Jan 11, 2004, 9:13 PM
Post #4 of 8
I am going to assume that you have checked for water, and aluminum wiring already. If you found aluminum wiring, it is very important that besides coating the ends of the wire with an anti-corrosive compound, that you do not use any of the connections on any outlets, etc. that have the knife-edge connectors. Thatís the type where you just push the end of the wire in it, and the connector grips the wire. You must use outlets that have screw type terminals on them. Aluminum wire requires more surface contact than copper wire does. Aluminum wire doesnít conduct electricity as well as copper wire does. Without more surface contact, there will be more electrical resistance, and a greater possibility of fire.
Re: [heathesq] Unknown Electical Problem
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The next thing I recommend is to check any fuses. This is more important than it would seem to be, here in Mexico. If your house has a breaker panel rather than a fuse panel for all the circuits, it surely has fuses at the meter where the power comes in from the street. Check all the fuses you can find. The fuses used in Mexico are very different from the fuses used north of the border.
Up north, a fuse is either good, or itís blown. If itís blown you replace it. Down here, fuses have replaceable elements in them. After turning off the power, remove a fuse. The fuse will look just like the fuses we are used to seeing up north, but the end caps will unscrew. Remove the end cap and you can see the replaceable element. The elements slide in to a slot in the body of the fuse. The ends of the elements are bent over to hold them in place. The bent ends contact the end caps and provide continuity through the fuse. Sometimes the ends of the elements will burn where they contact the end caps. They will look similar to burned contacts in a switch.
If the ends are burned, clean and/or replace the element and/or the fuse. You can buy replacement elements. All the fuses I have seen have plastic bodies. The cheaper fuses will have plastic male threads in the plastic. The better fuses will have metal male threads attached to the fuse body. They all have metal caps.
Two years ago we had a problem similar to the one you have described. Fluctuating low voltage, brownouts, TV, and stereo dropping out, microwave and refrigerator barely running, etc. Brownouts do more harm than voltage spikes, but they are not as dramatic.
We lived in a court of four houses; the power came in for all four houses at a common location for the meters. None of our neighbors was having any problem. It was driving me nuts, trying to figure out what was going on. It was a three-bedroom house with only two circuits. Get this: there were two 5-amp circuit breakers, they tripped constantly. I replaced them with 20 amp breakers. I didnít want to put higher capacity breakers in because the two circuits were already badly overloaded. It also had been wired with stranded wire, thatís bad news; stranded wire should never be used in house wiring, even though stranded wire is the norm in Mexico.
Our power company here is Luz Y Fuerza, not CFE. They insisted the problem was in the house. I even went so far as to pay for an individual drop from the power pole to serve just our meter. One of the electricians offered to examine the wiring in the house the next day. It was his day off, so of course I was going to pay him. I had done every logical thing I know, with no results, so I figured why not? Two heads are better than one.
The next day while he was checking every thing in the house that I had already checked, he told us that he had attended one of the polytechnic colleges, and had his degree in electricity. Donít ask me what a degree in electricity is, I have a hard time understanding the differences in The Mexican educational system, compared to The U.S.A. He did know what he was doing.
When he wanted to go out to the meter to check the fuses, I had my doubts though. We were getting electricity in the house; that meant the fuses were good. I thought. I was astounded when he opened a fuse, and I saw the badly burned contacts in it. I had never seen a fuse that would come apart. All three fuses had burned contacts in them. Yes, they even fuse the neutral in Mexico; that should never be done. He replaced them all.
Everything seemed to be OK in the house after the fuses were replaced. That night after all the lights were turned on, I noticed we still had some problems, not as bad as before, but noticeable.
I had the electrician come back the next day. He found another set of three fuses in the wall half way down the driveway. They were only about 40 feet from the three fuses at the meter, in the same lines. They were burned too, so he replaced them. Problem finally solved. Why did the original electrician install the second set of fuses? Who knows?
If your fuses check out OK, use a multimeter to check the voltages in the house. If you donít have one, buy one. Start at the meter and keep checking until you find low voltage. You will then know that the problem is between the last point with good voltage and the point where the low voltage begins. There should be no wiring splices in a conduit, but down here, who knows? Be prepared for anything.
I have noticed that most of the tradesmen down here are simply unqualified. You canít just grab a hammer and saw and say you are a carpenter, grab a wrench and say you are a plumber, or grab a pair of pliers and a screwdriver and say you are an electrician. There is quite a bit of mathematics, and knowledge of the applicable laws of physics involved in almost every building trade. It takes several years to master them. Not months, years.
Most people donít know it, but each individual electrician in the U. S. A. must have his own certificate of competency to be able to legally work as an electrician. Individual plumbers must also take a test and have their own individual licenses to be able to legally work in every jurisdiction I have worked in too. Many counties, and cities, require individual plumbing licenses too. A plumber can kill you just as dead as an electrician can. When I lived in California, I had a stack of credit card sized licenses an inch and a half thick. Thatís a lot of annual fees just to work. Iím not referring to a handyman here, but qualified men.
My own qualifications are that I worked for 48 years in the building trades. I worked as an apprentice, journeyman, foreman, general foreman, and as a project manager. I know my way around any building project, from houses to industrial projects. I worked on the construction of The Trans Alaska Pipeline. It was, and is, the largest privately financed construction project in the history of the world.
I mentioned a little about my experience so you will know that I do know how to troubleshoot an electrical problem. I spent a lot of my career working as an industrial instrument technician, and a HVAC technician. I have all my Federal certifications as an air conditioning tech. We used to say, ďChase the power.Ē When you come to a point where the power is interrupted, or erratic, you know that the problem is between the last point where it checked out OK, and where you found the anomaly.
Good luck, Rex
"The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved" - Victor Hugo