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Mike
Mike, Master Electrician
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In 1/2 the house, the lights work but are dim and the other

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In 1/2 the house, the lights work but are dim and the other appliances don't work (clock radio, computer printer). Single circuit breaker box, all breakers are in the on position. The rest of the house works fine.
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Mike :

Hi. Thanks for posting your question on JustAnswer...

Mike :

Can you tell me a little more about what all is not working?

Customer :

in a three bedroom home, in all three bedrooms, two baths and two hallways, the lights operate but are dim. All the other items don't work including the clock radio, the comptuer printer, and electronic controls for the shower.

Mike :

About how old is your home?

Customer :

30 years

Mike :

Are your breakers fairly clearly labeled for these parts of the house?

Customer :

It began about 6 am, then it started working again, worked okay for 20 minutes, and then stopped. Many of the breakers are labled, including several that operate that portion of the house

Mike :

Do they seem to be every other breaker going from top to bottom, that is not working?

Customer :

I can look, will take a minute

Mike :

sure, I'll standby

Customer :

the breakers are in a single line in the box, doubles and larger capacity ones at the top, and lights and wall plugs at the bottom. Not all are labled, and not enough to determine for sure if it is every other one. I tried turning every other one off, including one that I knew was in the effected area, but the result was some of the lights in the effected area still operated dimly.

Mike :

Ok, no worries... do you have a voltmeter by chance?

Customer :

The power company recently replaced the main line coming to the house, about 20 days ago. It is underground, and when I spoke with them they said they were having some issues in the neighboorhood with the power. I had never noticed any issues. Yes, I have a small volt ohm meter, radio shack variety

Mike :

I suspect that you have a weak main leg in the panel, and your last comment about the power company further exemplifies this...

Mike :

...in your panel, you have two main hot legs coming in. Each leg feeds half the panel. The legs feed every other breaker going from top to bottom. When you have a week/broken leg, you loose power to approximately every other breaker, or half the house...

Mike :

It gets a little iffy for a homeowner to troubleshoot this because it involves working in a live panel with potentially high amperages. I don't mean to scare you, but it is dangerous...

Mike :

I think if you take a voltage reading on the main legs coming into your panel, you'll see that one has considerably less voltage...

Mike :

...lower voltage would still allow lights to work since they are just resistive. They will work all the way down to 1V, they will just only glow as brightly as the amount of voltage being supplied. Electronics and other equipment on the other hand, will not work, and can even be damaged when operated on lower than required voltages...

Mike :

I'd recommend that you unplug everything on the affected circuits so they are not trying to start up and/or run on the lowered voltage...

Customer :

ok, will unplug now

Mike :

...if you feel confident and are able to do so, you'll want to check your main feeders in the panel. Usually it's caused by a loose connection...

Mike :

...problem is, the loose connection can be in the panel or in the meter. Chances are, if the power company just re-ran your feeders, they may have just forgotten to tighten a lug...

Customer :

I could test, but not sure I would be confident in trying to fix it

Mike :

...I'd call them first, especially since they will check for FREE, to come check the meter. Call them and tell them that you have very low voltage on one leg coming in. They should get somebody out to check things out on their end (meter and transformer)..

Mike :

I really suspect that the problem is related to something they did (didn't torque something down), but there is a chance it's in your panel (where the main feeders come into the breaker).

Mike :

Those wires cannot be de-energized. You need insulated tools to tighten down those lugs and/or grab the wire to see if it's tight..

Mike :

...if the utility company doesn't find anything, you're probably going to need to call an electrician. You can at the least, verify the low voltage if you'd like with your meter by checking the voltage. Then, you'll see what I'm saying. You will have at or near 120V on one leg (hot to ground), and then you'll have something considerably lower on the other leg (hot to ground).

Mike :

It should be a simple fix, but it's just having the insulated tools to do so, if you know what I mean.

Customer :

If I remove the circuit breaker front, is it easy to idenfify the two legs, and the hot and ground wires. Or is it better tested just using an electrical outlet in the house?

Mike :

Of course there is the possibility that the main feeder is cut/damaged under ground, which isn't so simple, but at least that wouldn't come at your expense.

Customer :

I do not have the proper tools, and even if I did, no experience working with live wires

Customer :

I like the idea of calling the power company first, any idea of how responsive they will be?

Mike :

Well, you could test using an outlet in the house, but that only proves that it is that individual circuit. If you want to verify it is the main feeder wire, you'll need to test in the panel; and yes, if you remove the cover, you'll see the main wires. The main feeders are by far, the biggest wires in the panel, and they will be connected to the main breaker. Your ground bar is the bar where all the bare copper/ground wires are connected.

Customer :

I will see if I can quickly locate the volt meter and remove the cover

Mike :

From my experience, they are very responsive in situations like this...

Mike :

...obviously, I can' really know how responsive your utility company will be.

Customer :

tested a couple of outlets, one that is working registered about 120v. Then one of the GFIs that is not working. It has a little red light that is glowing dimly. I did not get any reading.

Customer :

Mike, thank you for your help. It was great!

Mike :

No problem, glad to help. ;-)

Mike :

You can click accept to accept my answer and close the chat if you'd like. Thank you!

Mike and other Electrical Specialists are ready to help you
Looks like we were disconnected... if you have any follow-up questions feel free to post them. Otherwise, please click Accept if I've helped you. Thanks!

Edited by Mike on 8/26/2010 at 1:25 PM EST
Customer: replied 6 years ago.

Mike,

 

Just a follow up to say your advice was spot on and helped me resolve the problem quickly and efficiently.

 

Thank you.

 

Brian

Thanks, XXXXX XXXXX appreciate the update, and I'm glad I was able to point you in the right direction. Take care!