I'm not an electrician, although I'm enough of an electrician to know when electrical things are not behaving as they should. Yesterday evening, my mother called to tell me she was having a problem. She went on to explain her kitchen light went out and the washing machine had quit. I left work and made a beeline to her house. I found exactly what she described, so I started looking.
A quick check of the washer indicated the gear box, or motor were broken. When I pulled the knob to make the spin cycle start, the lights dimmed and I could hear the motor loading up. The kitchen light was a puzzle, so I went to the breaker box to check.
None of the breakers were thrown, so I checked the voltage, which led to the start of the confusion. One leg was 121 volts; the other was 134 volts. I went into the house and unplugged some appliances and went and checked again. The voltage was now 128 volts on one leg and 124 on the other. I went back to check the washer. When I started the spin cycle, it wasn't such of a drain, but it still wouldn't start. I had a hunch, so I checked the microwave, which I thought was on the same circuit. It started, the lights dimmed in the kitchen and the lights in the dining room became brighter. This is strange, so I called a neighbor who is a retired master electrician.
We went through the process of what I had already completed. We went outside, checked the voltage at the main and found much of the same as what we found at the breaker box. I went back to the breakers and turned them all off. Now, the voltage was 126 volts on both legs. We went back to the breaker box and started turning on breakers. As we started flipping on breakers, the voltage became uneven again on the seperate legs. He watched the voltage as I went in the house and tried the washing machine. He reported the voltage on that leg dropped to 114 volts, but that the lights had become brighter in the garage. We did the same thing with the microwave, which was on a different circuit. Again, the voltage dropped, the lights in the kitchen became dimmer, the lights in the dining room became brighter and he reported the lights in the garage became brighter, also.
We talked about the problem. As we were talking, the heater came on. When he went to check the washer, it started and completed the spin cycle. After a little more discussion, he confirmed what I was suspecting, which is that there is something wrong with the neutral. We checked connections at the main and the breaker box. Everything was tight, so it's down to either the house neutral (Unlikely. Why would it suddenly have a problem?) and the power company neutral (More likely. The wiring in the neighborhood is old and the last two hurricanes weren't the best thing for the power grid)
I called the power company this morning and now I'm waiting for one of their representatives to arrive. I hope he makes a quick glance, has a "ah ha" moment and goes right to the problem. As far as the kitchen light: it's flourescent, so I'm thinking it's the ballast, if anything at all. I'll wait until after the other problem is fixed before I made the determination.
Update 1: The problem is the neutral to the pole, or the neutral on the poles. The lineman was a troubleshooter and alone. The crew to handle such things will arrive in the next hour or so. The will probably bring a small machine, which will allow them to complete their work.
Final outcome: They changed the service wire from the weather head to the pole. Everything is round again. The washer is working as it should; the microwave is working as it should and the voltage is reading 125 volts on each leg for 250 volts across both legs. The only problem left is the kitchen light. First thing is to go buy some new bulbs to make sure the simplest problem is not the only problem. After that, it's either trying to find a new ballast or replace the fixture - whatever is cheaper.