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Weird problems after lightning strike - breakers tripping, "open ground", etc.

Weird problems after lightning strike - breakers tripping, "open ground", etc.

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  #1  
Old 07-30-07, 02:16 PM
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Weird problems after lightning strike - breakers tripping, "open ground", etc.

Hi,

A couple days ago lightning struck two trees in my front yard about 12' apart. Not sure if it was one strike or two separate ones. Our power was knocked out for ~4 hours until the utility company came out and reconnected the service at the power poles (one at each end of the lot on the street -- both have transformers, and both appeared to have some type of breaker approx. 2' long that was knocked loose after the strike).

Since the power was restored, we have had problems with a couple of circuits in our kitchen and dining room. The breakers will trip sporadically, and it's tough to get them to reset (i.e., I have to try multiple times, moving the breaker switch *very slowly* to get it to take). I thought maybe the breaker itself was bad, and so replaced it (both circuits run through the same double-pole 20A breaker). No change to the behavior.

Trying to diagnose today, I was using my plug-in outlet tester to just identify what outlets are on the two circuits. I noticed the outlet tester says the outlets have an "open neutral".

So, I check outlets on other circuits that are functioning normally. Here's the weird part: *all* the outlets in the house show the same "open neutral" condition, even ones that work just fine (i.e. lights/appliances work off of them).

I'm thinking my outlet tester has a bad bulb, but until I can get to the store for a new one, any other ideas? And, of course, the original problem of the tripping breakers still exists. I put a clamp-on ammeter on the hot wires coming out of the breakers themselves, but they aren't showing any load, so it's not that 20+ amps are being pulled through there.

Sorry for the length of the post...

Thanks for your help,

Chris
 
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  #2  
Old 07-30-07, 02:38 PM
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Call the power company NOW! You have a problem with the neutral wire feeding your house. The problem may be outside, or it may be inside. If the problem is the power company responsibility they will fix it. if the problem is your responsibility they may fix it or they will point it out to you.

In the mean time, turn OFF your main breaker, and use no electricity in your house.

This is a serious problem, and you risk damaging the appliances in your house.

Do not delay, call them now.
 
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Old 07-30-07, 02:54 PM
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Call the power company NOW!
Will do... Thanks for the quick reply!

Edit:

I'd just got back home from the hardware store with the new outlet tester when I saw (and replied) to your post.

I plugged the new outlet tester in and it's showing the outlets are fine. Plugged in the old tester, and it's showing "open neutral". So, I think that problem was due to a bad bulb in the old tester.

Given the new information, is it still a "call the power company" situation?

Again, thanks.

Best,

Chris
 
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Old 07-30-07, 03:00 PM
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I edited my earlier thread, but then realized you might not see the edits since the forum would have already sent an email to you with the original post. So, duplicate info below...

Edit:

I'd just got back home from the hardware store with the new outlet tester when I saw (and replied) to your post.

I plugged the new outlet tester in and it's showing the outlets are fine. Plugged in the old tester, and it's showing "open neutral". So, I think that problem was due to a bad bulb in the old tester.

Given the new information, is it still a "call the power company" situation?

Again, thanks.

Best,

Chris
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Old 07-30-07, 03:07 PM
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I think we should wait for Bob's reply, as I'm not sure what he was thinking.

But try this experiment. Shut off all the double-pole breakers in your panel. Then see if the outlets on the remaining circuits are still working okay.

Nearby lightning strikes can cause all sorts of weird behavior.
 
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Old 07-30-07, 03:13 PM
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Originally Posted by John Nelson View Post
But try this experiment. Shut off all the double-pole breakers in your panel. Then see if the outlets on the remaining circuits are still working okay.
Hmm. Well, the only circuits that *aren't* on double-pole breakers are the central heat & A/C, clothes dryer, oven, and water heater. Everything else runs through double-pole breakers, either in the main panel or in a subpanel, which is fed by a single-pole 60A breaker.

So, I can shut all of those off, but there won't be any outlets left to check.

Thoughts?

-Chris
 
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Old 07-30-07, 03:21 PM
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Every breaker in your panel is a double-pole?
 
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Old 07-30-07, 03:24 PM
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Originally Posted by John Nelson View Post
Every breaker in your panel is a double-pole?
With the exception of the ones I mentioned previously (HVAC, water heater, dryer, range, and main breaker for the subpanel), yes.

I do have a few blank spaces in the main box, and could go get a single-pole 20A breaker to move a circuit to, if needed.

Best,

Chris
 
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Old 07-30-07, 03:31 PM
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Maybe we are miscommunicating. The items you just mentioned as exceptions are always on double-pole breakers. Shut those off.
 
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Old 07-30-07, 03:36 PM
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Originally Posted by John Nelson View Post
Maybe we are miscommunicating. The items you just mentioned as exceptions are always on double-pole breakers. Shut those off.
Then yes, we are miscommunicating. My mistake in terminology.

When I was saying "double-pole", what I meant was one physical breaker with two switches in it, to hook up two separate circuits. A two-in-one breaker, I guess.

So, all the major items (HVAC, etc.) are on "double-pole" breakers, with only one switch per physical breaker, while all the other circuits are doubled up, two per physical breaker. Of course, the 220V breakers take up more than one "space" in the main panel, but still have only one switch on them.

Sorry for the confusion...

-Chris
 
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Old 07-30-07, 03:45 PM
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Those other breakers, the ones you call a "two-in-one breaker", are usually called tandem breakers, skinny breakers, or twin breakers. The two skinny handles usually operate separately. However, some manufacturers do sometimes call these double-pole, as they do in fact have two poles, but that's not the terminology I prefer.

When I said double-pole, I'm referring to double-wide breakers where the handles on the two poles operate together. These breakers supply power to 240-volt loads (or 240/120 volt loads).
 
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Old 07-30-07, 03:57 PM
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Got it. I'll try the test you suggested after switching off the double-pole, 240V breakers.

Thanks for the clarification.

Best,

Chris
 
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Old 07-30-07, 04:01 PM
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Ok, did the test. With all the double-pole breakers turned off, the outlets are still ok.

Best,

Chris
 
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Old 07-30-07, 06:07 PM
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My thought process was that your neutral is out, and you are only getting power anywhere because of the multi-wire circuits that it sounded like you have.

If you really and truly only have a problem on one circuit (or on a multi-wire circuit) then the problem may very well be an open neutral on the one circuit.

Please describe the circuit or circuits that have a problem in more detail.
 
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Old 07-30-07, 08:23 PM
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Hi Bob,

I'm still trying to decipher what are on the two circuits that keep tripping. According to the labels in the main panel (which, of course, are guaranteed 100% accurate...), one is "dining room", which, if correct, would include two or three wall receptacles and an overhead light.

The other is labeled "kitchen", which seems to only be the set of three receptacles on one wall of the kitchen over the counter, including the one for the microwave. The other wall/counter in the kitchen is on a separate circuit which isn't exhibiting any troubles.

Tomorrow my goal is to figure out if anything else is on those circuits, and to identify if anything plugged into them might have been zapped by the lightning and thus is causing an abnormal load. There are no obvious signs of electrical damage anywhere that I can see.

Best,

Chris
 
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