Strange happenings in the garage


Old 06-28-12, 12:09 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: USA
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Strange happenings in the garage

This is a bit of a story...

I have an old detached garage. Power comes to it on wires through the roof from the electrical main and there is a small panel inside the garage with 4 fuses. The fluorescent shop lights are always a bit flickery, but the power is usually consistent--I regularly run just a radio, or my small table saw, my circular saw, and other tools with no issue.

Today when I went to turn on the shop lights (fuse 1), there was a very dim flicker, but that was all. I tried an incandescent light at an outlet on a different fuse (fuse 2). The bulb went on bright for a moment and then out AND now the shop lights weren't even dim--they were just OUT. The incandescent light bulb was fine, but outlet was dead when tested. I pulled the switch out of the wall for the shop lights. It tested hot. I went to check if a fuse was blown. Nope. I tried flipping the fuses on and off at the main panel and the one in the garage. Still no power. I checked the shop light and fluorescent bulbs. They were fine.

Then I went to another outlet on a 3rd fuse. It tested hot. I plugged in a power tool. It ran fine AND all the lights came on--the shop lights, the incandescent light bulb! WTF?! They stayed on while the tool ran and went dim or off when it wasn't running.

I turned everything off and was able to run a radio in the dark off of one of the outlets, but when I went back to try the lights again, they still weren't working (or were very dim).

For what it is worth, the electricity in the rest of the house is normal (and newer).

Can anyone explain this? Why did this happen all of a sudden? Just yesterday everything was working fine and nothing noticeable happened that could have caused this--no earthquakes, no electrical repair, no tree falling on the garage. Why does there all of a sudden seem to need to be significant running current for the rest of the electricity in the garage to work?

I'd love to avoid an electrician and I am pretty good with electrical, but I'm not above calling a professional in if I need to. Please advise!

Thank you in advance.

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Old 06-28-12, 06:29 AM
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Probably a loose connection somewhere between your main panel and subpanel. Turn off the breaker at your main panel then go through and tighten all the connections. Check between the main panel and the subpanel also to see if there are any splices.

Are the aerial wires in decent condition? Is there a splice at the weatherhead coming into the garage?
Old 06-28-12, 06:49 AM
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I am pretty good with electrical
and yet you wrote:
I tried flipping the fuses on and off
Breakers not fuses are flipped on and off. Is this really a fuse panel or is it a breaker panel? Is the feed to the garage subpanel 120/240v? If so have you tested voltage from each hot at the subpanel to neutral. Did you get ~120v on each hot leg? Assuming this is a four wire feed did you test voltage from hot to ground. at the subpanel.
Old 06-28-12, 07:59 AM
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Join Date: Dec 2010
Location: USA
Posts: 4
Oops. When I say "pretty good", I don't mean in the professional sense. I simply meant to say I have done a fair bit of wiring of switches, outlets, fixtures, etc. and feel somewhat competent in doing basic electrical work. I apologize for using incorrect terminology. Yes, I flipped the breaker switches and there are no fuses present in my system.

All the testing done so far was with a basic LED tester. I will try to tighten everything down in the panels and check the overhead wires and see if that improves things. If not, I have a multimeter and will test voltage in various places and get back to you.

I will post an update later today. Thank you for your replies.

Old 06-28-12, 08:04 AM
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Join Date: Mar 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 8,470
I tried flipping the [circuit breakers on and off at the main panel and the one in the garage. Still no power. Can anyone explain this?
Possibly. As Zorfdt suggested, it is "probably a loose connection somewhere." Since the problem is affecting the entire garage, it is likely one of the connections "between your main panel and subpanel."

I would turn off the power that feeds the garage from the main panel, open the garage panel, and check the tightness of all connections inside it. Do not over-tighten those connections! Over-tightening a terminal clamp screw in a panel can damage the conductor by flattening it. There should be a torque value for tightening the screws on the printed label on the inside of the panel door. There may be different values for the terminals for the main feeders from the house and the branch feeders to the lights and receptacles in the garage.

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