110v-220v woes at home

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by jmanfffreak, Jun 27, 2010.

  1. jmanfffreak

    Thread Starter New Member

    Jun 27, 2010

    first off, I've been searching google all morning for any clues as to what might be causing this problem. I would know how to fix it, I just want to know what I need to be aware of or what might be happening. I know some DC circuitry (mostly PCB boards) and I know about some AC stuff but am totally unaware of what might be happening in my home.

    First off, we're dealing with a standard 110v recepticle. I'm in the US and therefore use 60 Hz.

    When we first moved in, we had started to get things setup with TVs and such, and with high value electronics equipment, you always use surge protectors with them. When we plugged a surge protector into an outlet at home, it popped, fizzed and then popped the breaker. 'OK....must have been a power strip on its way out...', we thought, as we navigated our way to the distribution box to reset the breaker. Breaker reset, we plugged another surge protector into the outlet. Bam, fizz, pop. Breaker tripped again. 2 in a row? I took one apart and found the varistor inside to be blown out. Very odd.

    So, I grabbed a multimeter and started "probing" around. excuse the pun.

    meter between hot and com = 110v (ok, good, anything that I plug in wont explode)
    meter between com and ground = 110v (wtf? I KNEW this wasn't right.)
    meter between hot and ground = 220v (this would be the culprit)

    I'm knowledgeable enough to know that com and hot supply the volts, that should be 110v. com and ground typically all go the same place, so they should read 0v. there should be no voltage potential between those. since grd and com are virtually the same, hot and ground should produce 110v, NOT 220v, which is what was popping our surge protectors.

    So, my question is, why would this be happening? what is crossed in our home that would produce this on a lot of outlets in our home? We're just about to run around and test all of our outlets for this behaviour, so I'll get a better idea of what rooms this is happening in. so far, the only two rooms I know of that are good is the living room and my room, as I have all my computer equipment up here.

    Also, we had tested everything in the distribution box:

    hot-hot = 220v
    hot-com = 110v
    hot-grd = 110v
    com-grd = 0v

    So, somewhere in the wiring of the house, something is crossed with something, but what?

    Thanks for any help you can provide me in my quest to solve this issue once and for all.
  2. jpanhalt

    AAC Fanatic!

    Jan 18, 2008
    Your wall socket is seriously miswired and dangerous. It could be explained by having both poles of the supply (220V) wired with one pole to the "hot," one pole to the "ground," and ground or com to "com."

    Did you have a home inspection prior to purchase? How many other outlets are similarly miswired? What was that socket used for by the previous owner (maybe they had a non-code 220 device hooked to it?)?

    One can see how both poles could get to a socket, if someone used 3-wire cable intended for 110 for a 220 line. They should have painted both ends of the white wire black, but perhaps didn't. Maybe they decided to just use the green or bare wire for the other pole knowing they would remember what they had done. After lunch break and a couple of beers, they didn't remember.

    I don't mean to make light of this very dangerous situation, but I have seen really crazy stuff done. My daughter bought a home in Houston that had been renovated by a contractor (presumably). It looked great, fresh paint and all, but it was an electrical and other services (plumbing, air conditioning) disaster. Some of the things we found: outlets connected in series, loose twisted splices (no wire nuts) in the attic, and multiple splices along a stretch of about 20 feet of wiring. It was as if the contractor collected wire from trash cans and spliced it together for his rewiring.

    First off protect yourself and family. I would not use any outlet that had not been completely verified. This is Sunday, so calling a real electrician may be prohibitive. Second call the realtor and give'em a piece of your mind. I would demand nothing less than a temporary place to live plus expenses while the realtor gets the wiring corrected and inspected. Call a real estate attorney. I have found such attorneys to have fairly reasonable fees compared to other specialties.

  3. pilko

    Senior Member

    Dec 8, 2008
    Sounds like someone connected L1 to Hot, Neutral to Neutral and Line 2 to Ground. Probably someone trying to create a 220v socket.
    Whatever the reason, this is very dangerous.
    Don't mess with it, get a qualified electrician.

  4. Wendy


    Mar 24, 2008
    It does sound like the L1 and L2 lines (both are considered hot) were used instead of neutral on one. There is a special 15 A socket for it, it looks something like this...


    I've seen sockets that had both orientations in the same socket. Seems stupid, but they exist.

    Looks like your surge protector did its job, and saved you big bucks.
  5. 5&under=sorcery

    New Member

    Jul 4, 2010
    Since Home Depot every homeowner is an electrician nowdays. Since all is normal at the panel, (maybe) the equipment grounds have been dis-connected from ground and wired to hot somewhere in the house, between the outlets and the panel. Look in the attic or under the house, somewhere they could have accessed the branch circuits and messed with them. Also look closely in the panel and make sure ground wires haven't been transferred to circuit breakers. They may have used insulated leads in the panel to make it look normal so look closely. Look for 2-pole breakers that are newer than the rest.
    I just finished completely re-wiring a house that had similar problems. It is simply amazing what a do-it-yourself "electrician" can do.
  6. GetDeviceInfo

    Senior Member

    Jun 7, 2009
    This is not good advice considering the OP's admitted knowledge on the topic.
  7. SgtWookie


    Jul 17, 2007
    Welcome to AAC.

    Sounds like you have done some decent troubleshooting. However, I strongly suggest that you do NOT attempt the corrective actions necessary yourself.

    You need the services of a qualified and licensed electrician. This cannot be under-emphasized.

    If you try to fix it yourself and your home burns up due to an electrical fault, your insurance company may very well decline to pay for your losses. :eek:

    A licensed electrician's bill is a remarkable bargain compared to the cost of a funeral.

    Mains power can and will kill you in moments if you make a mistake.
  8. sceadwian

    New Member

    Jun 1, 2009
    Is this an apartment, or a house? If this is a house the inspector you highered should be shot, if it's an apartment you should document everything as best you can, preferably having a certified electrician doing an official writeup on what's going on with the house wiring, if it's against code the landlord is responsible for damages, and fixing all the faulty wiring in the house. If you bought this house the inspector may be at fault for missing a basic electrical inspection. If I were you I would cover all your legal bases as quickly as possible and touch nothing yourself.

    L1 L2 swaps like this are common when hack electricians try to cheat an installation by wiring things improperly to avoid having to run more wires. The installation they put in probably works fine but the obviously screwed up that portion of the house.