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For the past few weeks some of our lights have occasionally flickered. Yesterday the power went out for those lights. At the circuit breaker box I didn't see any in the flipped position, but I went through them all, flipping each one off and back on, and when I was done, the lights were back on.

Today it went out again for those lights. This time I started by taking stock of what didn't have power, and saw that the oven, microwave, and garage door did not. But the oven clock was on even though the oven itself had no power. There is no battery for the oven clock. I thought that was strange.

While looking at the oven I turned the oven power switch off and on a couple times. Suddenly the lights went back on. The Microwave got power too. And then when I turned the oven off, the lights, and microwave display, went back off. I went back and forth like that several times. With the oven on, the lights and microwave display went on. With the oven off, the lights and microwave display went off. But always the oven clock stayed on.

It's a wall oven, wired into the wall wiring (not a plug). The house was built in 1962.

I recently had to replace the oven when the old one (very old, circa about 1980) died. That was maybe half a year ago. The new oven is a Magic Chef MCSWOE24S.

Any suggestions on troubleshooting? Any thoughts about what the problem is likely to be?

UPDATE:

Following advice given below, I called the power company this morning and they came by. They said they weren't sure what the problem was but replaced something that they suspected, referring to it as "old-style". They said to call them again if the problem kept happening and they'd put a volt meter on to monitor it.

I had previously unplugged the (over-the-range) microwave because it had triggered the problem a couple times. I plugged it back in and tested it and all seems well so far.

UPDATE 2:

Hours after they left, the power went out briefly, and later we saw lights flickering a couple times. So I doubt the saga is over yet.

UPDATE 3:

The problem is in the breaker box. A screw got loose and the connection has been burning up. If I can find an old used 1960s GE TRX2012S or TRX2012F box, the tech can replace the part. Otherwise $2,000+ for a new breaker box and getting up to code. Any idea where I can find that old breaker box?

  • Do you have a voltmeter/multimeter? And by "oven power switch" do you mean the circuit breaker for the oven circuit? – ThreePhaseEel Mar 29 at 22:54
  • I do have a multimeter, a Southwire 16040T. By "oven power switch" I just mean the controls on the oven for turning it on. Not the circuit breaker. – Greg Lovern Mar 29 at 23:12
  • Ah. What do you measure for AC volts at the microwave outlet when this is going on with a) the oven off and b) the oven on, compared to what you measure at an outlet that still works with the oven off? – ThreePhaseEel Mar 30 at 1:42
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You may have a lost pole/phase or neutral. That is very serious problem but the good news is that in most places you can call your electric utility and they will check and likely fix it as most of the time this is a utility problem and not a problem in your house. Key clue is a 240v load making 120v loads work.

CALL YOUR ELECTRIC UTILITY AND TELL THEM YOU HAVE A PARTIAL OUTAGE AND DESCRIBE THE PROBLEM.

Until this is fixed you may have more problems - including risk of damage to equipment or fire - than you realize.

  • 1
    Thanks, I called the power company this morning and they came by. They said they weren't sure what the problem was but replaced something that they suspected. They said to call them again if the problem kept happening and they'd put a volt meter on to monitor it. I had previously unplugged the microwave because it had triggered the problem a couple times. I plugged it back in and tested it and all seems well so far. – Greg Lovern Mar 31 at 17:34
  • 1
    The problem is in the breaker box. A screw got loose and the connection has been burning up. If I can find an old used 1960s GE TRX2012S or TRX2012F box, the tech can replace the part. Otherwise $2,000+ for a new breaker box and getting up to code. Any idea where I can find that old breaker box? – Greg Lovern Apr 3 at 19:46
2

You have a power outage. You lost one leg (pole) of your power.

Call the power company and report an outage. They'll come out and fix it for free in a few hours. (unless an ice storm or wind storm has their trucks running all over the place fixing everyone else).

You lost a hot pole (not a neutral). The dead giveaways are:

  • Oven does not work, but oven clock or light work; or dryer motor spins but no heat.
  • A bunch of 120V circuits around the house are dead
  • When you turn on a 240V load like the the oven, water heater or dryer heat, the oven etc. doesn't heat, but all the other circuits come back to life.

What's happening is that the oven's big heating element is connected across the two 120V poles of power (which add up to 240V normally). When you turn the oven on, that big heating element "connects" the two poles to each other, so now power flows through the heating element to "light up" the dead pole. This makes all the 120V circuits on that pole light up. However the performance will be very poor, hence the light dimming.

Most likely the problem is out at the power pole or underground wiring trunk. The power company will fix this in a jiffy, and do it for free.

And by the way, the reason it's intermittent is the water heater. When it cycles on, the water heater also "connects" the two poles to each other. This weakly powers up the 120V appliances on the dead pole, and their power goes through the water heater, heating the water until it cycles off. Then that pole is dead again.

  • Thanks -- one question though. Some of the lights and power outlets in the house are never affected; they always work fine even when the others are affected. Would that still indicate a problem outside the house for the power company to fix, or would it indicate something wrong in the house? – Greg Lovern Mar 31 at 2:04
  • Oh -- BTW -- Yes, dryer spinning with no heat has indeed been another symptom. – Greg Lovern Mar 31 at 2:05
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    @Yes, it's still a power company problem. The stuff that is working is between neutral (that is working) and the pole that is still working. Should be about half your panel. – Harper Mar 31 at 5:35
  • I called the power company this morning and they came by. They said they weren't sure what the problem was but replaced something that they suspected. They said to call them again if the problem kept happening and they'd put a volt meter on to monitor it. I had previously unplugged the microwave because it had triggered the problem a couple times. I plugged it back in and tested it and all seems well so far. – Greg Lovern Mar 31 at 17:33
  • Did they send the boom truck up to the pole (or open up the underground wiring trunk if your service is undergrounded)? – Harper Mar 31 at 17:46

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