Voltage Drop Under Load

Happy New Year to everyone! I have an electical probem that's a little bit of a mystery to me. We moved into our house 2 years ago and just recently the electrical outlet for the washer started to drop voltage under load. I have seemed to fix the problem but am not sure of the exact cause.
The outlet will start out at 120v AC and then when the washer is started, the voltage drops to 40-60v. If I reset the breaker, the voltage will return to 120v until load is placed on the circuit again. This is a recent problem that has occurred without any changes to the wiring, electrical load, etc. For two years, the outlet on the washer worked fine.
In tracing this problem, I found that the receptacle was a 15A, but the breaker and wiring was 20A. When I replaced the 15A receptacle with another 15A receptacle, the problem persisted. When I replaced the receptacle with a 20A one and also replaced the breaker it seems to be working now. Any ideas to what the problem is and why it has only shown up recently?
Thanks in advance,
Herb
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

Possibly a loose wire at the breaker. When you replaced the breaker, you fixed the problem
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What do you mean "if I reset the breaker"? Did the breaker trip? If not, why would you reset it?
Where did you measure the voltage?

There is no difference between a 15a receptacle and a 20a receptacle except for the holes; so if a new 15a didn't help, a new 20a wouldn't either. If replacing the breaker fixed it, then it must have been a bad breaker or a poor connection.

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not,
The breaker didn't trip. I reset it (switched off then on) to see what would happen.

At the receptacle. The voltage is 120V after I reset the breaker. When I plug in the washer, I initially hear it startup then it stops. When it stops, I measure about 60V. The receptacle remains at about 60V until the breaker is reset. Note that when I test the voltage (both times with 120V and 60V) there was no load (the washer was unplugged).
Thanks, Herb
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Before replacing the breaker, did the breaker or the area around it feel warm/hot? If so, it is most likely a loose connection where the wire is terminated at the breaker - or burnt contacts in the breaker - unlikely if the breaker was not tripping.
I would suggest tightening all of the breaker connections.
Does your house have aluminum wire. If so, tightening is especially important as is ensuring that the right "gunk" has been used on the terminals.
On 1 Jan 2005 17:46:27 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

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I would tighten all of your breaker connections PLUS all of your neutral connections in the electric panel as well. For safetys sake, do it with the Main Breaker 'off' and use a flashlight.
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

Hi, If you keep trying without fixing the problem you may damage your motor in the washer. Do a careful inspection for loosed connections from breaker to washer plug in. If no go, I'd replace the breaker. Is it Al wired house? REMOTELY the motor may be partially burnt out drawing too much current. Tony
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> REMOTELY the motor may be partially burnt out drawing too

no, it's not the moter, check every connection from the panel to the plug. start up machine like you have been when it shuts down stick yer meter on hot and ground and see if you still get 60v , if you do get 60 then you know it's the hot if you get 120 bad nuetral
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On 1 Jan 2005 17:46:27 -0800, snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com wrote:

Have you replaced the breaker yet? They do go bad from ageing sometimes. Sometimes flipping them off and on kills them if they are getting corroded inside. Also check the ground wires for that circuit. I found a major ground wire at one house that was having lights flickering that was never tightened when they built the house some 20 years earlier. -- Elbridge Gerry, of Massachusetts:
"What, sir, is the use of militia? It is to prevent the establishment of a standing army, the bane of liberty. . . Whenever Government means to invade the rights and liberties of the people, they always attempt to destroy the militia, in order to raise a standing army upon its ruins." -- Debate, U.S. House of Representatives, August 17, 1789
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snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com ( snipped-for-privacy@hotmail.com) says...

Bad breaker or not, you should either have measured 110-120v or nothing with no load. There is a fairly serious problem with your electrical service. The only way you could get a 60v. reading at a receptacle is if there is a substantial voltage on the neutral. Usually that is caused by the failure of the neutral connection to the power transformer.
The problem will appear to be transient, depending on how well balanced your household load happens to be. You might notice some lights getting brighter than normal, or your garbage disposal suddenly slowing down or running like a bandit.
If you don't feel confident that you can troubleshoot this, call an electrician. A bad service neutral is a very dangerous condition.
--
http://home.teleport.com/~larryc

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I suspect that your "60volts" readings are actually zero power readings caused by use of a high impedance digital voltmeter. With the load disconnected, stray leakage and capacitance can cause this effect. Plug a small load such as a lamp into one side of the receptacle while you measure. Otherwise, the suggestions about bad connections or a bad breaker are good. I believe your trouble was caused by a bad breaker. Best Regards, Don Young
says...

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Thanks everyone for the great answers and feedback!
After doing some additional searching, I also was wondering if the 60v reading came from my cheap multi-meter (high impedance/inductive pickup). Whenver I got this reading, it was always without any load on the circuit and I would only notice this condition because the washing machine would stop running. In retrospect, if it was really at 60v, the washing machine may have at least gurgled (shouldn't the motor still run at 60v, albeit much hotter)? If it occurs again, I'll try plugging a lamp in and taking a reading with my analog multi-meter to see it if is really 60v.
The other interesting thing is that the neutral wire snapped at the terminal when I switched the receptacle so it may have been the bad connection. The hot wire was warm.
Also, I only notice this problem on one receptacle that is serviced by a single breaker -- so I assume this problem isn't systemic. Thanks, Herb
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This is Turtle.
Look at the spades where the breaker would tie on to the buss bar and you will see the spades on the old breaker burnt somewhat if this was the problem. It sure sounds like it.
TURTLE
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