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Jason
Jason, Service Technician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 3622
Experience:  Over 15 years of experience in all types of installations, troubleshooting, and repairs.
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I have a problem that I keep loosing power in only half of

Resolved Question:

I have a problem that I keep loosing power in only half of my condo. My downstairs neighbor is also loosing power in half their condo at the same time. I have had the utility company come and look at it and said it's not their problem, the condo association has said it's not their problem, and I have had an electritian come and replace my main breaker and redo all my connections, etc. but we are still loosing the power. The electritian I hired said that the voltage coming into our meters is fluctuating between 110 and 122 in a matter of seconds and that shouldn't be happening. My question is if it's not the main breaker then where is the problem coming from?
Submitted: 11 months ago.
Category: Electrical
Expert:  Jason replied 11 months ago.

Jason :

Hello. Welcome to Just Answer.

Jason :

It's very likely that your neighbor has their own electrical (usage) meter outside, separate from yours.

Customer:

Hi Jason.

Customer:

Yes.

Jason :

Since this is happening to both of you, at the same time, I would suspect it's AHEAD of the two meters.

Customer:

Yes.

Jason :

That usually makes it the utility company's problem.

Jason :

Do you know if the power to the outdoor meters comes in from underground?

Customer:

I agree and that's what my electritian said yesterday after he replaced both mine and my neighbors main breakers.

Jason :

The feed up TO multiple meters for the same building is almost always a common feed.

Customer:

Ok.

Jason :

When the utility company checked it out, did they just come out (for a short visit), and take a few readings?

Customer:

Yes. And they said it was either the bus bar or the main breakers.

Jason :

If it were only happening in one unit, I would share that suspicion. But since it's more than one unit, and synchronized, I don't think so.

Customer:

Could it be the bus bar?

Jason :

I would insist that the utility company put a recording device in series with your meter.

Customer:

What would that do?

Jason :

If it's the buss bar, it would have to be in the meter cabinet, ahead of the meters. That would be a contractor's responsibility to replace, as the utility doesn't usually install meter cabinets. The recording device would record voltage for as long as it's installed. Just putting probes from a multimeter on the equipment for a quick test could miss any fluctuations. But the recording meter would capture that data.

Jason :

But they usually point out any problems in meter cabinets, when they come out to troubleshoot.

Customer:

My electritian suggested I have the utility perform diagnotics on the transformer (big green box sitting on the ground about 25 feet from the building). What will that do?

Jason :

That would be similar to the recording device I suggested on the meter. They would be looking for loose connections in the transformer, and monitoring its output voltage for more than just a quick test with a handheld meter.

Customer:

In your opinion could it be the transformer causing this problem?

Jason :

Yes, it could.

Jason :

They replace transformers frequently for this type of problem.

Customer:

I did contact the utility company and requested they come and perform the diagnostics. They said it would be either today or tomorrow. I guess I should wait until after that. Is there any advice you have for when they are here that might help me with deailing with them?

Jason :

I would just tell them (again, assuming you already have) that it is happening in 2 units, at exactly the same time. That puts the problem ahead of the two meters.

Jason :

Request (firmly) the recording device be placed on the 2 meters.

Customer:

Actually it's happening to three units, I only knew about my neighbors down stairs. The other unit hijacked my electritian yesterday to say they were having the same problem.

Jason :

That's pretty overwhelming evidence. Tell the utility you understand that they don't install the meter cabinets, but ask them if they'll troubleshoot and inspect it. I'm pretty sure they're supposed to, as I've seen them get upset when I perform diagnostics in a meter base. They've tried to politely ask me not to open them. But I do it anyway, as a matter of being thorough, and potentially saving them a trip... if it's something they're not supposed to repair (meaning it's the responsibility of the homeowner to have it done by a contractor).

Customer:

Since I've had the main breaker replaced and all the connections to the meter redone, if the problem isn't the transformer and is in the meter cabinet does that mean it's the bus bar?

Jason :

When they said "buss bar", since they also mentioned your main breaker, they were probably talking about the indoor breaker panel.

Jason :

There is buss bar in your panel, and in meter bases that hold multiple meters.

Jason :

So they could have been talking about the buss in either location.

Jason :

I doubt they meant the meter base though, because if that's what they suspected, they would likely have specifically said "in the meter base".

Customer:

When you say 'indoor breaker panel" are you refering to the meter cabinet or somewhere else.?

Jason :

You should have a breaker panel inside, with multiple breakers for turning off power to each circuit.

Jason :

It may be outside, but they're more often inside.

Customer:

Yes. My electritian tested all the breakers yesterday. But if it is my indoor breaker panel would it cause two other units to go down at the same time?

Jason :

No. But I suspect the utility workers were trying to cast doubt in the direction of your main breaker or the buss bar that it mounts to in the indoor breaker panel. That's a little surprising, if they know multiple units are affected.

Customer:

Are there bus bars in the main cabinet? I'm trying to understand the flow of power from the transformer to my meter.

Jason :

If there are multiple meters in one enclosure, each meter connects to common bars, which also have the wires from the transformer connected to them.

Customer:

Ok. There are three meters in the 'enclosure' that my meter is in. I'm guessing now that it's mine, my downstairs neighbor and the neighbor who hijacked my electritian. Would the common bars be in the main cabinet?

Jason :

Yes, in the box that contains the 3 meters. The bars (there are 3) that are common to each meter could in theory be called "buss bars". But it would more commonly refer to the bars in the breaker panel, that the breakers snap onto.

Customer:

Now you've confused me. My building has the transformer, a large rectangular box on the side of the building, and three 'enclosures' each with three meters. I have been assuming that the rectangular box is the main cabinet?

Jason :

Do you have a panel inside the unit, with breakers?

Customer:

Yes. It's in my utility room.

Jason :

Are there nine units in your building?

Jason :

Or maybe 8?

Customer:

Actually there are 17 units. On the other side of the building there is another transformer, another rectangular box and two 'enclosures' each with 4 meters.

Jason :

OK, that makes sense. Often, there is one more meter than there are dwelling units in the building. This is because one of the meters is known as a "house meter". The power for outdoor lighting would be on that meter, so the landlord would pay for it. That's not really relevant to your situation, just thought I would share it as a matter of being thorough. Anyway, it may be best if you could post photos of what you see outside. Would you be able to do that? If so, I can explain better and clear up any confusion.

Customer:

It will take me a few minutes to go outside and take the pictures. Is that ok?

Jason :

Sure. I'll stand by.

Customer:

I'm having trouble getting them off my phone and onto my laptop. Is there an email address I can send the pictures directly to?

Jason :

Unfortunately, site regulations prohibit contact by email. Can you upload them to www.tinypic.com?

Customer:

Full Size Image

Customer:

Full Size Image

Jason :

Thank you for posting the photo.

Customer:

I have a few more.

Jason :

The rectangular box to the left of the meters appears to be a main breaker, that will cut power to all meters. It could be a connection for a generator, but I doubt it. If you want to know for sure, I would need a closer photo. However, I don't think it's all that relevant to your question anyway.

Jason :

The small black rectangles next to each meter would be main breakers, downstream from the meter they are closest to. In other words, if I turned off the one nearest your meter, all of the power in your unit would go off.

Customer:

Ok. I'm with you. What does the main breaker box do?

Jason :

You mean the large one on the left?

Customer:

Yes. The one with the switch that says ON/OFF?

Jason :

It appears to be a main disconnect, which would completely remove all power from the units served by the 9 meters in the photo. A quick way to remove power from all units, with the throw of one switch.

Jason :

A bit odd to see that, as it's not a common practice on multitenant dwellings.

Customer:

Even twenty years ago when the building was built?

Jason :

I have done service work on condos with the same setup, multiple meters in one enclosure, and they don't have that big disconnect next to the meters.

Jason :

Older condos, I meant to say.

Jason :

It seems some had a disconnect on poles near the transformer, now that I think of it. I haven't been to that site for a couple of years, as I took a new job since then.

Customer:

Ok. I am going to assume that there is nothing in that box that would be my responsibility.

Jason :

That's correct.

Jason :

Let me post a screenshot. Can you stand by?

Customer:

Certainly.

Jason :

Still working on the screenshot. Thank you for your patience.

Customer:

No problem. You've been more than patient with me.

Jason :

OK, sorry for the delay. Had to finish up with another customer. We often have more than one question in progress at a time here. Stand by for screenshot...

Jason :

It's uploading, somewhat slowly.

Customer:

Yes. They are grouped horizontally.

Jason :

Now that I've seen the photo, this will likely require cooperation with the utility and a contractor.

Jason :

If it were strictly a utility issue, all 9 meters would likely be affected.

Customer:

How so?

Jason :

The utility usually wants to be involved when all power to a unit is turned off, even though there's a main disconnect there.

Jason :

They really don't like contractors opening meter bases. But since they've already been there, they may be okay with it.

Customer:

The utility did leave all of them unlocked so the electritian could get in a fix it.

Jason :

Ah, makes sense.

Customer:

So what would cause an issue between the meter groups?

Jason :

I hadn't imagined all 9 meters being that close together. It actually makes a difference in how the question is answered, as does the main disconnect. If there weren't a main disconnect there, the utility would HAVE to come out and remove power at the transformer.

Jason :

A loose connection on any one of 3 wires that run into each set of 3 meters.

Customer:

I'm pretty sure the electrician checked all the connections in the meter group I'm in. But if I understand you correctly, a loose connection to one of the other two meter groups could cause a power problem in my meter group?

Jason :

Yes. If you imagine 3 wires running into your meter group (two main hots and a main neutral), there are 6 possible places for a loose connection to show up and cause the issue you are having. Three connection points at each end of the set of 3 wires. I hope I'm explaining it clearly. After doing this for so long, it's easy to assume people know things that are so common among electricians, but would actually be Greek to people who've never done electrical work.

Jason :

I'm happy to take as long as necessary to clarify as much as necessary. There are no rushes here.

Customer:

If I had to call my electrician out again what would I tell him for him to understand the issue you are referring to?

Jason :

Since only one set of (3) meters are affected, there has to be an issue with a connection point that feeds that set of meters.

Jason :

He needs to follow all wires that are common to those 3 meters, and inspect every connection point.

Jason :

They may be flat bars as well. Inside your specific section, they probably are.

Jason :

But the flat bars have wires connected to them somewhere.

Customer:

I appreciate all your help. My course of action right now is to get the utility company out and check the transformer, just to make sure it can be ruled out. If it's not the transformer I need to someone out to check ALL connections to my meter group. Is that a safe course of action?

Jason :

Yes. I don't think it's a utility issue with the transformer, because the entire building would be affected. That wasn't clear to me until I saw the photo. I was thinking a total of 3 units were fed by one transformer.

Customer:

No. All nine units are fed by that one transformer. If I asked, and was willing to pay, do you think the the utility company would check all the connections and fix them if needed?

Jason :

They won't usually do anything inside meter bases, other than visually inspect. As soon as they see an issue, they typically say "Call a contractor, and show them this", while pointing out a problem. A few of the more diligent linemen have pulled out the proper tool and tightened a connection, to get power back on, if that's all that was wrong. But that's rare. I've never asked, but it may be a liability issue for them. Not only that, but they have no way of billing you for a repair, only your usage.

Customer:

So unless all nine units are having a problem and just aren't telling anybody (which I doubt), I'm on my own with trying to explain to a contractor.

Jason :

Probably so. However, if you asked the utility to meet a contractor there, they would probably be willing to do so. I know it's a bit of a mess, but finger pointing in these types of cases is somewhat common.

Customer:

And that's exactly what I'm trying to avoid.

Jason :

If I were with the utility, I would point out that a problem on my end would affect more than 3 units. But most likely, they really want to get it resolved, which is why they should be willing to come out.

Jason :

If a contractor shows up and puts in a trouble call after troubleshooting, I can't imagine they wouldn't come out. Up to this point, they've never been there at the same time, have they?

Customer:

No.

Jason :

If you get both of them there at the same time, you may be surprised how quickly a plan is put together.

Customer:

Two heads being better than one.

Jason :

Yes, and coming to an agreement about who's responsible.

Customer:

Thank you Jason. You have been very very helpful. I now know more about electricity than I ever wanted to know. I appreciate all of you help and guidance.

Jason :

I appreciate the kind words. Happy to help, that's what we're here for.

Jason :

Is there anything else I can do for you?

Jason, Service Technician
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 3622
Experience: Over 15 years of experience in all types of installations, troubleshooting, and repairs.
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