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Old 09-06-2009, 02:37 AM
 
Location: northern california
380 posts, read 1,563,319 times
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I'm using my wife's login. Thanks in advance for your thoughts. We intermittently lose power to parts of the house. Half of upstairs, and parts of the first floor. The problem seems to correct itself after a random amount of time. The service panel/circuit breakers are original to the house (circa 1960's) but none of the circuit breakers are tripped -- also the outages seem to cover many different breakers (eg range, a/c, washer (but not dryer).

I reset the breakers anyway, and reset all of the GFI outlets (didn't think any were tripped). I'm not sure if the GFI is the answer since the problem seems to correct by itself? Any thoughts? I'm going to buy a gfi circuit tester tomorrow. I also replaced an interior wall sconce last year -- can't remember if the problems started after that or not. Probably pull the sconce out and check it.

I am just puzzled at why the outage wouldn't be limited to one circuit.
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Old 09-06-2009, 06:31 AM
 
Location: West Michigan
12,134 posts, read 22,273,218 times
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That is an odd one. Just a stab in the dark here without a couple answers that would narrow it down better like:
1) Is it always the same parts of the house affected?
2) have you noticed any strange smells around (by strange smells I mean like a burner left on, or like hot plastic or rubber)?
3) Any sounds like a slight buzzing or hum from the panel or meter box?

Ran into something similar years ago on a house where it was always the same side and always effected the 240 volt appliances also (electric dryer, electric stove). Turns out one of the main feed coming into the house was loose in the meter lug and was losing contact every once in a while, shutting down that particular side of the panel. Another one was a house losing power in strange places and when it did the voltage in the parts that were left on would climb way higher than they should be. Usually it turns out be a loose neutral either in the meter box or main panel. Once it was a neutral that was burned off in the power companies main drop to the house.

Good luck, without seeing the problem in action it is hard to guess what it might be. The first guess when I was reading it is that when you changed the sconce, there were both feed and switched wires in the box and you had the switch turning off the rest of the circuit, but with it effecting several circuits that can't be. My gut instinct is that you will find a corroded or burnt feed wire someplace.
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Old 09-06-2009, 08:25 AM
 
3,020 posts, read 16,688,489 times
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Default Loose connection in the power panel..............Multiple wires under one screw

The self resetting feature is probably caused by something self heating, it then opens power by some means, once it cools, things "Reset by themselves".

Wall sconce may not be involved at all, it was replaced about the time the real problem started.

We need a better definition of exactly what seems to happen? How often, how long it is out?

You first could go check all the connections in the power panel. Could be screw(s) not tight, something corroded, more than one actual circuit run placed into a particular breaker and that is loose. Look for multiple black wires attached to a particular breaker, check those connections and screw tightness. That cause sounds better the more I think of it. Things could appear to affect multiple circuits and be very random with no logic involved. Self heating, insulation not properly trimmed, wires diameters interference in one not making good contact, could be more than two black wires stuck into a particular breaker. That breaker itself could be cracked or faulty.

That cause is sounding better to me as I imagine what it could be. Is the easy place to start. Completely check over the power panel (with the cover off). Look in particular at all the black wires and how they are attached to the breakers. Then check all the neutrals on their bus too. Same deal, more than one neutral can be affected by a loose screw in its position. A jammed up neutral attachment with multiple wires and the screw loose would give you the problem. Depending on what is happening with the grounds, is this a three wire circuit with all the grounds also attached?

I would be focusing on the power panel for openers, basically looking for a screw connection not made up well or loose. Is something you could do yourself if you know how to safely work in a panel or could call an electrician. Would point out this is the place to start. Be a real keener and tell them how to do their job.

I'm doubting it is out in the actual wiring run at this point. Thinking multiple circuts affected by a single screw that is either loose or jammed with more than one wire that does not make full contact due to ambient temperature changes or load draw at some point in time.

At this point I'm putting my bet on multiple circuits being affected by a single loose screw. Could be the breaker with more than one black wire attached or the neutral connecton point to the bus bar with more than one wire in that particular hole opening. Focus in particular for white wires and bare ground wires in a neutral bus bar spot with multiple wires in the same hole, that screw is not tight or making good contact. Could be the grounds and neutrals for more than one circuit are all in the same hole, all affected by one screw tightness.

Still could be a junction box and some wire nut connection faulty buried in some wall but that might also require more than one fault. Got to think about it more. Could be a bear to find. Would eliminate the power panel first.

Last edited by Cosmic; 09-06-2009 at 08:38 AM..
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Old 09-06-2009, 08:54 AM
 
Location: Las Flores, Orange County, CA
26,362 posts, read 55,867,493 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Cosmic View Post

Wall sconce may not be involved at all, it was replaced about the time the real problem started.
Which is exactly why the sconce is a suspect.
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Old 09-06-2009, 09:42 AM
 
3,020 posts, read 16,688,489 times
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Default No, not really...............

Quote:
Originally Posted by Charles View Post
Which is exactly why the sconce is a suspect.
The wall sconce probably requires something really weird to affect the actual rest of a power run, multiple areas of the house. It is just a load in parallel if done normally. It being messed up should have no effect on the rest of the loads getting power if the breaker supplyng the overall circuit does not trip.

Only that particular light would be affected. The OP seemed to be saying the sconce worked normally once replaced. That pretty eliminates the sconce if it does not cause the breaker to trip or some continuous abnormality.

This is probably two or more individual run circuit cables stuck under the same breaker tab and the screw is loose or somehow, their neutrals / grounds have a similar problem. That is the best good logical assumption for openers. Lots of loads will be affected by one single failure point, when that clears, all loads are restored. Simple cause and effect that is logical.

If two or more cable runs are involved one or the other lossing contact for a brief period will give the appearance of maybe a haunted house with strange events possible. Whatever it is has to be back at a common power source point. Power panel is the first logical place to start.
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Old 09-06-2009, 12:02 PM
 
Location: Somewhere in northern Alabama
11,753 posts, read 27,321,510 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by christeen View Post
I'm using my wife's login. Thanks in advance for your thoughts. We intermittently lose power to parts of the house. Half of upstairs, and parts of the first floor. The problem seems to correct itself after a random amount of time. The service panel/circuit breakers are original to the house (circa 1960's) but none of the circuit breakers are tripped -- also the outages seem to cover many different breakers (eg range, a/c, washer (but not dryer).

I reset the breakers anyway, and reset all of the GFI outlets (didn't think any were tripped). I'm not sure if the GFI is the answer since the problem seems to correct by itself? Any thoughts? I'm going to buy a gfi circuit tester tomorrow. I also replaced an interior wall sconce last year -- can't remember if the problems started after that or not. Probably pull the sconce out and check it.

I am just puzzled at why the outage wouldn't be limited to one circuit.
OK, using a logic tree -

No breakers are tripped - therefore no overloaded circuit
Breaker boxes have tongues that engage breakers on alternate legs of the transformer. Here is the big clue - "the outages seem to cover many different breakers (eg range, a/c, washer (but not dryer)."

If it was every other circuit, and/or BOTH the range and dryer were affected, then we could suspect the hot legs of the circuits.

However one 220 vt appliance is affected and yet another is not. Since we can eliminate the hot side of the circuits, we are left with the neutral. All neutral circuits get terminated within the breaker box on a buss. My first guess is that if you remove the cover of the breaker box and examine the buss, you'll find one or more cracks or other damage right in the immediate area.

Let us know what you find.
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Old 09-06-2009, 01:36 PM
 
Location: Knoxville
3,351 posts, read 10,920,412 times
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This would be where I would want to look inside the main panel first. As much as I hate to admit it, Cosmic is right on the money.

Something else to throw into the mix...If the panel is a Pushmatic, or a Zinsco, it can be a breaker problem, or a main buss bar issue.

Another thing to remember, you can have a fire without the breakers tripping.
I suspect maybe multiple taps on a breaker, or
Buss bar and/or breaker problems, or
Loose connections inside the panel.

60's panel is not likely to have solid aluminum wiring, or be a Federal Pacific Stab Lok panel, both of which could be likely problems that can do this too.

I would get an electrician to open up the panel and see what they see.
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Old 09-06-2009, 02:39 PM
 
Location: northern california
380 posts, read 1,563,319 times
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thanks for the suggestions -- of course today is sunday -- i'll call around re: electricians tomorrow -- power went out for less than a minute this am -- the circuit breaker panel is a zinsco, but i'm a little hesitant to open it.
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Old 09-06-2009, 04:37 PM
 
Location: Sometimes Maryland, sometimes NoVA. Depends on the day of the week
1,501 posts, read 7,734,754 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Barking Spider View Post
60's panel is not likely to have solid aluminum wiring, or be a Federal Pacific Stab Lok panel, both of which could be likely problems that can do this too.
Depends on when in the 60s. AL wiring starting in the mid-60s, most common in the early 70s. When I saw 60s, I immediately though AL wiring.

OP, when you replaced the scones, were the wire copper or aluminum?
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Old 09-06-2009, 05:05 PM
 
Location: northern california
380 posts, read 1,563,319 times
Reputation: 131
Gosh I don't remember -- here's an update -- PG&E (the utility company) came out and the trouble appears to be with the main breaker on the zinsco -- it has corroded into the breaker bars a bit -- still don't have power -- trying to call an electrician to come this weekend. I assume that means I'll have to pay to get the short term fix and then again to update the breaker box to current code.
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