In Case You've Wondered

My blog is where my wandering thoughts are interspersed with stuff I made up. So, if while reading you find yourself confused about the context, don't feel alone. I get confused, too.

If you're here for the stories, I started another blog:

One other thing: sometimes I write words you refuse to use in front of children, or polite company, unless you have a flat tire, or hit your thumb with a hammer.

I don't use them to offend; I use them to embellish.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Electricity and Other Things That Confuse

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.


  1. Your power company agreed to come out based on your diagnosis? I'm very impressed. My house would have to burn down before my power company would even agree to listen to my story as to why I thought it was their problem!

  2. Talking to a power company representative can have some problems. One, they probably aren't really happy to be working on the weekend. Two, they know enough to ask the right questions, or make a decision if you're ignorant, or a raving lunatic. I guess I know enough and explained the problem to their satisfaction.

    We really have a top notch power company. It's a private entity, so they try to keep the best employees and know their dealings with the public utility commission are easier if they make strong efforts to take care of their customers. I have no complaints.

    One other thing: The neutral hasn't failed completely, or the ground rod is handling enough of the unbalanced load to keep the extremely high voltage differences between the legs from either being so high, or low to burn up appliances. Over time, this could change and, if the power company is responsible, they pay for the replacements. It's in their best interest to pay some overtime on a line crew as opposed to replacing every appliance in a home, or fighting a law suit when something burns.

  3. "I'm not an electrician," Are you sure?
    I'm one and you sure sound like one.

  4. My father started working with electricity when he was child helping in my grandfather's repair shop. He became so good at his work, he would go on service calls, which caused some concern with the customers due to his age. He was good, went on with time tour in the Coast Gaurd, then the Navy and finally ended up taking care of a fleet of tankers and tow boats for a local company.

    All my brothers went into the electrical and electronic field. Two that died worked on everything from simple circuits to radar facilities. The one I have left was in the marine electronics industry and is now a technician with AT@T.

    I'm the only one that strayed from the family line of work. I deal with dirt, concrete and steel, but being so close to that many electricians gave me a knowledge of electricity that gets me by. They all helped me with electrical problems in one way, or another, but always as an instructor. They gave directions and I performed the work.

  5. THAT'S weird. I've never had such trouble but it makes me want to go get some testing equipment "ta have."

  6. I have a multimeter with a clamp around amp probe It has everything I need to check voltage, ohms and amperage. The brand is Ideal, which I guess is an acceptable meter(it was given to me). I don't know enough about the trade to determine which is best, although Fluke is a brand that has been around for years and is used by many electricians.

    Most of the box stores have a selection of meters. Analog, IMO, is best, but there's nothing wrong with digital meters.