Can't solve electrical problem

alexiskissNovember 14, 2010

About 2 months ago my 30 year old house starting have electical issues. Everything went down to about half power (dim lights, weak microwave, no a/c) and an electrician came out and said the Amp Disconnect needed to be replaced. I believe our circuit breaker box was wired at 200 amps and the disconnect outside was only at 100. He replaced the outside disconnect and made it 200 amps. Ended up spending around $1200 and the problem seemed to be fixed.

Then one week ago, we started experiencing our lights getting brighter and then lowering back down when we'd turn on an appliance like the microwave or garbage disposal. Same electrician came out and couldn't figure out what was wrong, said it could be on power company's end. Determined that was probably a problem with the neutral connection based on an online search and had the power company come out. They said they made repairs (wasn't home at the time) and everything seemed to be back to normal for a day or two. Now a few days later though, we are still getting flickering lights. It's not as often and sometimes it almost seems to be random, not triggered by turning on an appliance. I do notice it to be the worst when I have several things running at once, like the washer/dryer, dishwasher and some some lights. It is all throughout the house, not just in the kitchen, etc.

I'm really concerned about an electrical fire or electrocution! This has been stressing me out and I'm wondering if maybe the neutral connection wasn't completely fixed. The power company doesn't seem to be all that concerned and it took quite a bit to get them out in the first place. Also, could it have something to do with going from 100 amps to 200 amps? Is the power company still giving us power for a 100 amp disconnect? I apologize for not knowing much about the situation but any help/advice you can give will be much appreciated. Thanks so much!

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Still faulty neutral connection. Could be at the POCO transformer, the connection of the service line at your house, within the meter socket or in your panel.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2010 at 5:21PM
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Thanks for answering! So is this still on the power company? Or do I need to get an electrician back out here? Really appreciate the info!

    Bookmark   November 14, 2010 at 5:55PM
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I would call the power company and tell them your lights are getting brighter. That usually gets their attention pretty quickly. After power company has examined the equipment they are responsible for, you can call an electrician if the problem isn't resolved.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 5:28AM
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There are several questions that come to mind. First, were you the one that had the service upgraded or was it done before you aquired the house? Who told you the house had 200 amp service? What is the brand of the electrical panel? Seems to me that what you were charged for the "disconnect" is rather high for a hopefully licensed electrician especially since he hasn't a clue what is causing your problems.

I may be wrong (won't be the first time), but it seems there is more to this story.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 7:41AM
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Thanks so much for getting back to me guys! I just had the power company back out here and they re-examined the connections to their equipment. He still said everything looked fine and he used the "Superbeast" which only dropped 2 volts when I had everything in the house turned on. He agreed that it was most likely the neutral because the oven and dryer are still getting hot even with the lights flickering. So I guess I'm going to call the electrician again to see if he can figure out where the connection is bad.

For whatever reason the flickering was not occuring while the power company was here. It was constant all weekend and would happen every single time I turned something on or even randomly. Maybe because everything had a chance to cool down over night? It does seem to be the worst when a lot of appliances are being used at once.

To answer Texas Redhead, I did not have the service upgraded, it was done before I bought the house about a year ago. The electrician is the one that said inside was 200 and outside was only 100. I'm not sure what the brand of the electrical panel is but the guy from the power company just told me it was really nice and not one that you usually see in a residential unit. I have no idea why he thought we needed one that nice, but I guess that may explain the high price. The electrician is licensed and the company has really good reviews but I'm starting to get skeptical myself. I don't know whether to call someone new to check out the connections or have the same guy back since he knows what's been going on.

Thanks again!

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 12:03PM
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Just called the same electrician to see what he'd have to say. He told me he'd charge a $350 diagnostic fee to get into everything and see where the connection was bad. Is this reasonable or should I call someone else?

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 12:37PM
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Is that $350 regardless of the amount of time it takes to diagnose the problem? If he's there for 30 minutes or 8 hours, the bill is the same?

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 5:04PM
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Read over your original post. It contains all that is needed or could be wanted to know that a different electrician is needed.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 5:43PM
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Ha thanks Bus Driver, guess I needed that to be pointed out to me. No idea if the $350 would include any work that needed to be done or just the diagnostic. I've got another electrician scheduled to come out tomorrow. Thanks guys!

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 6:02PM
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Beyond the fact that you got ripped off...

We have been experiencing the very same symptoms for quite some time now. After complaining to the POCO, they finally sent a crew out to examine the underground service.

The crew found several "bad" spots alont the 250" line (36" below ground), tried to dig and correct them, but couldn't find breaks in the neutral. They finally did find one spot and repaired it.

Problem solved, kind of. The dropouts occur less frequently, but they still occur about once a week.

The crew head explained to me that once a line starts to go, it can be a bugger to find, but that they tend to "rot" out like a battery cable in your car.

Of course, the problem is intermitent, and won't (refuses) to occur when the POCO is out.

I've lost a freezer compressor and finally the memory in my office computer ... now I'm raising hell and will get a new service pulled in.

    Bookmark   November 15, 2010 at 6:07PM
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Is your service entrance overhead or underground?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 8:07AM
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I believe it is underground. The power company was looking at something in my driveway. Let me know if I'm totally off.

I had electrician #2 come out yesterday and honestly I'm more confused and frustrated than ever. They concluded that my wiring was getting old and I needed an expensive surge protection package. If that's it, why did the flickering suddenly start a week and a half ago? It's significantly different, not something that happened over time. It's all over the house, not just an isolated area. I live in a half duplex and my neighbor claims she is not having any of the problems we are.

I'm convinced it's the neutral but it must be within the meter socket or in my panel. The power company has been out twice now to check their end and swear it's not their equipment. Both electricians will charge a significant amount of money to open things up and check to see if it's on my end. I'm thinking I don't have many other options at this point.

Any advice is much appreciated!

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 9:32AM
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If it is just flickering and not the dimming/brightening you experienced before, the problem is a loose or corroded connection at the main breaker, or between the meter and the main. Both are easy to check and not expensive to fix.

You do NOT need a surge protection package. You need a competent electrician to check your wiring at the main panel.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 11:30AM
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The lights are still dimming/brightening. The more appliances we use, the more dramatic and frequent it gets.

If anyone knows a good electrician in Dallas, please let me know. I honestly researched the other two I've had out...BBB, licensed, insured, good reviews. Wish I knew someone I could trust.

Thanks for all of the help guys!

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 12:10PM
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Go down to your panel and turn off the main breaker.

Any 120 V load plugged in can be damaged by a missing neutral since the voltage can approach 240 V depending on what loads are present on each of the 120 V legs from the POCO.

This is an immediate safety and fire hazard.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 4:43PM
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I agree with brickeyee. This post is not intended to disagree at all. The "electricians" involved thus far are either incompetent or dishonest- perhaps both.
You need a meter such as this right now. A loose neutral will see voltages at times above 125- 130. A loose connection on the other conductors will not see voltages too high but will see them too low.

Here is a link that might be useful: Meter

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 5:37PM
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I'm with Brick. This is almost certainly an open or loose neutral connection and an unsafe condition. Open the main breaker until you can have the fault repaired properly.

The only appliances that are safe to use at this point are 240 volt ones - electric range, electric dryer, probably electric heat. A gas furnace may be damaged. If you don't open the main, shut off all the breakers except the ones controlling the 240v appliances.

Sorry that you seem to have gotten a couple of losers so far. I don't know what to tell you about finding a competent pro. Maybe Angie's List?

    Bookmark   November 17, 2010 at 8:51PM
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Even the 240 volt appliances are not safe to use. They most likely have 120 internal components like the motor and timer assy.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2010 at 8:39AM
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