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I recently moved into an apartment with a 3-prong, NEMA 10-30 outlet. It looks like this:

Nema 10-30

I bought an old dryer that I confirmed was working before purchasing it and hooked it up and unfortunately the dryer never heated up. I suspected something was up with the outlet, so I busted out the multimeter and measured each connection. I used an Etekcity MSR-R500 and had it set to the AC 500 setting and measured the following:

  • Y to X: 0 V
  • Y to W: 120 V
  • X to W: 120 V

Based on my research it would seem that Y to X should have read 240 V, not 0. However, the other two connections are both reading 120 V correctly. I'm wondering what this would typically indicate - bad wiring? If so, what would be a good next step to either fix the issue or confirm the problem? Or at this point is it time to call an electrician?

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    It's vaguely possible that some other 240v load is on the same circuit and half of the circuit breaker has tripped. Otherwise, likely both legs of the circuit have been wired to the same leg in the breaker panel. Both of these options suggest a case of miswiring. If the apartment owner won't address it, complain to the electrical inspector. – Hot Licks Oct 29 '18 at 13:00
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    It does seem as if X and Y are the same polarity rather than opposite polarity. Hope your dryer is okay. – Kaz Oct 29 '18 at 18:59
  • @clicquot-the-dog. I have seen this in the past. Please let us know if the breakers are like 2 in 1 slot or maybe 2 full sized breakers in odd or even breakers, off both full sized breakers are in even or odd slots both are on the same leg no 240v for the heater but the drum may run, the second case is for 2 breakers or a double stuff in a breaker that the 2 breakers are the same with as a full size breaker. These are on the same leg also, this means most dryer drums will turn and many the timer will count down and buzz but there is no voltage avail to the heater coil (240v) I have seen this. – Ed Beal Oct 30 '18 at 1:32
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I bet if you go to your service panel, you're going to find a completely full service panel, and a unique creature we call a "double-stuff breaker". Quite likely the landlord does his own electrical work or pays a dumb handyman (naughty naughty). He's out of space in the panel, so he resorted to those double-stuffs.

He moved the dryer from a 2-pole breaker (which takes 2 spaces) to a duplex breaker that takes only one space. As my link discusses, one space sees only one pole, so you get what you saw. Any proper electrician would notice a "red flag" where the duplex sides can turned off individually, making it unsafe for dryer use.

Since this is a rental, you can't fix any of this. Most jurisdictions require commercial work be done only by licensed electricians, and rental properties are considered commercial. You can't, he can't, his handyman can't. A pro electrician is required.

Given this level of incompetence, I would not advise trusting that circuit. The obsolete and dangerous 3-prong connections absolutely rely on the neutral wire being intact and not broken. If neutral breaks, the chassis of the dryer becomes electrified and can kill you, especially as you are handling wet things and touching both dryer (electrified) and washer (grounded).

But since he must fix it, he should consider bringing in someone competent, and upgrading the circuit to modern, safe NEMA 14 standard. This will require you change the dryer plug (back to what it was shipped with), but will be much safer for your family.

  • I don't see how this theory is consistent with the measurements OP took. – R.. Oct 29 '18 at 6:08
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    @R.. I don't know what to tell you, either it's a knowledge gap issue, or you are used to working with GE Q-line panels, which are an exception. Read my treatise on double stuffs for how normal panels do it. Normal duplex breakers occupy 1 space, only have access to 1 pole, and so cannot provide opposing poles, doing what OP observes. Pole to pole on a duplex is 0V because it's the same pole. – Harper Oct 29 '18 at 7:23
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    @R.. Read Ed Beal's comment in that "double stuff" link. I have been called to a home the dryer did not work after a tandem 30 amp breaker was installed DIY. The drum would turn but no heat because it was only 120v. Sounds spot on to me – Machavity Oct 29 '18 at 12:22
  • @Harper: OK, that clarifies it. – R.. Oct 29 '18 at 15:10
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    For what it's worth, what confused me is "Didn't notice the duplex sides can turned off individually, making them unfit for dryer use." That's what makes it unsafe, but what makes it unfit is just that they're both on the same pole and thus provide 0V between them. – R.. Oct 29 '18 at 15:12
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One possibility is that the two hots, labelled X and Y, are on the same line or leg of the service.

The 240V electrical service typical in the US is a three wire Edison circuit, with two of the service wires, commonly called the legs or lines, designated L1 and L2, are at 240VAC at 60Hz, with the neutral tapped midway between the two - 120V L1 to N and 120V L2 to N - and the neutral is grounded.

In your electrical panel, a 240V 2-pole breaker will attach to bus bars that are each in turn connected to L1 and L2. So the two poles of the breaker are at 240V.

If the wires at that receptacle go back to a 240V breaker, properly installed in the panel, it would be very unusual to see anything but 240V at the receptacle. The 240V breaker straddles both legs, so one terminal is tied to L1, and the other is tied to L2.

However if the wires for that receptacle are terminated on two breakers that are both on L1 or both on L2, you will see just what you're seeing. For example, if they used a tandem breaker - the space saver breaker that squeezes two breakers in a single space - you'll see just what you're seeing. Both of the breakers in a tandem tie to the same leg.

There may be other possibilities, including something wrong in the wiring between the breaker and the receptacle.

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This happened to me a couple of years ago. The builder (in 1972) apparently found some three-phase load centers really cheap and used those in place of a more normal 240V panel. He then wired two of the phases to one leg of the 240V circuit, the third phase to the other leg. Instead of an ABABAB... pattern on the comb that the breakers plug into, the pattern was AABAAB..., so you had a i in 3 chance of placing a double (240V) breaker with both legs on the same leg of the 240V circuit. And of course, that's exactly what happened when the electrician installed the new dryer circuit a couple of years ago.

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    Talk about leaving a trap for young players! That's just... awful that he installed a 3ph LC into a 1ph system and then jumped two of the busbars in parallel. – ThreePhaseEel Oct 30 '18 at 3:38
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It's wired wrong.

Someone connected both X and Y to the same 110V side of the electrical service.

The only fix is to move either the X or Y wire to it's proper location, attached to the other leg of the electrical service.

If the wiring problem is in the circuit breaker panel, it's because he used two single pole breakers instead of 1 double pole breaker. If he had used the double pole breaker, it would have been impossible to wire wrong.

You need to tell the landlord, and he'll need to get someone to fix it.

If he won't fix it, you can actually modify the dryer to run on 110V. It's a simple change and should be documented in the installation instructions. The only problem is that everything will dry very slowly.

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