Electrical quyestion for screenplay


Hi -
I have a question about house electrical wiring. This is for a screenplay, so I don't need the details to be specific enough to do on my own, but I'm trying to write a scene as accurately as possible, and would love any descriptions you could provide.
In the film, the power keeps going out in a house, with the the master breaker switch tripping. The main characters call in an electrician.
What is the order in which he'd investigate the problem, and what sort of equipment would we likely to see him use? Assume that at each step, contrary to one's assumption, he does not find the problem, and has to go onto the next step.
I.e.: 1) Checks breaker box with voltmeter. No problem there... 2) Checks outlets individually for short circuits, Etc.
Finally, at what point would it start to get complicated?
Thanks very much in advance. I hate when films get this sort of thing wildly wrong.
Nick
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The most likely reason that a main service breaker would trip, barring a defective breaker would be an overload from the total amperage being drawn from all the other breakers served by the main. The electrician would have to hang an ammeter on the mains, determine that the amperage draw is greater than the size of the main breaker, then hang the meter on individual circuits to determine what each circuit is drawing. There probably isn't any reason he would have to check anywhere but in the main panel.

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*I concur with RBM, but if you want complicated there are other possibilities. A loose connection on the main breaker could have caused it to overheat and over time has rendered it no longer useful. The original manufacturer is no longer in business, but used or rebuilt circuit breakers might be available. However the house is 60 years old and it is due for a service upgrade which could amount to a few thousand dollars.
I recently had a customer who had her 100 amp main circuit breaker trip whenever she turned her water heater on. She lived alone in a condominium and has a fifty gallon electric water heater. She has what is called "Time of Day" service from the power company in which she has a cheaper rate for electricity consumption at night and on weekends. So she turns off her water heater for a few days at a time. Two weeks ago she flipped the water heater breaker on and the whole house went dark. She called the power company and they sent someone out who reset her main breaker and told her to call an electrician.
I checked it out and found the problem very quickly. The water heater was leaking, but not visibly. When I turned on the breaker for the water heater I heard sizzling from the area where the feed wiring is. When I opened the junction box there was a puddle of water and a lot of rust. When I pulled the wires up one conductor that had been burning for some time broke off in my hand. I told the homeowner to immediately call a plumber and tell him that she needed a new water heater. She did and one came out later that day.
There were some other issues there that I corrected or improved upon. The 30 amp wire for the 4500 watt water heater only had a 20 amp circuit breaker. I changed that to a 30 amp breaker. There was no bonding jumper across the hot and cold water pipes. I installed one. Outside of the water heater closet was the smoke detector outlet on the ceiling because the bedrooms were right there. There was no smoke detector installed. I put one in. She had also asked that a switch be installed in the water heater closet for her to turn it on and off as she pleases without having to use the circuit breaker.
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John, what was causing the 100 amp main to trip? I'm going to that same lady on Monday. She lives alone and when she uses hot water heavily, like washing clothes, the main 100 amp breaker trips. I was by last week to check it out, and had her run the water, turn on the stove, etc. and after a few minutes, the main tripped, but it was only drawing about 40 amps when it let go. There was also a pile of bad double pole 100 amp feed through breakers lying about the utility room, indicating to me that lots of people in this complex have had the same problem.
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*Roy I didn't put a meter on the mains or the water heater circuit. I surmised that the 20 amp breaker for the water heater was bad because it should have been tripping all along since it was undersized for the water heater load and it looked older than the others. I stopped by her place when the plumber was just finishing the new water heater installation and everything was fine and I haven't heard from her since.
It sounds as though you might have a bad main on your hands. I have one condo community that I service that has a high rate of failure of ITE 100 amp main breakers. They are located outside and if they get shut off or trip they won't reset. They seem to trip for no reason. I figure between age (20 something years) and being located outside they are all ready for replacement.
What brand of breakers are you dealing with?
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There were three or four bad ones laying in the utility room, each was a different brand, but all GE, Murray, Westinghouse, universal type. This utility room is semi outside and is really damp, so much so that I got a pretty good shock touching the insulation on the main conductors. That may account for so many breakers going bad. These are probably about thirty years old.

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I've seen older mains that just won't turn back on due to age.
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Screenplay my ass!!!! Just admit it, you're trying to fix this problem yourself, and for some psychotic/neurotic reason, your too silly to just ask. Like it would really matter for a screenplay!! Like some others already pointed out, big time TV show commonly have "less than realistic" scenarios regarding things of this nature. Christ, I bet you'd rather stab yourself in the eye with a fork than ask for directions when you get lost, weirdo
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RBM wrote:

I don't know if this will help, but here's an experience I recently had at work:
Our company rents a small 2-floor office space. Each floor has its own separate electric service. On the outside of the building there is a service disconnect with two 100-amp main breakers in it -- one for each floor. On a very hot summer day recently, the upstairs power went off. I went out and reset the main breaker that had tripped, went back inside, and the power stayed on for about 15 minutes, then went out again. Same thing once or twice more. The building owner/landlord had his "mechanic"/handyman come by and the three of us tried to figure out what the problem was. The mechanic hung a current meter on each of the two main service lines and it measured about 25 amps on one and maybe 35 or 40 amps on the other. We waited and waited and waited and we couldn't get the problem to repeat itself. So, we closed everything up, and I went back inside, and about 15 minutes later the power went off again. I went out, opened the service disconnect cover panel, and reset it again and waited and waited out there but the power stayed on. While waiting I felt the two breakers and the one that was tripping was warmer than the other one. Then it dawned on me that maybe one breaker was defective and was overheating, but with the box open the heat would not build up enough for the breaker to trip. But, with the box closed, the heat apparently would build up and the breaker would trip. I put in a new breaker and that fixed the problem. So, I think it turned out to be a combination of a weak and overheating breaker, a panel that was in the hot sun, and the panel box needing to be closed up before enough heat would build up inside to cause the defective breaker to trip.
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Beta-B4- wrote:

P.S. I forgot to include that while doing the tests we made sure everything was turned on inside to draw the maximum load. That included the central AC set to very low to keep it on, and running the hot water wide open on both floors to cause the electric hot water heaters to have to be on and heating up. We did that to rule out the possibility that something like the AC or hot water heater coming on was causing the breaker to trip after it had been rest for a while.
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If this is for a screenplay, you need to do what everyone else identifies with, which seems to be a 60 amp double pole fuse disconnect. Then have him hunt all over for a sizzling piece of lamp cord, and upon finding it, he gets eaten by the creature
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If you want drama you are going to need to get it wrong.
There is almost zero chance that any individual breaker could overload the main.
It would take all the breakers in the box pulling about 50-80% of rated load to do this. The individual circuits would trip long before they could trip the main otherwise.If the breaker failed the wires would fry.
So if your alien is pulling power then it needs to be a distributed load evenly across the individual circuits but exceeding the maximum load.
The most common cause of a main tripping would be a loose connection at the pole or the panel or a bad main breaker.
So for fiction do it as you like.
Reply by email for where to mail my premier tickets. :)
--
Colbyt
Please come visit www.househomerepair.com
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On Oct 8, 3:27pm, nickcarr_at_gmail_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (3rdrate) wrote:

The premise itself is wrong, main breaker tripping is highly unlikely unless the main breaker itself is defective. Having the electrician simply say something like this would suffice:
Scene...
A strapping young electrician is let in the door and led to the main panel, he's wearing a tool belt, T shirt and jeans.
Electrician....
"Mamm, main breakers rarely ever trip unless the breaker itself is defective, so I'll just replace the main breaker for you with a new one. I measured all the branch loads and taken together they appear to be within limit, so I think it has to be a defective main breaker itself. Tell me, did anyone turn anything on the moment the main breaker tripped?"
Housewife...
"Why no, nothing ever got 'turned on' around here lately, that's for sure"
Electrician...
"Well looking at you, I find that hard to believe"
Housewife...
"Well sparky, its true, my husband and I have been mere roommates for the last three years"
Electrician...
"OK, mamm the breaker is in, my company will send you an invoice. If the problem re-occurs then this service call will be free and we will try again to determine if the problem is more serious."
Housewife...
"You know sparky, thats a nice tool belt you have there, and looking at how smoothly you inserted that breaker, I'll bet you're pretty good with tools"
Electrician...
"Well mamm I do this all day, wish they were all this easy"
Housewife...
"Speaking of easy..."
etc....
Hope this helps
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(3rdrate) wrote:

The premise itself is wrong, main breaker tripping is highly unlikely unless the main breaker itself is defective. Having the electrician simply say something like this would suffice:
Scene...
A strapping young electrician is let in the door and led to the main panel, he's wearing a tool belt, T shirt and jeans.
Electrician....
"Mamm, main breakers rarely ever trip unless the breaker itself is defective, so I'll just replace the main breaker for you with a new one. I measured all the branch loads and taken together they appear to be within limit, so I think it has to be a defective main breaker itself. Tell me, did anyone turn anything on the moment the main breaker tripped?"
Housewife...
"Why no, nothing ever got 'turned on' around here lately, that's for sure"
Electrician...
"Well looking at you, I find that hard to believe"
Housewife...
"Well sparky, its true, my husband and I have been mere roommates for the last three years"
Electrician...
"OK, mamm the breaker is in, my company will send you an invoice. If the problem re-occurs then this service call will be free and we will try again to determine if the problem is more serious."
Housewife...
"You know sparky, thats a nice tool belt you have there, and looking at how smoothly you inserted that breaker, I'll bet you're pretty good with tools"
Electrician...
"Well mamm I do this all day, wish they were all this easy"
Housewife...
"Speaking of easy..."
etc....
Hope this helps
ROTFLMAO
Colbyt
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On Oct 8, 4:27pm, nickcarr_at_gmail_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (3rdrate) wrote:

re: I hate when films get this sort of thing wildly wrong.
You mean like the time on CSI when the construction worker got electrocuted by a power tool and one of the investigators, holding the plug in his hand said, "No wonder the GFI didn't save him. Somebody cut off the grounding tab."?
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DerbyDad03 wrote:

That one had me yelling at the TV. The latest Miami CSI with murder-by-lightning was even worse.
There are different ways an electrician might handle the problem. "Does the main breaker trip immediately when reset? After a short time? Randomly?" Randomly can be hard to find. Pull the cover. Look for obvious problems. If the power has been on, feel the main breaker to see if it is hot. Also other breakers. Look at current with clamp-on ammeter as RBM said. If hot and reasonable current tighten screw (loose connection a la John).
If power is off turn off all the breakers, put a clamp-on ammeter on one of the service wires. Turn on the main breaker. Turn on the branch breakers while watching the ammeter. I wouldn't stand in front of a breaker when I turn it on. Switch the clamp-on ammeter to the other service wire.
Or if a fuse panel - Replace main fuse with a length of copper pipe. Trace problem with the smoke method.
--
bud--

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On Oct 8, 4:27pm, nickcarr_at_gmail_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (3rdrate) wrote:

re: "The main characters call in an electrician."
It took more than one main character to call an electrician?
I bet that'll be some riveting dialog.
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3rdrate wrote:

If you want a scenario that requires a bit of time, you probably need to throw something else into the mix. Instead of meter --> Main Panel --> Loads, you could have a meter and an emergency generator both feeding into an automatic transfer panel. That panel would then feed the main breaker box. Take a look at page three for an example: http://www.cumminsonan.com/www/pdf/specsheets/a-1534.pdf
A problem with the generator or the transfer panel might take some time to diagnose and may involve cycling the generator. I don't know enough about such things to flesh out a plausible scenario though. Sorry.

He goes into the attic and finds a circuit that's still using knob and tube wiring, and it's covered by insulation!

Please let us know what you finally come up with.
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TV and movies are aimed at a very low intelligence level.
Most people would not understand the reasons behind a main breaker tripping. They don't understand electricity.
And there are things an electrician would do in his head thinking about the problem. But this would somehow need to be shown visually for a movie/TV.
So please describe in details the circumstances leading up to the main breaker tripping, then what happens after the electrician does his thing.
In *reality* what would cause this, is too many things turned on at the same time. Too small of an electrical service. A corroded wire or poor connection causing heat at the breaker. Etc.
Perhaps if you explained things more, we could find a situation to fit into your screenplay. Also is it a horror movie? Does someone get zapped by electricity? Is the house haunted? Is it a story of a house which needs all sorts of repairs? Etc.
"3rdrate" wrote in message

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3rdrate wrote:

I've never seen a television show or movie that accurately portrayed any electrical or technical work being done. Except maybe instructional videos.
TDD
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