Electrical trouble, need advice

My lights started acting weird a few weeks ago. Sometimes they would work, other times not. Then the other day most of them just quit working. I can't afford an electrician so I have to figure this out myself, and I have no clue where to begin.
The wiring in my house is strange. There is a circuit breaker box outside and a fusebox in a closet with two rows of four fuses. The top row has three fuses in it - the last one on the right is empty - and the bottom row has two fuses, one on each end is empty, and of the two that exist, one has "ref." written below it, so I assume that means refrigerator. None of the fuses are burned out.
At the circuit breaker box there are 8 switches, all I know about them is that one turns off my water pump at the well, another was for the electric water heater before I changed to gas.
In Oct. 2001 a light switch went bad in the kitchen, and after that, none of the outlets in the whole house were live except for one inside a kitchen cupboard where the refrigerator is plugged in. The ones inside and outside the well house also worked, and the electric water heater also worked.
For almost a year I lived with that situation because I could not afford an electrician and had no idea how to fix it myself. I just made do with extension cords. Then a friend offered to wire some new outlets for me, without a labor charge, and so of course I agreed. All the new wiring is visible, tacked to the walls and ceiling, as are the new outlets.
He ran Romex from the fusebox and made an outlet in the closet, and from there to a light in the bathroom, and next to a switch for the porch light, then it splits, with one wire to an outlet in the living room and the other to an outlet in the bedroom.
So, not counting the refrigerator and well house outlets, a total of three outlets and two light switches worked, until a few days ago.
I don't see a burned fuse. The outlet in the closet *does* work, but the next thing down the line, the bathroom light, does not. I took the cover off the light to see what I could see, but I have no idea what to look for.
One further thing I should mention about my friend's wiring job: When I plug my surge protector into any of the three new outlets he made, the little red ground fault indicator light comes on. It doesn't do that when plugged into the refrigerator or well house outlets.
I'm really hoping someone here can help me figure this out.
Thanks in advance.
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snipped-for-privacy@fidnet.com says...

of rural, low-cost housing, then you need to be far more self-sufficient than you currently are. An investment in some basic home maintenance "how-to" books on electrical, plumbing, and heating/air would be very wise.

Based on your friends' rewiring, I'd say that the refrigerator and one other fuse are the only ones that are on a working circuit.

So in this case, there may only be two breakers that are actually on a working circuit.

You have a failed (loose) connection. It's either at the closet outlet or at the bathroom light switch (not the light itself).

In other words, all the new wiring is ungrounded.

You have a situation that is just plain dangerous. Both to your life, and as a fire hazard. If you value your life or property, you'll take steps to make the entire power scheme for this house right, and quickly. If you can't afford to have it professional done, than at least educate yourself to the extent needed to make it right. Your friend did you no favors, and actually left you in worse shape than if you'd continued using extension cords. At least those would have (hopefully) been grounded.
Good luck.
--
Mark

The truth as I perceive it to be.
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says...

Mark, thanks for your suggestions. I understand what you are saying. I just haven't been able to do anything about it so far. I have been very ill for a long time, under a lot of stress, and on a very low income. This wasn't my chosen lifestyle at all, I was sort of "dumped" here by an ex-husband who decided to take off with another woman and take all the money and leave all the debts, and I have ended up in the only place that I can afford. I'm just trying to keep it up the best I can. I already learned enough about plumbing to replace the whole system with no help, but the electrical stuff is more intimidating to me. I don't even want to touch it without first knowing what I should shut off in order not to be shocked when looking at it or working on it.
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To learn to install new electrical wiring, you can read books. (Library?)
To learn to troubleshoot problems in existing wiring, it takes years of experience and learning. You need a good understanding of electricity, electrical wiring, and historical wiring methods.
Frankly your situation sounds like an accident waiting to happen. Either a fire or you getting electrocuted...
There are volunteer groups in many areas such as Habitat for Humanity which may help you for free. Some electricians volunteer to help.
I would suggest calling a nearby Habitat for Humanity and asking for help. Or calling around to electricians and asking if any of them do volunteer work. Just explain your situation as you did here, and I'm sure someone would be willing to help as your situation sounds quite dangerous.
You really do need a qualified electrician to check out your wiring to solve these problems. Also may want to say [here] what city/state you live in. Maybe someone living nearby would be willing to help. Good luck! Be safe.
"Pat" wrote in message

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Get a pro out, nobody will help you fix it here
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I would be grateful if someone can at least tell me how to shut off all the electricity to the house for the time being, until I can get this mess sorted out.

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I have to concur with the other posters. You have an unsafe situation as a result of unqualified individuals doing unprofessional work. I sympathize with your financial situation, but you need a professional electrician to come in and correct the hazards and find the root cause of your electrical problems. I could not even begin to give you pointers when you seem unqualified or unable to do electrical work yourself.
I don't know what part of the world you live in, but there must be some government agency or local charity organization in your area that can offer assistance. If not, perhaps your local minister or pastor could provide some direction.
Where do you live?
John Grabowski http://www.mrelectrician.tv

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John, I'm in Douglas County in southern Missouri. There's no Habitat for Humanity office around here at all, and the local electricians don't do volunteer work, nor is there any agency, church or other entity willing to help. People in this area are very poor.
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Ava, the county seat of Douglas County, has a volunteer fire department. Here's the Ava, Missouri website with some phone numbers for the sherrif and city hall:
http://www.avachamber.org/govern.htm
Call someone with the fire department (perhaps the fire chief) and tell them that you've been advised that the wiring in your house is a fire hazard and that you do not have the financial resourses to hire an electrician to correct it. Thinking that they may be receptive to the idea of preventing a fire, rather than having to extinguish one, you may very well find someone with a sympathetic ear who might be in a position to assist you.
It's a long shot, but all it will cost you is a phone call. You may very well luck out and connect with a good-hearted, understanding soul who'll be willing to help you.
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On the other hand, they may also decide to condemn the house, instead. In which case, OP is on the street. So decide whether the person you're talking to is an asshole, before telling them who you are and where you live.
--Goedjn
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There is no building code in this county.

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How about a vocational school that teaches electrical wiring? Maybe some of their students can do the work for credit. Also, I have seen it in the past where the local chapter of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) will donate time towards a worthy cause. You might try the local union representative.
Maybe contact a local newspaper or TV news to get some publicity for your plight. Take some pictures and show them around.

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Habitat for Humanity offices for Missouri (Try calling the closest one please...) http://www.habitat.org/local/affiliate.asp?zip=&placeP
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Do you rent or own?
I would probably check with some of the big churches in the area and see if any have a licensed electrician as a church member who might be willing to do a little bit of work just for the cost of materials. What you have now is not safe, but if he could just give you 1 or 2 grounded outlets and one light that works you could use heavy duty extension cords for the rest. The IBEW union would be the next place to check. Nobody is gonna rewire your house for free, but some good-hearted people might be willing to make a few repairs to help make things safe for you if you pay for the materials.
The only other option I can think of is getting a home wiring book and learning to do it yourself. (that's my preferred solution.) It's actually easier and safer in my opinion than plumbing. (Pressurized supply lines are OK because if you screw up they leak right away, but I don't like doing anything more than simple repairs on drain and waste lines because you can make a hazardous mistake and not know it)
There should be a breaker or switch handle out at the breaker panel or the meter box that says "MAIN" that *should* shut off *all* the electricity. The fuse box should have a pair of cartridges labelled "MAIN" that you can pull out to shut off everything that goes thru that fuse box. I would turn off *both* the MAINs even though only one should be necessary, then I still wouldn't totally trust that the wires were dead until I tested a few with a little neon tester.
It that outlet that your "friend" wired up right next to the fuse box? You might could make things a lot better by connecting a piece of green #14 (or #12 if you've got it) wire from the center screw on that outlet to one of the screws on the fuse box cover. That *should* ground the outlet without you having to open any boxes. The hard part will be getting a good connection to that center screw. You might need to put a little washer under the screw; the plastic outlet cover will crack when you tighten it, but that shouldn't hurt anything. Maybe replace it with a steel outlet cover, or even take it off and go without a cover, or just don't worry about the cracked cover cuz that's the least of your worries.
That's all the advice I can give without actually seeing anything, and probably more than I should have given. Good luck to you.
Best regards, Bob
Pat wrote:

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Hi Bob,
I do appreciate the tips! I disconnected the current and checked things. I didn't change anything, I just took it all apart and checked to be sure all the wires were connected properly, then put it all back together. Inside the fusebox, I disconnected all the circuits that are not being used and removed all their fuses, also checked to be sure the troubled circuit is correctly connected. There was evidence that mice had been living in the fuse box and I vacuumed all their nest materials, etc. out of there, and there was a tiny bit of corrosion on one of the contacts of one of the big fuses that you pull out of the top of the fusebox, which I removed, but those are the only *changes* I made. Could either of those things have caused the intermittent failure of some of the switches and outlets, I wonder?
As to the safety issue, my understanding is that unless you overload a circuit there can be no danger, and even then a fuse would blow or a circuit would trip. And I have NOT overloaded any of the circuits, nor is there any short anywhere or the whole thing would fail. On the circuit that my friend installed, the only thing connected is 4 low-wattage lamps plus the porchlight, and I never have all of those one at once. Occasionally I use one of the outlets to run a small vacuum or television, but never at the same time and never when all the lights are on.
Everything is correctly wired, and it all works now, but there is still the ground fault indicator light on my surge protector when plugged into any of the newer outlets. Also, I just can't figure why things would not work before and now do work. I will add the wire that you suggested and see if that makes a difference. That outlet is indeed right next to the fusebox, and it already has a metal cover. In fact I took it apart to check that it was correctly wired, and it was, but I will try adding this extra wire, too, in case it makes a difference.
Thanks again!

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Pat wrote:

A loose connection somewhere can get hot and start a fire without being overloaded. There are special breakers now that can detect an "arc fault" and trip if a loose connection starts arcing. These new (and expensive!) breakers are required by the national electric code for new circuits for bedrooms. That doesn't help much though if you have a fusebox.
A disconnected ground is a shock/electrocution hazard. The third wire on the outlet is a safety ground to protect you if voltage leaks to the chassis of something you have plugged in. Two-wire outlets are OK in most applications (not in bathrooms, not near the kitchen sink, etc.) because you know they are not grounded. Three-wire outlets with a nonworking ground are dangerous because you think they are grounded.
Poor or missing ground is only dangerous when something else fails and the ground is not there to protect you. But a loose connection that's arcing is a fire hazard all by itself if anything is plugged into the circuit. Your original description sounds like you might have a loose connection somewhere.
Other than that, you are correct about breakers and fuses protecting you when you overload a circuit. (unless someone's brother-in-law used the wrong size wire or the wrong size fuse when he extended the wiring)
Best regards, Bob
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Hi Pat!
P > > First-off, let me say that if your chosen life-style is one P > > of rural, low-cost housing, then you need to be far more P > > self-sufficient than you currently are. An investment in P > > some basic home maintenance "how-to" books on electrical, P > > plumbing, and heating/air would be very wise. P > > P > P > Mark, thanks for your suggestions. I understand what you are saying. I just P > haven't been able to do anything about it so far. I have been very ill for
P > long time, under a lot of stress, and on a very low income. This wasn't my P > chosen lifestyle at all, I was sort of "dumped" here by an ex-husband who P > decided to take off with another woman and take all the money and leave all P > the debts, and I have ended up in the only place that I can afford. I'm jus
P > trying to keep it up the best I can. I already learned enough about plumbin
P > to replace the whole system with no help, but the electrical stuff is more P > intimidating to me. I don't even want to touch it without first knowing wha
P > I should shut off in order not to be shocked when looking at it or working P > on it.
To err on the side of caution is the best bet! As I said somewhere in my previous message (yesterday) a voltmeter is a good tool. A cheap one with a needle is just about as good for most needs in this category as the fancy digital ones. (Do you really need to know your voltage is 126.28 volts?!)
Go to the library and check out a book(s) on basic electrical wiring. I believe Reader's Digest has one out, Time-Life has/had. There are others. Flip through, if has pictures, simple terminology, and you understand it (that's the important part!) then check it out and take it home.
Play with the voltmeter on a working circuit. Read instructions to the thing first! (Oh, they're available at places like Sears, the "Marts" [K-Mart, Walmart], Radio Shack.) Set to measure "volts" ("V"). If not autoranging set the volts for the AC 120 volt range. This one depends on the meter. I have a meter that goes 0-10v (nope!!), 0-50v (nope!) 0-250v (yup!). For your needs a cheap voltmeter is fine. (The "DC" range is for things like batteries -- don't use when measuring AC.)
Put the probes into the working outlet. Narrow slot is connected to the black wire to the fuses/circuit breaker; wide slot is connected to the white wire. "Oddly enough" when the meter is in AC Volts mode it doen't matter which probe goes in which slot though ideally the positive probe to the narrow/black slot and the ground probe to the wide/white slot. Needle should deflect from 0 (resting) and give a reading of around 120 volts. Now you know what a 120v AC reading looks like! :) (S.N.: You may have to jiggle the probes a little to contact the metal contacts inside the outlet.)
OK, you said you have some stuff that doesn't work. A circuit needs a complete path: a way to go from the fuse/circuit breaker to the outlet or light and back again. Generally this path is with wires but electricity doesn't care and will also use water and humans -- the latter is more commonly called electrocution.
Let's say we're testing an outlet that used to work but doesn't currently. The lamp doesn't work in that outlet, so there's basicly no need to stick the probes in the outlet -- we already know it doesn't work. But does it partially work?? Remember a circuit generally uses two wires to make the round trip but if one is open (disconnected) then the circuit won't work. You could test black (narrow slot) to ground. The ground is usually the little hole in the outlet or the metal frame (outlet and/or metal box the outlet is in). Try that connection (one meter probe to black, other meter probe to various ground points). If you get 120v that way the white wire is open some place -- you need to find this open and fix it. If no reading then either the black wire is open or the points you thought were ground aren't connected. (See why a knowledgeable friend showing you would be helpful?!) Another ground point can be the cold water pipe under the sink. Used to be an 'always' until they started using plastic pipes.
..While you're at the store getting your voltmeter I'd probably also get a circuit tester. It's around $10. About a third the size of your fist, has the three prongs to plug into an outlet on one end and three LEDs on the other. Will quickly tell you if an outlet is wired correctly, a wire is broken/open, etc. I'd use it in conjuction with the voltmeter tests.
'Nuff for now. Get comfortable with the basics of electricity and then on to a new area of learning!
- barry.martinATthesafebbs.zeppole.com
* I fed some lemon to my cat and now I have a sour puss.
--
RoseReader 2.52 P003186
The Safe BBS Bettendorf, IA 563-359-1971
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Thank you again, Barry!
Yesterday I went to WalMart for the tools and happened to speak with one of their associates, who was very, very helpful. As it turned out, he's the son of the best electrician around these parts and has been apprenticing with his dad for years. He kind of demystified the whole subject for me, and I now feel quite confident that I can redo the wiring myself.
Your posts have helped also, but there's nothing like "being there" and being able to ask stupid questions about every little thing and have the answers given patiently by a kid less than half one's own age.
Instead of trying to find out what's wrong with the mess here, I am just going to tear it all out and make two new circuits. Maybe even three! All I need is some more Romex wire, and that's cheap enough, even for me.
I always knew this stuff was pretty simple :)

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Hi Pat!
P > > P > I'm really hoping someone here can help me figure this out. P > > P > > Hope this gave you some idea. Is your electrican friend available to P > > help figure this out? P > He's not where I can contact him anymore.
That might be a good thing -- some of the other replies indicated he did a very poor job.
- barry.martinATthesafebbs.zeppole.com
* "Trousers"; an uncommon noun: singular @ the top and plural @ the bottom.
--
RoseReader 2.52 P003186
The Safe BBS Bettendorf, IA 563-359-1971
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Hi Pat!
P > Yesterday I went to WalMart for the tools and happened to speak with one of P > their associates, who was very, very helpful. As it turned out, he's the so
P > of the best electrician around these parts and has been apprenticing with P > his dad for years. He kind of demystified the whole subject for me, and I P > now feel quite confident that I can redo the wiring myself.
That's great to read! Would be nice if he just happened to be able to get someone to assist with your rewiring project -- it's one thing to read and another thing to do. (I think you can do it, it's just easier to learn as an 'apprentice'.)
P > Your posts have helped also, but there's nothing like "being there" and P > being able to ask stupid questions about every little thing and have the P > answers given patiently by a kid less than half one's own age.
<smile> Now come on, Pat -- you mean you've never had the neighbour's kid set the time on your VCR so it would stop blinking? <ggg>
P > Instead of trying to find out what's wrong with the mess here, I am just P > going to tear it all out and make two new circuits. Maybe even three! All I P > need is some more Romex wire, and that's cheap enough, even for me.
Yes, sometimes it's not worth the time and effort to figure out what's wrong. I would be inclined to go with "the more the merrier". As you have five available fuses (#6 is the refrigerator) may be safer and easier to upgrade in the future by using more fuses rather than less. (You know the layout of the trailer and what is working so maybe using/upgrading those two or three is all that is necessary.)
P > I always knew this stuff was pretty simple :)
Of course! Just has to be introduced and explained properly!
- barry.martinATthesafebbs.zeppole.com
* "There's too much vermouth in my martini," said Tom dryly
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