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power off to 1/2 of the breakers, all breakers flipped on, need a pro's help

power off to 1/2 of the breakers, all breakers flipped on, need a pro's help

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  #1  
Old 07-12-12, 07:47 AM
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Exclamation power off to 1/2 of the breakers, all breakers flipped on, need a pro's help

Last night my brother went to vacuum and the instant he plugged the thing it blew the circuit, or so I thought. It actually took out power to about half of the house, including things on multiple breakers. I went to the panel and all the breakers were still on. We were not drawing a lot of power, no AC, TV was off, etc. Just a few lights and some plugged in laptops. Itís not a GFI either.

After about a half hour, some of the affected lights and outlets started coming back on, flickering and being very dim. A fan we plugged in was spinning extremely slow even though it was set to high. Then they would go off for a while. There was just not enough juice getting to those fixtures while half of the house was perfectly normal. This morning I tried to use the burners on top of the electric stove, and while the indicator lights would turn on, the coils would not heat up.

The utility says itís not them. I am a commercial property manager and we have had tenants blow the main disconnect on the back of the building, between their panel and the transformer, which has killed power to half their equipment, ie 1 phase of a three phase service goes down. The guy I spoke with at the utility says that wouldnít happen in residential Ė anyone know if thatís possible?

My only other thought, which I think is the issue, is some breakers I replaced recently. I just moved into this house in May and I went from an electric dryer to a gas dryer for the laundry. This freed up two breakers on an otherwise full panel. In placed of the 2 breakers feeding the 220 dryer, I installed one breaker dedicated to a dishwasher and outlet, and another to a new bathroom which is yet to be completed (just a live wire capped in an open box still). The dishwasher/outlet are definitely not working, but the wire is still live in the new bathroom.

Is it possible that I have either A) a bad breaker or B) a breaker that is not compatible with my panel, which could cause that breaker to fail and other breakers to fail also? The breakers that are not working are randomly spaced on the panel, now like all the ones of the left or right, they are all over.

Any help would be appreciated, I have never heard of anything like this before.
 
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  #2  
Old 07-12-12, 08:22 AM
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I just went through this same issue a few days ago. (broken underground lines)
First thing to do is to have the power company come out and check that the voltage coming in from the meter is ok. (Sometimes the meter goes and cuts out one leg of main power). Make sure to measure your voltage at the main cables on your main breaker. If you are only getting half power that means a leg is out which is also the reason why some of your outlets are barely working. (The current is being back fed through the main line). Disconnect anything on a double pole breaker and this will stop. The voltages should read 120-0 when the double poles are disconnected. If you get power in at the main cables then it is in your breaker box. Possibly the main breaker itself.
 
  #3  
Old 07-12-12, 08:49 AM
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OK - so it is possible for me to lose a phase of power. Thatís what my original thought was.

My utility will charge me like $150 bucks for a service call if they come out and find nothing, so before I do that, I should read the voltage coming in off the street, or at each individual breaker (ie positive to negative). I would think thatís what would read 120 right? What would the main cables read, or am I just testing those for power?

Do I do both of those after disconnecting the double pole breaker?

To disconnect the double pole breakers should I just pull it off the panel or disconnect the wires and leave the breakers on the panel, or both?
 
  #4  
Old 07-12-12, 09:09 AM
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Thomasski - Just read through your thread and saw you are in Chicago. One of the shopping centers I manage is in Niles. Dealing with ComEd is a real b*tch, hopefully you didn't have to involve them.
 
  #5  
Old 07-12-12, 09:29 AM
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I have had one underground hot wire to my house break. Half the 120 volt circuits died while the other half were OK. The 240 volt circuits only had 120 volts since the other leg was dead. The power company quickly brought out a portable transformer and tied it into my meter base and provided power to both legs of my circuit panel until they could schedule a crew to locate the break, dig and repair it.

I would turn off your 240 volt breakers to insure there is no damage to your furnace/AC and appliances if they try to run on half power.
 
  #6  
Old 07-12-12, 09:40 AM
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The Power Company shouldnt charge you if you request them to come out and inspect the meter. This was our first step to finding the problem. ComEd came out three seperate times to check my meter and eventually gave me a new one.

When measuring the voltage you want to read each main wire coming in from your main breaker. Do ground to leg1 then ground to leg 2. If the voltages are the same then measure across the main breaker. You should get 240. If you get 0 then that means you have a broken main. The reason why you can still measure voltage from ground to leg on each is because the voltage is travelling through the breaker and then out of the broken line. Once you disconnect any 240V double pole breaker just by turning it off (no need to remove it) you should only get a reading on one leg. Be sure that you are measuring at the cable that is going into the main breaker. For the best reading do not measure on the breaker screws, measure on the cables before it comes in to the breaker.
 
  #7  
Old 07-12-12, 10:14 AM
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Ok thanks guys. From what seems to have happened to you two is that you had a wire outside break. I don't see that as being the problem because plugging in the vaccuum is what set this all off.

I'll try to get a reading on the voltage and see if I can narrow it down.
 
  #8  
Old 07-12-12, 11:40 AM
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Assuming you have already turned off all the breakers and turned them back on, not just looked at them:

It could be a loose wire in the meter socket. That is dangerous, and the electric company should fix it for free if that is the problem. Call the emergency number not customer service and tell them you think one leg of your power is dead. If they don't show up in a few hours keep calling till they do. In the mean time turn off all the 240 volt breakers other wise you may burn our some expensive electronic equipment.
The utility says itís not them.
They can't know for sure untill they come out and check. If you called customer service you called the wrong number. You need the 24-7 emergency number.

we have had tenants blow the main disconnect on the back of the building, between their panel and the transformer, which has killed power to half their equipment, ie 1 phase of a three phase service goes down. The guy I spoke with at the utility says that wouldnít happen in residential Ė anyone know if thatís possible?
Not in exactly the same way but a loose wire in the meter socket could cause a fire.
 
  #9  
Old 07-12-12, 12:31 PM
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Yes, it sounds like you lost one of the split-phase legs of your power. IOW, the power to half of the single breakers, and to one half of the 2-pole breakers, in your panel. Before you go digging outside, does your panel have a 2-pole main breaker?

If so, try turning that main breaker all the way OFF and then back ON. If that doesn't restore your power, post back and we can work further.
 
  #10  
Old 07-13-12, 07:51 AM
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Yes my main breaker is a two pole breaker and I had tried flipping it off/on along with all the other breakers too. I only have one two pole breaker in the box which serves the stove.

Buuuttt... My brother (and room mate) was out with one of his friends last night whose Dad is a retired electrician we just learned. He was just over at the house today and confirmed one of the legs is down before it comes into the panel. My brother has the utility on their way out today.

PS: I had called the emergency line the other day, not the normal customer service.

Thanks for your help guys.
 
  #11  
Old 07-13-12, 09:32 AM
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UPDATE:

OK, so my brother is telling me that the utility said it was the 'riser' that is bad and it is our problem to fix so we must hire an electrican. I am trying to ask my brother what the riser is exactly and he isn't making any sense at all (not the smartest kid haha).

What exactly is the riser? Is that the line that goes up to overhead cable that runs from the pole to the house? My meter is mounted on the side of the house so if that is what he means then it is before the meter and the utility must fix it - not me, right?
 
  #12  
Old 07-13-12, 09:54 AM
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The riser could mean a cable between the overhead service and a meter or conductors running up the pole from an underground service.

The utility company is only responsible to the point of connection.
 
  #13  
Old 07-13-12, 10:02 AM
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What would define a 'point of connection'? If I have an overhead cable that goes into my meter, wouldn't it be the meter?

I have never heard of an electrician turning power of at the pole, or even at the meter for that matter.
 
  #14  
Old 07-13-12, 10:03 AM
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What exactly is the riser? Is that the line that goes up to overhead cable that runs from the pole to the house?
That's probably what they're referring to.

My meter is mounted on the side of the house so if that is what he means then it is before the meter and the utility must fix it - not me, right?
If the problem is between the weatherhead - the point where the overhead feeders are attached to your house and spliced to the feeders going down to the meter - and the meter, then it's your responsibility. The POCO signs off as soon as they get power to the house.
 
  #15  
Old 07-13-12, 10:04 AM
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What would define a 'point of connection'
The splices at the top of the riser.
 
  #16  
Old 07-13-12, 10:18 AM
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OK I just got off the phone with the utility again. They tested everything coming from the pole to the meter and double checked every connection point and clian the the wire cable in the riser itself must be bad.

Seems strange that plugging in a vaccuum could take out the braided cable itself....?
 
  #17  
Old 07-13-12, 10:23 AM
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Seems strange that plugging in a vaccuum could take out the braided cable itself....?
It does. Presumably it had been at the point of failing for awhile.
 
  #18  
Old 07-13-12, 11:41 AM
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I think turning on the vacuum was just a coincidence. It could have been the AC or fridge turning on that drew the surge of power pushing it to the breaking point.
 
  #19  
Old 07-13-12, 01:38 PM
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OK guys. I know you are going to tell me I am crazy and going to kill myself but lets put that aside for a second.

I live within the 'city limits' which means my giant un-needed government has created a whole extra set of licensing and rules to keep me 'safe'. What I am saying is I cannot find an electrician who is certified to work in the neighborhood I live in. As utility disconnected my house from the power completely due to 'safety' reasons, I will now be without power until I can find someone to pull a permit from the city which means I have no power until Mon or Tues, which is unacceptable for me.

Because I deal with power companies and contractors etc all the time, I have learned that 9 times out of 10, their first response is always a bunch of finger pointing - 'its not our faults its the other guys'.

Is there anything I can do to A) make sure my utility isn't full of sh!t, or B) replace the damned riser myself.

They disconnected the power so it should be off and I can test it to make sure it isn't live, and I'm sure I could handle it if you guys wanna spell it out for me.
 
  #20  
Old 07-13-12, 02:20 PM
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The problem is the POCO may not be willing to reconnect without an approval from an inspector even if you fix it. I'd say rental generator or hotel are your only to options unless you really like your in-laws.
 
  #21  
Old 07-13-12, 02:31 PM
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well Im leaving work now so I wont have internet, but I would just tell them nothign was wrong in the first place and their first tech must be mistaken because thats what my electrician said.
 
  #22  
Old 07-13-12, 04:06 PM
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I would just tell them nothign was wrong in the first place and their first tech must be mistaken because thats what my electrician said.
Good luck selling that one before a licensed electrician looks at the repair and tells you that in writing!
 
  #23  
Old 07-13-12, 06:38 PM
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I cannot find an electrician who is certified to work in the neighborhood I live in.
Licensing is typically by city and not by neighborhood. If you cannot find a contractor, try calling the city back and see if they can suggest some contractors who are licensed for your area. Another thought and perhaps a better one is to try calling an electrical supply house, they can give you names of contractors who do this type of work.
 
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