Electrical failures in several residential circuits

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Old 06-27-14, 06:36 AM
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Electrical failures in several residential circuits

Some months ago, a couple electrical outlets failed in my apartment, that is, there was no power to them. I reset the circuit breaker and the power came back on. This problem repeated frequently. Sometimes the lamp connected to the outlet would flicker for a bit before the breaker tripped. I would reset the breaker and the power would return. After a few days/week, the power went out permanently - resetting the breaker would not bring it back.

I have a very unreliable landlord and was in the middle of exams, so I ignored the problem at the time. Then the same problem happened to another circuit and again resetting the breaker helped a few times but then it stopped working altogether. Eventually, the problem has affected 4 of the circuit breakers in my apartment, and there is no power to a number of outlets. Resetting the breaker does not help.

There is no single appliance that I have plugged into all four circuits, so it doesn't seem like it's some faulty appliance that keeps breaking the circuit. In general, my power load is fairly minor - a window A/C and refrigerator being the main appliances. Other than that it's just a few lights and computer/accessories.

I think the problem is beyond me at this point and I need professional help. I am thinking of getting an electrician, but I have never done this before and don't know what to expect, and fear getting cheated or having a poor repair job done.

So I have a couple of questions and I was hoping the collective experience of this forum might advise me:

1. What do you think the problem might be? Could be it bad circuit breakers? Or is it likely to be something else?

2. How do I go about getting an electrician? Should I look up Google or Yellow Pages or Yelp reviews? I am suspicious of these sources, because I see many 5-star glowing reviews and very few bad reviews, so I think perhaps the reviewing system is being gamed. I would like to get a licensed, insured electrician who won't cheat me and do a reliable job. How do I go about finding such a person?

Finally, does anyone have a rough idea of what it would cost to fix this problem? I understand that no one can diagnose the exact problem over the internet, but it would be helpful if someone could say "this sounds like a problem with the circuit breaker, it would cost so much to fix", or "this sounds like a problem with the panel or wiring, and that might cost so much to fix". Just so I have some idea of what a fair price is when dealing with the electrician.

If it makes a difference, I live in the west suburbs of Chicago.

Any help is much appreciated.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 06:42 AM
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You pay rent, this is not your property. Contact your landlord, it is not your responsibility to fix this.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 07:07 AM
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Thanks for the reply, but I know that I will probably end up having to pay to get it fixed myself. There's stuff that would take too long to explain here and would not interest most people anyway.

Given that I need to get the problem fixed myself, can you help answer my questions?
 
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Old 06-27-14, 07:31 AM
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To have an electrician out on a service call in the Chicagoland area is generally 100-150 dollars an hour.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 08:20 AM
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And due to liability issues and perhaps the local ordinances an electrician is the only way to do it if you don't get the landlord involved.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 08:34 AM
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The symptoms sound a bit like you may have aluminum wiring, but a qualified electrician would determine that. How old are these apartments?
 
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Old 06-27-14, 08:45 AM
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Thanks for getting back to me.

I'm guessing the building is about 30-40 years old but I can't be sure.

Yes, calling an electrician is my only option since I don't know how to fix the problem myself, quite aside from the codes issue.

I'm interested in knowing what the problem might be. Does it sound like a problem with the breaker panel or breakers, or maybe a loose neutral somewhere, or perhaps a short?

And I would like to know how to go about finding a qualified electrician. I have a few phone numbers in front of me for local electricians that I was planning to call. I have no way to judge who is competent or not, is there some kind of certification I should ask for, some review site I should check?
 
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Old 06-27-14, 08:56 AM
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Eventually, the problem has affected 4 of the circuit breakers in my apartment, and there is no power to a number of outlets. Resetting the breaker does not help.
For four circuits to be intermittent and tripping breakers there are some serious issues there.

The first place is to start at the panel and to make sure the breakers are actually working.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 09:12 AM
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I'm guessing the building is about 30-40 years old but I can't be sure.
Aluminum wiring was commonly used in apartment construction through the mid 1970s, but since you are from the Chicago area (I missed your location the first time) I doubt you would have the aluminum wiring, but copper wiring in conduit.

I have no way to judge who is competent or not, is there some kind of certification I should ask for, some review site I should check?
Ask if they are licensed and insured. It also wouldn't be a bad idea to ask them to provide you a certificate of insurance. If they are a legitimate contractor they should be both licensed and insured. Providing a certificate of insurance is pretty standard protocol for legitimate contractors.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 09:38 AM
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For four circuits to be intermittent and tripping breakers there are some serious issues there.
Could you be a bit more specific? What kinds of "serious" problems. I am posting here to get as specific and detailed information as possible, hopefully with some reasoning about how to differentiate one kind of problem from another.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 09:54 AM
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We can only "assume or guess" what the problem is. It could be bare wiring that is shorting out. It could be circuit breakers that are worn out. It could be loose connections at switches and receptacles. It could be corroded/defective aluminum wiring.

Some one has to actually be there to diagnose the problem.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 10:21 AM
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See if the landlord will credit the bill against your rent.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 10:23 AM
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Thanks. There were a couple things I forgot to mention in my first post, perhaps this might suggest something to someone here:

1. As I mentioned, when the lights first started flickering and tripped the breaker, I reset the breaker. But the problem would repeat and I would have to keep resetting the breaker until finally a day came when no amount of resetting would bring power back on that circuit.

At that time, I tried rocking the breaker switch (it moves side to side). By "rocking" I mean sliding it very slowly from off-to-on and back again, instead of quickly snapping it off or on as I normally do to reset. I noticed that when sliding it very slowly, there was some switch position in the middle where the lamp plugged into that circuit would briefly flicker, but it wouldn't stay on. Meaning that even with a dead circuit, moving that breaker switch very slowly would power on the circuit for just an instant. It has stopped doing even that now, but this was the situation when I first had the dead circuit.

Does this sound like a problem with the breaker switch or panel rather than a short or loose neutral elsewhere?

2. From re-reading my initial post I see I have created the impression that the 4 breakers switches and their circuits went bad randomly one after another. This is not precisely true. The first circuit did indeed go bad randomly one day (I think all I had plugged into it at the time was a TV and stereo - both off - and a fan that was running). But the next two were associated with an air conditioner. I had a window air conditioner that would periodically slow down and speed up for no reason, and occasionally trip the breaker. Sometimes when it did that, I could hear a loud buzzing/zapping sound coming from the air conditioner just before it tripped the breaker. One day the air conditioner made a loud buzzing sound and tripped the breaker. I went to reset it, and when I did, the speaker on a TV (the only other thing plugged into that circuit besides the A/C) made a loud sound (it was off at the time). I immediately turned off the breaker and disconnected the TV, but after that the breaker would not power on again.

At this point I moved the air conditioner to another outlet on a different circuit. It started tripping the breaker on this circuit too, and eventually this circuit also died.

So I am wondering if the air conditioner was bad, and two of the circuits were actually permanently killed by the air conditioner. If so, the randomly failing breakers might not be so random at all, but might have been destroyed by the air conditioner. If, of course, a faulty device such as an A/C can destroy a breaker so it can't be reset again.

I am providing all these details in the hope of getting a detailed reply. Again, I can call any electrician and talk to him on the phone and he can give me a quick summary - might be the breaker, might be the breaker panel, might be a loose neutral somewhere, might be a short, who knows, I'll have to examine it to know. I understand that he's right, nobody can diagnose a problem over the phone or internet, but the reason I am posting here is to get detailed information so that I UNDERSTAND the technical implications of these different possibilities.

Like I said, I am not an electrician, but I do have a basic understanding of physics and electricity, so I am not totally clueless. I think I will catch on if someone tries to explain.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 10:28 AM
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See if the landlord will credit the bill against your rent.
Thank you, I appreciate the advice, but the sole and only reason why I posted my question here is to try to understand what the problem might be, and how to find a reliable electrician.

I am not looking for advice on how to deal with the landlord, or anything other than the specific questions I asked.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 11:09 AM
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Thank you, I appreciate the advice, but the sole and only reason why I posted my question here is to try to understand what the problem might be, and how to find a reliable electrician.

As for picking an electrician, like the old saying goes.... 'let your fingers do the walking'. Although my first call would be to the property owner but hey, they just me... I don't like getting sued.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 12:40 PM
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You don't seem to understand. You are asking us questions that we would have to guess at the answers. We could leave you multiple answers but that isn't helping anything.

You need to start at the panel. The cover needs to be removed. Each individual breaker needs to be checked for proper operation and to see if it's putting out voltage. If they are all working properly then the next step is to identify what's on each problem circuit. Then you need to check thru the circuit to locate where the problem is. You'll need to locate what is and what isn't working on each circuit. Is the neutral missing or is the hot missing.

I can see a day of work there for an electrician based on the time I know it takes to check everything. I get these calls all the time. It's not always easy to find these problems.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 12:59 PM
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And if all the problem circuits are on the same leg and you have a subpanel the problem could be in an electrical closet that is limited access.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 01:13 PM
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I am not looking for advice on how to deal with the landlord, or anything other than the specific questions I asked.
We're big picture kind of people and we like actually resolving issues rather than answering one question only to create four new ones.

Personally, if I were your landlord, I would be looking to evict you for working on the electrical system in your unit so be careful.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 01:33 PM
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We're big picture kind of people and we like actually resolving issues rather than answering one question only to create four new ones.

Personally, if I were your landlord, I would be looking to evict you for working on the electrical system in your unit so be careful.
The landlord is well aware of what I am doing. The problem is that part of the "big picture" has nothing to do with electrical stuff, it is a personal matter which I didn't feel the need to discuss on this board. So I politely asked if we could stay focused on the electrical problem I described. To discuss the landlord issue, I would go to a legal forum or consult a lawyer.

I'm not complaining that people brought it up, that is only natural. I'm just saying that after I explained that the landlord is a separate issue and I am just here for advise on the electrical issue, I would appreciate it if we focused on that.

I apologize if my tone comes across as unnecessarily harsh; this is not my intention. I am just trying to bring the discussion back to the questions I asked.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 01:55 PM
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I was trying to save you some money instead of paying for the repair and your full rent.
 
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Old 06-27-14, 07:30 PM
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I am just trying to bring the discussion back to the questions I asked.
It looks to me that all the questions that can be answered have been answered unless you are looking for wild speculation. The next step is to invite this entire forum, or an electrician of your choice, to your apartment to begin troubleshooting the problem.
 
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Old 06-28-14, 06:11 AM
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Service Panel

Give us the name of the manufacturer of your service panel where the breakers are located.
 
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Old 06-29-14, 12:39 PM
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Panel

More directly, is your panel a Federal Pacific?
 
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