Electrical weirdness - please help

Hello,
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 fine.
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'...)
Thanks, Jane
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reflip the breakers make sure they all seat. i have a breaker that is hard to reset. Usualy they will feel loose if not set. Lightly move each one to see if it as play in it you may find the bad one
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snipped-for-privacy@no.spam.com wrote:

If resetting the breakers doesn't restore it, call the utility; often they can be very helpful in at least pinpointing the problem.
Jim
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Thanks. Resetting did not restore, all breakers are tight, and not all the ceiling lights are on the same breaker, so that's what's really weird!
Jane
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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.
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Joseph E. Meehan

26 + 6 = 1 It's Irish Math
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On Mon, 17 Nov 2003 21:20:54 GMT, "Joseph Meehan"

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 handyman.
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 box.
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 replacements...
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.
George
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Hi George,
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.
Jane
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<< 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.
Joe
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On 17 Nov 2003 20:42:49 GMT, snipped-for-privacy@aol.comtosspam (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 ;-)
...Jim Thompson
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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.
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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. :]
Jane
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Sounds like it could be an open neutral to me.
What caused the trip in the first place? It could have opened the neutral up somewhere.
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.
HTH.
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Regards,

Dwight Duckstein, MCP
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wrote:

(I wondered about that after reading a few things online.)

Had lots of applicances going at once as stated in the other post.

Hmmm...
:) 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 myself. :)
Jane
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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.
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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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Thanks to all. Turned out it was a bad curcuit. Replaced it and all is well. Guess my Dad was mistaken and all the ceiling lights *were* wired to that one breaker!
Jane
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