Is There An Electrician in the House?

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I knew I had a problem yesterday morning when the furnace didn't come on at the usual 6:30 time where it progresses from the thermostat's nighttime setting into the waking time setting.
Investigation revealed about half the house was without power, and half normal. I quickly ran extension cords to power the critical items (furnace, refrigerator, computer) to working outlets. Clearly one leg of the 120v supply was out. After cycling all the breakers, including the master, without success I decided it was time to pick an electrician out of the phone book, and the firm promised someone within an hour.
While waiting outside for the electrician, a neighbor came out with exactly the same complaint. I knew then that it was a utility company problem, but having commited to the service call decided there was no harm other than a few $$$ in having the issue confirmed. (Turned out to be a burnt wire in an underground connection vault, and it took them until 10:30 in the evening to restore full power.)
The gentleman was quickly able to confirm my hypothesis, but then pointed out some alleged issues in my breaker box. I personally choose not to fool with breaker boxes, other than tightening the screws on the blasted aluminum wire once every year or so; I'm comfortable with wiring and conduit manipulation and the like, but feel breaker boxes are left to pros.
He pointed out one breaker which had two wires going into it. Being copper, I knew this was a circuit I had had (professionally) added in the past, but being on the nonfunctional leg neither he nor I could determine what was being powered from this breaker. He claimed that was highly dangerous. Now that I have power again, I'll be able to ascertain what's being powered from that breaker, but my question is: is this automatically a Highly Bad Thing, or are there instances where two wires into one breaker is a legitimate installation? He wanted $450 to correct this, which given the triviality of snapping two breakers into a box and connecting a wire to each seemed to me to be a ripoff in the making, so I declined. He also suggested that since many of the breakers were quite old (it's a 1969 house, although some circuits have been added over the years), and since replacing them all would be expensive, that I have him "lubricate" the breakers. I had visions of duct-cleaning "services" in my head, and simply sent him on his merry way after paying the basic service fee. Was he blowing smoke, or did he know something about circuit breakers not apparent to me?
Art
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Arthur Shapiro wrote:

Hi, my little book on basic home wiring repairs says having two wires on a screw down connection is not a good idea. It suggests a pigtail and wire nut .
That said I have much the same in my breaker box.
I have heard suggestions that breakers be manually thrown and reset to ensure they are functioning corectly about once a year. The lubrication thing sounds reasonable to me for a mechanical device if in a high dust area . After all I lubricate hinges , locksets , and stuff regularly. A breaker inside a box though I dont know. I would have thought that hinge points would be self lubricating materials .
Your post is a good tip though . If you lose one phase of the supply, every other breaker its probably a supply problem .
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snipped-for-privacy@unisys.com (Arthur Shapiro) wrote:

No.
The suggestion to "pigtail" the arrangement (one wire attached to the breaker with a "three-way", just beyond the breaker, done with a wire nut) is probably better. However, BOTH techniques are somewhat of a kludge, especially if there are available (open) slots for additional breakers or one (or more) single breakers that can be swapped-out with a double in the same space.

That's a new one to me. It's probably in the same league as a muffler bearing. I am unaware of HOW one might actually lubricate a circuit breaker in the unlikely event that such is possible, much less necessary.

Probably. Get a second, professional opinion AFTER the breaker(s) starts malfunctioning.
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JR

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I vote for smoke on this one.
Arthur Shapiro wrote:

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Yeah, me too. If it ain't broke, don't fix it...
061220 1532 - 7 LAMPSTICKS 7 FEASTS 7 AGES OF DISPENSATION posted:

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If the breaker is rated for 2 wires, it is not a problem. If not, then you can pigtail. I am assuming that the breaker is properly rated for the smaller of the two circuits. While that seems obvious, my cottage had three 20a circuits going to a 50a breaker. Very dangerous. The other issue is capacity; had they installed a 20a breaker at my cottage the load on the three circuits would have tripped the breaker. I had to put them on three 20a breakers.
Personally I would split it up. In all likelihood you can resolve it for $10 and 5 minutes work. It is probably easier than putting an outlet in. People are scared of the breaker box cause there is so much power there, but 120v is 120v. (I know there is 240v at the box, but you would have to really try to contact more than 120v)
I have never heard of old breakers being dangerous or lubricating them, and I surely wouldn't do anything to them that the manufacturer didn't recommend. But if you are concerned, you can probably replace them all for $100 in an hour. As a matter of fact, I just had a 1965 breaker trip when a mouse chewed through a wire and shorted it.
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Toller wrote:

Maybe he was describing removing the breakers and applying a little Thomas & Betts Kopper Shield or a silver conductive grease to the "plug in" prongs to make sure they maintained good contact:
http://www.elexp.com/che_8463.htm
But if you are concerned, you can probably replace them all for

Did the rodent survive?
Jeff
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Jeff Wisnia wrote:

I suspect removing and replacing the breakers compromises their connections more than this stuff improves them. And I'd be concerned it might migrate, too.

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Arthur Shapiro wrote:

Sounds totally bogus. In that a screw terminal will grab two similar single-strand Cu wires just as well as one. Only possible reason for splitting wires, IMHO, would depend on the circuits fed. $450 for popping in one breaker? End of discussion.
When power's back on, you can check the draw on each wire with clamp-on ammeter, and see what's happening there. I assume you know what all the loads are on that feed.
Lubricating breakers? Right.
OTOH, you mention Al wiring. I'd save up all small change to pay for verifying, changing all connections to safe ones; properly crimp on pigtails, whatever. Al connections are a huge danger.
J
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snipped-for-privacy@sme-online.com wrote:

When I moved in, in 1987, I pigtailed every outlet with NoAlOx filled wire nuts. I've had to examine a couple of those outlets over the years and was pleased to see the nuts were still tight and apparently filled with the gorp. I know crimping is now the approved methodology, but I'm satisfied with what I see. But I appreciate the suggestion (and everyone else's input on the original issue).
Art
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I'm just watching this discussion, but maybe someone can explain how a problem with the utility's equipment could cause just half a house to go dead.
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You have two 120v circuits going to your house. Half the house's 120v circuits are on each. It is important not to use any 240v devices while there is a problem, since they would only get 120v.
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Thanks.
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The appliance could still give you a shock if you were to work on it, but turning it on wouldn't hurt anything. It would just not work.
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The failed connection is probably open, not shorted to ground. You would get nothing, not 120V.
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JoeSpareBedroom wrote:

In the words of Mad Max: "There's a big difference between all dead and mostly dead."
There are two phases dropped to the house, 120 each. If you lose one, you still have the other. Circuit breaker boxes are designed to alternate the phases to successive breakers. When you lose one phase, roughly half the 120v circuits go dead.
As to how the power company can lose a phase, think a half-fried transformer. But sometimes they just lose things. About twenty years ago, the light company lost one of my payments for about a year.
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HeyBub wrote:

Also: While agreeing that the term 'phase' is sometimes used ........................
More correctly there are two 'legs' which are the opposite ends of the same centre tapped 230 volt single phase!
Thus one can be considered (sort of, although incorrectly as far as AC is concerned) as being plus 120 volts and the other as neg. 120 volts and therefore about 240 volts between the two of them; which is used to power heavy y items such as water heaters, electric cooking stoves etc.
If the the two wires were really different phases they would have voltages 120 degrees apart and there would be a peculiar voltage between the two. Not the 230/240 volts (180 degrees with the two ends always of opposite polarity) expected.
Same thing happened to my neighbours garage; they lost one side (or leg) of the 230 volt supply. The 'electrician' they hired came over to my house to borrow a multimeter and I went over and checked it for them! Utility company fixed a defective over head drop later that day.
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Losing one leg is not all that uncommon, at least around here. I've seen this at least three time in the past year -- all problems that the local utility had to fix. As another poster has mentioned - the tip off is if every other circuit is off. Also, be careful of back feeds through 220v appliances like ranges, water heaters and dryers.
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On Thu, 21 Dec 2006 09:48:39 -0500, "The Streets"

I'll bite.
Suppose I've got a (residential) 200A main breaker panel, and the street power fails.
I switch off the main breaker and use a gas powered 40A generator to backfeed the 30A (220v) circuit for the elec. dryer.
What can I expect? Live circuits, dead circuits? Overload conditions??
Elec. power around here (MO) seems to get less and less reliable by the month, else I wouldn't ask.
Thx, Puddin'
Pease pudding hot, Pease pudding cold, Pease pudding in the pot Nine days old ...
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Puddin' Man wrote:

That's not the same kind of back feed.
The back feed referenced is the potential for the leg that is "dead" due to a failed utility connection to become energized from the remaining live leg when a 240V appliance is switched on. The 240V appliance providing a connection between the two legs. The appliance will of course not operate since one of the hot legs it relies on is "dead", but it will provide a conduction path from the one that is live to the other presenting a hazard if you are carelessly working on that "dead" leg.
Back feeding your house from a generator through a breaker other than the main in the panel works perfectly fine. The situation you indicated with the dryer outlet is not legal due to the lack of a safety interlock to insure the main is indeed off when power is being back fed through the dryer outlet. The electrically identical scenario is legal when the main breaker and the dedicated back feed breaker are interlocked with an approved device to insure the main is off when the back feed breaker is on.
Pete C.
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