Power surges

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Most of your responses are nothing more than speculation. None mention the most typical reason for that problem. A weakened neutral wire is the most typical reason. Easiest to detect with a 3.5 digit multimeter (as sold in Home Depot, Radio Shack and Sears even for $20). The house is powered from two incoming wires (that share a common neutral). Some appliances and lights powered by one wire will see a voltage increase while others will suffer a voltage decrease. This is especially destructive to incandescent bulbs that glow much brighter but fail quickly.
Problem is not a surge. Surge protectors will remain inert; will ignore a voltage change. Protectors see nothing and do nothing until the 120 VAC increases above 300 volts which is not what is happening. Your 120 VAC may be rising to an unacceptable 130 volts (destructive to incandescent lights) or dropping to 110 volts (causes lights to significantly dim).
Simplest fact is by measuring voltage with that multimeter as heavy (120 VAC) appliances on other circuits are power cycled. If those other circuits cause a voltage change on this circuit, then you may have a neutral wire problem. Electrician is required.
Fixing a neutral costs almost nothing in labor and massive money in electrician's traveling time. So here is what you do. Make his visit worth while. First, have him upgrade or inspect your household earth ground system so that transistorized appliances also have protection. IOW the building's earth ground system must be upgraded or enhanced beyond post 1990 National Electrical Code requirements. Most homes do not meet this requirement. Too many no longer even have the inferior earth ground that was originally installed. No earth ground is a threat to both human life and to transistors.
Also have all incoming utilities earthed to this upgraded ground as required by code. Furthermore have a 'whole house' protector installed by that electrician. Home Depot sells one minimally acceptable protector for less than $50 - Intermatic IG1240RC. You could have the utility install one at inflated prices equivalent to the overpriced (and ineffective) plug-in protectors. Or have the electrician do it right for much less money and superior protection. IOW here is your opportunity to also get transistorized appliances protected since the electrician is already there and inside your breaker box.
If your problem is not a broken neutral, then it is more complex which means the electrician is required anyway.
Another reason why you want that earth ground upgraded or inspected. During a failed neutral wire, then earth ground may be protecting the house from explosion. It is a rare occurrence but has happened. Gas meter exploded when neutral wire failed because electricity used the gas line to connect back to AC electric transformer outside on pole. Yes, that earth ground is also necessary for human safety which is why it, as well as neutral wire, should be inspected.
No reason to do most of what others have posted. First an inexpensive multimeter will immediately put numbers to the problem. Numbers from meter will later prove that a potential threat to human life has been solved. Second, those meter readings will direct the electrician immediately to the problem since you have made the problem reproducible. Third, if you have a neutral wire problem, then you may also have the earthing problem - either due to new code requirements or due to an earthing ground failure. Either way, only the electrician will, with certainty, identify and upgrade that all so important earth ground.
Cheryl wrote:

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artfully composed this message within < on 03 Jun 2004:> Most of your responses are nothing more than speculation.

<snip>
You've given me a lot to read and I appreciate everyones input. I tend to agree that an electrician is needed; first I'm going to contact the power company with the new information that I'm not the only one experiencing this. It does sound like what you say, in fact, the one neighbor with the same problem owns a house built by the same builder so problems could be identical, and inside. I certainly will feel safer to have an inspection done on the inside since the power company might not be able to confirm or deny a problem in their equipment soon enough for me. Thanks!
--
Cheryl

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You probably have a bad connection somewhere, most likely at the mains breaker panel.....
Feel the breaker switches for heat, could be one of the breakers is going bad and will melt down pretty soon ....
Have someone who knows what they are doing come look at it, poke around, jiggle wires and that sort of thing--a liscensed electrician would be a good person to do this....
There will likely be some heat and probably a discolored terminal from that heat wherever the problem is at.
Oh, and dont mess around waiting, the condition is dangerous as it is, and certainly isnt gonna improve with time.
--

SVL






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PrecisionMachinisT wrote:

Hi, May smell too around where the trouble is if there is one. Tony
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Cheryl, I have a few questions. How old is your home? Is the electrical service underground or overhead? Can you correlate the flickering lights with thunderstorms and lightning somewhere in your area? Do any of your neighbors have the same experiences? What sort of major electric appliances do you have (Air conditioning, stove, water heater, etc.)? Do you have an emergency generator connected to your home? Did you make any changes to your home or install anything prior to the beginning of the flickering problem? Do you have a battery back up system for your home computer? Do you have a large copy machine or printer that is left on most of the time? How close is your home to the power company's nearest substation? Has there been any major construction in your area recently such as the opening of a new office building, shopping center, or housing development?
The power company has instruments that can monitor the power coming into your home. You can try and demand that they set something up at your location. Otherwise, contact an electrician who can rent the instruments and connect it to your service. That might provide you with tangible evidence as to the cause.
John Grabowski http://www.mrelectrician.tv

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John Grabowski comes up with the most sensible solution:
<< The power company has instruments that can monitor the power coming into your home. You can try and demand that they set something up at your location. Otherwise, contact an electrician who can rent the instruments and connect it to your service. >>
There were problems at my house some time ago. Power company hooked up a recording voltmeter to the line and confirmed voltage spikes. After a lot of activity at the local substation, the problem was resolved, apparently a near to failure step down transformer. In resolving your situation, be sure to consider the possibility of inadequate grounding. If you install a surge suppressor this will a vital part of the system Cheers.
Joe
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In the fine newsgroup "alt.home.repair", snipped-for-privacy@aol.comtosspam (Joe Bobst) artfully composed this message within < on 03 Jun 2004:

Yeesh. Sounds like a major expense from some of the other replies. But it sure beats a fire! Thanks for the input.
--
Cheryl

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In the fine newsgroup "alt.home.repair", "John Grabowski"
< on 03 Jun 2004:

15 years.
Is the

It may be a combination. Our whole neighborhood was knocked out (downed power lines) after Hurricane Isobel and the overhead lines and poles had to be replaced. But, a neighbor who has the same problem (I just found out!) said the power company told them in this neighborhood the power supplying homes is underground.
Can you correlate

Nope. Nothing weird going on outdoors at all when this happens. Though it does happen when there are storms, as well.
Do any of your neighbors have the same

At least one does as I just found out. I'll ask around this weekend.
What sort of major electric appliances do you have

All electric home; no gas supply lines in the neighborhood, so all of the major appliances are electric. Nothing out of the ordinary. Do you have an

No, but I sure would like one.
Did you make any

No. New heat pump installed 3 years ago, but the timing doesn't draw a parallel.
Do you have a battery back up system

I use a laptop, and I go to battery power when it acts up like it did last night. Copier/printer only on when I need to use it with an old desktop as a print server. They are on a surge suppressor.
How close is your home

I don't know about the substation; construction, YES, always in this area. New homes are going up all the time. HUGE homes. Nearest new developments are about a mile away in two separate directions.

Thank you John. The new knowledge of at least one neighbor having the same problem brought up something discouraging. They had contacted the power company a while back (I forgot to ask how long ago) and were told that the underground wires probably needed replacing and they would wait until they "went". No good. I could have a fire or lose major appliances in the meantime. I'm going to follow up. But how? Have an electrician do what you wrote above and present that to the power company? First, I will call them myself and get them to come out and see what they say after a new complaint. When I first bought this house almost 4 years ago, the power used to go out with almost every storm. I can recall the flickering occurring before Isobel, but the power doesn't go out at the drop of a hat since they replaced the overheads. But, the flickering has gotten worse.

--
Cheryl

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Cheryl, A problem that I have seen occasionally in New Jersey is that the power companies installed underground services using aluminum wire buried directly in the ground without conduit. Although the wire is approved for direct burial it must be installed under optimum conditions for good quality life. By optimum conditions I mean that the insulation on the wire must be free of nicks and cuts and the dirt must be free of rocks and other sharp objects. Installation crews rarely make the extra effort to ensure a quality installation as time is money. When aluminum wire gets a little wet and electricity begins to flow to earth, the wire disintegrates over time.
I had a customer call me last week and complained that half of her house was without power. I checked and found that one leg of her underground service was dead. I called the power company for her. They responded a few hours after I left, but I found out the next day that they tested that dead leg and found it to be bad. They will now be digging up her lawn to replace it at no cost to her. Her house was built in 1986.
In your case you may have a defective neutral conductor or bad neutral connection which, as some other posters have noted, can be hazardous to life and equipment. Your grounding conductor at your water pipe and/or ground rod should be looked at also.
I suggest that you call an electrician, let him investigate, and ask him to call the power company if he feels it is their problem. I have found that the power companies respond better to qualified individuals and sometimes dismiss the homeowners complaints until they are very serious.
Something that you can safely try on your own is to shut off all of your 2-pole circuit breakers in your electrical panel, but leave the single pole breakers on. You should unplug your electronic appliances (TV, VCR, cordless telephone, computer ...) before doing this. If nothing works in the house, or if the lights are dim, that could indicate a bad neutral and grounding conductor.
I would be interested in hearing what the actual problem is after everyone checks it out.
John Grabowski http://www.mrelectrician.tv
on 03 Jun

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In the fine newsgroup "alt.home.repair", "John Grabowski"
< on 03 Jun 2004:
<installation crew shoddy work; bad dead leg; grounding conductor; etc>

I have already called the power company after so many of the same type posts alerting me that there is a problem. I've also identified an electrician friend of my brothers, but he's out of town. Hopefully the power company can test the voltage, but if there is an allowable 10% fluctuation, and the power isn't surging or dipping tonight (which is hasn't so far that I've noticed) I may not know tonight what the actual fluctuation has been going to. I guess last night would have been the perfect time to see exactly what was going on. An electrician is definitely in order because I certainly don't feel this is safe until I know how much it is surging to.

I'm afraid I don't know what two-pole circuit breakers are; This might sound silly and obvious, but are they the ones that look like double breakers? You don't have to answer, I'll go google. :)

I'll post an update once I know. Thank you and everyone else for the suggestions and possiblities.
--
Cheryl

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Two pole breakers are the 30, 40, and 50 amp breakers inside breaker box that provide 240 VAC to big appliances such as air conditioner compressor, electric dryer, or electric stove. Turning these off will not undo or temporarily resolve a defective neutral problem. In fact those circuits don't even use the neutral wire.
If other neighbors are suffering same problem, then this is a utility problem. Look outside. How does your electric meter connect to telephone pole? Follow the overhead wires. I suspect both you and neighbor share a common transformer - those large cylinders atop a pole.
Call the electric company. Tell them, "Based upon my description, an electrical engineer suspects you and your neighbor share a broken neutral causing voltage problems." Have that utility company operator reads back that sentence so that the sentence goes to one who appreciates the seriousness. Damning fact is other neighbors share the problem. Most times, a damaged neutral is only a minor problem. However I saw one house that exploded due to a broken neutral in utility's transformer. IOW call now no matter how late. Most every time, it is nothing serious. But only they can know.
BTW, to give you some kind of idea how totally ignorant some 'experts' can be - look at the ridiculous nonsense from some idiot who thinks the utility surges power to burn off branches. Far too often, these types pose as knowledgeable. Makes it rather embarrassing to think he may even be an American.
Cheryl wrote:

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artfully composed this message within < on 03 Jun 2004:
RE: two-pole breakers: thanks for the description.

After 11pm and they haven't shown up yet. I called them around 8. If they do not show up tonight (and they are running out of time for me to even answer the door now) I am going to print each of you guys's replies in the morning at the office, call them again, and tell them MY NEIGHBORS and I share a broken neutral causing voltage problems." Did I sound like I know what I'm talking about? It isn't doing it tonight. I guess this is why I keep putting it off until like last night happened. I was truely scared. It does that now and again, and with no storm or anything. If I call in the morning I can go home during the day, but not between 11 and 1. My dad will usually come over if I can't be here for something like this but he's on an Alaska cruise with my mom for 2 weeks (more panic not having my dad here! lol)
--
Cheryl

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How frequent are the surges? 1 per day or much more than that? Do the surges always come on at the same time, or at "rounded" times such as 9:00 PM, 10:30 PM, 11:45PM?
I had a friend who back in 1993 was running a small ISP from his basement. He said that every night at exactly 10:15 PM there was a power surge or sag or something that would screw up a couple of his modems, which he then had to reset. They had called the utility company who explained to them that at this specific time they did something to the power supply (can't remember what, but something like reduce the power generation of one of their power plants) for the night because the overall demand for power would always drop after 10:00 PM. Why was this only affecting him (i.e. why wasn't everybody with a modem at home getting screwed up?) I'm not sure, but perhaps because he was using up a lot more power than the average person (regular appliances + 4 servers, 4 monitors, 60 modems) that his house was more "sensitive" to fluctuations in power.
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snipped-for-privacy@nospamhotmail.com (Cheryl) says...

What you describe is caused by a bad neutral circuit. It is probably the power company's fault, though if your aluminum lead-in wire was not installed properly the fault may be yours. It is a VERY dangerous condition. The neutral is bonded to the ground in your breaker box, so every ground circuit in your house may be carrying a lethal voltage.
If you are not able to troubleshoot this yourself, CALL AN ELECTRICIAN IMMEDIATELY! I would also be smoking the power company's lines about the stupid pencil pusher who couldn't tell there was a dangerous condition at your location. They should have had a crew on your doorstep within 2 hours.
--
http://home.teleport.com/~larryc

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Larry Caldwell wrote:

Does that ground can be energized? If so, then those bare ground wires can be dangerous, as they attache to all the metal covers. What I am missing here?
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valid snipped-for-privacy@invalid.address.net (Valid User) says...

Yes, the ground can be energized. A code ground has to be less than 25 ohms to ground. In dry weather, you can connect a 20 amp breaker directly to a ground wire and the breaker won't pop. The circuit depends on the neutral back to the transformer, and if that goes bad, the ground circuit can get very hot indeed.
--
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Larry Caldwell wrote:

So suppose your outlet boxes and cover plates are metal, and there is loose neutral connection leading upto the outlet. Then it would be dangerous to touch the cover plate, when that outlet, or some down the circuit, is plugged in?
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valid snipped-for-privacy@invalid.address.net (Valid User) says...

No, but if there is a bad neutral connection between the main panel and the transformer, ALL neutrals and grounds in the house can have a dangerous voltage on them. This is how over-voltage conditions can exist. When there is an unbalanced load and a bad neutral, the neutral carries a voltage that is out of phase with the more lightly loaded leg. Lights will burn brighter, motors will run faster, equipment will burn out, and people will get electrocuted.
While installing a hot tub on a branch circuit, I discovered 2 volts between the neutral and the ground at the hot tub. It was popping the GFI breaker. I called the power company, and they had a crew out to re- do all the connections between the transformer and my meter base *that day*. They identified a corroded connection at the weather head as the problem.
My parents' old farm house had the bright light and faster motor problem a few years ago. That was identified as a poorly installed connection in the meter base - aluminum wire and no anti-oxidant caused the neutral to corrode away.
In a single outlet, a loose neutral connection may cause intermittent behavior, or even overheating, but it will not energize the outlet cover.
--
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If the ground wire can be energized, then why it is bare? Will it generate a current through you if you touch it?
Sorry for the novice question. But how the electricity know it will go through the netral first, and use the ground only when the netral is bad? Why not use ground first?
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In order for electricity to pass through you, first, there must be an incoming and outgoing path where a voltage difference exists between those incoming and outgoing paths. Watch a bird sit on a high voltage wire. He has an incoming path - his feet. Where is the outgoing path? No outgoing path is why the bird is not electrocuted. Same applies to you touching a ground wire. As long as that energized ground wire and earth ground beneath your feet are same voltage, then there is no outgoing electrical path.
Fundamental to electricity. First electricity must flow through everything in the complete circuit. Only after that complete circuit exists - electricity flowing through everything in that circuit - do we then have damage. No outgoing path means no complete circuit - no damage and no danger.
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