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  #1  
Old 07-31-2003, 01:24 PM
sonicsink sonicsink is offline
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Whats happening to the electricity in my house??

Seems that every few days the electricity wil turn on and off in only 1/2 of my house. For instance this computer I am using will shut down but the computer on the other side of the room will be fine,in the bedroom the lights on one side of the room will go on and off but the tv and radio on the other side of the room are fine,In the kitchen the fridge and stove will turn off but the microwave on the other side of the room will be fine. So i can go on the other computer and I wil just watch my monitor as it goes: off on off on...off........on..offf on...off....................on..This can happen some days for up to 10 minutes,then it will all seem ok for an hour or so and then start again..there is no pattern to it,its totally erratic..we called the power company and they told us to get an electrician in here to look at it first,but my husband isn't willing to spend $60/hour to have some guy sit in our house until it happens cause it can happen within 20 mins or it might be another 3 days...any suggestions?
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  #2  
Old 07-31-2003, 01:44 PM
engineer_comp_geek engineer_comp_geek is online now
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You basically have three wires coming into your house, line, nuetral, and line. If you measure line to line you get 220 volts and from either line to nuetral is 110 volts. All of your 220 appliances will be connected line to line. Everything else in your house will be wire from one of the lines to nuetral. It looks like you are losing one of the line voltages, so everything that happens to connect on that circuit is dying. The big question of course is why.

That section of wiring is only common from the fuse box on out to the power company's wiring. You might want to have an electrician come in and check that part of the system out.
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  #3  
Old 07-31-2003, 01:50 PM
Q.E.D. Q.E.D. is offline
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There's three wires coming into your house from the pole transformer. It is a center-tapped 240 V line, with half feeding one side of yoaur breaker panel and half feeding the other, with the common in the center. this gives you two separate 120 V main circuits, plus a 240 V circuit for things like electric stoves and other appliances requiring 240 V. Probably the set screw clamping one leg of the incoming line in the panel has become loose, allowing the circuit to make-and-break randomly. Id don't recommend you attempt to repair it yourself if you are at all uncomfortable around electrical repairs, but it should only take an electrician a few minutes to fix.
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  #4  
Old 07-31-2003, 02:05 PM
FatBaldGuy FatBaldGuy is online now
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Definitely call an electrician. He won't have to sit and wait until it happens because he can check the wiring either at the meter or the circuit panel and find the loose wire. If you don't get it fixed ASAP you've got a potentially big fire hazard on your hands.
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  #5  
Old 07-31-2003, 02:27 PM
Finagle Finagle is offline
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You don't mention the age of your house and electrical system. If the house is sufficiently ancient, you might have large cylindrical fuses in your fuse box (much like auto fuses). If these fuses or the clamps are corroded, that could cause the problem (and would be very dangerous because the resistance from the corrosion would be creating lots of heat).

Does the black-out correspond to weather conditions? If the problem is in the outside line (maybe a tree branch or loose connection), then wind might be causing the problem.
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  #6  
Old 07-31-2003, 02:52 PM
NutMagnet NutMagnet is offline
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I think Q.E.D. and engineer... have it nailed. It is not uncommon for the screw holding down one of the main feeds to loosen from expansion/contraction. But Finagle has a good point. Water can leak into the meter box, corroding the contacts, or even run into the panel, corroding the connections there.

Don't try tightening these yourself. There's no way to turn off the power to those wires without pulling the meter. (caveat: one in a bazillion meter boxes have a disconnect, which is a handle you can pull down and stop the current there). Only the Power Company is allowed to pull the meter and if they pull it and leave (in the case where they don't see a problem on their end but there is one on yours), they won't put it back without an inspection.

The good news is that you can call the power company, and ask them to come out and check things. They are only responsible for stuff up to and including the meter, but very often, unofficially, the guy will check the main connectors while the meter's out and snug them down for you. If not, he may pull the meter and you can snug them down while it's out.
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  #7  
Old 07-31-2003, 03:11 PM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is offline
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There's not too many places for this problem to be happening, so it shouldn't take an electrician more than half an hour to an hour to find the problem.

Before you call an electrician, go to the fuse/breaker panel and hope for a failure while you're there. Listen for humming, crackling or hissing sounds. Hear any of these? Call an electrician now. Try turning the main breaker off and on a couple times to see if that has any effect.

Problems that would be yours to fix:
Bad connection in the fuse/breaker panel - where the main wire connects to the main breaker, or where the main breaker connects to the "bus" The main breaker itself could be bad.

A bad connection will probably just need a couple turns of a screwdriver to fix. Breakers take about a minute to swap - a "main" breaker probably costs around $50-75, depending on size/type, where it's bought, and the electrician's sense of price mark-up on parts.

The utility's responsibilities:
Bad connection at the pole, bad splice where their wires join with your wires at the house, bad connection at the meter, bad meter.

If you ever encounter lights going dim and others going bright, call the utility immediately and tell them you think you have a "loose neutral" - this is a very serious condition and they'll probably have a crew at your house within the hour. (What this means is the neutral wire has a bad connection and instead of evenly dividing the two 120-volt lines that add up to 240 volts (120+120=240), you can wind up with something like 100+140=240, or at the extreme, 0+240=240, which tends to result in blown lightbulbs and fried appliances.
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  #8  
Old 07-31-2003, 04:20 PM
kanicbird kanicbird is offline
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It does sound like one of the 2 main leads are not working.

But

the neutral is physically connected to the ground leads inside every circuit breaker box I have seen and the power comapnies only deliver 2 wires to the house, There is no neutral, the neutral goes into the ground. Please tell me what power company actually deilvers a neutral wire to each house!

Also the phases are 120 degrese apart, not 180 - but I've heard this is a local NY thing and most of the country is 180 (I don't know if this is true, but I've heard it).
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  #9  
Old 07-31-2003, 04:58 PM
sonicsink sonicsink is offline
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Thanks everyone! I'm gonna show this post to my husband and hopefully it will get fixed in the next week while he's off work,Don't worry I won't let him tackle this one himself! LOL
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  #10  
Old 07-31-2003, 05:12 PM
Q.E.D. Q.E.D. is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by kanicbird
It does sound like one of the 2 main leads are not working.

But

the neutral is physically connected to the ground leads inside every circuit breaker box I have seen and the power comapnies only deliver 2 wires to the house, There is no neutral, the neutral goes into the ground. Please tell me what power company actually deilvers a neutral wire to each house!

Also the phases are 120 degrese apart, not 180 - but I've heard this is a local NY thing and most of the country is 180 (I don't know if this is true, but I've heard it).
Recount your wires. There's 3 wires from the pole unless there's no 240 V service in your building. I've never heard of a power company relying on an Earth ground for the neutral, especially since I'm pretty sure that's a violation of the NEC.
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  #11  
Old 07-31-2003, 05:58 PM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by kanicbird
It does sound like one of the 2 main leads are not working.

But

the neutral is physically connected to the ground leads inside every circuit breaker box I have seen and the power comapnies only deliver 2 wires to the house, There is no neutral, the neutral goes into the ground. Please tell me what power company actually deilvers a neutral wire to each house!

Also the phases are 120 degrese apart, not 180 - but I've heard this is a local NY thing and most of the country is 180 (I don't know if this is true, but I've heard it).
I've never seen a two-wire only feed in North America. All power companies I've ever dealt with supply the two hot legs and a neutral. Perhaps you're missing the neutral as it's normally bare in a service entrance and the other wires are wrapped around it. You are correct that the neutral wire is connected to the ground wire at the breaker panel's neutral/ground bus. However, the neutral does not go into the ground.

The teminology is a touch confusing, but how it works out is the "ground" (bare or green) wire is the grounding conductor, and the neutral (usually white) is the grounded conductor. The difference is that the neutral does not have to be at ground potential, and in fact, there are circumstances (such as sub-panels in large buildings or "isolated" power for certain test equipment) where the neutral shouldn't be grounded. Pretty abnormal for a house, though.

As for 180/120 degree phasing, standard residential power is 180 degrees apart. In commercial and industrial settings, you'll find three-phase power, which does have a 120 degree separation of phases. Again, this is something I've never seen connected to a house.
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  #12  
Old 07-31-2003, 06:25 PM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by kanicbird
It does sound like one of the 2 main leads are not working.

But

the neutral is physically connected to the ground leads inside every circuit breaker box I have seen and the power comapnies only deliver 2 wires to the house, There is no neutral, the neutral goes into the ground. Please tell me what power company actually deilvers a neutral wire to each house!

Also the phases are 120 degrese apart, not 180 - but I've heard this is a local NY thing and most of the country is 180 (I don't know if this is true, but I've heard it).
I've never seen a two-wire only feed in North America. All power companies I've ever dealt with supply the two hot legs and a neutral. Perhaps you're missing the neutral as it's normally bare in a service entrance and the other wires are wrapped around it. You are correct that the neutral wire is connected to the ground wire at the breaker panel's neutral/ground bus. However, the neutral does not go into the ground.

The teminology is a touch confusing, but how it works out is the "ground" (bare or green) wire is the grounding conductor, and the neutral (usually white) is the grounded conductor. The difference is that the neutral does not have to be at ground potential, and in fact, there are circumstances (such as sub-panels in large buildings or "isolated" power for certain test equipment) where the neutral shouldn't be grounded. Pretty abnormal for a house, though.

As for 180/120 degree phasing, standard residential power is 180 degrees apart. In commercial and industrial settings, you'll find three-phase power, which does have a 120 degree separation of phases. Again, this is something I've never seen connected to a house.
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  #13  
Old 07-31-2003, 06:27 PM
gotpasswords gotpasswords is offline
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Guess that gave the hamsters indigestion as they burped it up again.
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  #14  
Old 07-31-2003, 08:35 PM
ltfire ltfire is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Finagle
You don't mention the age of your house and electrical system. If the house is sufficiently ancient, you might have large cylindrical fuses in your fuse box (much like auto fuses). If these fuses or the clamps are corroded, that could cause the problem (and would be very dangerous because the resistance from the corrosion would be creating lots of heat).

Does the black-out correspond to weather conditions? If the problem is in the outside line (maybe a tree branch or loose connection), then wind might be causing the problem.
Sorry, no electrical expertice from me, but my house has those large fuses. They are mounted on a 'customer pole' about 30 feet from my house, directly under my meter. I had the experience you mention, about ten years ago. Only half my house had power, and the strangest thing was when I turned on my electric range from 0 to 350, and the light above my table came on as if it were on a dimmer switch..low to high and back again, as I turned the knob on my range. Water had entered the fuse box and shorted out one fuse. The power company thankfully changed them for me, and I subsequently sealed the box and made it water tight. No problems since then, but I keep extra fuses available.
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  #15  
Old 07-31-2003, 08:50 PM
kanicbird kanicbird is offline
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Well the 120 is a NY thing from what I've heard. perhaps so is the BYON (bring your own neutral), but one way or another I am going to find out, even if I have to start my own thread, or even ask Cecil (yea right that will work).

There is unquestionablaay ony 2 wires comming from the pole to my house, the ground and neutral wires are connected to a common buss in the circuit breaker box. That buss is connected to a big (6ft estimate) long spike driven into the ground. there is NO connection to the pole from the neutral.

So I am left with:
1 - the circuit breaker boxes I've seen in the LIPA and Niagra Mohalk area are unique and provide their own ground while the rest of the country doesn't.
2 - you don't know what your talking about
3 - I am mistaken as to what I've seen and just looked at it again in responce to this thread
4 - God is playing tricks on me (again)
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  #16  
Old 07-31-2003, 10:33 PM
engineer_comp_geek engineer_comp_geek is online now
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Usually the service is going to be like QED described, a single phase 240 V that is center tapped. If the phases are 120 degrees out of phase then they are two phases of a three phase circuit. I've never personally seen a house that was wired to a three phase service, but I was told in college that many houses were in fact wired this way.

There wouldn't be a nuetral if the houses were fed from a delta transformer. I don't deal with residential power systems enough to know if this is commonly used or not.

Quote:
The difference is that the neutral does not have to be at ground potential, and in fact, there are circumstances (such as sub-panels in large buildings or "isolated" power for certain test equipment) where the neutral shouldn't be grounded. Pretty abnormal for a house, though.
I thought that the NEC specified that the nuetral has to be grounded through a copper rod within (some number) of feet from the service entrance in a residential house.
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  #17  
Old 07-31-2003, 10:38 PM
Q.E.D. Q.E.D. is offline
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No, they are not two phases fed into a house. The pole transformer that feeds your house is fed from one phase of the 7,200 V overhead line. The transformer then steps this down 20 240 V, single phase, which is center-tapped to provide two 120 V lines and the neutral. The neutral line is the center tap on the transformer secondary.
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  #18  
Old 08-01-2003, 12:29 AM
engineer_comp_geek engineer_comp_geek is online now
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Quote:
Originally posted by Q.E.D.
No, they are not two phases fed into a house. The pole transformer that feeds your house is fed from one phase of the 7,200 V overhead line. The transformer then steps this down 20 240 V, single phase, which is center-tapped to provide two 120 V lines and the neutral. The neutral line is the center tap on the transformer secondary.
As I said, this is the most common, but it's not the only way things are done. I poked around on the net a bit just to make sure I wasn't remembering things wrong. I found several power companies that only had a distribution voltage of 7200 V, but I also found references to others that ranged from 2400 V to 12,470 V. The 2400 V portion in particular was discussed as having been recently replaced with 7200 V wiring, and it was mentioned that only very old portions of the system had 2400 and 4800 V wiring.

Orange and Rockland Utilities in New York supplies residential service at "Single phase at approximately 120/208 or 120/240 volts." The 208 system is obviously 2 legs of a 3 phase system, despite the fact that they are calling it single phase, which makes sense because in the wiring it would be treated as if it were just the same as a 240 V split phase. It took a while to find this (I finally had to use "208" as part of my search terms in google and even then most of the hits were for 3 phase service) so apparently these types of systems aren't very common.
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Old 08-01-2003, 12:36 AM
engineer_comp_geek engineer_comp_geek is online now
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Hmm now that I think about it 208 is only obvious to EE geeks like myself and QED. For the rest of you, the reason it's obvious is that in a 120 volt split phase system (180 degrees apart) the line to nuetral voltage is 120 volts and the line to line voltage is 240 volts. In a three phase system, the line to nuetral voltage is still 120 volts but the line to line voltage is 208, not 240, and it's 120 degrees out of phase, not 180. So if your 240 voltage is really 208 and it's 120 degrees out of phase and not 180, then you've got two phases of a three phase system.
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Old 08-01-2003, 12:37 AM
Q.E.D. Q.E.D. is offline
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Yes, 120/208 V would definitely be a two-of-three-phase system. Line-to-line voltage in a 3-phase circuit is sqr(3) * line-to-ground voltage, or 207.8V for a 120V L-N. I've never encountered this in NJ.
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  #21  
Old 08-01-2003, 01:14 AM
Wyatt Wyatt is offline
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One other slight confusion, to add into the mix.
I just recently *pushed* some friends to diligently get on the phone with the power company, as they had both dimming lights, with multiple dim-to-dark power drops, but then they also had brighter than normal cycles. Was clear, in my mind, it wasn't at the house, due to the "brighter" cycles.
When the second power guy to come out got REALLY pushed, to "look further, cause you have not solved the problem," he "discovered" a "Well, I'll Be, I've never seen that! Good thing you had me Keep lookin'! That woulda been DanGerouS!"
The ground line had fractured somewhere on the power company side of things, so they had a fully "floating ground" on the power company side of things and apparently their house was becoming the "shortest route to ground" for the system. (best description I could get, translated through the memory of a person who not only doesn't "speak the language" but is closer to thinking it might damage her head if she learned "engineer think."

She was glad the washing machine quit making funny noises!

A "recovering engineer" ... its a one-day-at-a-time kind of thing ...
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  #22  
Old 08-01-2003, 01:51 PM
NutMagnet NutMagnet is offline
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Wyatt
Let me try to make it less confusing.
The power from the transformer (at the street ) is as Q.E.D. and engineer describe it. There is also a wire from the neutral from the transformer at the street into the earth at the street which makes the surrounding earth at the street at the same ground potential as the neutral itself. This means that current seeking ground at the street (all current seeks ground) would not find any one path "easier" than any other. So someone touching a wet power pole doesn't find him/herself becoming the easiest path to ground.

Now, at your house, say 100 feet from the transformer (remember, the transormer has a nice happy ground at the street) in come the three wires. - the first 120v phase (the term "phase" is used colloquially here) the second 120v phase, and the common neutral. Let's also assume your house and its electrical system is all happily grounded. But let's say that the neutral wire from the transformer is not grounded at your house, only connected to your house's main neutral wire. Your house therefore, may not be at the same ground potential as the transformer/pole/neutral wire at the transformer. Which path would a hot wire seeking ground take?
The real answer is all paths , but the easiest path will get more of the "load". The easiest path could be anywhere in the system, including your water pipes, which if metal, are bonded to the grounding "system", or through you when attempting to wash the car.

So, in a properly connected home, the 2 hot and one neutral from the transformer are connected to the meter base. From the meter base, three equivalent wires are connected to the bus bars in your main panel one for each of the 2 hots one for the neutral. All electical wires in your house (consisting of a hot and a neutral) are connected to one of the hot bus bars and the neutral.
As for the grounding, the meter base is connected to the main panel enclosure. The neutral bus bar is connected to the main panel enclosure. Each device in your house is connected (this is the green or bare wire) to the grounding bus bar in the panel which is connected to the main panel enclosure. The metal water pipes are connected to the main panel enclosure. The main panel enclosure is connected to an 8 foot solid copper rod driven into the earth within X number of feet of the panel. (There are local variations and exception to the Electrical Code for some of this, but in the main this is accurate).

Now, what we have is everything from the transformer at the street, to the cabinet of your microwave all connected together groundwise and all at the same ground potential. Current seeking ground will not find any part of the path easier than any other part of the path.

A loose neutral in your panel means that the neutral not only is not at the same ground potential as the rest of the system, but that the ground wire is carrying the neutral load - a bad thing (you don't expect current in a ground wire).
A disconnected ground means the same kind of thing. The neutral is acting as the ground and all parts of your house are not at the same ground potential as the neutral - a bad thing (The neutrals in your house are only grounded at the panel).

Either of these two bad things happening will often still allow your system to work to some degree or other, which makes them, um, worserer.

A loose or disconnected hot wire comes to your attention because things stop working or go up in flames.
This last thing is worserest.

A floating ground at the Power Co.'s end indeed means that the easiest path to ground for the transformer, and everything connected to it, may well be at your house.
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Old 08-01-2003, 05:30 PM
Uncommon Sense Uncommon Sense is offline
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Nutmanget - correct. Except there are two ground rods required now. Like you said, you have to bond the nuetral to the ground bar and the panel and the water supply (if applicable) and the ground rods. All this stuff has to be mechanically bonded. Sometimes when the bonding is opened you can have voltage problems in older homes.

We`re dealing with a single phase, center tapped system which delivers 120 volts to ground and 240 across the windings. There could be many reasons for the electrical problems in the OP.
Bad connection at the pole.
Bad connection at the meter.
If overhead, bad splice at the weather-head.
Bad main breaker or termination.
Loose nuetral anywhere in problem circuit. (doubtful).

I`d bet the problem is at the main breaker inside the panel. Look for discolored wires at any visible terminations. Don`t get too involved with this, very dangerous.
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  #24  
Old 08-01-2003, 07:52 PM
Black Train Song Black Train Song is offline
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I'm no electrician but maybe this might help.

When I first bought this house what seemed like HALF of the house was going off and on just like in the OP. Sometimes it would stay off for more than an hour and sometimes it would blink off and on.

It was totally random. No breakers would trip in the breaker box.

Long story short, One of the lines went from the basement all the way up into an unused bedroom, only fed one of four outlets there then zig-zagged all through the house until it fed the family room (tv) and garage lights (other side of house)

That ONE outlet in the first bedroom had a loose wire which an electrician found. He replaced the outlet, everything worked fine since.
Why the breaker didn't trip, I don't know.
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Old 08-02-2003, 08:39 AM
Uncommon Sense Uncommon Sense is offline
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The breaker didn`t trip because an overcurrent event never took place.
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Old 08-03-2003, 03:49 PM
Wyatt Wyatt is offline
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Nut, thanks for the further thought on the subject,
Actually, from the bits that made it through the 'translation link' the ground problem was not at the house, at all ... but rather in the parts that have to do with the power company. The home owner relayed it to me that the broken ground was the one that went all the way back to the power station, but am now thinking it was the ground lead at the transformer itself.
Which ever, she understood him to say her home was becoming the shortest distance to ground for several houses, not just hers.
Combined with the fractured wire being one that is usually "assumed" to be mechanically solid, and "not the place to look for a problem" Was just my insistance that she had to Lean on the power company on their second visit, that this HAD to be SOLVED that actually had the guy stop and think, Sherlock Holmes style, once you've eliminated All probable explainations, the only remaining solution, no matter How improbable, Is the answer.
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  #27  
Old 08-03-2003, 04:03 PM
billy billy is offline
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Quote:
Originally posted by Q.E.D.
Yes, 120/208 V would definitely be a two-of-three-phase system. Line-to-line voltage in a 3-phase circuit is sqr(3) * line-to-ground voltage, or 207.8V for a 120V L-N. I've never encountered this in NJ.
Here in Northen California, it depands on when the service was put in. My house uses 240/120 single phase but newer neighborhoods have two phases of 208V with nuetral. This bites because the clothes drier and stove lose about 25% of the power output because most appliances are still rated for 240V. I have heard though, that if you look, you can find household appliances rated for 208V.
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