Power fizziling out

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MomsOldHouse

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My Mom has a city rowhome built in the 1920's. A small microwave was plugged into one of the upstairs bedrooms and it 'blew' the electricity in that room and the one next to it. Now, she said the power in another room 'went dim, then out'. Power in yet another room has done the same very quietly. No smoking, hissing, popping, nothing. This sounds pretty bad to me and we're trying to figure out how to handle this.

Any suggestions? She contacted one electrician who said that it's going to be hard to locate the problem and that she may need the entire house rewired which there is just no money for...
 

480sparky

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Check the connections in the main panel if you are comfortable doing do. If not, try calling other electricians until you find one that is willing to help you out.
 

Alectrician

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she may need the entire house rewired which there is just no money for...


Is there money for her funeral?



The whole house won't have to be rewired but you need to find enough money to make it SAFE.

At LEAST get some battery operated smoke detectors. Many fire department will provide them free.
 

Bill Arden

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very bad...
Are there any circuits that are brighter or have a higher voltage?

Possibilities...
.1. The higher current caused damage to a neutral or ground. The result would be dim and/or bright circuits. Note: This type of situation has caused fires! :eek:

.2. The wood of the house is now part of the circuit! :eek:

.3. Bad connection. Note: these tend to cause the lights to flicker.

Either way a low "dim" circuit is a disaster waiting to happen.

Steps
.1. Get a volt meter and take some RMS (AC) voltage measurements.
.2. Check the neutral to earth ground voltages.
 

lahabra

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If it were my house I would want new wires.

Dose the house have all original wires?

I worked on an old house which had questionable wiring. The old house I worked on had a newer main panel. I added AFCI breakers because I thought they might add some fire protection.

Would an AFCI detect the problem which causes his lights to flicker?
 

Bill Arden

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Would an AFCI detect the problem which causes his lights to flicker?
Not likely, unless you consider sitting in the dark all the time "detecting" it.

Given the symptoms I am guessing that it's a neutral wire failure.

AFCI breakers would either all trip or they would do strange things as the voltage spikes over 200Volts.
 

Alternety

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Just a comment to alectrician and the general populace - there really are a lot of people that DO NOT have money to buy new wires, new furnace, new ***. And they can not get it. It is just not there. Not a decision to buy wires or a new yacht. THEY HAVE NO MONEY! Even if their choices are losing the SUV, or taking the kid out of college, or pay for whatever upgrade or repair we feel is necessary, it is not necessarily a trivial trade off to the person involved.

This theme shows up in various posts on various forums. Not just here on Terry Love's site (and actually less here than some other places), and it tends to be worse the more specialized the forum. The "customer" just wants the best price, and that is intrinsically wrong, it is some sort of moral defect, and it is undermining my right to charge $xx because I have experience, overhead, and want to feed my family. Granted, there are people that could pay the $nn price but choose to optimize their expenditures. If they choose only price as the selection criteria; that is their problem.

There remains those people that say "I can not afford that" , "there is no money to do that" and literally have to choose between drugs (good drugs), mortgage, food, clothes, and whatever is declared as the "proper" solution to a failure or problem with a home system (heat, water, power, etc.). They can't borrow money, live paycheck-to-paycheck, and earn minimum wage or less. You really need to appreciate the view of someone in this position when a **** (fill in the trade), says that in addition to very expensive parts, the customer needs to pay $50, $100, or $200 an hour to have the work done. Think about what these kinds of rates mean to someone grossing $8 an hour (ignoring social security, taxes, etc.). At $100 per hour for service, that is 12.5 hours of work by the customer (not including your sales tax) per hour of your time purchased. It is all a matter of scale.

I am not suggesting you should all work for essentially nothing because the person with the problem says they do not have the money to do whatever you say needs to be done. That is a personal choice. But could you just lighten up on this subject and also share options that can be afforded. Telling someone that they and all their loved ones will die a horrible death if you do not acquire $nn immediately, is neither helpful nor particularly humane.

Just please be respectful to the people that say "I have no money to do that" and cut them some slack in suggesting solutions when it really is true. I know you can't tell on the internet, but just assume. Give a good way (expensive) and a minimal cost way that provides reasonable safety and solves the immediate problem.
 
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Alectrician

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Give a good way (expensive) and a minimal cost way that provides reasonable safety and solves the immediate problem.


He could get a second job delivering Pizzas and earn enough money to repair his Mom's wiring. He could have a yard sale and get rid of a bunch of crap. He could research home equity grants/loans available for low income seniors.

Happy now?



You don't need to preach to me. I guarantee that I have been just as poor as you have. I've had to remove the lock and jumper my electric meter at night to have heat. MY choices put me in that position and it was MY choices that got me out.

The sole intention of my post was to drive home the seriousness of the situation. If you read the rest of my post you will see that I did offer some EXCELLENT advice.
 

Bob NH

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He could get a second job delivering Pizzas and earn enough money to repair his Mom's wiring. He could have a yard sale and get rid of a bunch of crap. He could research home equity grants/loans available for low income seniors.

The best investment that a homeowner can make would be in time and tools to understand and be able to fix the systems in her/his home. That will have a better return than spending time delivering pizzas. It would be better to take a course at a trade school.

If money is no object, then you can afford to hire the pros to fix the problems and accept what they tell you and charge you.

You may still hire someone even if you know what to do, but you will have the information to know what is required and make a decision on where to spend the money.
 

Bill Arden

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I don't think it matters what the wiring is as long as it is in good condition.

Even "knob and tube" wiring is safe as long as it's maintained and not overloaded by increasing the fuse size.

The real problem here is that the symptoms he is describing could be related to a serious (Possibly Fatal) condition.

He needs to...
1. Reduce risk by turning off circuits that are not working properly.
2. Diagnose the problem using a voltmeter OR have someone do it for him.
3. Get it fixed or fix it himself.

I also would not sign or agree to replace anything until the reason is found.

"linked" failures generally only have one cause so it would not require re-wiring the entire house unless some code issue comes up.

Q: Does Code require removing and bringing the entire house up to code if they replace the "Fuse box" with a modern new service?

-
To use a medical analogy.
I would not do open heart surgery on myself, but I do take an active role in my health care and do what I can.
 

hj

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electrical

ALL of our opinions will just be guessing until someone determines the REAL cause of the problem. And that will probably require an electrician whose first words are not, "You need a complete rewiring". In the plumbing trade words like that come from someone working on commission and is trying to make his next house payment off your job. My attitude is that if you are qualified to do an evaluation and repair, I will give you advice. If you do not appear to be so, then any advice could be misinterpreted and cause you to make the problem worse, or create other problems. If you had a broken tooth, you would find some way to pay a dentist, so just pretend you broke a tooth, but use that money for a competent electrician.
 

MomsOldHouse

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Thank you all for your responses - especially the one that considers the real fact that an 84 year old woman with a daughter going through a divorce that has to pay all of her bills alone now and has used as much of her equity as possible already. Didn't think I needed to provide all that but I did because I do want all to understand that in fact $10's of thousands of dollars are not available. The electrician that I mentioned in the original post said that nothing is wrong at the box. (She did convert the old fuse box to a breaker box many years ago).

She / I are capable of turning off the breakers to the affected area. A voltmeter should be easy to obtain and use. Those suggestions are very practical! Then maybe we'll have some information to provide when contacting an electrician that would be helpful in finding a speedy / affordable solution to the problem. The solution now is no electricity in that area of the house. I understand that you want to convey the seriousness of the problem, but you can't pay what you don't have - period. I said 1920's city rowhouse. Think social security, prescriptions, food. I'm posting on a board. That kinda says that the options are limited or we'd just call someone and pay whatever was asked...

Again - thank you all! I appreciate all responses.

Steps
.1. Get a volt meter and take some RMS (AC) voltage measurements.
.2. Check the neutral to earth ground voltages.

I assume I would be looking for variances with the meter. How do you check the nuetral to earth ground voltages?
 
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SteveW

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Any suggestions? She contacted one electrician who said that it's going to be hard to locate the problem and that she may need the entire house rewired which there is just no money for...


One thing that hasn't been said so far in this thread - if you do decide to have a licensed electrician look at this (and I would recommend that you do), ask 4 or 5 home-owning friends for a name. You'll probably find one name stands out by being mentioned by several people.

Word of mouth is the best way to find someone who will do a good job for you, which as has been said by hj and others starts with an accurate diagnosis. This may turn out to be something not very expensive (but potentially dangerous if not fixed correctly).

I am all for learning to do it yourself, but honestly, I don't think learning on a 110v electrical system, with a known fault, is a good way for you to break into this aspect of home repair.
 

jadnashua

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A couple of things: older houses often do not have a functioning good 3-wire run to outlets, switches, etc. They have power (black wire) and neutral (white wire) and no ground. If the house was wired with Romex, or conduit, the metal on the outside provided ground. IF there is a separate ground on an outlet, if you measure a/c between the white and ground wire, the voltage should be zero or very close to it. If you measure from the hot to neutral, it should be 120vac or so depending on what your normal supply is. If you have a ground wire, you should get the same voltage between the black and the ground.

On 240vac stuff like a dryer, heater, or stove, it might be wired with a 3-wire (newer 4-wire) supply. Power from the pole is usually supplied at 240 volts, with the neutral from the transformer that splits the power in half (if it is connected properly!), so you can get 120 referenced to neutral on two different sides of the power panel (note, different sides does not actually mean physically different sides, but connection to the two busses). A problematic neutral could allow you to actually have up to twice the voltage on things designed for 120 - this could ruin them quickly - spark, burn, or other malady. Stuff doesn't like really low voltage, either.
 

Bob NH

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I don't know where you are in your life as a handyman, but the following is based on my early experience, and is what I would tell any homeowner who wants to learn to do their own work.

You should get a good handbook on residential wiring, which you can get at HD or maybe even the library. Things haven't changed much in 40 years so even an old book will help.

Once you learn about how the panel provides 120 Volts, 240 Volts, neutral, and ground (takes about 15 minutes), and how the power is applied to the circuits, most of the rest of it will come from logical application of that information.

If you can find a friend to spend one hour with you, you can learn enough to do a lot of trouble shooting. It will be an even greater help if you can find someone to spend half a day with you troubleshooting the problem.

Get a few tools that you will need and add as you need more. The cost of tools is small compared to hiring someone to do the work. Watch for sales at Sears to get a collection of screwdrivers and pliers including linemans pliers, longnose pliers, wire strippers, etc.

While you are at it, get a batch of wire nuts, tape, and other materials that you will need. When you get boxes, outlets, switches and things, get a few extra to save trips to HD.

Put it all in a tool box that will be your "electrical" box whenever you have to do any electrical work.
 

lahabra

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I was once living in a place that had only one 120V 20A circuit. We had to turn off everything if we wanted to use the microwave. And by the way that circuit was tied into another houses bathroom circuit.

Finally we got a second circuit when I ran a heavy 12 gage extension cord to the main panel and installed a new 15A braker and an outlet.

It was not pretty but the lights were on.

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If you don't know what you are doing this wouldn't be safe, and it’s likely prohibited by government agencies. So don't do it.
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You said she has a newer main panel; where I work if we upgrade the main panel then all of the Knob and tube (single wires) must be eliminated.

Maybe this house was already rewired. If a customer came back to me and said lights were blinking and it might be related to your work, I would drop everything race over there and fix it for free. Even if the house was sold to a new owner. I would fix it so I could sleep at night.

I would go to the city and research all the permits. Find out who upgraded the main panel and try to contact them.

I have questions for Mr. “Moms Old Houseâ€:


1. What size is the main braker?
2. How many brakers are in the main panel?
3. Do you see NM cable (Romex) coming out of the main panel?
4. Do you see any Knob and tube?
5. Do you know who installed the main panel?
6. Do you see any dates on or in the panel?
7. Do the outlets have a ground hole or are they the old 2 prong type?
 
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