My folks live in a home 50 years old, they bought when new. This
morning a circuit tripped off, so Dad flipped all of them off then
back on again. All seemed fine *except* none of the ceiling fixures
works now (in any room of the house), nor does the outlet wired from
the ceiling in the garage. All outlets *not* wired to the celing are
Not all of the ceiling fixtures/outlets are wired to the same circuit,
so this seems weird. There is a junction box in the attic. My Dad
looked at it and all seemed in order. All wires attached, nothing
appeared burned or loose.
Any ideas? (Dad is older and doesn't use a computer but is real handy,
so I'm playing middle-'man'...)
That sounds like it may be a bad neutral. Also some improper wiring.
If I am guessing right, you need a pro to come in and find out what is going
on and fix it right, it could be dangerous. If you have aluminum wiring
that would explain a lot.
They didnt use aluminum wiring 50 years ago, at least not that I have
ever heard of. They started in the mid 1960's and stopped in the
early 1970's. Trailer homes were the worst for having the crap.
Around 1971 or 72 they added a copper clad to the alum wire, which was
much better, but eventually stopped it entirely except for overhead
"heavy" cables such as triplex. This is true in the midwest anyhow.
Other parts of the world, I can not comment about.
I do agree about it being a bad neutral. Which for the OP are the
WHITE wires. Shut off ALL the power to the house. Start at the
breaker panel, and be sure ALL white wires are properly connected in
the breaker box, and every box after that. I have a feeling there is
one in a box not too far away from the breaker box. I say this
because I ran into this exact situation several times now, and all of
them were homes built in the early 1950's. The home probably has BX
cable and conduit in the basement, right?
The reason for this problem is because back then, they had 4 fuses for
the whole house. Then they ran ONE white wire (neutral) and 3 black
wires thru the same conduit, and branched off from there. These were
all #14 wires adn went to 15A fuses. The 4th fuse was a 20A and was
for the kitchen, and was a separate circuit generally. Using the same
#14 neutral for all three circuits was just plain stupid. Yet, back
then, that is how they did it, and I actually ran into this problem in
nearly every home in one "early 50's" residential neighborhood. My
own home was one of them, and back then I was the neighborhood
What I did in each home was to replace the 1/2" conduit to the first
box with 3/4" conduit. I used a larger box on the first box which was
always a basement light. Then I ran a separate neutral for each line
thru that conduit. Since I was usually upgrading to breakers at the
same time, I added any additional circuits directly to the breaker
You dont need a pro-electrician is your dad is handy, and willing to
spend lots of time opening each box in the house. Just be sure to
shut off the power, and use a multimeter to check. Be sure to
CAREFULLY look at each wirenut connection, and take them off if
anything looks suspicious. However, I bet the problem is near the
breaker box. Look for a box with lots of branches coming from it.
When you find the problem, be sure to install one separate neutral
wire for EACH circuit. Just remember EACH black (or red/blue, etc)
wire, should have it's OWN white wire. (actually, if you balance the
load and use opposite sides of the 220, you can share a common
neutral. But, that can get complicated, and it's easier to over wire
it, than under wire it). I'd also use all #12 wires for
One last thought. Are you sure that ONE LEG of the main is not dead?
Did you put a volt meter or neon test light on both legs of the 220
main? It could be a bad main breaker, or even a broken wire on the
pole. I dont know where you live, but there have been high winds in a
large part of the US in the last couple days.
CHECK THIS FIRST BEFORE YOU TEAR THE WHOLE PLACE APART
Hope this helps.
Let us know what you find out.
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Thanks so much for the reply. It was all excellent advice.
As it turned out my Dad was wrong about two things: 1> one of the
breakers *was* spongy and 2> all ceiling lights *were* on one circuit.
If these two things were not the case, a loose neutral would have been
the most likely culprit it seems, just like you said. But changing out
the spongy breaker fixed the problem.
<< My folks live in a home 50 years old >>
Could the problem be related to old aluminum wiring? IIRC that was about the
time it was introduced to the housing market.
If so, then you need to have the system inpsected and serviced/repaired to
today's codes. Don't wait on this.
On 17 Nov 2003 20:42:49 GMT, email@example.com (Joe Bobst) wrote:
Late '60's, early '70's, I know, I had one. Even had a receptacle go
up in smoke... while I was home, fortunately. That's when I learned
about Cu/Al compatible receptacles and how to prep the wire ;-)
| James E.Thompson, P.E. | mens |
| Analog Innovations, Inc. | et |
You state that your dad toggled ALL of the breakers off and on? It's
possible that one of those breakers never re-closed, even though it may look
like it did. I'd check the terminal on each breaker with a voltage tester
such as those little light-up screwdrivers. The panel will have to be live
to do this. If your dad is getting older and has unsteady hands, I would
not recommend he do it.
The other scenario that could account for multiple circuits being off is
that one leg of the service is dead for some reason. Does the oven still
work? If not then it's a service problem. If it's an older 60amp service
they may have tripped the main breaker of fuse by running too much at once
(it happens). It's also possible that a short or malfunctioning appliance
pushed the main fuse/breaker just far enough to trip.
If there is a main breaker, try toggling it off and on. It's possible
that one leg tripped, but didn't disconnect the other leg as well. If it's
the fuse style disconnect then be careful, since when you change these big
fuses, you're working in an enclosure that always has live parts (even when
the switch is off).
Safety glasses and rubber gloves under work gloves are not a bad idea if
you end up having to work in a live panel.
IMO a 50yr old electrical installation is nearing or is at the end of
it's useful life anyways. They may want to have a few professionals give
a quote on an upgrade. If nothing else they'll at least know what they're
up against if they need to go that route at a later date.
one of them (turns out, he said) feels a little spongy so it may be
bad. He can't test it because the meter is mounted above the panel and
blocks access to the upper contact of the breaker without blindly
sticking the probe up there... which he isn't going to do. :) And the
house does not have aluminum wiring -- copper.
Yeah, the meter is in the way too, but I think you're right that the
one breaker is bad. It doesn't snap up like it should.
We had a lot going on -- washer, dryer, microwave, floor heater,
computer, TV and probably something else. (Busy morning.)
[No master breakers and no fuses.]
They have a call in. I guess it's making dinner by candelight tonight.
(No overhead lights in kitchen.)
Thanks again to everyone. :]
Sounds like it could be an open neutral to me.
What caused the trip in the first place? It could have opened the neutral
What might have happened is that the ceiling circuits might have gotten
wired on two hots with a shared neutral. Then, if the neutral is
disconnected/burned off, none of the ceiling lights will work unless they
are all or mostly all turned on.
If several from one hot are turned on, and one from the other hot gets
flipped on, the voltage it would receive would be higher than normal and
blow the filament in that light, thus re-opening the entire circuit. Back to
none of them working.
Clear as mud, I know.
(I wondered about that after reading a few things online.)
Had lots of applicances going at once as stated in the other post.
:) I did try taking out the bulbs in a ceiling fixure and replacing
them with new bulbs to no avail.
And I know what you said is really helpful and if I read it a few more
times and repeat it to my Dad maybe I'll begin to understand it
Be sure everything is off on the blown circuts before setting the loose
one, it should pop back if turned off then on forcefully. I cant
beleive you dont have a main fuse or breaker. Mine was outside . It
could be in a different box or in the meter.
Two things come to mind but don't know if they exactly fit in with this
scenario. I had a friend that was going nuts trying to find out what was
tripping a breaker .. turned out to be the circuit in the TV that keeps it
"alive", even when turned off. Unplugged it and all was fine. Could a TV be
plugged into a wall outlet that is on the same circuit? The other thing
could be that a GFCI is in the circuit and has tripped and just needs to be
reset. Just a few thoughts ... good luck.
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