Forum Thread

breaker box breakers

ReverseHandedJO 10,459 1,770 November 29, 2015 at 09:03 AM
so, do breaker box breakers go bad? they have not tripped, but we have some lights in a room that are flickering and dimming for 2-3 seconds. everything flickering is on one 20 amp breaker. this doesnt happen constantly, but for maybe 5-10 mins out of an hour. also, this causes the ups to switch over to battery. its doing it even when there is no load on the circuit except for a meter.

im calling out the power company on monday to check the voltage on our side of the transformer and meter. ive seen the voltage drop to 108v from 123.

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#2
Could be a breaker, but it's more likely a dying backstab connection on an upstream outlet. If it were a problem on the POCO's side then you would be seeing it happen in the whole house. The circuit gets daisy chained from outlet to outlet and to save time, most electricians just jam the wire into the backstab and call it good. Takes much longer to wrap it around a screw and tighten properly. Over time, the backstab spring weakens and the connection gets flaky. You'll really notice it if it is on a circuit that is heavily loaded, like with an electric room heater. It is important to find the problem and repair it because that loose connection gets hot. Worst case, it can start a fire in the wall. Frown

The fix is to find the flaky connection and change the wiring at that outlet to use the screws. I do this for any circuit that I ever work on in my house. If I have the box open anyway, then I move all the wires to the screw connections.
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#3
Another possibility would be a weak or missing neutral on a multi-wire branch circuit. That would resulting in higher than normal voltage on another circuit in the house, +12VAC might not be enough to make it obvious there's a problem.

I'll also say, your meter probably isn't true rms which introduces some error.

A volt meter is basically 0 load, it's inputs are very high impedance (on the order of megaohms).
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Last edited by jkee November 29, 2015 at 11:50 AM
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#4
Quote from HarryH3 View Post :
Could be a breaker, but it's more likely a dying backstab connection on an upstream outlet. If it were a problem on the POCO's side then you would be seeing it happen in the whole house. The circuit gets daisy chained from outlet to outlet and to save time, most electricians just jam the wire into the backstab and call it good. Takes much longer to wrap it around a screw and tighten properly. Over time, the backstab spring weakens and the connection gets flaky. You'll really notice it if it is on a circuit that is heavily loaded, like with an electric room heater. It is important to find the problem and repair it because that loose connection gets hot. Worst case, it can start a fire in the wall. Frown

The fix is to find the flaky connection and change the wiring at that outlet to use the screws. I do this for any circuit that I ever work on in my house. If I have the box open anyway, then I move all the wires to the screw connections.
well at least they did it right in this house as there as no backstabs and all connections are on the terminals.
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#5
Quote from ReverseHandedJO View Post :
im calling out the power company on monday to check the voltage on our side of the transformer and meter. ive seen the voltage drop to 108v from 123.
Certainly a good idea. A problem on the poco side is much more likely to effect the whole house, though not necessarily uniformly. Sometimes they'll temporarily replace your meter with a logging device. Talk to your neighbors, if they're having issues and call too the response time will be much better.

If the problem is in your house (likely), it's probably best to call an electrician. Is there anything else in the house that turn on when this happens? When was the house built?
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#6
Quote from jkee View Post :
Certainly a good idea. A problem on the poco side is much more likely to effect the whole house, though not necessarily uniformly. Sometimes they'll temporarily replace your meter with a logging device. Talk to your neighbors, if they're having issues and call too the response time will be much better.

If the problem is in your house (likely), it's probably best to call an electrician. Is there anything else in the house that turn on when this happens? When was the house built?
ive already ruled out the big items like the hvac, the water heater, the stove, the fridge as they arent running when its flickering.

im sort of suspecting the neighbors heater, that we share the transformer with as its not a continuous flicking, but about 5-10 mins an hour, about the cycle of a heater. this morning when it was colder the lights were flickering and dimming much more.

yesterday everything went completely off around 3 pm for a couple of seconds.

its not flickering right now and our hvac just came on and its still not flickering.
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Last edited by ReverseHandedJO November 29, 2015 at 01:23 PM
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#7
Very unlikely it's a whole house or upstream issue as it would affect everything in your house, not just one branch circuit (unless that's the only 120V circuit on "that leg" of the 240 but again highly unlikely). Breakers can go bad but IMHO it's much more likely to be a complete failure (e.g. can't reset it) rather than "flickering" but you can change it just for the hell of it.
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#8
Quote from Dr. J View Post :
Very unlikely it's a whole house or upstream issue as it would affect everything in your house, not just one branch circuit (unless that's the only 120V circuit on "that leg" of the 240 but again highly unlikely).
I agree it's unlikely, but not impossible depending on how well balanced the house's circuits are between the two phases. +/- ~10VAC could go unnoticed in some instances especially with some cfl and led light bulbs. When this is happening, I'd suggest the OP check other outlets all over the house with a true rms volt meter.

Swapping the breaker isn't too hard and could be worth a try. It would be safest to turn off power to the whole house and also check the neutral connection for the same circuit.

The poco shouldn't charge you anything, so I'd still call them.
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Last edited by jkee November 29, 2015 at 01:36 PM

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#9
I'm going with the loose neutrals or the transformer posts
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#10
If it is just one circuit that all the problems happen on, replace that breaker. They are easy to replace and cheap. If not, you are out $12 and have a spare breaker. Next replace all of the outlets on that breaker. Next, remove the load at each outlet.
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#11
Back in the 56k modem days, my neighbors AC would kick on and the modem would reset.
Crappy service on my street.. 5 or 6 of us use the same transformer.

Buddy had a house where transformer went bad. she would do laundry and the lights would dim and pulse.
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#12
okay all of last night and all of today there was no flickering or dimming, not even a beep out of any of the ups. then tonight around 9 pm i noticed that the lights were flicking just a little, then the ups started beeping about ever 5-10 mins. now 3-4 hours it still flickers a little here and there.

something else i just thought about was the dryer. it's 240 and the door light might be on the same 120 leg that is flickering.

all the flickering the other morning did manage to finish off the very old 12v batteries in one of the ups.
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Last edited by ReverseHandedJO November 30, 2015 at 10:32 PM
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#13
Quote from ReverseHandedJO View Post :
okay all of last night and all of today there was no flickering or dimming, not even a beep out of any of the ups. then tonight around 9 pm i noticed that the lights were flicking just a little, then the ups started beeping about ever 5-10 mins. now 3-4 hours it still flickers a little here and there.

something else i just thought about was the dryer. it's 240 and the door light might be on the same 120 leg that is flickering.

all the flickering the other morning did manage to finish off the very old 12v batteries in one of the ups.
what does that mean?
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#14
Quote from Dr. J View Post :
what does that mean?
I think he means 240 spans both phases (legs) in the house and the door part of the dryer might be malfunctioning and on the 120 leg that has the flickers. Not sure how the dryer works in that regard.
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#15
the power company was just out and i was able to show him how the power was flickering. he pulled the meter, tested the incoming voltage, and replaced it. he said everything looked good in the meter and main breaker box.

after he left the flickering and dimming started up again.

something told me to go check the breakers inside the sub panel again. i thought i heard some crackling and then when i looked again i saw a couple of little sparks in between the breakers while the lights were flickers. AH-HA!

calling the electricians now.
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Last edited by ReverseHandedJO December 1, 2015 at 07:58 AM
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