Lights Getting Brighter - Possible Loose Neutral?

jb18114

Joined Feb 2, 2018
8
Thank you for your input guys!

So I have a bunch of questions.
1. Most importantly, should I have the homeowner not use any power in the house until this is fixed?
2. Because this is before the meter, does that mean the Utility company must fix it at their expense?
3. Could this be a result of improper wiring within the house? ( I did discover strange things; outlets with black wires neutral and white wires hot, a 3-way switch that had a bare ground wire connected to one of the non-ground terminals, all of which made me think the wiring was poorly executed throughout)

And more for my personal understanding: If I understand the circuit detective article, which is doubtful but.... not all the amperage coming in through the black and red phases is going out the ground rod--would it only be the difference between what is being used on each phase? In other words, if the loads on each phase were perfectly balanced would no current need to go out the ground back to the source? Thanks for any help in knowledge and understanding!
 

cmartinez

Joined Jan 17, 2007
7,915
Because this is before the meter, does that mean the Utility company must fix it at their expense?
Don't know how it works in the U.S. But down here it's illegal to tamper with those cables. But the end user is the one who pays for that enclosure, and the utility is responsible for its proper installation.
 
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DGElder

Joined Apr 3, 2016
351
And more for my personal understanding: If I understand the circuit detective article, which is doubtful but.... not all the amperage coming in through the black and red phases is going out the ground rod--would it only be the difference between what is being used on each phase? In other words, if the loads on each phase were perfectly balanced would no current need to go out the ground back to the source? Thanks for any help in knowledge and understanding!
Correct. Since the voltage on the two hot lines are 180 degrees out of phase the currents travel in opposite directions. Since they share a neutral (or ground in this case) if the load on each line is the same the current magnitudes will be the same but move in opposite directions through the neutral. So they cancel out - there is no current through the neutral (ground in this case). If the impedances in the two circuits are different then there will be current through the neutral/ground.

The OP didn't get that while the frig and lights were on different branches they did share a common neutral - at least from the sub panel to the main panel if not earlier. And because the two branches were supplied by opposite poles: when the AC signal is at maximum positive voltage on the lights, for example, it is possible for the refrigerator to have driven the neutral below (0V) ground level, creating a higher than normal voltage potential across the lights. Which is why they got brighter when the frig compressor kicked in. That would not be the case if there was a good low resistance path through neutral to ground.
 
Something's wierd about that pic:

1. Al wiring
2. Not terminated properly
3. The terminal not used looks like it's supposed to be the ground rod
4. terminal looks like it's spot welded. Those point will carry all of current and uses the housing.

Somewhere, you need a ground neutral bond. Where is it?

There are possible alternate paths that you won't necessarily think of. Water pipe to earth to the neighbors neutral.

In the US, the demarkation point is not necessarily the meter. For water, it's the valve on the street which is before the meter.

I know that the meter housing has to have a power company sticker at the time of purchase from a distributer.
In my case a service upgrade would be the wiring from the pole to the split bolts to the pole. I also believe that the power company gets to make those connections and the ones to the meter. Upgrades in our neighborhood generally get an outside disconnect, or did. I believe the new electronically controlled meters are capable of disconnecting power.

Neutral carries the difference in currents in L1 and L2. It can be in either direction or zero. Earth is a reference. A fault in a daisy chained outlet can change the potential between outlets, but the house earth might change, but that's defined as 0V.
 

Tonyr1084

Joined Sep 24, 2015
7,254
It was probably damaged but not completely broken off by someone. Apparently the weld that held it on had been compromised. With the additional resistance it would likely have gotten hot and weakened further and further until it failed. Yeah, probably some heavy handed gorilla grip goof over torqued it and fractured its mounting weld.

Been doing some work for the Navy (US). Some of their power systems are pretty robust. However, in one case a particular component was overlooked when torquing it's fasteners (electrical connections) down. That resulted in two dangerous conditions. First was to blow out a board and an IGBT. The second was to leave a high voltage capacitor dangerously charged with no safe way of discharging it. Fortunately nobody lost their life, nobody got burned, though it could have happened. Goes to show - you never know the level of competency of the previous tech. In your case you couldn't have found it until after it failed.
 

Reloadron

Joined Jan 15, 2015
7,149
What’s Yours, What’s Ours Who’s Responsible for Your Electric and Gas Service is an informative little read regarding mains power service to a residence. The general rule is pretty much nationwide in the US between the provider and the power company.
Here is another similar cartoon example:
Power Delivery.png

1 SERVICE DROP: PPL Electric Utilities repairs the wire that runs to your home, but we do not trim trees along the service drop. We will shut off the power at your request so trees can be trimmed safely.

2 POINT OF ATTACHMENT: You are responsible for the anchor that attaches the service drop to your home.

3 SERVICE ENTRANCE CABLE: You are responsible for the wire that runs along the outside of your home into the meter and from the meter to your service panel or fuse box.

4 METER BASE: You are responsible for the metal box that houses the meter.

5 METER: PPL Electric Utilities owns the meter that measures electricity use.

6 SERVICE FUSE BOX: You are responsible for the box, the circuit breakers or fuses, and all of the wiring in your home.

Last summer I worked with my neighbor as we upgraded his service from the old 60 Amp to 200 Amp service. Most US states mimic the NEC (National Electric Code) but it is not unusual for states and even counties and towns to add their own additional code requirements. While researching I discovered in my town in the Cleveland, Ohio suburbs the actual service drop could not be the commonly used PVC but had to be metallic conduit (2") since in this case the mast head or weather head was on the driveway side of the residence. We had to purchase the meter box for a 200 amp service meter also.

Ron
 
Ron:

How did you orchestrate that sort of upgrade? The details? Did you need/get temporary power? Inspections?

I think the power drop does a few things not right. When a porch was added, the service drop could be considered to be in interior space even though it's along the soffet. The porch is totally enclosed with real windows and storm doors. The service cable penetration is just plain wrong. The meter is basically millimeters away from the shed. so, there are issues including the meter should be moved. Doing it in stages would likely flag other violations.

Is a outside disconnect required now even though, I think, utility meters can be turned off electronically?

At the same time, there could be "prepare for generator install" in a number of ways.

1. full house
2. Interlocking back fed breaker for manual backup.

Then there are outdoor transfer switches.

The logistics are really bad and everything conflicts. Aside form those examples, there is the gas supply, ground rod placement (right now there isn't one).
 

Reloadron

Joined Jan 15, 2015
7,149
Ron:

How did you orchestrate that sort of upgrade? The details? Did you need/get temporary power? Inspections?

I think the power drop does a few things not right. When a porch was added, the service drop could be considered to be in interior space even though it's along the soffet. The porch is totally enclosed with real windows and storm doors. The service cable penetration is just plain wrong. The meter is basically millimeters away from the shed. so, there are issues including the meter should be moved. Doing it in stages would likely flag other violations.

Is a outside disconnect required now even though, I think, utility meters can be turned off electronically?

At the same time, there could be "prepare for generator install" in a number of ways.

1. full house
2. Interlocking back fed breaker for manual backup.

Then there are outdoor transfer switches.

The logistics are really bad and everything conflicts. Aside form those examples, there is the gas supply, ground rod placement (right now there isn't one).
Yes, yes and yes. :)

My neighbor across the street had the same service many houses on this street have. That is 240 volt 60 amp service above ground. Before the project I had to read and review the NEC which led to state code (Ohio) which led to county code (Cuyahoga) which led to city code (Bedford Heights).

I needed to pull a permit from the city but before we did that we installed a new 200 amp service panel in the basement. The house was all old knob and tube wired, a single level wood frame with a crawl space attic. The old mains entered the basement where the first fuse box was. I temporarily came off the entry and ran a temporary line of AWG 6-3 to the new panel. Thank God Cal is about 12 years my junior and still flexible. We busted out a few walls down to the studs. Cal also managed two 1,000 foot rolls of AWG 12-3 on Craig's List. We ran a 4" pipe basement to attic beside the old lines inside a living room wall. The old first floor fuse box was actually inside a closet, a big no, no today. We pulled all the branch circuits for the street level basement to attic, then came down inside walls adding all new outlets. Everything was left open for future inspection. The city code and permit needed to be pulled by someone with a state certification. I have a good friend who maintains his state certification. :)

Once all the inside work was done we put the new 200 amp service weather head in using aluminum pipe, as I mentioned earlier a weather head on a driveway side requires metallic. The new meter box for a 200 amp service meter. At this point we called the city for an inspection. The basement jumper still in place. Oh yeah least I forget, we needed to set two eight foot ground rods spaced at least five feet apart. They are tied with AWG 6 solid copper and we needed to place them on the other side of the house or bust up the driveway which we were not about to do. Additionally the water meter and hot water heater needs grounding bridges across the In and Out. That all went well as fortunately we did not hit any rocks. The city looked and inspected and then with a signed off permit we called the power company. They came out and ran new service pole to house (heavier gauge wire) and tied into our new weather head and put the new meter in. Total time without power was maybe an hour. I learned a few things as to code, simply having the NEC book at hand doesn't cover all the bases and this is where I thank my friend Dennis who clued me in on code and pulled the permit from the city. All service to the kitchen, bathroom, garage and outside was done using 20 Amp service GFCI breakers. The end result of all this work is the lights no longer dim when the microwave comes on. :)

Before it got too cold I started wiring my new garage, everything GFCI. Come spring the insulation and walls go in and a gas furnace heater.

All of this stuff depends totally on state and local code which while they follow the NEC have some caveats state to state. This is where having a local guy familiar with the local codes comes in handy. Cal also was able to do most of the heavy bull work, I do not crawl in attics as well as I once did. He is also incredible at finding things on Craig's List. Heck he found my Harley on Craig's List. I am also firm about using quality materials. I never want to see an outlet you poke a wire into.

Logistics, especially in older construction buildings and buildings with add on additions become a nightmare as you try to pull a wire only to realize the wall has a cross member for some unknown reason.

The below image was when I put the generator in and we finally added central air and right before the yard was fenced.


Ron
 
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