Dead power outlets

Yesterday about half of my house's electrical outlets stopped working. Checked the breaker box, and no breakers had tripped. I went ahead and reset each breaker individually just to see if that would accomplish anything.
This is what is dead at the moment: *All power to both bathrooms *All power to the den *The dryer outlet (washer still works) *All power to one bedroom *One outlet in the living room *All power to the kitchen *The central AC unit
Each bathroom has a GFCI outlet, and there are two in the kitchen. Pushing the reset button on them accomplishes nothing (the test button isn't pushed in, so it doesn't pop out). Have tried that before and after unplugging all of the appliances.
This is where it gets weird... My wife turned one of the stove's knobs to see if a burner would come on. The power light came on for about a second and then went out -- but all of the dead power outlets started working again. I noticed that they weren't at full power, ie, the lights were a little dimmer than they should be, fans didn't run at full speed, etc. I fiddled with the knob again and was booted back to square one.
I continued to mess with the stove knobs and found that turning any of them (with the exception of one, which functions normally and has no effect on the problem outlets) on will cause the power light to flash on and off for about a second each. When in the 'off' phase, everything else that I left plugged in will come on for about a second; when in the 'on' phase, everything left plugged in will go off for about a second. IOW, stove light ON=everything else off; stove light OFF=everything else on.
Another thing -- when turning one of the evil possessed knobs, if I hold it manually between the on and off positions, all of the dead outlets come back to life, but not at full power. Flipping the stove's breaker at the box to the 'off' position doesn't accomplish anything, either.
The problem *seems* to originate with the stove. At this point, I'm guessing that it's a switch or the wiring to the switches, but I know that anything is possible. I'd greatly appreciate any suggestions before I do anything else. At this point, I'm hot, tired, and frustrated. :P
Thanks! Todd
--Todd
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ToddZilla wrote:

<SNIP>
One Line of the service has gone dead (for whatever reason). Your service consists of (2) 120V Lines. Each supplies Roughly 1/2 the house.
Together the 2 lines make 240V to run the stove and the A/C. That's why they aren't working. When the stove is turned on, it connects the working Line to the non-working Line and attempts to supply some power that way, as you observed.
The problem *may* be in your Main service panel (breaker/fuse) or it *could* be a utility problem. If you are not familiar enough with this kind of thing, call the utility first. They are usually very co-operative.
You *could* try flipping the Main breaker Off/On, but that may mask the problem.
Jim
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Exactly what Speedy Jim said. Seen it in a friend's barn/garage once, where it was a 240V pump in the position where your oven is.
You can verify that you're missing one of your two hot legs by looking at the position of your breakers in the box. Reading down one side, you're going to have working - not working - working - not working, and on the other side, just the opposite. (Assuming you've got all single pole breakers. If you've got the little half-sized ones, it'll be two working, two not working, etc. And double breakers getting 240V aren't going to be working either.)
I agree, call the power company and ask them to check your service. If you're lucky, it's their problem.
WARNING: some of what I'm suggesting below is potentially DANGEROUS. If in doubt, hire a pro. Depending on your locality, you may have to hire a pro anyway. Where I live, I can do this work on my own home, but your locality may not allow it.
If the utility company says that everything checks out to the meter, you may be able to diagnose it and fix it. A voltage tester (one of the pens that lights up is sufficient, but do test it on a few known good and bad outlets first, so you know what hot and not hot looks like) should allow you to trace your service from the meter through the breaker box and figure out where one of your two hots stops being hot. Even if you throw the main breaker in the breaker box, some parts (usually the top area near where the wires enter from the meter) are hot anyway. Be careful where you touch.
You should be able to find two lines coming into the breaker box that are hot. If not, you've got a problem between the breaker box and the meter. If you've got two hots into the breaker box but half the black wires coming out of your breakers aren't testing hot, suspect the main breaker up at the top of the box. If you're lucky, you have a shutoff out on the meter box, and then a separate panel inside, so you could shut power off at the meter, put in a new main breaker, and then turn power back on at the meter. If your meter doesn't have a shutoff that will cut power to the entire breaker box (not just all the breakers, but EVERYTHING), you'll need the utility company to come and disconnect your service while you fix the problem.
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All of the breakers are in the 'on' position. None of them tripped but I reset (turned off, then turned back on) them all anyway.

I've done that, and they checked the voltage going into the meter. You guys are correct, I've only got one good hot leg coming in. At this point, the culprit is alleged to be a tree. The main service line comes off of a pole that has a tree right next to it. The service line has chafed up against the tree, and the power company guys think that it has simply worn that leg of the service line down to the point that it's barely delivering any juice.
One weird thing -- they said that my house isn't 240V, but something less (I think he said 140V or 160V).
We got a brief thunderstorm before they could climb up the pole to get a closer look, so they've run off to the substation to fix something there and will be back shortly to fix my line.

At this point, it appears to be their problem. I'm just glad I called them before I spent the money to pay an electician's holiday pay to come over and tell me to call the power company.
Thanks to all for the tips, and I'll post a follow-up once they return.
--Todd
--Todd
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Following up my own post...

OK, it is 240V. The guy had been saying 120V(!!), but he meant that's what I was getting now as opposed to what I was supposed to get.

"Shortly" turned out to be over two hours, but they came back and fixed it. It was indeed a dead leg from the service line. That part of the line had rubbed up against a tree for so long that the (and pardon my not knowing the proper terminology) coating/cover/insulation had been worn off of the line and the actual conductor itself was worn until it simply burnt apart.

'Twas indeed their problem, and I got a brand new service line. They routed it away from the offending part of the tree and said that it shouldn't give me any more trouble.
Thanks again for the advice!
--Todd
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Speedy Jim wrote:

crew worked on a transformer out back. i decided to call a private electric company. they said it sounds like a leg to my service and he bet other neighbors had the same problem. he said if it happens again he would come out. but he figures the electric company(supplier) had fixed it.
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Sounds like an open neutral wire either from the power company or in your breaker box. Turning on the stove allows the current to flow back. In the normal home service if (only if) the current drawn was exectally equal on each side of the wiring the neutral wire would not have any current on it and would not be needed. The neutral wire carries the unbalanced current. Without it when there is an umbalance , some parts of the house seem dead and when diffrant things are turned on , the devices get voltage that may be more or less than normal.
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Ralph Mowery wrote:

I'm with Jim on this one. With about half the outlets in the house out, it sure sounds like he's lost one power leg. And turning on the stove provides a low resistance route from the working leg back to the leg that has lost it's connection somewhere, thereby providing partial power to the "dead" outlets.
In the

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neighbor just had the problem and I found the lug on one side of his meter where it plugs in had gotten hot when loaded and expanded to the point it lost full contact and burned up. the stove came on and somehow the extra load caused us to get contact again but only partially thus causing a brownout effect

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