Changing Outlet Type & Circuit Breaker Question

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  #1  
Old 05-31-13, 10:49 PM
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Changing Outlet Type & Circuit Breaker Question

I live in an apartment, and our landlord is senile and it's hard to get anything done through her. So I basically need to do things myself, and tomorrow a heat wave is supposed to be hitting us and I hear it's going to the mid 90's, I have to get the AC working! But heres the problem described by pictures....







Incase you can't tell by the pics, basically it uses a normal 3 prong plug, and the outlet is a 250v (i think?) outlet. And as you can see in the 3rd pic, it's the only outlet close enough to the air conditioner, and I hear extension cords are a very bad idea for AC's, (although I think thats what others in this apartment building are doing...) so that's not an option.

So I went down to Lowes and talked to the electrician there. He told me I should just need to change over to a normal 125v outlet, and switch out one of the hots to the neutral bar. Sounds easy enough, but then I took a look in my circuit breaker....



(Please correct me if I'm wrong, I'm knew to electrician issues) So it looks to me like there is no main circuit? The big one on the left is just to the stove etc in the kitchen (I tested it). Therefore I would think, it would probably be very dangerous for me to attempt to switch one of the hot wires to a neutral.



That beings me to my 2nd problem. At the bottom of the circuit breaker box there, is that a neutral bar or a ground bar, or both? It seems white wires are going to both of them. Also, it's kind of hard to see in the pic, but it looks like some of the wires on the front-most bar are going through the screw and touching the bar behind it. So if they are not both the same bar... there may be some unintentional contact?

And now to my 3rd problem... Trying to decipher which exactly is the AC. The panel only has a couple of various things, and it claims #18 is the AC (which would be the only black wire on the bottom right). And that wire goes up the right side of the case with the red wire above it, and both wires by their coloring look a bit newer than the others (you can see the slight difference in the pics) so I'm assuming those 2 are most likely going to the AC. Here is a picture...




But this confused me for a few reasons. Isn't it supposed to have a breaker that can support 250v? Is it okay if they used 2 separate 125v circuits for this?

Also you can see, going in to that hole (that I believe is heading to the AC) there is a red wire, black wire, white wire, and yellow wire. The white wire is going to the back-most bar, and the yellow wire is going through a hole in the bottom of the breaker? (You may be able to see it on the bottom right of one of the pics). I'm assuming that the black and red wires are hot, the white is neutral, and maybe the yellow going out of the breaker is grounded? Would this be a correct assumption? But even if that's the case, I'm still a bit confused. Why would there be 4 wires to the outlet? No idea what's going on there...

I've also went on to check around the house with a multimeter, it seems that all the wall sockets I've tested are not grounded. I had to change a light switch in the kitchen once and that was not grounded either... I'm worried about shoddy wiring, and questioning if there is even a ground at all in this electrical system?

I'm not sure what to do to get this working, but as I said the heat wave is coming soon so I feel like I need to figure out something fast. I know I asked a lot of questions... so I'll compile the questions I need answered at the end here.

1) What are those 2 bars at the bottom? Neutral or ground or both?
2) Is it okay if the wires from the front/bottom bar come in contact with the screws on the back/top bar?
3) Am I correct that there is no main circuit?
4) Does it sound like my assumptions on which wires are the AC wires are correct? Any ideas on what the yellow wire going through the bottom of the case is?
5) Any advice on how I could change my outlet safely when there is no main circuit, would switching off all the circuits I have available be safe for what I need to do? As I mentioned I have a multimeter if that would help decipher which wire is which, but I have no idea which wires I would even be able to test on safely (I'm new to using a multimeter).

Sorry for the long post, and thanks in advance for any assistance. Heres hoping for a prompt response before the heat wave!
 
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  #2  
Old 06-01-13, 12:35 AM
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Since you do not own the place you cannot legally work on the electrical system. Further, if this is a multi-family residential building you probably cannot work on the electrical even if you DID own it unless you are also a licensed electrician.

Second point, you have admitted to not being all that knowledgeable in electrical work and your posting makes that clear. Electricity is an equal opportunity KILLER and allows for few mistakes.

PLEASE, for your own safety and also the safety of the other tenants, give up the idea of making the changes yourself.

You CAN use an extension cord, just make certain that it is no longer than necessary and is of 12 gauge copper conductors construction, it will state this on the package and also on the cord itself. Plug it into an otherwise lightly loaded circuit if at all possible. Do not cover the cord with rugs and do not run it through doorways.
 
  #3  
Old 06-01-13, 03:29 AM
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Along with the above comments you would have trouble finding obsolete breakers.
 
  #4  
Old 06-01-13, 04:43 AM
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Or just buy a 240 volt AC. Cheaper that buying a burnt apartment building and its contents. Or just hire a licensed electrician and be sure he is bonded and licensed.

Curious, how did you end up with a 120 volt AC in a spot obviously intended for a 240 volt AC? It doesn't look new.
 
  #5  
Old 06-01-13, 12:07 PM
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Welcome to the forums!

The advice that others have posted is accurate, and you should follow it: Have the work done professionally, use a heavy-duty extension cord, or buy a new, more efficient 240V A/C unit.

That said, to answer some of your questions:

I'm knew to electrician issues
If you'd like to understand more about residential electrical systems and how they work, buy and read Wiring Simplified. It's inexpensive, invaluable and readable.

I went down to Lowes and talked to the electrician there. He told me I should just need to change over to a normal 125v outlet, and switch out one of the hots to the neutral bar.
If you talked to a licensed electrician who's working at Lowe's, I'm both surprised and impressed. Regardless, what he said is true. That does not mean that you are either qualified or authorized to do the work yourself, however.

So it looks to me like there is no main circuit?
There is no main circuit breaker in your panel. It's a main lug panel. There is no such thing as a "main circuit."

Therefore I would think, it would probably be very dangerous for me to attempt to switch one of the hot wires to a neutral.
No more so than if there were a main circuit breaker, if you know how to do it safely.

At the bottom of the circuit breaker box there, is that a neutral bar or a ground bar, or both?
Because the two sections are bonded together that's all one bus, mechanically and electrically. It is supplying both the neutral and ground.

Since this is a subpanel, the grounds should be bonded together and to the panel enclosure, and the neutrals should be bonded together but isolated from the panel enclosure. That, however, is a separate issue, and is the responsibility of the building's owner.

Trying to decipher which exactly is the AC. The panel only has a couple of various things, and it claims #18 is the AC (which would be the only black wire on the bottom right). And that wire goes up the right side of the case with the red wire above it, and both wires by their coloring look a bit newer than the others (you can see the slight difference in the pics) so I'm assuming those 2 are most likely going to the AC.

But this confused me for a few reasons. Isn't it supposed to have a breaker that can support 250v? Is it okay if they used 2 separate 125v circuits for this?
In your panel I see four 240V circuit breakers. Except for the 240V 50A 2-pole breaker at the top left, which you say supplies the range, all of the breakers are half-height, or tandem, breakers.

I don't know how your panel is numbered, since there are only 12 full-height breaker spaces in it. I suspect whoever labeled it used one number for each half space. That's dangerous, since it obscures the distinction between the two 120V legs which supply 240V when used together.

That said, using standard numbering, the breaker for the range is in positions 1 and 3. There is a 240V 20A breaker in positions 2b and 4a, with two black wires. There is another one in positions 5b ans 7a, with two yellow wires. The fourth 240V breaker is directly across from that one, in positions 6b and 8a, and has two red wire. One of the three smaller 240V breakers may be supplying the receptacle for the window unit. Those last two positions, in an incorrectly labeled panel, might be designated as 14 and 16 - not 18.

If that 240V receptacle by the window is not supplied by one of the smaller 240V breakers, then you're right - that's not compliant with code and would present a hazard.

So. Ready to call a licensed, bonded electrician?
 
  #6  
Old 06-01-13, 12:45 PM
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Thanks for the responses.

The guy at lowes did claim he was an electrician lol.

Anyway, it seems most of the responses indicate this is the landlords problem, and that's the problem for us. As I mentioned she is senile, last time we went there she didn't even remember which apartment we were from and asked our names. Because of this its really hard to get her to do anything since she don't remember prior conversations. The only way we have in the past was if her son was in state. Our stove was giving probs last time and shocking go touched it. He was in state and got us a new one but after this I'm not so sure the cause isn't faulty wiring.

About the AC , this one was there when we moved in, with a tiny thin 3 socket extension...

So getting her to get an electrician or new ac is probably not possible. I guess the only option we are left with is buy an extension or new ac ourselves.

But even if we bought a new ac for this plug, is it even safe to use with this type of wiring?

And if we use an extension, I noticed the closest plug in the living room, when I tested the circuits, It seems that outlet is on the same circuit as the kitchen fridge and microwave. So I doubt it's even safe to plug in that outlet? Am I going to have to find the closest outlet that is not shared and run a extension along the wall or ceiling to it?

Still not sure the best course of action...

(Edit: I should also probably mention that even when the son was here, he didn't even get someone licensed, he got a "handyman" to do everything, and considering he said there was nothing he could do to fix broken sliding doors, he didn't seem too handy... So even if he by luck showed up, he probably wouldn't get snyone licensed.)
 
  #7  
Old 06-01-13, 01:09 PM
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I'm pretty sure you won't like my answer but I would seriously consider moving. It sounds like your building is significantly deficit when it comes to the electrical. You could hire an electrician on your own dime to re-work the existing circuit.
 
  #8  
Old 06-01-13, 02:13 PM
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About the AC , this one was there when we moved in, with a tiny thin 3 socket extension...
Do you mean 3 slots in the female end of an extension cord? If so, where was the male end plugged in?

But even if we bought a new ac for this plug, is it even safe to use with this type of wiring?
Probably. Which breaker (s) supply it?
 
  #9  
Old 06-01-13, 02:13 PM
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About the AC , this one was there when we moved in, with a tiny thin 3 socket extension...
Do you mean 3 slots in the female end of an extension cord? If so, where was the male end plugged in?

But even if we bought a new ac for this plug, is it even safe to use with this type of wiring?
Probably. Which breaker(s) supply it?
 
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