they are on? Have any lights or appliances changed from what you remember them to be??
 
  #10  
Old 07-23-06, 05:10 PM
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why not ..uninstall the said circuits and then reinstall one at a time...checking the breakers each time untill you find the one that caused all the problem...then you may find it is indeed a "multi circuit" and then you can figure our what you did to cause the problem
??
 
  #11  
Old 07-23-06, 05:43 PM
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Nap,

I accept your apology. I understand that you are concerned, and I am as well.

I want you to know that if I thought that looking at the switches again would allow me to see if I did something wrong, then I would in a heart-beat. Unfortunatley, what I see is just wires when I look at them. I tried my best to put the wires in the order I took them out of the old switches, and that's the best I can do. Looking at them now, all I could do would be to go "there are the wires - hrm". I didn't decide to not go back out of laziness or over-confidence.

This is the reason that I need to hire someone. I clearly can't fix this by myself because I don't know which switch has a misplaced wire or something and don't have the tools to determine that.

I'm just confounded by what is happening with the circut breakers.

If you don't think I'd understand your explanation, then that's fine. I guess I'll just take your word for it that this is actually possible and I don't have an angered ghost in my basement or something.

Best,
Lindeman
 
  #12  
Old 07-23-06, 05:59 PM
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Lindeman,

May i try to assist? I have been reading your post I am a licensed electrician. And i would like to explain some things. If you'll let me. First...electricity is dangerous (as previously stated). Second...it only goes one way. Thus if its going another way something is bad wrong.( ie dangerous) Third...if the current situation is different from your situation before (as in the lights did work when the breaker was on before and now they don't) And Fourth....we (together, all of us but more importantly yourself, can fix this problem)

That being said...What exacty did you do (I.E. what, how many, and where were the switched and/or receps that you replaced or altered?

Sincerely Sthrnamp
 
  #13  
Old 07-23-06, 06:46 PM
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Originally Posted by Lindeman8574

If you don't think I'd understand your explanation, then that's fine. I guess I'll just take your word for it that this is actually possible and I don't have an angered ghost in my basement or something.

Best,
Lindeman
It's not neccessarily that I think you wouldn't understand, it's that I am not sure myself what is happening and I could end up with several lengthy explanations of electricity before we got to the point of fixing your problem.

Now with the plea of disconnecting the switches and possibly the receptacles isn;t neccessarily that you would know what the wires are doing what, but to undo what may have been done that is causing this problem.

Another possibility is that when you tripped the main breaker, this is a problem in itself. You see, the smaller breakers should trip before the main does. With what happened, it indicated you may have a bad breaker. It (or they) may not be operating correctly. I can;t say i that is all of your problem, but this may also be part of the problem.

in a lighter note, I do not have any problem telling you there is no ghost in the basement. Of course a ghost has nothing to do with electricity. I know this because electricity is magic and has nothing to do with ghosts. I would have to ask the carpenters but I believe ghosts are in their scope of work with the self closing doors and all. Somebody else told me it was the heating/ a/c guys because of the cold drafts involved. I'm not sure of either one myself.

Let us know if you want to continue, we'll be here.
 
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Old 07-23-06, 06:53 PM
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Better idea...forums take so long .... it wold be better to communicate this problem over either IM (more secure) or phone (more direct) you choose let me know as lng as you get the help you need SthrnAMP
 
  #15  
Old 07-23-06, 07:02 PM
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I can envision something like an open neutral leg, or neutral legs mixed up on a multiwire circuit.

In any event, this is a serious problem, and I believe it is possibly not safe to just continue with your method of leaving certain breakers off. This really needs to be sorted out right away.
 
  #16  
Old 07-23-06, 07:09 PM
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i agree with the Neutal leg in the lights but the plugs would be all together differnet...(plugs in a kitchen are run in 12 as opposed to the lights run in 14. Id say the lights have a three way wired wrong and the plugs aren;t working because a GFI is wired backwards
 
  #17  
Old 07-23-06, 07:13 PM
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what I see is just wires when I look at them. I tried my best to put the wires in the order I took them out of the old switches, and that's the best I can do. Looking at them now, all I could do would be to go "there are the wires - hrm"

I don't think this person has a clue about wiring and should just call an electrician now before something bad happens. End of story.

Baldwin
 
  #18  
Old 07-23-06, 07:16 PM
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he may not have a clue but as a homeowner he has a right to try and do it himself...and i think we as professionals have an obligation to help those of us less fortunate
 
  #19  
Old 07-23-06, 07:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Baldwin
what I see is just wires when I look at them. I tried my best to put the wires in the order I took them out of the old switches, and that's the best I can do. Looking at them now, all I could do would be to go "there are the wires - hrm"

I don't think this person has a clue about wiring and should just call an electrician now before something bad happens. End of story.

Baldwin
I agree. I might, of course, have put it more politely, but I freely admit that this has gone beyond my comfort level.

In defense of myself, installing new switches is completely within my level of abilities as a DIYer. Turn off power, unscrew wires from old switches, screw onto new switches, replace in wall. Done. Now, clearly, something happened. But like Nap said, it could happen to anyone. The difference is that most of you would be able to take it from there. I feel more comfortable calling someone with the tools and knowledge to deal with the mess.

Now, as for something bad happening, I want to prevent that as much (no, more) than you all do. So, I am going to call the electrician first thing in the morning and see what is going on.

I had just wanted to see if someone could explain what had happened, or at least how what was happening might be possible.

Sincerely,
Lindeman
 
  #20  
Old 07-23-06, 07:29 PM
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There ya go, good choice. Be sure and write back what they find.

Good luck,

Baldwin
 
  #21  
Old 07-23-06, 07:31 PM
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You never did answer my earlier question, were any tabs removed from the receptacles you removed?

Just curious.
 
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Old 07-23-06, 07:32 PM
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Don;t give up with everything. When you get this taken care of, learn from it so you can continue as a DIY'er.

Post back with the problem. I don;t know about the others but I am genuinely interested.

Have a good night.
 
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Old 07-23-06, 07:45 PM
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AIM Sthrnamp
 
  #24  
Old 07-23-06, 08:02 PM
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Baldwin,

No, all the switches and outlets that I removed were intact.

Everyone,

I will post back to let you know what the electrician finds. And don't worry, I'll be a pest (a nice pest who offers coffee and ice water) and keep up with my DIY education.

Thanks again.

Lindeman
 
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Old 07-23-06, 09:28 PM
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[QUOTE=Baldwin]what I see is just wires when I look at them. I tried my best to put the wires in the order I took them out of the old switches, and that's the best I can do. Looking at them now, all I could do would be to go "there are the wires - hrm"

I don't think this person has a clue about wiring and should just call an electrician now before something bad happens. End of story.

Baldwin[/QUOTE
]he may not have a clue but as a homeowner he has a right to try and do it himself...and i think we as professionals have an obligation to help those of us less fortunate

THINK OF THE MONEY YOU SAVED!! THEN think of your family!
 
  #26  
Old 07-24-06, 09:53 AM
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What was the answer?

I'm definitely curious what the answer will be and hope he will post back so the rest of us can learn something new.

However, I'm taking this as good reason to not use multiwire circuits if at all possible. I understand them well enough from the descriptions here by the experts, but have never seen one in real life, I make as many mistakes as the next person does and there's no reason to expect a future homeowner to understand it. Even if it seems easy enough when it's fresh in your memory, as someone who doesn't do this for a living, I know I'll forget what I did when I come back to it again in a few years. Even if it turns out to not be the cause of his problems, it could have been and is enough that it could be dangerous at a DYI level of experience.
 
  #27  
Old 07-24-06, 11:52 AM
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Just had someone out to look at the breakers, and all is fixed. Unfortunately, he had me running up and down to flip switches so I didn't get to watch, but we can all rest assured that my home will not become a flaming ball of electrical fire any time soon.

Thanks for the concern, and help.

Lindeman
 
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Old 07-24-06, 01:58 PM
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Great to hear.

Did he give you a discount since you were his apprentice/gopher??

Too bad you didn;t get a chance to actually find out what it was. I really would like to know.

Were there any parts replaced? If so, what were they?
 
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