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Costumemaker

@myvzw.com

Getting hot/neutral reverse; no breaker flip or reset fix

Hello! I am a mom and a bit lost. My husband is at war and I don't want to burn the house down before he comes home.

I have an in-home office where the problem is located. For the 2 years we have owned our home, our lights pop a lot (bulbs blow) for no reason. However, these fixtures are not the main problem right now.

In my office, I never had a problem until we have a new panel put in (arcing was happening, hot breakers, and wrong type/size breakers). Now, I plug in my printer, computer(laptop), light and stereo, and finally my portable steamer (I make costumes) - and the room blows (meaning that no outlets work now in the line they are attached to). They are plugged into different receptacles. Now, the breaker doesn't switch/flip and even if I try to flip it on my own, it doesn't resolve the problem.

I checked each receptacle and am getting a hot/neutral reverse, both after the power goes out before I reset a breaker that didn't flip and after I "reset" the breaker that didn't flip. So nothing seems to resolve the problem, but time. A few days later - the power will work again - for no apparent reason.

Can you help? I will call an electrician, but I have had several unscrupulous people work on my former homes and am a bit nervous.



Warzau
Premium
join:2000-10-26
Naperville, IL
kudos:1

I would call the Electrician who put the new panel in and have him fix it. Not look at it, not estimate the cost. BUT FIX IT. DOn't try to flip the breaker anymore you are risking life and property.



Costumemaker

@myvzw.com

Hello! Thanks.

It's that bad - huh? Why would we get the neutral/reverse light that we can't change? The only problem is that I never really used the room until after the panel was switched so could it still be the panel? It's not an overload problem then - I guess.

Thanks


TheMG
Premium
join:2007-09-04
Canada
kudos:2
Reviews:
·NorthWest Tel

1 edit

There is a bad connection somewhere on the circuit and putting load on it is causing this connection to heat up, arc, and go completely open. The bad connection sounds like it may be on the neutral, making it seem like the neutral turns live.

Turn the breaker off and leave it off until an electrician can fix the problem. Bad connections can cause heat which can lead to a fire.


bkjohnson
Premium
join:2002-05-22
Birmingham, AL
Reviews:
·Charter
reply to Costumemaker

I once had a strange electrical problem that was traced to improper wiring of a 3-way switch setup in a part of the house away from the problem area. It only occurred when a certain combination involving the 3-way switch and other switches occurred. Could that be a possibility? I agree that a good electrician should be consulted.



Costumemaker

@myvzw.com

Hello! I did just install a replacement fan/light in another room - could that be what you mean by a 3 way switch? It is not on the same circuit?



whizkid3
Premium,MVM
join:2002-02-21
Queens, NY
kudos:9
reply to Costumemaker

said by Costumemaker :

In my office, I never had a problem until we have a new panel put in (arcing was happening, hot breakers, and wrong type/size breakers).
If this hasn't been fixed, you have a possible catastrophy on your hands. Using the wrong size or type breakers is a sure path to a fire. Have the right model, type and size of breakers put in immediately. Most of your problems should go away.

After this is done, any hot breakers can be signs of:

- overloaded circuits
- improper wire termination at the breaker

There are other possibilities, but these are most likely.

If a breaker doesn't flip or switch, you either have a short circuit or its bad. Unplug all cord & plug devices and try again. If that doesn't work, replace the breaker, and try again. If it still doesn't resolve the problem, its likely damaged or problematic wiring, in which case (if you don't have one already working on this), you should get a qualified electrician.


mattmag
Premium,ExMod 2000-03
join:2000-04-09
NW Illinois
kudos:3

1 edit

1 recommendation

reply to Costumemaker



Whizkid has checked in---I will let the experts advise you!!



Costumemaker

@myvzw.com

Well, I have to find my phone (it isn't working either all of a sudden and some other lights have been deciding when they want to turn on and off - not when I switch something).

I will call the company who did it originally. He did replace the whole panel b/c it was hot, but now it isn't hot, it just doesn't switch when this problem of no outlets working and not working when I manually switch the plug. It just went back on it's own so I think you are all right - it is a bad thing. I was hoping it was something I could do on my own, but that might be worse.

Are there any "key phrases" I should use to get him out here and repair his work - or will I have to pay no matter what?



Costumemaker

@myvzw.com

Well, the electrician said it wasn't his box and I have to pay 150/hr and it is the wiring in the room. I am frustrated. Should I call someone else or is this likely?



whizkid3
Premium,MVM
join:2002-02-21
Queens, NY
kudos:9

Call a few electricians, and get a better quote.



mattmag
Premium,ExMod 2000-03
join:2000-04-09
NW Illinois
kudos:3



Better yet, call some of your friends and acquaintances and see who they would recommend. Chances are good you will get a more favorable result.



pende_tim
Premium
join:2004-01-04
Andover, NJ
kudos:1
Reviews:
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reply to Costumemaker

I am assuming the problem started after you did the fan replacement? It sounds like a loose connection somewhere. Loose connections are very bad as they generate heat under load and heat is NOT your friend in connections.

I would double check the connections on the fan/light job you did. It is possible one of the wirenuts did not make a good connection on the "feed through" conductors. By this I mean in the fan connection box there is probably a Black wire that supplies power to the box where the fan is connected, and a black wire that continues on to other circuits in the house. You also "tap" off this wire for power to the fan switch. Look to be sure the black wire going to the rest of the house is securely wire nutted to the other wires. There also may be a white wire that feeds in and out of the box as well as a connection to the fan/light white wires. These need to be secured together.

Basicly, go back to the last thing you touched and make sure it is electrically well connected. It can be tricky to wire nut multiple solid #14 wires to stranded #16 wires unless you have some experience.

If you are unsure, as suggested, get a pro in to take a look.
--
The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.



seaquake
Premium,MVM
join:2001-03-23
Millersville, MD
reply to whizkid3

said by whizkid3:

Call a few electricians, and get a better quote.
Yeah, it won't be cheap. Maybe throw in the fact that your husband is overseas serving our country. Some companies will give you a military discount. It may only be 10 or 20%, but every bit helps. For something this serious, the cost will probably be less than the deductible if your house were to burn down.


nunya
Premium,MVM
join:2000-12-23
O Fallon, MO
kudos:12
Reviews:
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reply to Costumemaker

Most likely it wasn't the electrician. It sounds like you have been overloading the circuit for a while (?). They probably put in the correct size breaker, causing frequent trips. (e.g., it's doing it's job). If there is still trouble on the circuit, the breaker either will not stay reset, or reset at all.
None the less, wiring or a device has been damaged and there isn't much you can do but call a pro. $150 / hr is ridiculous, no matter where you live.
$90-110 + materials.
--
Looks like Reverend Wright got his wish - God Damn America.


robbin
Premium,MVM
join:2000-09-21
Leander, TX
kudos:1

said by nunya:

None the less, wiring or a device has been damaged and there isn't much you can do but call a pro. $150 / hr is ridiculous, no matter where you live.
$90-110 + materials.
Sounds to me like he doesn't want to troubleshot old wiring. I can understand that. Price it high so she gets someone else!


pende_tim
Premium
join:2004-01-04
Andover, NJ
kudos:1
Reviews:
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reply to Costumemaker

Steamers, being heating devices, can draw a lot of power. Sounds like this needs to be on a 20 AMP circuit.

Is the breaker powering the room a 15 or 20 Amp device? Typically general use rooms have 15 Amp breakers feeding them.

You have the best chance of finding a 20 Amp circuit in the kitchen. Can you plug the steamer in there and not the work room? Easiest way to find what circuit breaker powers what if you are doing it by yourself is to plug a noisy thing in - like a vacuum cleaner- and listen for it to stop as you turn off breakers.

Does the breaker that powers the circuit in the work room trip when "the lights go out"? If it has tripped a lot, it may be shot and needs to be replaced.
--
The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.



CUBS_FAN
Next Year Again..

join:2005-04-28
Chicago, IL
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I dont know what brand of steamer the OP is using:

Shark Portable Steamer
Two-in-one steamer lets you clean and sterilize indoors and out without hazardous chemicals and hand scrubbing! This Shark 1600 watt steam cleaner generates 100% more steam power than competing models to quickly disinfect, sanitize and deodorize everything from floors and windows to bathtubs and BBQ grills.
Overloading sounds like a good excuse.


whizkid3
Premium,MVM
join:2002-02-21
Queens, NY
kudos:9
reply to pende_tim

said by pende_tim:

Typically general use rooms have 15 Amp breakers feeding them.
Tyically, residential lighting-only circuits are 15A,and circuits with receptacles or receptacles & lighting are 20A.

We don't know what the steamer is rated, but all indications point to a continually overloaded circuit. The breaker may have been damaged from being overheated and tripping too often; the wiring may be damaged as well.


pende_tim
Premium
join:2004-01-04
Andover, NJ
kudos:1
Reviews:
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Hi Wizkid3,

Not knowing the age of the house, the receptacles may be 20 amp, but as of a few years ago, at least in NJ, branch circuits were 15 A and except for kitchen and dining room. (I have a 20 year old house with 15 amp circuits except kitchen and dining room)

I would guess the home is older since she had to replace the panel a while back, that is not something done to homes for a LONG time after they are built, unless there was water damage or a lightning strike.

Yes, the steamer sounds like the problem and it very well may have fried the breaker.

Tim
--
The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.


Mr Matt

join:2008-01-29
Eustis, FL
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reply to Costumemaker

You did not state if the panel you had replaced was the main panel or a sub feed panel. In any case you might have a loose neutral between the meter can and your main panel or you main panel and sub feed panel. The electrical system in your home delivers 110 and 240 Volts. The system delivers 240 Volts to large appliances like you water heater and your electric stove. It delivers 120 Volts to your convenience outlets. The white conductor of each convenience outlet is connected to the neutral and the Black or Red wire of the outlet is connected to one of the Black Hot Wires from the electric meter through a circuit breaker. If the neutral is open or loose the voltage at the outlet or lights will depend on the load on each of the hot conductors from the meter or sub feed panel. If you plug the steamer into an outlet and the neutral is open or loose (high resistance) the voltage across the steamer will be low and the voltage on the outlets on the other side of the neutral will be high. The best way to test for this problem is with a volt meter. It is best to use a meter that will read up to 250 Volts. You can purchase a meter from Radio Shack that plugs directly into an AC outlet. If the outlet your steamer is plugged in reads 50 Volts then the outlets on the other side of the neutral might read 190 Volts.

You might want to want to contact your local power company. The problem might be in the service drop between the distribution transformer and you meter. If the problem is in the drop the electric company will fix it. In many cases if the problem is in you home the technician will attempt to locate the problem for you, and fix it if it does not involve much time.


vintagewino

join:2003-07-22
Grimsby, ON
kudos:2
Reviews:
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reply to TheMG

said by TheMG:

There is a bad connection somewhere on the circuit and putting load on it is causing this connection to heat up, arc, and go completely open. The bad connection sounds like it may be on the neutral, making it seem like the neutral turns live.

Turn the breaker off and leave it off until an electrician can fix the problem. Bad connections can cause heat which can lead to a fire.

I assume you have a couple of wall receptacles in the room, with the various items plugged in. When the steamer is turned on, and the breaker trips, do ALL the items turn off, or just the steamer?

Reason for asking is if the one breaker supplies all the items, chances are you may be in a possible overload condition, and the breaker is doing its job.

I checked each receptacle and am getting a hot/neutral reverse

Something's fishy here. I don't like it. Almost sounds like whoever did the wiring reversed hot & neutral. Not good!

Have a chat with your utility company to make certain the wiring from the pole-meter-panel is OK and all wires are snug. Maybe the chap can recommend a good electrician at a reasonable price.

I wouldn't delay on this problem.


Candoo3

join:2005-01-24
reply to Costumemaker

said by Costumemaker :

I checked each receptacle and am getting a hot/neutral reverse, both after the power goes out before I reset a breaker that didn't flip and after I "reset" the breaker that didn't flip. So nothing seems to resolve the problem, but time. A few days later - the power will work again - for no apparent reason.
Aside from the hot/neutral reverse, which is definitely mucked up somewhere. I've had many receptacles that I've had to fix over the years, where the original "sparky" had used the push-in connection on the receptacle, instead of the screw terminals. Over time the push-in connection will corrode and lose contact. One day the plug(s) will work, next day not. It doesn't trip the breaker, as there isn't an over-load problem. It can make for a PITA, if all receptacles on the line are in series, one feeding the next in the line, instead of having the wires tied in the recept box. If they were tied, it would be easier to isolate the bad receptacle.


mattmag
Premium,ExMod 2000-03
join:2000-04-09
NW Illinois
kudos:3
reply to pende_tim

said by pende_tim:

Not knowing the age of the house, the receptacles may be 20 amp, but as of a few years ago, at least in NJ, branch circuits were 15 A and except for kitchen and dining room.
Not having 20amp receptacle circuits is just plain silly. Most of the time it is done to low-ball the price instead of doing a quality job. Nearly every house wiring situation I have worked with is as whizkid3 mentioned; 20A Receps/lights, 15A lighting only.


Rifleman
Premium
join:2004-02-09
p1a

1 edit

I don't know about the US but every house in Canada as far as I know is wired with 15 amp circuits for receptacles. #14/2 wire and 15 amp breakers. That includes circuits with lights and receptacles.
The only place I use 20 amp for receptacles is within 3 feet of the kitchen sink. I use a Tslot 20 amp GFI with 12/2wire for those as per code.
Once in awhile if specified a 20 amp will go in a workshop or garage.
Anyways--Canada is pretty safe when it comes to code and have no doubt many homes in the US are the same and are perfectly fine safety wise. My wiring jobs are top notch quality wise. At least according to the guys that count-----the inspectors.



pende_tim
Premium
join:2004-01-04
Andover, NJ
kudos:1
Reviews:
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reply to mattmag

Yes it is silly not to put 20A branch circuits everywhere but as you point out, it is about the cost. Since code does allow 15A, except in certain places, contractors will do it the least cost way.

How can you win a bid if your material cost is 15-20% higher than the guy bidding on a bare bones specification.

Also don't forget that over the years power requirements have also increased making heavier branch circuits more desirable. 20 years ago who would have believed a bathroom needed to support a hair dryer, a curling iron and a hair straightener at the same time? Or people would have 2 or 3 computers, printers and monitors in a room?

For this thread talking about what should-a-done is not productive. The reality is costumemaker's home is wired, and the fact it should have had 20 Amp circuits in her sewing room is irrelevant. She need to find a solution to the problem at hand.

Depending on the way the home is built it may or may not be easy to add a 20 A for the steamer.

She has to do two things: Diagnose and fix the immediate problem and decide what she is going to do longer term to prevent the problem from re-occurring.
--
The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.



Rifleman
Premium
join:2004-02-09
p1a

A 1600 watt steamer should not trip at 15amp breaker if used in the kitchen--where there would be split 15amp receptacleson the countertops, one separate 15amp for the microwave, one 15 amp for the fridge, and one separate 15 amp for the dining room. In Canada anyways.
I have never had a return call or complaint of tripping breakers.
You could also run an easy 10-15 computerson a 15 amp circuit and probably a TV with etertainment system with it.



whizkid3
Premium,MVM
join:2002-02-21
Queens, NY
kudos:9
reply to pende_tim

said by pende_tim:

Yes it is silly not to put 20A branch circuits everywhere but as you point out, it is about the cost. Since code does allow 15A, except in certain places, contractors will do it the least cost way.

How can you win a bid if your material cost is 15-20% higher than the guy bidding on a bare bones specification.
Its not typical in the US, that's all I can say. Remember, the way the NEC requires the minimum number of receptacles to be calculated per square foot in a new residence, you need more circuits if you are running 15A circuits.

That the OP has receptacles on a 15A circuit, makes an even stronger case that the circuit is overloaded.


pende_tim
Premium
join:2004-01-04
Andover, NJ
kudos:1
Reviews:
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I don't recall costumemaker ever saying the circuits were 15A. We are assuming that from the symptoms.

A 1600 watt steamer ( another assumption ) will draw almost 14 amps @115VAC so there is very little reserve capacity for the other devices she has connected.

If both of these assumptions are valid, she needs to upgrade/add at least one outlet dedicated to the steamer. Also needs to replace the failed breaker and inspect the wiring associated with that circuit to make sure it has not been overloaded and damaged or some other issue is going on with the panel, like a loose connection etc.

150/hour is a lot to pay, even in the metro NY/NJ area .
I am only billed $85/hour for union journeymen working industrial projects through a contractor. Sounds like the contractor is too busy or does not want to be bothered with this job.
--
The difference between genius and stupidity is that genius has its limits.



nunya
Premium,MVM
join:2000-12-23
O Fallon, MO
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reply to Rifleman

15A circuits are the norm for residential here too. 20A is mainly laundry, kitchen, and bathrooms. I'm pretty sure NEC and Canadian codes closely parallel one another. I think you're spot on with your advice.




Divided properly, 15A circuits are perfectly fine for residential general use and lighting.
I personally hate #12 solid. It's a PITA to work with and terminate. (why oh why can't they make it stranded?)
Since NEC does not specify how many receptacles per branch, what most electricians do is apply the commercial calculation:
2400VA for a 20A ckt @ 120V. 180VA for a typical duplex receptacle.
2400VA/180VA = 13 outlets on a 20
1800VA/180VA = 10 outlets on a 15

Since the overcurrent protection is set ant the panel, you could have 100 receptacles on the circuit and still be "safe".

FWIW, most AHJ's limit the number to 7-8 anyway.

I've never had a call back for overloading on a new home.
--
Looks like Reverend Wright got his wish - God Damn America.