Problem started when I woke up with no power in my bedroom. I checked the box and no breakers were tripped, so I tried to turn on a tv that I have hooked to my security system. The tv went up in smoke! (no fire only smoke). So I shut down the breaker for the circuit. This caused other circuits to begin acting erratically, coming and going.

I checked voltage coming into main breaker, and one leg shows 126 volts the other 115 volts. Same leaving the breaker when main is on. So then I turn on the breaker which my bedroom is on, and all of a sudden it will make me lose power to other parts of the house - each leg will show 238 volts.

Power company came out says everything is good going into meter. I pulled the meter and the main lines coming in, and 2 terminals where they connect, look great. But where the lines go out, the terminals on the meter itself show signs of heat on the plastic -- "warpage" melting; not a lot, but very visible.

I rent my home for very little under the condition I make any repairs that may be needed. The power company tells me everything is outdated. If power is ever disconnected from the house (or before they could ever do anything) that pretty much my entire electrical system would have to be upgraded by a licensed electrician... which could be close to $10,000. This is a old farm house, and my landlord is not going to spend a dime on the house.

After reading answers to a similar question, I remember the ground behind the meter on the outside being a connector or plate, with a screw in it that tightens it down. The plate has some rust and it's a aluminum ground.

Should I go out and remove the meter again, and remove the plate and grind or sand it down to remove corrosion... then put it back on make sure it's good and tight and pop the meter back on before calling the power company back out? I cut the little lock both times to pull the meter, and have already been told I'm not supposed to do so.

I'm not a electrician, but I'm not totally in the dark about electricity. However I'm not in any position financially to hire a electrician. Also I have no oven now, but have 240 volts at the plug but stove top does work?

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    This sounds like the classic lost neutral. If power company says their section is good(?) then it can be to the panel. You seem to be between a rock and a hard place, but your landlord is responsible to get a license electrician in, you are not allowed to work on the electric system. Burnt wires is never good, usually leads to bigger stuff being burnt.
    – crip659
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 1:32
  • 4
    if the meter doesn't reference to the neutral (most don't) then the power company cannot tell whether you lost a neutral, when you call them back you should push back on that. Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 2:28
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    Sure sounds like a lost neutral. Right down to the very last line - oven won't work because controls need a proper 120V but cooktop (assuming typical simple resistance elements) just needs 240V. Only question is whether it is on utility side or panel side. Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 2:54
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    @Ruskes It is basically a slow search of the connections if in the house side, looking for corroded/burnt or loose connections. Most times it should be between the meter and panel.
    – crip659
    Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 16:11
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    I will be calling PC back today so that I can be here when they come and remind them that a lost neutral is very possible and that it wouldn't show. I'm gonna insist they bring a truck out and check the lines and connections and the transformer. It had been raining and the guy said they try not to get into people's yards on the bucket truck's when it's really wet because they cause so much lawn damage. I'm not worried about the lawn nearly as much as I am losing everything I own in a house fire. Will give y'all the verdict as soon as I get them out here. Thnx for the answers and advice so far Commented Feb 14, 2023 at 16:19

1 Answer 1


crip659 has it. It's a lost neutral, combined with a lack of competent ground rods. Due to gross disrepair and lack of maintenance, which is on you because you agreed to do it.

The Lost Neutral part: their fault maybe

95% of the time, the "Lost Neutral" is a problem up at the pole. The power company delivers 3-wire (since they're coming literally from the sky, they are not responsible for providing ground). The cable is triplex with 2 insulated wires (both hot) and a bare carrier wire (neutral). The carrier wire is the one anchored at both ends and whipping in the wind for 30 years.

Here's a knowledge bomb: copper and aluminum have no fatigue limit. That means ALL bending adds to metal fatigue (unlike steel where mild bending does not hurt it). That's why springs last forever, and airplanes don't.

Anyway, neutral is often overlooked by the power company. It's the wire nobody thinks about.

Now a Lost Neutral could still be caused by stuff on your end. If the neutral wire between meter and panel was having a bad day, or the wire connection at the meter then that's on you. Their responsibility starts with the splice at the top of the weatherhead.

Lack of GES or N-G bond made the problem much worse

and that's why you have smoked appliances.

I can tell from the way your voltages are going crazy that your Grounding Electrode System, or your Neutral-Ground Equipotential bond, are broken.

The first circuit breaker past the meter is called your Main Disconnect. It's usually a breaker. Sometimes it is up to 6 breakers (weirdly; no longer allowed; we'll come back to that) and is often also your main panel with all your breakers. This is where all the action is. None of this stuff is inside the meter pan! If it's there, it doesn't count. (some power companies require it also).

The Grounding Electrods System is the copper wire that leaves your ground bar in your main disconnect/panel, then goes out to grounding rods, or metal utility water pipe, or "Ufer" ties into the foundation's reinforcing rod.

Current Code calls for either a clamp on the utility side of the water meter - the meter may be plastic. OR, two copper-plated grounding rods at least 8 feet long, set at least 6 feet apart (farther is better; cattycorner on the building is best if you are looking for Actual Safety).

You can get it done with one rod if it passes a $300 impedance test - call an electrician to have your one rod tested, but most people just slap in 2 rods lol.

Inside a panel you have typically 2 neutral bars that are insulated from the panel chassis. Also zero or more ground rods that are bolted to the panel chassis. In the main panel/disconnect, those are bonded to each other - that's the Neutral-Ground Equipotential Bond. As such, you often see grounds as a guest on the neutral bar(s), and no ground bar of their own. That is fine; the N-G bond is the bar itself.

Other panels have separate neutral and ground bars, with the ground bar attached directly to the metal case. In that case, the neutral-ground bond is a screw or strap attached to the neutral bar. If you don't see it, you're welcome to make your own bond with the same wire you used for the GES.

Normally when a house suffers a Lost Neutral, the voltages get tilty, but like 110/130 or 90/150. They don't get extreme like 238/2, because neutral actually does have a path back to the transformer - the N-G bond, the GES, the dirt around your home, to the transformer's ground rod which is tied to its neutral. Or neighbor's GES to their N-G bond to their neutral.

You had the stuff-destroying extreme voltages because your GES or N-G bond was broken. This is just long-term negligence piling onto other problems. Like the swiss-cheese model in aviation, where shoddy airlines that don't do CRM or proper training, and then a couple of minor failures snowball.

Since you took responsibility for maintenance, this is on you. Fortunately the equipment itself is not expensive, the cost is in gaining the skill. Skill is forever. Skill is freedom. Skill is also big savings - I pay next to nothing to upkeep two automobiles, because I pay $150 for a transmission and $40 for brakes.

However, with electrical the key to success is to obsessively do everything to Code. People often resist because they don't like learning, or because they think that will be significantly more expensive, or because of some nonsense about the gub'mint. No, Code is your friend, if it doesn't seem so, you're probably misreading it. Ask us.

On messing with other people's stuff

"Don't touch my stuff" - Iron Man (referring to Loki)

I cut the little lock both times to pull the meter, and have already been told I'm not supposed to do so.

When a poor tenant opens a meter can, the presumptive reason is that they are stealing power. It's practically an open and shut case.

So yeah, stop randomly busting seals on meters. They do not belong to you.

When you need to bust a seal on a meter, you call the power company and say "hey, I'm fixing this and to do this I need to bust the seal on the meter. S'alright?" They say "yes" and note in their log that there's a valid reason for finding the seal broken, and that's that.

If you just did it, then you have that conversation and don't mention that you already did it. Unless they say "no" and then you say "well I already did it because again, I needed to".

If power is ever disconnected from the house (or before they could ever do anything) that pretty much my entire electrical system would have to be upgraded by a licensed electrician...

Correct, because the house doesn't belong to you. Only a homeowner-occupant can DIY electrical, and still must be fully Code compliant and ideally pull permits and all that jazz.

DIY repair is never allowed in rental properties. The government has a compelling interest to protect innocent party X from party Y doing slipshod, non-code-compliant repairs. Party X could be you or the landlord, depending on how you look at it.

However, there's a fairly easy way to make this your house on paper: a Land Contract. Normally those are pretty much a swindle, but you could write one that has no real effect if you don't pay the contract, other than revert you back to a tenancy under the pre-existing conditions. Food for thought there.

Here's the important thing: When you do illegal work, DO IT TO CODE. Because when they catch you doing illegal work, what is the complaint? The complaint is "this work is slipshod and dangerous". And you go "Oh, really?" And they look around and holy cow, your work is a masterclass in doing it right. There's nothing to cite and they're like "Work of this quality from a poor family, I am not busting their nuts over a lack of permit pull".

  • The point of making the DIY work illegal is because it sucked and killed people. They wouldn't have bothered to make it illegal (it takes work) if people did it properly. You don't see bylaws on how to blink your eyes properly or breathe, even though both of these things are pretty important, because people can't do them wrong.
    – Nelson
    Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 2:47
  • Well PC came out this afternoon and pulled the meter then cleaned all the replaced all the connects after brushing the ends of all the wires. They say the problem is most likely going to be my neutral bar behind the meter before they even began changing connectors. They got it all back together popped the meter back in and nothing same ole shit. Its so old that I don't even have a pole coming through the roof with a weatherhead down 6o a meter box. The lines are ran to a insulator lag bolted to the facia board and up under the eave and the very old cloth wrapped small aluminum wires. Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 7:58
  • They are attached to the wall exposed down to a meter screwed to the wall. They gave me a new meter box and enough wire that's like the newr lines and I've got a old pipe that was a weatherhead on a old pole barn that fell that they said would be fine. So I've got to grt me a boot and drill me a 2 1/4" hole with a hole saw run the pipe through it and let it stick 3' above the roof mount the new meter box to the wall screw the poll to it run the new wire through it attach it to the new box and run new wire to my panel then call them back they're gonna run new wire from transformer n hook it up. Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 8:08
  • That will be up to code and a lot safer and cleaner. They were very understanding and I had built a house for one of the guys sister so it's all working out other than I still have the same problem. I did notice though that at the meter they were getting 120volts on each leg and at my panel I'm reading 129 on 1 and 11 on the other at times 135 and 104 then under load either leg is reading 241 -244. They seem to think it's a ground? I have a space heater and unless I have it on in certain plugs I'm not getting power to anything. I also have to have a radiator heater on in my br where it strtd? Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 8:19
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    I hate to look a gift meter pan in the mouth @Chris but I really wish they had given you a meter-main. (meter and main breaker built-in). That would make DIY replacement of the panel easier without needing to call the power company again. I would give Habitat for Humanity a call and first see if they can find you a disconnect to put right after the meter, and second if they can help in any other ways. Commented Feb 15, 2023 at 21:16

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