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I live in Texas. I ran 300 ft of aluminum electric direct-bury 4-4-2 from the pole on street to my new home. The pole is metered and yes, I had my utility's blessing to do so.

Everything worked perfectly for 6 months, but now suddenly if I plug anything (lamp, heater, charger ) in my lights dim, or sometimes if I plug in elsewhere things get very bright or plug in heaters work better or worse depending.

There’s no rhyme or reason to any of it.

  • I have undone and redone every receptacle to be sure.
  • I installed 50 amp breakers in every slot of box on house to try to solve this problem to no avail. (I have never once tripped a breaker ever)
  • I haven’t been able to put up sheetrock because I don’t want to have to remove it.
  • 86
    I think you don't understand what your breakers are doing, if you replaced ll of them with 50's, you have a fire just waiting to happen the first time here's an issue on a circuit wired with 12 or 14 ga wire. – Ecnerwal Dec 10 '17 at 17:29
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    @SaritaW because the reasons we have an Electrical Code don't happen immediately. – Harper Dec 10 '17 at 18:10
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    LOL with 50A breakers I'm not surprised you haven't tripped a breaker. 14AWG wire would be hotter than the surface of the sun before a 50 tripped. – Harper Dec 10 '17 at 18:30
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    This is serious. You could kill someone, or burn your house down, if you don't sort this out urgently. Switch everything off at the main switch, and call an electrician immediately. Tell them it's urgent. Do not use any electricity in your house until you've had professional advice about this. You could kill someone or burn your house down, if you don't sort this out urgently. And don't listen to the muppet who told you to put 50A breakers everywhere. – Dawood ibn Kareem Dec 11 '17 at 4:21
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    If you swapped out your breakers from what they should be to 50A breakers "to try and solve the problem", you are a danger to yourself and others as you obviously do not have the experience and knowledge to deal with this issue safely. Bring in someone who is licensed to figure out what's going on. In addition, with your lack of knowledge of basic electrical over-current protection, I would be concerned about any other electrical work you've touched in that house as well (such as replacing outlets, rewiring, etc.). – Milwrdfan Dec 11 '17 at 15:19
135

Call your UTILITY now on their EMERGENCY NUMBER

Your service neutral is going bad. This is a power outage even though it doesn't appear so -- the fluctuations in light and heat you see are because the 0V reference mark for all your 120V outlets is no longer acting as such, resulting in outlets getting higher and lower voltages depending on what else is plugged in. There's a good chance some things will eventually catch on fire if you keep this up

And please put properly rated breakers back in, so you aren't playing with fire for any longer than you already have been! Whoever told you to do what you did with your breakers knows nothing about electricity, and should not be treated as a reliable source of electrical advice ever again!

  • 19
    @SaritaW -- you'll have to run an entirely new cable if the problem's in the cable, but CALL YOUR UTILITY FIRST -- it could very well be the utility's problem to fix, NOT yours! – ThreePhaseEel Dec 10 '17 at 18:12
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    @SaritaW he didn't say call an electrician! He said call your utility and report a power outage. That is a complete opposite thing. They should check this out for free because it's serious and is likely on their end.. – Harper Dec 10 '17 at 18:13
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    Shut off the main and put the correct breakers back, then call the utility co. ( holy crp! ) – agentp Dec 10 '17 at 19:01
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    I seem to remember from a previous question somewhere that you should call your utility and report the actual problem so they'll recognize the problem and treat it more seriously than an outage. A "power outage" means "no power" which is not necessarily an urgent problem. – immibis Dec 11 '17 at 4:52
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    This is a 911 situation. Your electricity company should have a 24 hour emergency number and you should call it. It's not a power outage, its more like a downed power line (though that's not it exactly either). In fact it's so serious that I personally would turn off the mains breaker and just wait for the power company in the dark. But my power company would have someone here in two hours. – coteyr Dec 11 '17 at 6:31
13

There's clearly a reluctance to ask the utility or others for local help. To convince yourself of the need to get help with the wiring, use a volt meter to check the line-to-neutral voltage on both legs of the supply coming in to the main panel during a time when this bright-and-dim phenomenon is occurring. A difference of more than 1-2 volts in the two readings suggests an imbalanced/overloaded neutral or a failing connection on the neutral, as many others have already suggested. If you find this condition then there's nothing you can safely do to resolve it without involving the utility at least. In my experience, a utility will disconnect and reconnect service at no charge to the customer to support this kind of repair. Please don't hesitate to involve the utility because of concerns about budget.

12

I'd have to guess that there is (as usual, which is why I never go direct burial) a problem with the direct-buried wire - some rodent decided to chew it, or it was damaged by careless backfilling.

Conduit provides better protection for the wire and means only having to dig the trench once.

But, before you go to digging it up, it's worth going over the connections, since aluminum wire connections are tricky, and doing them right might solve your problem. You need to use a proper anti-oxidiant joint compound, and apply it correctly, then torque the connections to the correct specified torque. Obviously power needs to be OFF when doing this, so if one end of your wire is in the meterbox, you will need the utility's cooperation in getting this done, and you might want to hire an electrician anyway for the benefit of years of experience connecting aluminum wires.

  • I understand and the rodent thing is a definite possibility so I’m going to check all that. Can you answer my question the testing of that specific cable? Will I be able to use my clamp continuity tester to see if that’s where the problem lies? – Sarita W Dec 10 '17 at 17:47
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    @SaritaW With almost perfect certainty I can say that you do not have the tools to do this. Testing for a "bad" contact at a service feeder lug, or damage to the wire, is a matter of measuring fractions of an ohm. A typical meter for this purpose costs thousands of dollars. Call an electrician. Seriously. – J... Dec 11 '17 at 17:39
  • And it is very possible that significant heat could be generated at the point of the failure, potentially causing a fire. – David Schwartz Dec 12 '17 at 17:12
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Clearly the connection is showing some resistance and it is intermittent.

It would be a very good idea to call a qualified electrician to take a look at it since any resistance translates directly into heat and can be a fire hazard.

It can be a loosening connection, or perhaps water intrusion causing corrosion, or even stray critters, all of which can be easily checked.

It might very well be oxidation. Aluminum is famous for it.

It is recommended that all Aluminum connections be treated to prevent oxidation.

Here is an example of the compound that can be applied to the connection:

NOALOX 4 oz. Anti-Oxidant Compound (Home Depot $6.95)

enter image description here

  • 1
    I am waiting on the utility company to get here now and will update when I know. I switched the breakers back that were 50’s the day I posted my question and things seemed ok but it’s back doing the same weird stuff so I am back to square one. – Sarita W Dec 13 '17 at 14:50
  • Good news. They will know what to look for. If you rechecked the tightness of the connection and don't see water intrusion then it is likely to be oxidation. They will have a lot of experience in connections like yours so should be able to help. – SDsolar Dec 13 '17 at 19:05
3

It's just a hunch, but the fact that it worked correctly for 6 months and is now displaying symptoms of a ground fault to me indicates corrosion.

You mention that the 300 foot of wire you buried from the utility pole was aluminum. Your house is most likely copper. Did you use bi-metal splices to join the two wires together?

You should never join dissimilar metals together directly. The two different metals will result in galvanic corrosion. Over time this will be a fire hazard, as you will get arcing across the gap created by the corrosion.

So my advice would be to have a qualified electrician inspect these wires and the unions as quickly as possible. The situation you describe is a dangerous fire hazard.

  • This. Very much so. – Joshua Dec 14 '17 at 3:12

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