Flickering lights and fluctuating voltage

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Old 10-24-19, 09:47 PM
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Flickering lights and fluctuating voltage

Hi,

not sure if anyone will be able to help but itís worth a shot. I feel like Iím bashing my head against a wall and could really use some suggestions. I have an older house, built in 1910. Newer breaker box though (2011) and sub panels. About a week ago we started getting a really bad flicker throughout the house when we would run any appliances in the kitchen. Dishwasher, microwave, when the fridge would cycle one, even using the toaster oven. Itís bad early in the AM and late at night, but there will be stretches of the day where It is fine (donít know if that matters). All those appliances have their own dedicated circuits that are spread across 2 sub panels, and we are seeing the same problem with appliances on the main panel as well. Had an electrician come out and check all of the panels and any junction boxes they saw, no lose neutrals, made sure everything was tightened up, they removed a few slightly corroded connections but nothing crazy. The problem persisted and they think the issue is outside the house. I had the electric company come, they replace all the connections between the transformer and the meter but we are still seeing the issue. When the electric companyís guy was here he put testers on at the meter and had me go and turn on some appliances in the kitchen. When I turned on the microwave the lights in the kitchen dipped down low for about 2 seconds Then start flickering and when I went back he said he saw one of the 2 lines drop down to 90, but I still have no idea where the problem is. I guess my main question is if he saw the voltage fluctuate outside at the meter does that mean that the problem is definitely outside my house or could there be something inside causing it to dip like that from the transformer? None of my neighbors on the same transformer are having any issues. Any suggestions or additional questions that might help shed some light would be greatly appreciated.
 
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Old 10-25-19, 03:47 AM
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I they were measuring at the meter and the voltage dropped the issue is on the power company equipment, either the meter socket or further upstream. They are looking for a loose neutral.
 
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Old 10-25-19, 06:34 AM
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Do you have any portable or movable incandescent lights left in your house? Plug them into different receptacles in different rooms and turn on the microwave oven or a hair dryer not necessarily on the same circuit. Do you ever see a light get brighter? Write down what branch circuit(s) were involved and affected.

(Take your time doing these tests, no need to reply here in the next ten minutes unless you see a light brighten.)
 
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Old 10-25-19, 06:37 AM
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He saw one line drop to 90. What did they other line do? Stayed or went up?
It could the transformer serving you house and any neighbours is too small.
 
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Old 10-25-19, 06:40 AM
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Maybe the overhead drop cable itself. Turn on loads and check the outdoor situation with a thermal system.
 
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Old 10-25-19, 09:48 AM
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I guess my main question is if he saw the voltage fluctuate outside at the meter does that mean that the problem is definitely outside my house or could there be something inside causing it to dip like that from the transformer?

The problem is probably outside if only a microwave caused this condition. What did the trouble guy do next? I would be suspicious of connections in the meter socket, at the weatherhead and the connection of your overhead drop at the transformer or pole. If the neighbors on the same transformer have no problem the transformer is probably fine, but each customer has connections dedicated to their individual service drop. These connections are a very common problem.
 
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Old 10-25-19, 10:38 AM
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I had the electric company out here again this morning, they have put new connections all the way from the transformer to the meter and checked all the cabling. The guy said he's going to put in for a replacement meter just in case, but he also took a look at the transformer and said he saw rust and oil leaking out of it so he put us in the system for a replacement. There are 5 other houses on it and none of them have reported any issues so I'm not too hopeful but I guess we'll see.
 
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Old 10-25-19, 10:50 AM
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Sorry, not sure how to quote a previous post:

"Do you have any portable or movable incandescent lights left in your house? Plug them into different receptacles in different rooms and turn on the microwave oven or a hair dryer not necessarily on the same circuit. Do you ever see a light get brighter? Write down what branch circuit(s) were involved and affected."

All circuits are effected. I have another electrician coming out tomorrow who has worked on our house in the past, when I discussed the issues we were seeing he said it would be worth looking at the main breaker and the line to the meter.
 
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Old 10-25-19, 11:26 AM
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Some new smart meters have built-in disconnects. Yet another point of failure.
 
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Old 10-25-19, 11:31 AM
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he also took a look at the transformer and said he saw rust and oil leaking out of it so he put us in the system for a replacement.

I hope that isn't a PCB transformer.


they have put new connections all the way from the transformer to the meter and checked all the cabling.

I suspect this will fix your issue.
 
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Old 10-25-19, 11:51 AM
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"I suspect this will fix your issue."

Unfortunately it did not, that is why they are going to replace the transformer and I have a new electrician coming out tomorrow to check the main break and the line going to the meter.
 
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Old 10-26-19, 11:11 AM
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Replacing a leaking transformer is always a good decision, but since the neighbors who are also on the transformer are not affected, you have made progress in isolating the problem to your home's system.
 
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Old 10-28-19, 06:04 AM
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I had an electrician friend out on Saturday. He was far more thorough than the initial electricians we had check inside and after extensive testing he confirmed that the issue is somewhere outside of our house. I turned some appliances on in the kitchen while he was testing the voltage coming into the main breaker and one line dropped to 102 while the other shot up to 140. He went outside to test where the line came into the meter but we couldn't get it to happen again so the only 2 things left everyone seems to think it could be is either the meter or the transformer. The last guy from the electric company who came out on Friday said he was putting in to have our transformer replaced but I don't know when/if they will get around to that. It may just be a coincidence but I noticed that after it hadn't rained for a few days the problem had mostly subsided but then after heavy rain yesterday it got pretty bad again.
 
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Old 10-28-19, 06:26 AM
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You have an open neutral. This is an urgent problem that can cause a fire. Somewhere between the meter and the panel inclusive plus where the power wires attach to your house overhead is the most likely location now. Call your electrician again but the power company rep. may have to come again if the meter box needs to be opened..

Meanwhile, unplug all electronics -- televisions, microwave ovens, satellite dish included.

This problem would have shown up as incandescent lights getting abnormally bright. I asked that question 3 days ago and you failed to answer it.

Just for kicks: Is there a utility pole on your side of the street and reasonably close to you that has (or still has) a copper wire coming down to a ground rod at the base of the pole?
Turn off your main breaker. Get a long wire, say, 14 gauge, that will reach out there. Turn off your main breaker. Connect one end of the wire to the neutral terminal strip (bus bar) in your panel. Stretch the wire out across the lawn and connect the other end to the wire coming down the pole.

Turn the power back on. Using the incandescent lights and the hair dryer, do you see that the dimming and brightening problem has gone away? Turn off the power and unhook the wire when you are done testing and at any rate before the power company rep. or electrician gets there. Does the problem come back?

MODERATOR NOTE: This is not something I would recommend trying.
 

Last edited by PJmax; 10-31-19 at 04:52 PM.
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Old 10-28-19, 09:16 AM
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Hi Allan, I replied on Friday but couldn't figure out how to directly respond or quote you, sorry. Yes, I tried plugging in a light to different receptacles. All circuits are effected.

there is only about a 6 foot distance from the meter to the box, both connections and the cable have been checked repeatedly, as have the connection at the service drop. I guess I could ultimately have the cabling replaced if changing the transformer and the meter doesn't work

Unfortunately I can't perform the test you suggest because of the location I live in and what it would take to reach a utility pole, but thank you for the suggestion.
 
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Old 10-28-19, 12:13 PM
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Unless the power company rep. on his last visit, replaced fittings for the (usually black) power conductors but did not check all of the connections to the ground wire.

This nearly horizontal pole ground wire, also halfway up the pole, doubles as the neutral and as a support wire for some of the other wires. These ground wires must be jumpered to each other as well as fastened securely to the pole itself. Vertical ground wires come down some poles to ground rods.

Particularly in dense urban areas with grid street layouts, the transformer serving your house might not be the closest. You might see subtle stubbing off and capping of the current carrying conductors up on the pole so that the actual supply wires for neighboring houses could go off in different directions while the ground wires are still supposed to be connected togehter wherever they come together.

So we have not yet ruled out the pole transformer as being the problem.
 
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Old 10-29-19, 08:31 AM
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Hi Allan, thank you again for all of your replies. The electric company just contacted me and they're going to come out and check the transformer today or tomorrow. The guy basically tried to tell me over the phone he thinks it's an issue in my house, but everything the electricians as well as their own employees are telling me is that it's an issue happening before our breaker.

We had some heavy rain yesterday and I noticed that everything got exponentially worse. Do you think that this is just coincidental or would that help to confirm that the issue is happening somewhere outside exposed to the elements?
 
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Old 10-29-19, 10:13 AM
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Heavy rain was probably accompanied by some strong winds. The winds could definitely contribute if it is a loose connection.
 
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Old 10-30-19, 11:40 AM
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Just an update, electric company says they will replace the transformer "hopefully by the end of next week." Love to see that hustle.

I'm trying to learn more about circuits and how all of this stuff works, but I feel like there is one major question I have, hopefully one of you guys can help me. If the voltage was measured at the line coming into the breaker box, so before it goes into the main breaker. If they saw 1 leg drop to 104 and the other jump up to 140, does that mean that the issue is definitely originating somewhere further upstream before the breaker box or is there a possibility that the neutral could be broken somewhere in the breaker box? Since I'm stuck waiting for the next week I just want to make sure I rule out all possibility that there is something I could be doing inside of the house instead of just waiting. Thanks in advance.
 
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Old 10-30-19, 12:43 PM
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https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnwGTPPnTd4

3:20 to 5:30 maybe some use to you. If those unequal measurements were done ON the actual wire, then the problem is most certainly upstream (toward the pole). If they measured on the connector/lug, then that bet is off.

I see lots of conflicted info from all the on-site stories. In the past, I've had to monitor for an actual spark on a connection, to tell the linemen exactly what connection was bad. I had a very recent case where the lineman told me to bang in my own ground rod at the pole, since they were never going to "get to it". YMMV.

I haven't seen you write "pole" or "overhead service", so all this is going on a pole mount and not ground pad mount. You did mention neighbors do not have this issue, and you indicate that they are "on the same transformer". How did you come to that conclusion?
 
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Old 10-30-19, 12:59 PM
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Thanks Telecom guy. Those measurements were done on the wire, and a similar drop was seen at the meter outside the house.

You are correct, the transformer is mounted on a pole that is across the street from us and we have overhead service. The power company confirmed which houses are on the same transformer as us and I spoke with 2 of them (out of 5 houses I was told) I have not been able to talk with the other 2 yet.
 
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Old 10-30-19, 02:33 PM
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Here is a really good demo of what happens when you have a bad neutral.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_c...&v=HsSlQnGCvdg
 
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Old 10-30-19, 02:39 PM
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Here is what my POCO used to test my line when I called to complain about a bad neutral. They unplug the meter and plug this thing in. They can load one line and monitor voltage on both.

Name:  neutral tester (Small).jpg
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Old 10-30-19, 03:02 PM
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Thanks Joed, I actually just found that video a little while ago, it's very informative.

I think I need to get them to come out and try the Beast at my meter. Any recommendation on what I should say to make them bring it out or if it is something I can request?
 
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Old 10-30-19, 04:54 PM
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Have you called the power company yet saying you have an open neutral?

It is okay to call the power company for an open neutral when you are almost sure but not absolutely positively 100% sure the problem is outside your house.

Each day you deliberate and wait, appliances and equipment in your house are being subjected to overvoltage that can shorten their lives.
 

Last edited by AllanJ; 10-30-19 at 05:09 PM.
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Old 10-30-19, 05:43 PM
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I don't know if all POCO have The Beast or some other equivalent. It certainly makes diagnosis much easier. They can see the voltage on each line and apply a load one or the other line.
 
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Old 10-30-19, 06:14 PM
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Thanks AllanJ, I had not called them yet and specifically told them that. I just called and said I have an open neutral, gave them the voltage readings that had been taken at the meter and line coming into the main breaker, and told them that all connections between the transformer and meter have already been remade. They have now referred me to the engineering department and said they will schedule an appointment with me in the next 24 hours so I could be here when they come out. Hopefully they will be a little more thorough.
 
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Old 10-31-19, 11:47 AM
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Hi. I earlier in this thread you mentioned that the panels were replaced and the house is very old. Has all the old wiring been replaced and removed? if you have old wiring still active, you could have a neutral open or some neutral wires that are too small causing a current limited neutral. I would purchase an outlet tester and test every outlet in your house. here is a link to one. https://www.amazon.com/Sperry-Instru...74060698&psc=1
 
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Old 11-01-19, 09:09 AM
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Get a voltmeter, preferably one with a moving needle readout. Not an outlet tester.
 
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