Major issues

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Ladylac

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Hello all,

I am hoping someone may have some idea what happened to my house this weekend. Any advice is greatly appreciated because we are stumped.

My husband and I bought ourselves an 1892 attached home. It is a real fixer upper, and we have been working on one project at a time while living in it and working full time jobs and raising a daughter. So it is slow going, but it is going.

We have two main issues with the house. 1: roof sprang a leak, a family member is going to be over to repair that sometime this week hopefully, but as of right now there is a pretty bad water leak in my bathroom and we have had torrential rains 2 days this week.

The second issue is the reason I am here. The electrical issue is far from ideal. We have cut out old knob and tube wiring and done some updating, but between leaking pipes, and the mold issue we just has to deal with because of them(all fixed now) it has been a secondary priority. Unfortunately, the last homeowner decided to take every shortcut he could and the breaker box is a mess.

Friday night, during a bad storm, my husband went to use the microwave. You should know the outlet for the microwave is on a shared breaker with the bathroom with the water leak. As he turned on the microwave, the lights in the kitchen dimmed, the microwave refused to turn on(it will beep but not turn on fully), my fridge(different breaker) suddenly has a very dim bulb, and the power strip I had my computer on(thought it was a surge protector, apparently not) started smoking. Now nothing in the house seems to be getting good power. These are separate breakers. My husband ran a new line from and existing breaker, with nothing else on it. He installed a new outlet for that new line. The fridge is still dim and nothing is working properly. It seems like nothing is getting enough power.

I know I will probably get the advice to call an electrician, but my husband is just getting back to a normal work schedule after injury, and I lose my job 2/28/19. We do not have the money to hire someone. We have to do this ourselves, and we are out of ideas. PLEASE HELP
 

hornetd

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You have an open neutral conductor somewhere. That causes the voltage in the two halves of that portion of the wiring to become unstable. If you are completely comfortable working in a hot panel cabinet and you have an AC voltage meter you can test the voltage on both of the cables that are attached to the Main Breaker; which is formally called your Service Disconnecting Means; against the Neutral conductor which is connected to the buss bar where all of the white or grey wires are terminated. Wear Goggles while making those measurements unless you like the idea of permanent blindness. Those are the Service Entry Conductors. That buss bar is the neutral buss of the panel and it can take several different physical forms. Continued below but read warning first!

WARNING: The service entry conductors which come from the utility transformer to the main breaker, fused pull out, or main switch have no over-current protection of any kind! The entire ampacity of the utility transformer; that means all of the electrical current that it can produce; is available at the connections to your Service Disconnecting Means. If there is a high resistance connection on the Neutral of the Service Entry Neutral Conductor inside of the panel cabinet and you disturb it you can cause an Arc Flash that can give anyone exposed to it Second Degree Burns in a single second of exposure. So if you open the panel cover and feel or see a hot, glowing, or arcing connection. Turn away from the panel quickly and call the fire department and the utility. Any of those three conditions WILL kindle a fire with the palpably hot one one being the slowest and the Arcing one being the quickest. Depending on local fire service policy they may come at once either to keep an eye on the problem until the Utility trouble crew arrives or disconnect the power until the utility crew arrives. The choice of which is theirs alone. It is strictly up to them what they do. They could also decide to leave it to the utilities trouble crew to sort out and not come unless there is an immediate danger to persons or property. If you find one of those conditions and you tell the dispatcher clearly what you have seen the fire department will be dispatched.

Something you need to know is once the fire service have been called to a building the Governor of that State owns that building and, acting as the Governors agents, the firefighters can and will do anything they need to do to protect both you and especially any closely adjacent neighbors from the hazard that is present. That is true in every State in the United States of America. I know that sounds frightening but the reason that I say it is that you are bound in law to obey the instructions that the firefighters give you promptly or you can be prosecuted for reckless endangerment of the public or unlawful interference with public safety personnel. The actual language will vary from State to State but the effect is the same. If you argue with or disobey the firefighters they can have the police remove you!​

If those two voltage readings that you took; after not finding anything immediately dangerous in the panel's cabinet; are different by more than a few volts then the problem is outside the building and 0nly the power utility can fix it. The good news is they will do that without any expense to you. If those two voltages are the same or nearly so then the problem is in the house and you will need to test breaker by breaker to find which ones do not have a complete pathway back to the panel's neutral buss.

To do this you open each breaker; that is you shut it off; and measure for voltage between the breaker's wire connection and the Neutral buss bar. If one of them has a voltage other than zero on the wire connection you have located half of the problem. Re-close; that is turn on; each breaker after you take the measurement. The other half of the problem will be another breaker measurement which shows a voltage, other than zero. Beware of phantom voltage measurements. Readings of less that a couple of volts are unlikely to be an actual voltage on that conductor but rather a voltage that is being magnetically induced into the circuit you are trying to measure from the other conductors in the panel. To be a real measured voltage it should be greater than ~5 volts. The only way to completely confirm that it is a real measured voltage would be to repeat the test with a Solenoid Voltage Tester. That is one that vibrates or buzzes when measuring a live circuit and has a mechanically driven pointer to indicate the voltage. Be careful of which range the meter is using to take the measurements. Many meters are auto ranging and will show rather large numbers that are actually milivolts rather than volts. If you can check the meters manual to see how to set the range of measurement manually then set it to hole volts by hitting the range button until there is no decimal point in the display but also not K for kilovolts. Most meters have a reading hold button. You use that to hold the reading for display after you have removed the probes from the panel. Do not try to read the measurement while your hands are still in the panel cabinet.

If any part of this is unclear then do nothing and ask more questions!

Tell me what you get for measurements and we can go from there. It would be really helpful if you would post pictures of the panel with the cover both on and off.

--
Tom Horne
 

hornetd

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Hello all,

I am hoping someone may have some idea what happened to my house this weekend. Any advice is greatly appreciated because we are stumped.

My husband and I bought ourselves an 1892 attached home. It is a real fixer upper, and we have been working on one project at a time while living in it and working full time jobs and raising a daughter. So it is slow going, but it is going.

We have two main issues with the house. 1: roof sprang a leak, a family member is going to be over to repair that sometime this week hopefully, but as of right now there is a pretty bad water leak in my bathroom and we have had torrential rains 2 days this week.

The second issue is the reason I am here. The electrical issue is far from ideal. We have cut out old knob and tube wiring and done some updating, but between leaking pipes, and the mold issue we just has to deal with because of them(all fixed now) it has been a secondary priority. Unfortunately, the last homeowner decided to take every shortcut he could and the breaker box is a mess.

Friday night, during a bad storm, my husband went to use the microwave. You should know the outlet for the microwave is on a shared breaker with the bathroom with the water leak. As he turned on the microwave, the lights in the kitchen dimmed, the microwave refused to turn on(it will beep but not turn on fully), my fridge(different breaker) suddenly has a very dim bulb, and the power strip I had my computer on(thought it was a surge protector, apparently not) started smoking. Now nothing in the house seems to be getting good power. These are separate breakers. My husband ran a new line from and existing breaker, with nothing else on it. He installed a new outlet for that new line. The fridge is still dim and nothing is working properly. It seems like nothing is getting enough power.

I know I will probably get the advice to call an electrician, but my husband is just getting back to a normal work schedule after injury, and I lose my job 2/28/19. We do not have the money to hire someone. We have to do this ourselves, and we are out of ideas. PLEASE HELP
You can send me a private message if you are anywhere near Washington DC.
 

WyrTwister

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Tome has given you excellent advice .

Only think I can say , a little different is , imminently call the power company . Around here , they will come out and check their part and repair it as needed . Even if the problem is not on their part , they do not charge for coming out and checking ( they are not suppose to repair anything , if it is in your wiring ) .

Think you said this started during a storm . Problems often crop up at such time . If the power company's cable / wires are overhead , they are particularly sustainable to wind damage . Lightning can also cause severe damage to their system / wiring .

Best of luck to you , Merry Christmas

God bless
Wyr
 

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