134 Volts from Outlet

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I noticed that some appliances were running better when plugged into certain outlets. I am wondering what could cause the voltage difference. This is in a room where the previous owner installed four GFCI outlets coming from a dedicated subpanel. The measurements (with some loads still present) are:
Pair 1: 134V outlet A 110V outlet B
Pair 2: 113V outlet C 127V outlet D
I took off the face plates. The two pairs of outlets have a shared neutral, i.e. one white wire comes down from the wall and goes into both outlets. The other two wires in each outlet pair have the separate hots.. red wire goes into the hot in one outlet and black wire goes into the hot in the other outlet.
I also took off the subpanel cover. Here is a picture with the wires clearly shown. It looks like each outlet has its own breaker:
http://www.statuaryplace.com/images/insidesubpanel.jpg
The subpanel conduit goes all the way to the main service panel and I'm not sure where it connects at the service panel. The house was built in 1950 so the rest of the electrical is pretty old, but it this subpanel appears to be independent of the old wiring.
I am wondering if it might be a mis-wiring at one of the outlets or something simple that I can fix myself. I have done a lot of electrical work at the previous house but I am not familiar with shared neutral circuits.
Thanks!!
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Fpbear II wrote:

It looks to me like the grounding isn't adequate. Make sure the ground wire connections in the subpanel and main panel are good and tight. Also check voltages at the subpanel and main panel.
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What if the main panel ground wire was reversed with the main panel neutral wire at the subpanel? Would this cause the voltage behavior?
I noticed that the ground wire from the main panel is black (not green), while the neutral wire is white. Could this have thrown off the installer?

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wrote:

A bad connection will cause a voltage drop when a current passes through it. E=IR and all that. It applies not just to resistors and intended loads, but to bad connections too. But that doesn't account for the higher than expected voltage, and it seems liek it would take 3 bad connections, one for each of the lower voltages. That is, it seems to me it doesn't matter if the loads on each outlet are different. The voltage accross the receptacle should still be 117, or close, and all the same.
Knowing these guys, I think they will tell you to make the measurements again using an analog meter, although if by chance you have an FET-VOM, since that has a verrry high input impedance, that might not work.
Well, they always say that when a neutral or unconnected wire has a substantial voltage, so maybe they'll say the same thing when a hot wire has a higher than expected voltage.
It would certainly be using an analog meter to see if it reads the same, or proportionate to a digital meter, which I have guessed that you used.
Other than that, nothing in your story or picture seems to me to account for the difference.

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Originally I used a Kill-A-Watt device to measure.
I just tested again using a high end Fluke Multimeter. The outlet pairs now show 125V, 118V across hot/neutral, but it changes slightly every time I measure. In fact, now the high/low readings swapped sides within the pair.
I had also changed the location where appliances were plugged in to take advantage of the high-performing outlets, so the difference in load might have something to do with this swapping of the high/low readings.
Now I remember that whenever I have a high load on one outlet, one of the other in the different pair suddenly performs better.. for example I plug in the vacuum cleaner and then the aquarium lights get brighter..
...

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Most of the time if you load one side of the wiring and the voltage on the other side goes higher you have a neutral problem. Check at the braker box where the power comes in and see if you get a change there of more than a volt or two as you load the circuits. If so, it may be a problem with the power company.
A house should be wired so the load is split between the two sides of the wiring comming into a house. If the loads were ballanced exectually you would not need the neuteral wire. This is almost an impossable situation. The neutral carries the unballanced current. If there is a problem with the neutral (open or bad connection) , one side of the wiring gets a larger voltage and the othe side goes to a lower voltage depending on which is loaded the most.
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Indeed in the rest of the house, turnining on a load causes drops in voltage in other completely different circuits. For example when I start the dryer, which has its own 50A breaker from the main panel, this causes the computer UPS to beep for a few seconds due to the drop in voltage. The computer is on a different circuit with a 15A fuse in the main panel.
If this was a problem with the main panel, will the electric company come out to fix it without charge? The panel looks pretty old, it might be the original from 1950. How do these open or bad neutral connections occur? Is it something like rust build up?

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The power company is usually responsable for the wiring going to the power meter. The home owner is responsable for everything past the meter. The loose/bad connection can be anywhere from the transformer at the power pole to the main braker/fuse box.
The connections can loosen up over the years. At every wire joint the wires can loosen under the screws. I don;t really know the way this happens ,but do know that it will.
You should get this looked into as soon as possiable . The lower voltages are not to bad on things that do not have motors, but not good for motors. The higher voltages, especially after you get over 125 to 130 will shorten the life of many devices.
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wrote:

The power company does not handle problems AFTER the meter. But I'd call them and have them check the transformer and wiring from it to your meter. The transformer may be undersized or failing, or some loose connections up there. If they dont find anything wrong, its time for you to rewire or get an electrician. Wiring from 1950 is probably fuses and it's time to upgrade. Of course it never hurts to tighten all the screws in the box, and clean the contacts oon fuses. The old cartridge fuses tend to corrode where they clip in the box. Clean then with a wire brush or sandpaper, or just replace them and see if that helps. Be sure your ground rod is still attached to the wire that goes to the main panel. Sometimes they corrode off. Another thing is to check all wirenut connections in boxes thruout the house, especially those that are some of the main feeds from the main box.
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On Tue, 09 Jan 2007 10:34:45 GMT, "Ralph Mowery"

Not a very good endorsement of that product.

Thank you!
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In all fairness to Kill-A-Watt device, the voltage measures different at different times due to the changing load that I put on the circuit. The Fluke would measure the same, it's just that I did it during a different time of day.
"mm" wrote in message

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Fpbear II wrote:

It certainly sounds like a floating neutral. This is a bad connection(s) somewhere involving a neutral. It can be very dangerous. I once worked for a photographer who burned down his first studio with that problem.
Note: the voltages can change depending on the immediate loads on the legs.
You don't have any aluminum wiring do you?

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All of the wiring is copper. The other circuits besides this subpanel are quite old. If there is one bad connection in the house involving neutral, will it affect the entire house, even on other independent circuits coming from the main panel?

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For this type of set-up (Edison, I believe), the red and the black leads for an outlet must go to a double breaker so that neither can be on independent of the other. The breakers in the picture look like single breakers to me. Check the voltage between neutral on the outlet and ground. I assume that you have about240 VAC coming into your house. Note the sum of the voltages on the outlet pairs is about 240. Thus the neutral must be significantly different than ground. More than a few volts different at max load should be indication of a problem. If equal sized loads are on the outlets then there should be no current in the neutral lead and it should be at ground.

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Indeed these are single breakers. The conduit from the main panel carries four wires and 240V (this conduit originally went to a 240V receptacle). If I have the breakers swapped out with double breakers will it help the symptoms or is that more to do with the NEC code?
I measured the voltage between neutral and ground, with loads still plugged in. When I place the Fluke lead into the ground hole touching the exact same position where I measure 110-130V between hot and ground, there is only a 0.1-0.2 voltage different between neutral and ground. If I move the lead in the ground hole so it touches some other part of the metal inside, I get a consistent 7-9V difference between neutral and ground. That is strange, I thought the ground contacts inside the outlet are all the same piece of metal. These are new Leviton GFCI outlets.

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Circuits on the same hot leg should not be sharing a netural. You have tandem breakers (which are on the same phase or hot leg) which are sharing a netrual.
Shared netruals are OK in a multi-wire curcuit, which uses both hot legs (one for each 120V circuit) and share a neutral.
Get them split up and off the same hot leg.

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From all your described symptoms, there is no doubt that you have a poor connection somewhere in the neutral line. It can be anywhere from the power pole, down thru the meter socket, and into the main and sub panels. To determine where the problem is, you have to see how far back toward the pole the problem shows up. Each side of the system should have approximately the same voltage to the neutral and the neutral to ground voltage should be near zero. A few volts of difference is not significant but as much as 5 is not normal.
Don Young
This is a serious problem and if you do not feel competent to solve it you should seek help from someone with more experience.
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This is interesting: I just measured a 3 to 4V difference between the service panel ground wire connected to the pipe, and a nearby fence post. The yard also has a new water system so all of the metal pipe was replace with PVC before we moved in. So the pipe will not be as effective as a real ground stake. As a test I ran a temporary green wire between the ground and the fence post. This reduced the voltage discrepancy in the outlets also by around 4V. However the loads in the circuit are constantly changing so I cannot be certain it was due to this fence post wire test. With some heavy duty stakes in the ground I'm wondering if that will make up the 10V discrepancy (and not just 4V). I will have this ground stake re-done for sure. I wonder if this is it, or something else too.

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Measuring to various grounds may help you understand and diagnose the problem, but the problem itself has nothing to do with grounds. It is a neutral problem and you need to understand the difference to understand the problem. A good low resistance neutral from the pole transformer to the breaker box(es) is what maintains the system voltages balanced with varying loads. The ground(s) will somewhat do the job if the neutral has a high resistance and is therefore not doing the job properly. But your problem is with the neutral and not the grounds. Just find the loose or corroded connection if it is in the breaker boxes or call the power company if it is in the meter socket, in the drop cable, or at the pole.
Don Young
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Fix the service entrance ground, but also have the power company check their ground at the transformer.

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