Intermittent Brownouts, Lights Flickering, and Power Loss


Old 07-01-17, 01:38 AM
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Intermittent Brownouts, Lights Flickering, and Power Loss

Just a background first: I can't "do-it-yourself" since I live in a rented townhouse. I do have an electrical background, but was industrial, not residential. Granted, given enough time I could probably troubleshoot this problem and fix it myself, I don't have that option. So I would like to have some ideas handy the next time the maintenance guy comes to check on it (he has said himself he's "not an electrical guy").

Here's the issue: For about three weeks now, I have had a 24/7 intermittent flickering of lights, brown outs, and lately complete losses of power. The big one was a couple nights ago when it went down and stayed down.

No breakers in the service panel inside my home were tripped. The master feeder was also not tripped. None of the neighbors have been having this problem (each of us has a master feeder that comes off of a single drop that feeds 8 townhouses).

I turned all of the breakers off on the service panel in my home, then cycled the master feeder. I turned breakers back on in the service panel, one by one, and things sprang back to life. I got everything on and it seemed we were good...until about 15 minutes later I heard a big *THUNK* from inside the service panel and everything went dark, except for the kitchen lights.

Again, nothing was tripped...yet somehow only the kitchen lights were on. I started cycling breakers in the service panel and stuff would come on. The last load I turned back on (the biggest in the house) was the A/C unit. That caused a whole lot of sparking from behind the service panel protective cover and then everything dropped out.

Called the maintenance guy and he came to investigate. I wanted to see the internals of the service panel to assess damage. I'd already taken a chance reenrgizing stuff as it was, and I was afraid of doing so again without taking a look. That's how you start fires.

So he got the cover off and, while none of the breakers look in bad shape, and no connections were loose, there was a lot of carbon around one of the incoming legs from the feeder breaker.

After checking everything, the guy reenergized the main (which I had turned off), and started turning on loads one by one. When he got to one load, there was a ton of sparking on that leg with the carbon all over it. He turned that breaker off, then proceeded to change the breaker out. I told him it's probably not the breaker causing it, but he was like "well, we'll try it and see".

I also asked him to pull the leg that had been sparking, to check and see if there is even any bare wire to make contact in the block, but he gave up after a few tries of moving the set screw back and forth.

For one day after, everything seemed fine, but then last night the flickering started up again. Tonight it's gotten really bad.

Here's what I'm thinking: the leg coming in that was sparking is in bad shape and needs to be sanded/cleaned. The block itself might need some contact cleaner sprayed into it as well. But I can't troubleshoot this myself and have to convince a mechanic to do these things.

Am I missing something else obvious here? I'd check loads for grounds, but it seems random as to which load causes problems when turning things back on. It just really seems like a weak connection on one hot leg.

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Old 07-01-17, 02:32 AM
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Ask your landlord if he is willing to let you hire an electrician. Ask if he will split the cost with you fifty fifty. Gently remind him if there is a fire and there is a known problem his insurance company may balk at paying any claim.

Not the answer you were looking for but given the circumstances maybe the best solution.
Old 07-01-17, 04:47 AM
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I also vote for an electrician to look at your panel, especially where you saw the arcing. I think you are on the right track that the connection is not good. Over time I expect it will just get worse.

The only difference I would suggest is that the landlord pay for the repair 100%. If he will not have an electrician fix it then I'd offer to pay half if the electrician doesn't find anything but if he does find a problem the landlord pays 100%.
Old 07-01-17, 05:35 AM
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You have a loose connection and that has likely melted the lug. This is not an issue to ignore as loose connections is what cause damage to electrical parts and start fires. The wires needs to be removed, cut and re-stripped to expose good copper/aluminum. The lug then may also need to be replaced. The other lug connections should also be checked for tightness.

Since you are renting it is the landlords responsibility to get this fixed. I agree with Dane, they should be paying for this, not you.
Old 07-01-17, 12:05 PM
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I agree with toyln it's a dangerous situation and the problem you're having is what toyln said and the correct way to repair it is by doing exactly what toyln said. Last thing is I also agree that you need to leave this one to a qualified person, a real electrician. I would tell the landlord you don't want the maintenance man doing this, I wouldn't have it any other way If I were you

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