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House is 40 years old and has a modern 200 Amp breaker

Customer Question
House is 40 years...

House is 40 years old and has a modern 200 Amp breaker system. I have a 20A circuit that feeds a number of switches in one box. One of the switches feeds 2 lights in the carport. About 3 weeks ago, the breaker for this circuit flipped several times for no apparent reason, (no extra load put on). Now the carport light will sometimes light up feebly, then wane and go out. I have changed the bulbs and the fixtures and the switch and nothing seems to fix it. What else should I be checking on?

Contractor's Assistant: I'll do all I can to help. How long have you been dealing with this?

About 3 weeks.

Contractor's Assistant: Do you plan on doing the work yourself?

My ex was an electrician and I have pulled miles of wires into new houses and have kept my skills up over the years. Just rewired our 90 year old rental from knob and tube to romex, so I have some experience and skills.

Contractor's Assistant: Anything else we should know to help you best?

The only other things I can think of are problem with the romex, seems unlikely, or the breaker. What else am I missing?

Submitted: 8 months ago.Category: Electrical
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Answered in 4 minutes by:
11/20/2017
Electrician: Kevin, Licensed Electrical Contractor replied 8 months ago
Kevin
Kevin, Licensed Electrical Contractor
Category: Electrical
Satisfied Customers: 4,419
Experience: 31 years Licensed Electrical Contractor in Illinois, Adjunct College Electrical Instructor, Former Electrical Inspector, Diploma: Digital Electronics, FCC Technician License
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Hello and welcome to Just Answer. My name is ***** ***** I will be happy to assist you with your electrical question.

1) Sounds like a loose wire termination or a faulty wire splice somewhere on the circuit. If lights dim, then the problem is a neutral wire. If lights flicker, then it is a hot wire issue. If the wires were back-stabbed onto the switches and not side screw terminated, this could be a cause of the problem. Back-stab insert wire terminations often come loose and will eventually fail over time.

2) Any receptacles on the circuit or only lighting?

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Electrician: Kevin, Licensed Electrical Contractor replied 8 months ago

1) Have you tried to "roll" the circuit over to another known working breaker of the same amperage in the panel to see if the trouble follows or goes away?

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Customer reply replied 8 months ago
I changed out the switch tonight and replaced the back-stabbed old connection with a new switch and side screw termination. Also checked the neutral bundle and it is very tight, but I replaced the wire nut anyway. No receptacles on the circuit, just the 2 lights on this switch in series. Haven't yet tried rolling over the breaker, but that's a good idea.
Electrician: Kevin, Licensed Electrical Contractor replied 8 months ago

Thanks for the replies.

1) It is possible that the breaker may be loose or defective. Try rolling the circuit and see if the trouble follows or goes away. If the trouble follows, then I would suspect a loose termination somewhere on the circuit or possibly a ground fault. If any of the switch side screws come into immediate contact with a bare copper ground wire or a metal plaster ring at a wall box, the breaker will trip.

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Electrician: Kevin, Licensed Electrical Contractor replied 8 months ago

1) Are the lights dimming or flickering?

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Customer reply replied 8 months ago
This doesn't appear to be a hard short situation. I will try the breaker when my family leaves for work tomorrow and I can throw the main and I will also check to make sure there are no other neutral wire nuts on the switch circuit. I don't think there is any ground fault associated with this circuit. The box has separate GFI breakers for bathrooms, kitchen and outdoor receptacles, but nothing hooked up to this indoor box. Thanks for your help. I will investigate further.
Electrician: Kevin, Licensed Electrical Contractor replied 8 months ago

1) Even though the circuit does not contain any GFCI's, a ground fault condition could be present if a loose hot wire or the wires on the switch side screws come into immediate contact with a bare copper ground or a metal wall box. Either of these conditions are a ground fault and the breaker will trip.

2) Reply back to me tomorrow and let me know how you make out and we can take it from there. In the meantime, have a good evening. Thanks......Kevin

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Customer reply replied 8 months ago
Thanks again, Kevin. I will let you know what I find out. The ground wires in the box are well clear of the screws on the switch. There is a GFI box on the outside wall near the carport, but it seems to be working just fine. Not sure where else to check . The romex is visable from the fixtures through the carport wall and then disappear in a corner post where I presume it goes through conduit but is not visible from there.
Electrician: Kevin, Licensed Electrical Contractor replied 8 months ago

No problem, glad to assist.

1) If the lights are dimming and you can catch them at the right time, you can measure for voltage from a Neutral to a Ground on the circuit. If N to G voltage is greater than 0 volts, then this will confirm an issue with a loose neutral splice.

Let me know how you make out. Take care for now.......Thanks..........Kevin

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Electrician: Kevin, Licensed Electrical Contractor replied 8 months ago

If you have any additional questions, just let me know and I’ll be glad to answer them for you.

Otherwise, don’t forget to rate me before you log Off.

Thanks.................Kevin:)

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Customer reply replied 8 months ago
Rolled over the breaker with no change. The light hasn't come back on since yesterday morning for me to be able to check the voltage. The light had been dimming, not flickering. No receptacles affected. Frustrating. I may dig out my loooong leads and check continuity through the wires to see if there is a break. At this point I could use one!
Electrician: Kevin, Licensed Electrical Contractor replied 8 months ago

Thanks for the update.

1) Yes, dimming lights indicate a loose neutral termination or a faulty neutral splice.

2) Yes a continuity tester can be inserted at the main panel. Just make sure to remove the hot wire from the breaker and the neutral from the neutral bus bar. The continuity tester can be checked for a possible open neutral located downstream of the panel.

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