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My power frequently goes out, mostly at night or early morning. Sometimes it goes off multiple times in a row, sometimes just once. Most of the time, I can get it to come right back on by flipping the main breaker. Other times I have to wait until it wants to come back on. My husband is not particularly worried about it, but I am, because for all I know about electricity, it could catch my house on fire or something.

Why is this happening and how do I stop it?

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    Get an electrician to find the issue, it could be anything from a faulty breaker to a short-circuit hidden in a wall. Not much we can do to help without more info. – ratchet freak May 11 '15 at 10:44
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    The "most of my house" part is the most troubling; can you expand on that? Is it always the same portion of the house (i.e. the lights in the living room always go out but the lights in the den stay on)? Losing one pole of your two pole service (or possibly even just the neutral) would create very odd symptoms that come and go at odd times and should be investigated immediately because of the adverse voltages created. Possible causes would be loose connections at the main panel, house entry, transformer, etc. and a pro should be consulted since these are not easy to access or assess. – Jeff Meden May 11 '15 at 16:39
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There are some simple things you can do and some things you should be aware of. At least if you do call an electrician (which I recommend you do), you can be educated. After all, this is a DIY Q&A site. :) That said, messing around with electrical systems in your house can kill you and your family. This is just, what I would do bearing in mind that I have some experience and you may / may not. I'm not responsible if you die, please use caution and only do things you're comfortable with. However, calling your power provider is never dangerous, I would do that next:

Call your provider and ask them what service level you have at your house. Do you have 60amp, 100amp, 200amp? etc. This is important. If you have 100amp or less, that's probably at least one of the issues if not the entire issue. It's common in old houses to have only 100amp or less. Anything built in the last 10 - 15 years will likely have at least 150amp or 200amp. This is important because if you have 60amp service for instance, even in a 2 - 3 bedroom house with average appliances, it's likely you're throwing the main breaker because you're asking for more than 60amps. An AC unit for instance might take up half that on it's own. Add a freezer, then a microwave, and a home entertainment system, you're already at 60amp.

So, first thing I would do is find out your service level. Bear in mind, this can be upgraded. You'll want to pay an electrician to do it. I had this done 2 years ago, and it was $2200 to upgrade from 100amp to 200amp with a new GE breaker panel included.

You said the main breaker is getting tripped. And you said it won't come back on. As others have hinted, it sounds as though there is an appliance coming on at certain times and tripping it. Next time this happens and you can't get it to come back on, try turning off all the breakers. Then, turn on the main (it should stay on when everything else is off). Then turn on one breaker at a time until you get to the one that trips the main. This way you can figure out which circuit is causing the trip. Before you do any of this, I would take a visual of the breakers. Make sure nothing is overheating, looks melted etc. If something doesn't look right, I would have an electrician out immediately. It's not worth catching your house on fire.

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Sorry I'm coming to the party late; I hope you got your problem solved without incident.

This sort of thing can indeed be very dangerous. Although it's possible that the problem is with a connection to the power company's transformer (outside your house, which wouldn't put your house in danger), it's also quite possible it's a problem with a connection on the side of your house (i.e. the electric meter), or even a problem with a connection between the meter and your main service panel (fuse/breaker box). Either of those latter connections could be a serious safety issue; see this webpage for an example. (Note that though that website would like to blame the problem on a "smart meter", the problem in that case has nothing to do with the smart meter itself, instead it's a problem caused by the poor training of the workers who installed the smart meter.)

The reason half of a home's power can go out without affecting the other half is that residential homes in the U.S., Canada, and many other countries are served by two "legs" of 120 VAC whose waveforms are 180 degrees apart; combined, they provide an AC waveform whose voltage is 240 VAC. If one of the legs becomes disconnected prior to reaching the service panel, you can get all sorts of interesting results. Ideally, one half of the circuits in the house (the ones fed by that leg) will simply get no voltage. But there are circumstances that can lead to those circuits getting some reduced voltage: If a 240 V appliance is turned on, even though there isn't 240 V available to power it, voltage may (depending on the appliance's design) leak through it from the good leg to to the bad leg, providing some reduced voltage to the otherwise unpowered leg. In such a case you might see your incandescent bulbs glowing dimly; and if the 240 V appliance is a heater (oven, baseboard heater, etc), you may even get some small amount of heat from it because current will be leaking through it to any devices on the bad leg that are turned on.

As far as the danger of fire goes, as long as the power stays off you're probably ok. The real danger is that this is probably caused by a loose connection, and loose connections can get very hot when current is flowing through them. To be completely safe you can simply turn off your main breaker & call an electrician immediately. If you're even the slightest bit DIY savvy, you can look at your service panel and identify the circuits on the bad leg and turn them all off (and turn off all of the 240 V circuits). Service panels are almost always arranged such that adjacent "spaces" (one on top of the other) are on opposite legs, so that a 240 V breaker spans two "spaces" in the panel in order to connect to both legs of the service. Figure out some of the 120 V circuits that are on the bad leg, and turn their breakers off. You might begin to notice a pattern; the breakers that are off are all in either odd or even "spaces" COUNTING FROM THE TOP DOWN ONE SIDE. [Unfortunately most panels' spaces are numbered with odd numbers on the left and even numbers on the right; ignore the space numbers printed on the panel for the purposes of this discussion.] Once you've identified whether the bad leg is the odd spaces or even spaces, turn all of them off for that leg (odd or even spaces counting from the top down one side). [BTW: Sometimes you will find high-density small twin/tandem breakers where two breakers in a single package fit into a single "space" in the service panel. Note that those two breakers are both on the same leg, since one "space" provides power from only one of the 120 V legs.]

If you either shut off the main breaker, or shut off all the breakers on the bad leg, your risk of fire due to this problem is probably eliminated, if a fire hasn't already started. In any case, yes, you should call either an electrician or the power company ASAP to figure out where the problem is and fix it so you can turn your breaker(s) back on! (Just a suggestion: Because problems like this can be intermittent, which can make them difficult to troubleshoot, you might consider going outside to check the temperature of your meter and/or meter box before it has a chance to cool down, which can be helpful information for your electrician or power company service person... but be careful, if it's hot it could be very hot!)

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As @ratchetfreak said, it's hard to pin down what the issue is without more information. Call a professional ASAP. It's possible that an high-wattage appliance like a refrigerator or A/C kicks on at certain times and overloads the circuit, tripping the breaker. A licensed electrician will be able to trace the problem; if there are too many appliances on the same circuit, they could be isolated to different breakers. However, no matter what, nobody wants an electrocution or a burning house! Call a pro!

  • Thank you all. I will definitely call a pro, but I think the too many appliances on one circuit has merit. I will(carefully!) test that, and get an electrician out here as soon as possible – Ashley May 12 '15 at 18:37
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I experienced a problem like this before. Half of my friends house would randomly turn off and eventually turn back on...

I waited till the power turned off randomly and made sure to have a flashlight and opened the panel. I tested the main lines coming into the house, and one of the phases had no power, and the other phase had full power. So I went and tested the disconnect outside (before the panel) and it was the same thing.

We called the local authority because the problem was on there end (before the meter base) and it was just their lug nuts on their overhead wires were coming apart or something like that. They fixed it. Problem solved. Maybe your lucky and that will be your case too?!

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This just happened to me. I called my electrician and he said a "pole" inside the panel box was not working. That means electricity is not coming into the house correctly. We call the electric company, they came within 15 minutes, diagnosed the problem as incorrect outside wire installation near the transformer. Someone from that electric company had installed copper over aluminum. After 1 year and 9 months the two materials corroded the aluminum and the electricity did not flow into the house.

It took 15 minutes to fix. All is well.

protected by Community Jul 23 '18 at 14:39

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