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Jason
Jason, Service Technician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 3615
Experience:  Over 15 years of experience in all types of installations, troubleshooting, and repairs.
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Hello, None of my major appliances are operating normally.

Resolved Question:

Hello,
None of my major appliances are operating normally. The heating and cooling wall unit (like you find in a hotel) is barely blowing. The small AC window unit is barely blowing, the stackable washer and dryer isn't coming on and the fridge light works but it doesn't cool. The electrical box has fuses that tripped. The fridge was plugged into one of 4 GFCI outlets that had tripped, but even after resetting them all, still nothing works right. It's as though there just isn't enough power all of a sudden. Any ideas?
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Electrical
Expert:  Jason replied 1 year ago.

Jason :

Hello. Welcome to Just Answer.

Jason :

I doubt this is an appliance issue, since so many things are not operating properly at the same time.

Jason :

This problem will require the use of a 2 lead volt meter for troubleshooting purposes.

Jason :

Do you have one? If not, can you get one?

Jason :

As a side note, I would turn off anything that isn't operating properly, as undervoltage can damage equipment.

Customer: Hi Jason,
Customer: The units are all unplugged except for the washer and dryer unit. I can go get the volt meter.
Jason :

That would be great. Do you have it handy, or do you need to leave and come back?

Customer: I will need to go buy one.
Jason :

Just a thought, is there a possibility a neighbor would have one you could borrow?

Customer: I can't think of one right off that would have one. I should be able to find one at lowes? I can head that way soon to get one. Then what should I do?
Jason :

Lowe's is a good place to buy a meter. If you would like me to do so, I can post a link for a suggested model. Once you get the meter, I'll walk you through the troubleshooting steps. Does that work for you?

Customer: Sounds great. And I noticed in my original question that i said fuses had tripped. I meant to say that none had tripped. Just in case that matters.
Jason :

Yes, that is good information.

Jason :

It's currently 9:17 AM at my location. Do you know when you will return?

Customer: I can leave by 9:30 and should be back with the meter at the condo where the issue is by 10:30. Any thoughts on what may be happening and while I'm making the trip, anything else I should pick up? A replacement GCFI outlet or?
Jason :

If any of the malfunctioning equipment is fed through a GFI outlet, that could be the culprit for that particular circuit. However, this sounds like an issue with a main breaker, or a problem with the utility company's feed to your house. If you don't mind returning a GFI outlet that you end up not using, it may not hurt to grab one or two. I doubt you'll need them, but there's a possibility it could save you a trip back to the store to get them if you do end up needing them.

Jason :

Are you comfortable working in a live electrical panel? We'll need to get some readings there.

Customer: Yes, I feel comfortable, with instructions. I have general experience with replacing outlets and installing lights and have done basic wiring in the past.
Jason :

Very good. Here's a meter that would be perfect for what you need to do. I like this because of the price, and what's included in the kit...

http://www.lowes.com/ProductDisplay?partNumber=205783-72068-TK-30&catalogId=10051&storeId=10151&langId=-1&productId=1058561

Jason :

If you tell me your Zip Code, I can tell you whether your local Lowe's has it in stock or not.

Customer: 27610
Customer: The closest Lowes to me is in Garner, NC
Jason :

OK, I'll check now. One moment please...

Customer: Got it, thanks.
Jason :

OK. Should I check for you at 10:30?

Customer: On my way in five. How do I get back in touch? Do you want to give me instructions of what to do before I contact you or wait until I have the meter in hand?
Jason :

It would be best if you have the meter in hand. To get back to this chat, log on to www.justanswer.com, and click "My Questions" in the upper right corner of the page. That should take you to a page that has a link to this chat. In case I need to see the inside of your breaker panel, are you able to post photos here?

Customer: If I can post via my iPhone, then yes. I can take my ipad and possibly connect by wifi.
Jason :

Sounds good. I'll make sure I'm back at my computer in an hour. In the meantime, I'll sign off to try to get a little bit done around here.

Customer: Ok, sounds good.
Jason :

I'll look for you in an hour. Thank you.

Customer: Jason,
Customer: i struck out at Lowes. They no longer have that brand. I'm at Home Depot now looking for something comparable.
Jason :

No problem. Just reply when ready, and I'll keep an eye out for you.

Jason :

You can get any meter that reads volts and Ohms. If it says "multimeter", it should be fine.

Jason :

You really don't need the 3 piece kit. I just suggested that one because of the price, and what's included.

Customer: I picked up an electronic voltage tester. Klein Tools ET50 from Home Depot. Will that work?
Jason :

I'm sure it will. Let me check it out. One moment...

Jason :

Have you done anything with it yet?

Jason :

Are you back at the site with the problem?

Customer: Nope, still in the parking lot of HD.
Jason :

OK, if you want to check one thing now, you can. Or, you can wait until you get to the site. I need to know if it does anything when you touch the two probes to each other.

Jason :

I prefer a meter that displays a numeric value. In other words, a digital readout. But we can probably get by with the Klein.

Jason :

If you have a loose connection, that should show up as an undervoltage, and I don't know if the Klein model will show that. This is because it has preset voltage values that light up when detected.

Customer: Sounds like I should get something else. The selection here is limited. Going in now.
Jason :

Anything with two leads and a digital display should work. I'll check their site and see if I can suggest something.

Customer: Looks like their selections are out of stock. They have one opened: Commercial Electric MS8232B
Jason :

Let me see if I can find that. Just a moment...

Jason :

It looks okay to me. The price is a little higher than it likely should be, and it didn't get great reviews. Since it's open, are they going to give you a discount?

Customer: I'll ask and be on my way. Should be there in 20mins.
Jason :

Sounds good.

Jason :

I'll keep checking for replies. Lots going on here today.

Customer: Ok, I'm here and ready to go.
Jason :

Very good. Can you take the meter to a working outlet, and put one probe into each of the vertical slots? Make sure it's set for AC Volts first, and tell me the reading you get.

Jason :

Judging by the images I've been able to find Online, the AC Volts setting is the one immediately to the right of the OFF position.

Customer: The meter was already opened and batteries are in it but it doesn't appear to be functioning. I'm going to change the batteries and see if that's the issue.
Jason :

Yikes. OK, I hope it works. Seems this isn't going in your favor so far. Hopefully, I can help change that.

Customer: Ok, now lets see.
Customer: 0.821
Jason :

That's less than one volt. For a working outlet, there must not be good contact on at least one of the probes. Maybe we should just start on the breaker panel.

Customer: 00.126 in another
Jason :

Can you take the cover off and let me know when you're ready?

Jason :

Does the meter have "AC" displayed in the window?

Jason :

It could be a ranging issue, because we are looking for a value around 120.

Jason :

I don't see a range button, and it says "Autoranging" below the dial.

Customer: Ok I played with the meter and after pressing the function button it says AC and a reading of 04.77 came up in one outlet
Jason :

That

Jason :

was in a working outlet?

Customer: The outlet for the AC heatinging unit says 121.0
Jason :

Perfect. That's what we're looking for.

Jason :

Is that a standard outlet?

Customer: No, the 121 reading is a single dedicated round outlet for the AC
Jason :

OK. What configuration are the two slots in? Are they both vertical? Is the AC working properly?

Customer: I don't know the name but it looks like the left prong opening is a vertical and horizontal. The right side is horizontal and the bottom is the Harold round shape. I'll plug it in now and turn it on
Customer: The panel blinked for a second but doesn't turn on
Jason :

OK. O would now proceed to the breaker panel and take the cover off.

Jason :

"I" would, rather...

Customer: The standard outlets read 4.77 to 4.88. The GFCI in the bathroom says 123
Jason :

Bathroom reading is good.

Jason :

In the breaker panel, we will be reading across the two mains. We'll be looking for a voltage in the 240 range.

Customer: Ok should I remove the cover?
Jason :

Yes, please.

Customer: Covers off
Jason :

OK. Can you follow the two largest wires in the panel, from where they enter to where they connect?

Jason :

It may be a main breaker, or, it could just be two large lugs.

Customer: No main breaker, just two large lugs
Jason :

That probably means there's a main disconnect outside, near the meter.

Jason :

That's okay. We can still take the reading in the indoor panel.

Customer: I think a main breaker for this condo may be downstairs outside
Customer: Ok, touch to prongs one on each section where it enters the lug?
Jason :

We may have to go there next. Yes, exactly. Take the reading by placing one probe on each of the large lugs. There should be a third wire that size, that connects to the neutral lug. All of the smaller white wires are connected to that bar. We may read that wire next.

Customer: 119.3
Jason :

Just what I suspected. Sounds like a dead main leg.

Jason :

Do you see the third large wire... the main neutral?

Customer: It is the same size but has no plastic sheathing?
Jason :

If it's old, yes.

Customer: Wait I see another that's attached to a log bar with white wires
Jason :

That's it.

Customer: Connect one or both prongs to that one?
Jason :

You can actually read from each of the hot mains to the bare wire or the main neutral. If everything were functioning normally, reading from either live main to the bare or the main neutral would give you the same reading. I would put one probe on one of the hot mains, and one on the main neutral. Then, move from the first hot main to the second, keeping the other probe on the main neutral.

Customer: 122.1 on the left main and 05.83 on the right main
Jason :

OK, the right main appears to be dead. I would go outside to the other main disconnect now. Is it a breaker, or fuses? Have you noticed whether any neighbors are without power, or operating on partial power?

Customer: I'll go investigate now. Haven't talked with neighbors yet
Customer: Breaker
Customer: Test those sides too? The breaker has two side by side that say 100 with two wires on each sides making 4 total
Jason :

One moment please.

Jason :

Are you able to post photos?

Customer: I'll try
Customer: Nope
Jason :

How many screw terminals does the breaker have? I know you said it has 4 wires, but how many screws?

Customer: 5
Jason :

Is this breaker outside? Not the first panel we were checking in?

Customer: One is unsheathed wires
Jason :

If you see two screws near the double breaker that says 100, or ON that breaker rather... that's where you need to place the meter probes. One probe on each screw.

Customer: I'm outside now
Jason :

OK

Jason :

It'll be a bit tricky trying to troubleshoot in that box, since I can't see it. But it's starting to sound like you need to call the utility company anyway.

Jason :

If the problem is in the meter base, even though I know how to troubleshoot in there, you're not supposed to open it. Many utility companies get upset when consumers open the meter base. It's also pretty dangerous in there.

Customer: Ok I can get a reading on any combination I touched of more than 38.8
Jason :

If you look at how the breaker snaps into that box, you may see other large wires that connect to lugs, similar to the indoor panel. Do you see those two large wires?

Customer: So should I convey any specific info to the power company when I call?
Jason :

Tell them there appears to be a dead leg, and none of the 240 volt equipment is working.

Customer: Ok perfect. Jason thank you for your help and especially for your patience!
Jason :

You are most welcome. Happy to assist. Have a blessed weekend.

Customer: So I just click the happy face and you receive your credit, correct?
Jason :

Yes, if you've found my service helpful.

Customer: I did indeed.
Jason :

Thank you. I appreciate that.

Customer: Take care.
Jason :

You do the same.

Jason, Service Technician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 3615
Experience: Over 15 years of experience in all types of installations, troubleshooting, and repairs.
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