Help with finding electrical fault?

Hi all,
I just bought a house (25 years old, contemporary), and at least half of the lights in the house don't work, some of the fluorescent fixtures glow a little but not bright, and half of the filament lights are blown. When I turn on some of the filament lights, they don't come on smoothly, they flicker and struggle to stay constant brightness, and the compact fluorescents have a hard time striking. I suspect I have a fault somewhere. Shall I call an electrician? Is there something that is a likely cause? Its pretty much the whole house, it seems.
Thanks for any help,
Dean
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Hi, Dean.
Absolutely- call an electrician ASAP. From what I can see from here :'), I'd suspect you have a poorly bonded neutral at the service drop. Been there. This can result in high enough current through bizarre paths to ground to really heat some wiring. Meanwhile, turn everything possible off. Your electrical utility may have to be involved for work on the service drop.
Given the vintage of the house, I'd also suspect problems with connections on aluminum cable. An inherently unstable situation. A competent electrician can tell on inspection if you have aluminum house wiring, but special tools and terminations are required to make connections safe and stable over time. IMHO, all connections to aluminum cable are suspect.
No intention to hype the seriousness of your situation, but you really want to get a pro in there NOW.
John
snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

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Thanks for all the help:)
Yeah I've had a bad ground before, but it affected the fridge and other things really obviously. This is just the lights. The furnace is electric and runs great, so I don't think its the ground. Are there any line testers I can pick up at home depot to narrow down the problem?
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Hi, Dean.
I made no mention of "bad ground" and tried to make it clear that you have a potentially dangerous situation. Such that you need to get a pro to check it out to avoid electrical fire. What's needed here is education and experience, not cheapie meters.
Please note what most all other responders suggest. This is serious, and it's your butt.
HTH, John
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Get an electrician. You obviously don't know about electricity. For one, a bad ground won't stop your furnace from operating, grounds are safety things. Also your electric furnace will be 240 volts and bypasses any problems with the neutral. Some of your 120 volt items could be operating at excessive over-voltage if you have neutral problems, which could damage them or cause a fire.

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On 7 Feb 2005 08:44:37 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

I agree there is a ground problem, but most likely just on the lighting circuit(s). What you need to check for the problem is mostly your eyes and your time. However, I'd invest in a multimeter. You can get a cheal one for under $20. Now go to your breaker panel and tighten all the neutral screws (white wires). After each of these steps, see if things improve. Next find the breaker that feeds the lights. Put your meter on its AC setting, 250 volts and higher, and put one lead on the breaker screw (black wire, or possibly red or something), and the other lead to a neutral screw. The voltage should be between 110 and 125 volts. (117 is very common). Of course I do assume you know how to do this wihtout getting electricuted, or you better get an electrician. If you get some funky reading, or the meter shows severe voltage variations, put the meter on the furnace breaker screw, (since you said that works ok). If you read funky voltages there too, your problem is most likely outdoors, and you need an electrician. Do however, flip the main breaker a few times and see if that makes a difference. They can fail, and cause flickering. Also, listen closely for the sound if sparking inside beakers. It can be heard, and is more noticable when more stuff is turned on. Also looks for any sign of burnt wires and the smell of burnt in the box. It could be the main leads where they go to the main breaker. Look closely, but keep your hands off those main wires.
If none of this solved anything, shut off the lighting breaker, take the wire off of it, and swap it with the wire on the furnace breaker. If that solved it, you got a bad breaker, and replace it. Put the wires back the way they were, because you may have different amperage breakers,
If after doing all of this, you still have the problem, I suspect a bad connection somewhere upline. Here comes the fun part. Follow the wire from the lighting breaker to the first fixture in line, open it by removing light fixture or outlet, or blank cover. Now, with the power off, take off each wirenut and inspect everything. Wires should be shiny copper color, not green and corroded. Have some spare wirenuts in hand, some of those old ones fall apart when unscrewed. When done with that box, turn the power on and see if anything improved. If not, go to the next junction box and do the same. Keep going all the way to the last fixture, including all switches, etc. It's time consuming, but it's the only way. This can save you lots of money. Of course be sure you are comfortable doing it, or it may be better to call an electrician.
Personally, if it were my house, I'd remove every fixture, switch and outlet in the whole house and be sure everything is tight and safe. If outlets are worm so plugs fall out, replace them right away. Same with any switches or light fixtures that are bad. Any light fixtures with burnt wires need to be replaced too.
One other tip. To use your multimeter to check voltage at light fixtures, buy a screw in adaptor that converts a light to an outlet. It's alot safer to stick the test leads into one of them, than try to stick the leads inside a socket.
Hope this helps
Mark
One
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

like that, the problem's somewhere from the breaker box out into the power company's territory. Tracing it down shouldn't be hard, but it helps to know what you're doing.
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I think your house needs new batteries.
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Matt wrote:

You sure are ignorant.
It's usually just dirty connections. Take the house and bang it against a big table. Often this will knock the corrosion loose and fix it, at least for awhile.
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First laugh I had today!
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Hello Dean, What's the temperature inside the house? If this house has been vacant and had the heat turned down...that is your problem. Florescents hate cool temperatures and are very groggy then. If the house is warm, I suggest it will probably be your Florescent ballasts that need to be changed out by an electrician. Hope that was of some help.
Jim
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You didnt get it inspected prior to purchase? Incandesants flicker, half are blown and brightness varies? Geees ....And you are asking if an electician is needed.
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

Yes you need some help. I sounds like a floating neutral ,or two, bad grounds plus other issues.
The part of this you need to remember is it can damage electrical equipment and may cause a fire. Some of the stuff you describe is dangerous.
--
Joseph Meehan

26 + 6 = 1 It's Irish Math
  Click to see the full signature.
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26 + 6 = 1 It's Irish Math
I don't get that one! Can you explain? :)
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

Ireland has 32 counties. 26 in the Republic and 6 in the North Ireland that England split from the whole. When they are all once again joined there will be but one Ireland.
--
Joseph Meehan

26 + 6 = 1 It's Irish Math
  Click to see the full signature.
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Two words, licensed electrician.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ Hi all,
I just bought a house (25 years old, contemporary), and at least half of the lights in the house don't work, some of the fluorescent fixtures glow a little but not bright, and half of the filament lights are blown. When I turn on some of the filament lights, they don't come on smoothly, they flicker and struggle to stay constant brightness, and the compact fluorescents have a hard time striking. I suspect I have a fault somewhere. Shall I call an electrician? Is there something that is a likely cause? Its pretty much the whole house, it seems.
Thanks for any help,
Dean
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Four words, reputable insured licensed electrician.

hth,
tom @ www.Love-Calculators.com
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Just curious, I'm in the market for a house. Did you have a home inspector look stuff over, or am I odd for wanting an inspector to evaluate a home I want to by. The current house I was going to get needed $20K in repairs that I had missed - termites, water damage, ect. The home owner thougth I was stupid for getting one. But I don't have the money to lose. So, this is not a flame. And, while not helpful, when you toured the home, what reason did the past owner give for showing you the house with a candleobra.
Just curious REH
On Tue, 08 Feb 2005 10:16:43 -0500, snipped-for-privacy@intertainia.com wrote:

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I bought a house about a year ago and went with a house inspector. I work at a plant in the electrical department. I could check out the wiring but would not know exectaly what to look for as some of the other parts of the construction. I did ask if I could follow the inspector around and he gave me the OK for that. He pointed out a few things that I might expect for a 20 year old house. Did not find anything that I was not allowing for in the price I offered for the house. After all at 20 years old you expect to redo or replace things. I did not opt for some insurance (sold as a house warrenty) as it seemed high for what it did cover.
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