Bizarre home electrical problem

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Old 03-19-14, 11:34 PM
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Question Bizarre home electrical problem

Hello, maybe someone can help me with this. I've been having an electrician work on this but two visits and he still hasn't tracked down the problem. Story time...

My house was built in 1972. We bought it last March. The electrical panel was ancient, I couldn't even see breakers or fuses in it, so I made Fannie Mae replace it prior to signing, and they did with a brand new one.

A few months after moving in, we began having a strange electrical problem, which ONLY effects the bottom floor of our two-story house (and not even the entire floor). Basically, when using downstairs outlets, lights or appliances, eventually (and irregularly) the kitchen lights will start to flicker. If we don't turn stuff off, eventually we lose power to kitchen lights, living room outlets, electric range and the dishwasher. Kitchen outlets seem fine, and the refrigerator is unaffected.

No breakers trip. And the range is on a totally separate circuit. If you leave it alone it will eventually resolve itself. However, here is the strangest part: if I turn on a burner on the range, it resolves instantly. And tonight, I was able to control the power to the range (as noted by the digital clock) by toggling a standing lamp in the living room. However, tonight it seemed very unstable, as when I got this light to turn on it was very dim.

So far the electrician has:
1. Tightened a loose neutral on the range circuit breaker.
2. We opened the kitchen lightswitch panel and replaced a section of aluminum wiring, and he tightened several loose connections.
3. I've checked tightness of all effected outlet connections.
4. Today, when looking at the range, he opened the back panel and we found a dead mouse making connection between the hot and the neutral (eeewww). He thought this and the switch panel might've been the issue.

He also noted that the range outlet has four wires in the box; but only 3 are hooked up and the range is a 3-prong plug. He recommended I replace them if the problem continues, but it seems like we're missing something. There is no aluminum wire that I can find besides the short little 2 inch section we found in the switch panel.



Does anyone have an idea on this? I've been researching loose neutral and floating neutral but I really don't deal with electricity. But if somebody's dealt with this it'd be nice to offer some ideas to the electrician (or try fixing it myself).


Thanks,
Brian
 
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Old 03-19-14, 11:38 PM
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Also of note: I tracked down the last owner, and he says he never had this problem when he owned it. So the only changes that have anything to do with power (at least that I know of) are the new breaker panel, and the range I think was also new, put in by the real estate agent. If they put in the present outlet to make it compatible with the plug on the range, would leaving that fourth wire out of the circuit cause this to surface?
 
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Old 03-19-14, 11:53 PM
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Welcome to the forums.

The problem has absolutely nothing to do with the range. Your problem is in the service coming in from the street, possibly in the meter pan, loose clamp where meter plugs in, splice at aerial drop.

You have a 240v service. Two legs of power. The range needs both legs to work. You are losing one leg of your power. We'll call it leg A. When you turn the range on your are creating a direct short between leg A and Leg B with the element. Now leg A is at the same potential as leg B but you don't have 240v power.

I'd have to assume that the new service equipment inside doesn't have a problem but that's where the electrician needs to start. He needs to check the two legs coming in for 240V. Check where the main breaker connects to the bus bars. He needs to determine if the problem is in the panel or outside. If outside the power company will probably need to be called.

By the way.... the problem may seem to be bizarre but we see it all the time.
 
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Old 03-20-14, 12:11 AM
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Ok, that kind of makes sense...and that could still leave power working upstairs? Howcome it resolves on its own after a while even if I don't toggle the stove, is something getting too hot and then cooling down? Thanks for the quick reply.
 
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Old 03-20-14, 12:31 AM
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It could resolve it self based on connected load. Hard to say.

Your circuits are split. Some on leg A and some on leg B. Since you're only losing the one leg..... the other one is ok.
 
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Old 03-20-14, 06:31 PM
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I agree with PJ's assessment and was thinking the same thing when reading the first post, but I also see something else to be concerned about that is not directly related to this problem.

2. We opened the kitchen lightswitch panel and replaced a section of aluminum wiring, and he tightened several loose connections.

Your home has all aluminum wiring? If a section of aluminum wire was replaced, what was it replaced with and how is it terminated to the remaining aluminum wire. How were the connections tightened? Did he just tighten the wire nuts?

What I am driving at is this, if you have aluminum wiring in your home, there are special procedures and materials that are approved for use with aluminum wiring and sadly, many electricians today do not have a clue what they are. For example, there is NO wire nut made that should be used with aluminum wire.
 
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Old 03-20-14, 09:10 PM
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PJmax is on the right track.

Call your power company and have then come out to check their connections from the street to your house, including the meter socket. It sound to me like you have a loose connection there and you are losing one leg. (As PJ mentioned) The power company should come out for free 24/7. While it is not as bad as a loose neutral, a poor connection can be a source of fire.
 
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Old 03-20-14, 09:30 PM
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And do not call customer service at the power company. Call the emergency number.
 
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Old 03-25-14, 02:11 PM
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Thanks for all the input. Our home doesn't have any aluminum wiring; that one little piece is the only bit I've seen so far...all of the other outlets are copper; not sure why that one wasn't, but it's all copper now.

I'm emailing my electrician about the potential for a dropped leg or loose breaker. Unless he has anything he wants to try, I'll call NLI...but I'm pretty sure the breaker box was the first thing he checked out on his initial visit.
 
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Old 03-25-14, 06:56 PM
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There is no reason the hesitate to call the power company. It is free for them to come out on a trouble call to check their side of things. I would start there before having your electrician come out unless he also works for free.
 
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Old 03-25-14, 07:00 PM
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I'm pretty sure the breaker box was the first thing he checked out on his initial visit.
Did he check it while you were having the problem ?
The problem would have to be visible at that point.
 
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Old 03-25-14, 07:15 PM
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My house was built in 1972. We bought it last March. The electrical panel was ancient, I couldn't even see breakers or fuses in it, so I made Fannie Mae replace it prior to signing, and they did with a brand new one.

A few months after moving in, we began having a strange electrical problem, which ONLY effects the bottom floor of our two-story house (and not even the entire floor). Basically, when using downstairs outlets, lights or appliances, eventually (and irregularly) the kitchen lights will start to flicker. If we don't turn stuff off, eventually we lose power to kitchen lights, living room outlets, electric range and the dishwasher. Kitchen outlets seem fine, and the refrigerator is unaffected.

No breakers trip. And the range is on a totally separate circuit. If you leave it alone it will eventually resolve itself. However, here is the strangest part: if I turn on a burner on the range, it resolves instantly. And tonight, I was able to control the power to the range (as noted by the digital clock) by toggling a standing lamp in the living room. However, tonight it seemed very unstable, as when I got this light to turn on it was very dim...

I tracked down the last owner, and he says he never had this problem when he owned it. So the only changes that have anything to do with power (at least that I know of) are the new breaker panel, and the range I think was also new, put in by the real estate agent. If they put in the present outlet to make it compatible with the plug on the range, would leaving that fourth wire out of the circuit cause this to surface?
Originally Posted by PJmax
The problem has absolutely nothing to do with the range.
Since the range is newly installed and the main distribution panel has been replaced, the range should be supplied with and connected to a 4-wire branch circuit feed. That needs to be corrected to comply with currently adopted code, for safety, but doing that will not resolve your power loss problem.

The problem, as you have surmised, is with the new service panel.

Originally Posted by PJmax
You have a 240v service. Two legs of power... You are losing one leg of your power.
Each leg carries 120V potential, hot-to-neutral or hot-to-ground.. The two legs together sup[ply 240V, hot-to-ground.

Today is the 25th. You were advised on the 20th to call the emergency number at your power company and have their 24/7 technicians check your incoming power.

What did the POCO technicians find?
 
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Old 03-25-14, 07:25 PM
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So far the electrician has:
1. Tightened a loose neutral on the range circuit breaker.
Neutrals are not opened or closed with circuit breakers. The neutral (grounded) conductor for a branch circuit must be connected to the circuit breaker protecting that circuit if that breaker is providing either arc fault (AFCI) or ground fault (GFCI) protection, so that the flows on the ungrounded (hot) and grounded (neutral) conductors can be compared. A range circuit does not require, and should not have, either AFCI or GFCI protection.

Can you describe each wire in that circuit and tell us haw it is connected in the panel and in the range receptacle?
 
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Old 03-26-14, 05:34 AM
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hutchb25:

The very first thing you need to do as you were advised is to call the power company and let them check you incoming service. I have had similar problems such as this in the field. It could and may be dangerous to let this go on further without the utility company checking their "responsible" parts. Once they confirm their connections are secure etc then if this does not help your electrician can continue. If there is a problem with the service your electrician is wasting your money and you may have serious ramifications in the near future. Get it checked.

As I said I have had similar problems in the field. Once the service is checked by utility company if this does not solve issue then maybe we can go from there with further suggestions.

As we know a neutral wire is not connected to a circuit breaker unless it is a AFCI or GFCI breaker; however, with what I have seen in the field this does not mean it is not an AFCI or GFCI breaker; I have seen this exact thing. Question, so we know for sure, if there other than the normal reset trip on the breaker a button and does the breaker advise to test monthly. This way at least we know for sure it is not a GFCI o AFCI breaker. If not as mentioned to you the neutral wire will be connected to the neutral bar not the breaker.
 
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Old 03-26-14, 03:40 PM
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Ok, had NLI out yesterday to check their equipment. They looked at and tested everything all the way to the bus bars, and it all checked out at 240v with no problems.

None of the breakers in the panel are GFCI or marked with a recommendation for testing. I'll take some pictures of the breaker and outlet when I get a chance and post them, but the electrician didn't seem concerned with it aside from it being a 4-wire run connected to a 3-wire receptacle.
 
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Old 03-26-14, 06:07 PM
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You have an intermittent problem and I still suspect it is on the power companies system.

They looked at and tested everything all the way to the bus bars
Looking at and testing is fine, but they still could have a problem, it's intermittent and just looking and testing doesn't always tell the whole story. Can you associate anything with when you have the problem, such as wind?
 
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Old 03-26-14, 06:58 PM
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No, wind hasn't seemed to trigger it...we've had serious winds and been just fine. It usually happens at night, but I'm not sure if that really means anything simply because evening is the only time I turn on a light or use an outlet down there.

It's sometimes not even associated with 'significant' power use from that floor...I was working on a project today, didn't even have a light on, came in to the kitchen and there was no power to the range or lights. I waited a while and it came back.

Should I try and get them out here when it's 'happening'? I might even be able to force it to happen.
 
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Old 03-27-14, 01:56 PM
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How can you force it to happen?
 
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