Inherited a hot mess!

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Hamberg

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Took over a rehab and the electric piece seems to be straight up screwed. May or may not matter but let me preface by saying the home was originally wired aluminum. The service panel (Siemens) was replaced and inspected and it "appears" numerous legs were added/replaced with copper but most everything "in-wall" is still ALR.

When I took over nothing was labeled and all of the switches/outlets were gone but they did have 80% of the boxes pigtailed out with AlumiConn connectors.

So here is my first dilemma, several of the fixtures (bath lights/fan, DR chandelier) have power to them but will not turn on.

Soooo is my logic correct in thinking there is a missing/disconnected common somewhere in the circuit? And if so, how would you start to trouble shoot it?
 

Snoonyb

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1st, we can imagine what you did, and where, to ascertain that the fixtures "have power to them", so, please tell more of the story.
 

Hamberg

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(good point) Using a (non contact) pen tester. Fixtures are switched, the swich(es) work (turn off, pen is green, on pen is red/beeping). New bulb does not light, remove bulb inset pen, beeps red. I do have a volt meter but did not measure the voltage at the fixture.
 

Snoonyb

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Non-contact are "proximity" indicators. Use the VOM.
 

JoeD

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There is a good chance the neutral is open somewhere.
 

joecaption

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Bite the bullet, hire a real licenced, insured electrition to check this out.
That noncontact tester is about useless!
 

afjes_2016

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.

A proximity tester is not going to help you much in this case. Using the VM will be far more useful. Do you know what to look for with the meter? What is your skill level? I only ask because this could be a very involved issue and without some good solid understanding of residential electricity you are not going to be able to do much to help yourself.

You could have a neutral issue on hand here. This take s a bit of knowledge to know how to track it down. You could end up chasing your tail otherwise.

No offense. Are you comfortable working in the panel? Not saying the issue is in the panel but if troubleshooting leads you to the panel can you work in it - do you have any experience working in the panel?


Also to solve this on your own you will need to keep your terminology correct - what are you referring to as a "common"?
 

BuzzLOL

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At first I thought you were saying the house was wired semi-automotive style. In other words, 'hot' power supplied to everything and then a switch adds the common/neutral side to complete the circuit. But further clarification sounds like it is household style with neutral hooked to everything and then power added to where needed at times via a switch. Plus ground wires connecting all the metal boxes.
As others mentioned, non contact meters may read stray phantom voltages that don't really have the current/amperage to do anything.
Like others said, the place to start is in the circuit breaker panel (or fuse box) with a volt meter and test probe wires. Make sure everything is wired correctly there. No unconnected wires. But, really, all circuit breakers should be off (fuses pulled) and power shouldn't be supplied to the rest of the house until all switches, outlets, and electrical equipment is in place, no bare wires are sticking out any where inside or outside or in garage and barn if present, no bare wire ends are touching each other. Then carefully test to see IF 120 volts and 240 volts are actually coming into the box. If you don't understand that then you need some help and/or education in the matter.
 

afjes_2016

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The areas where you think you have power are those areas all on one circuit or several? If several can you determine where the breakers are in the panel for those areas (circuits)? I am wondering if you have lost a leg of service and you are getting backfed voltage from an appliance like a 240v hot water heater.

Need to first narrow down the problem first. Are multiple circuits affected?

Again, do you have the skill level to work in the breaker panel if need be. You may have to take voltage readings from the breakers and income legs.

Remember, even if you shut off the main breaker the two hot legs coming into the panel are still hot. That is unless you have a disconnect between the meter and the panel.
 

Hamberg

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No offense. Are you comfortable working in the panel? Not saying the issue is in the panel but if troubleshooting leads you to the panel can you work in it - do you have any experience working in the panel?

Also to solve this on your own you will need to keep your terminology correct - what are you referring to as a "common"?
@afjes_2016 - thanks for the reply. Start backwards...

  • (please, correct me if I'm wrong) Black = hot, White = neutral (I was taught "common"), copper/green = ground, red = hot/traveler (this house would appear to have a bunch of circuits using 12/3 for no reason
  • (no offence taken - I'm the one asking for advise here), (very healthy respect for) and am comfortable working the panel
  • Yes, my thought was someone (previous contractor) may have cut a neutral somewhere. This was the gist of my original post and was asking the (best) troubleshooting procedure to identify
  • Not a rookie but far from an expert! No problem wiring a 3-way switch or running a 240V leg for a range.
  • Only using the Prox Tester to verify the fixture was hot - you are correct, once done, I should have used my multi-meter to verify.
  • "..Do you know what to look for with the meter?..."
    Could we assume I don't, and start there? :rolleyes:
Second reply

  • "Remember, even if you shut off the main breaker the two hot legs coming into the panel are still hot."
    So don't stick my tongue on it to make sure it's live?? :O)
  • Yes, just need a starting point
  • OHHHHH No, if it was one circuit we wouldn't be having this lesson (I'd just run a new leg and be on to the other rehab stuff)
I'd keep going but let's start with those...
 

afjes_2016

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Before you go too much further you say you don't know what you are looking for with the volt meter. Does this mean you at least know how to use the meter properly?

If you are not sure how to use the meter read up on it a bit. Not that difficult to understand it. You must know how to do this before you can go to the next step of troubleshooting.

You say more than one circuit is affected. The circuits that are affected are they in line with others such as on the breaker panel every other breaker being affected?

If you know how to use the meter and feel comfortable enough try taking a voltage reading on the breakers themselves. Hot screw on breaker to neutral and also to ground. What are your readings?

If every other breaker is involved it could be you lost a leg of service. Still a possibility of a lose neutral.

Can you take a picture of the breaker panel? Preferably with the panel cover off.

The use of 12/3 is not an issue just a waste of wire. It is possible they had a lot of this to use and did not want to buy 12/2 instead.
 

Hamberg

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Before you go too much further you say you don't know what you are looking for with the volt meter. Does this mean you at least know how to use the meter properly?

If you are not sure how to use the meter read up on it a bit. Not that difficult to understand it. You must know how to do this before you can go to the next step of troubleshooting.
Nope - I'm good with the multi-meter! Just for clarification I am a licensed GC (not that means anything, anymore :O)) and have been in the Trades for 40+ years - I'm fine with a rewire, new circuits, ETC., Just lack some of the troubleshooting skills for the "Rube Goldberg" upgrades that were done.

If I was the original GC in I would have rewired while the walls were open - NOT an option now :0/


The use of 12/3 is not an issue just a waste of wire. It is possible they had a lot of this to use and did not want to buy 12/2 instead.
HAHA, guess they weren't paying a Buck as foot back then!?!?

You say more than one circuit is affected. The circuits that are affected are they in line with others such as on the breaker panel every other breaker being affected?

If you know how to use the meter and feel comfortable enough try taking a voltage reading on the breakers themselves. Hot screw on breaker to neutral and also to ground. What are your readings?

If every other breaker is involved it could be you lost a leg of service. Still a possibility of a lose neutral.

Can you take a picture of the breaker panel? Preferably with the panel cover off.
Pics attached... Was there yesterday and specifically looked at the 1/2 bath circuit. Hot to neutral = 0v, Hot to ground = 119v (side note: metal box with the ground attached to the box.), neutral to ground = 0v

Obvious next question; what are the next steps to trace back the open neutral? (which I think is also affecting the dinning room light fixture)
 

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afjes_2016

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Funny not many people know what you mean by "Rube Goldberg" unless they look it up. I use that as a trivia question sometimes in conversation. I have been in the past to many homes such as that.

You say you are comfortable working in the panel. Did you take a reading of the hot legs coming in to the panel to the neutral and then to the ground? This will help tell you if there is a problem prior to the panel. I ask this because I don't see where you actually state that this issue does not affect other circuits. You just say what rooms are affected. If every other breaker shows problems on that circuit at least we then know where to start looking. I suggest we start at the panel and work towards the circuits and devices themselves.

Are you sure there is no other panel in the house? I see the ground screw in the picture of the panel on the bottom left side. This would indicate that this is the main panel. Well, wired as the main at least (neutral and ground bonded).

After you take readings of the main lugs coming in to the panel then take reading (voltage) of the breakers that are affected (the circuits that are affected). If the main lugs readings are correct and the breakers then we can go from there. I.E. if a tree branch (circuit) is sick one would start at the tree trunk (panel) and then work their way to the branch to find the problem. You can't cure the branch without first curing the trunk of the tree.

When you test the breakers if you find more than one breaker with an issue keep in mind the pattern, Meaning if every other breaker is showing the same readings (or there about).

One last question for now. When you took over this rehab was the electric service already on or did you have to have the power company turn it on and have the service entrances and panel inspected prior. The PoCos around here will not energize a service if it has been off for more than 6 months without first an inspection.
 

BuzzLOL

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all of the switches/outlets were gone
IF there are no outlets, then hot and neutral are lost after the first empty outlet box/light fixture box in each leg...
In the box connect meter to hot and verify every neutral wire gives a 120 volt reading starting there... verify all screws are tight... also, each splice (so many!) will need to be verified as good...
 
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Hamberg

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Update...

Electric (whole house rehab) is done. This was literally the most screwed-up (not the wording I wanted to use!) service I have had the "pleasure" of working on.

(From my original post: all of the outlets and switches were gone, nothing was marked on the service panel or any of the junction boxes.)

We literally had to tone-out/test each individual circuit, back to/from the panel, to figure out where every junction was made!

Wasn't around back in the 50's when this one was built but I have no idea what was going through their minds on the original layout/design!? Master bedroom has 4 outlets, 3 on different circuits (try labeling that on the panel). That circuit starts in the dining room, goes to the foyer, feeds the outside wall lights, then goes to a 3-way, top of stairs, switch which then branches to two outlets in the the family room. Another branch (same circuit) goes to bedroom 2, which then goes to the master bedroom bath lighting, then to the master bedroom (2 of the outlets) and then BACK DOWN into the other side the family room feeding wall sconces, ceiling fan and the other outlets in there. Meanwhile, somewhere in there, the outside lamp post figures into that circuit!?

On top of all that, the pool pump took a dump and we had to rewire that as well.

Pretty sure my hourly rate was $1.25 but it was a huge leaning experience (one of which was how to work with aluminum wiring) that should pay dividends on future jobs!

Thanks to @afjes_2016, @BuzzLOL and the others for getting me pointed in the right direction to start.


IMG_8244.JPG
 

afjes_2016

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I am glad we were able to help :)

Believe me, I have encountered far worse in the field before I retired.

A hint - instead of marking receptacle and light placements on the breaker panel itself do rough diagrams (layouts) showing where all receptacles and lights are and what switches control which lights. Then go through the house marking those items on the diagram then referencing to the circuit breaker number it corresponds to. I then place the diagrams per floor/level in sheet protectors and mount/store near the breaker panel. You can use basic drawing programs to do the layout and believe me it really helps.
 

Hamberg

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Did something similar - see attached. (hindsight is 20-20 but, next time I will diagram out the actual legs to each circuit as well. They are all in my head, which doesn't help the next contractor or homeowner, but...
 

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BuzzLOL

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In older homes tended to be 1/2 the house is on one 15 amp fuse and the other half on another fuse... not up to modern power usage of microwaves, hair blow dryers, refrigerators, toasters and toaster ovens, window A/Cs, giant TVs, powerful stereos, kitchen appliances, computers, garage tools, air compressors, welders, etc...
 

Elvis27

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I am glad we were able to help :)

Believe me, I have encountered far worse in the field before I retired.

A hint - instead of marking receptacle and light placements on the breaker panel itself do rough diagrams (layouts) showing where all receptacles and lights are and what switches control which lights. Then go through the house marking those items on the diagram then referencing to the circuit breaker number it corresponds to. I then place the diagrams per floor/level in sheet protectors and mount/store near the breaker panel. You can use basic drawing programs to do the layout and believe me it really helps.
I hoped you pulled the aluminum wire out?
 

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