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Question DetailsAsked on 1/29/2018

manufactured house has a lot of brown outs, flickering, etc., have not been able to locate problem. Can you sugges

Double wide home which has been moved, cut down the middle and then put back together. Two electricians have not been able to find problem, said it was power company's problem and the power company say it is ours. Chesterfield County, Virginia

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This is definitely something which demands immediate attention until solved, because unless the incoming power is the problem, it could be a short causing overheating and be a serious fire hazard. And if this is happening at night when demand is low - like right before bed with no range or dryer running - then it would be considered an imminent hazard while asleep too.

Obviously the connections at the joint would be a prime suspect - though might not be the problem. Some double wides are built so the wiring comes from the back end, with cross-over at the joint only one place (sometimes with a single feed to the other side and a separate breaker box), then all the circuits run down each side respectively - so there are very few wires crossing the joint. Others cross over a number of places, each one being a possible connection problem location - and should have a junction box for each such connection.

Sometimes a thermal infrared camera search can find spots where wires are not making good connection or are shorting out - creating a hot spot - but with intermittent flickering can be hard to track down. usually nost effective in breaker boxes with loose connections.

And of course, this could be a single appliance causing the problem - a localized short in an electric heater or a water heater or such, and not a problem with the home wiring at all.

I would contact the power utility, if you have an electronic meter (has LED lights, and usually, not always, digital readout instead of the spinning meter wheel) - commonly they can run a memory dump on it and see the exact time of the last few power losses. If they are showing power dropouts at the meter recently and have not had an area-wide outage in your area at that time (which their control center records would show), then the problem is in the meter box or weatherhead and riser (if you have that) which might be their problem or yours depending on where the demarkation point of responsibility is in your area. But your electrician can quickly eliminate your area of responsibility and put in writing that is not the source of the problem, thereby throwing it back to the power utility to find the problem. Gernally, if the electrician puts in writing he has inspected and failed to find a flaw in the household wiring, then the utility HAS to check its lines and your connection to their system for problems. Commonly splices at the weatherhead or a loose connection or broken wire at the transformer because of the wires swaying back and forth. Water getting into buried cables is also common, as is shorting in power pedestals (next to on-ground transformers) during high water, heavy rains, and heavy snow melts getting water into the transformer or pedestal.

If their meter does NOT show power losses, then probably in your wiring - and a complete trace from start to whereever they find the problem would be needed - starting with the main feed to the breaker box, then along each circuit - because the problem could be house-wide, or just a shorting out in one circuit which is not quite enough to trip out that breaker. or you have a breaker failing to trip.

if you have an analog meter (not digital) then they cannot check for dropouts or low voltage (not all digital meters read the voltage at the meter, though) without connecting a recording tracer unit.

If this is a pretty common thing, couple of things you can do:

0) ask neighbors if they have been having this problem - if so, get them to sign (with address and meter number) a paper indicating they have been and approximately how long this ahs been going on - that would throw it back onto the power company if they say yes. Might be general problem in the block or so, more commonly only at houses coming off the same transformer as you.

1) one easy thing you can do, for the regular 110/120V outlets and light circuits, is get a digital outlet check device (about $15-25) which you plug into the outlet, and the pattern of which LED lights are on tells you whether or not you have a wiring issue - wrong wires hooked wrong places, or one wire not connected at that point, etc. Lighting circuits you replace a light bulb with a screw-in outlet adapter - though that does not sometimes give you a ground so lack of a ground will show up on the device. Unfortunately, this works fine for consistent problems, not usually so effective for intermittent ones.

2) shut off ALL circuits except for one with a small light or electric clock or such (something with very low power draw) and see if it does the brownout and flickering (electric digital clokcs work well because they commonly lose the time if there is a significant flicker or serious brownout) - if so, do same thing on a different circuit. If it does it on two circuits when they are the only one turned on (rest of the breakers in the breaker box, except for master breaker, off) then is in the breaker box or on the incoming power feed side of that. Of course, this works only if the occurrence rate is fairly frequent - though you could do that while away from the place unless you need heat.

3) try turning off circuit breakers - start by turning off as many as you can live without. If that does not solve it, you can turn them back on, and then try turning off the others as you can live without them and see if the problem goes away. If turning some off makes it go away, problem is likely (unless due to general overloading or arcing in the incoming feed wiresonluy during high load) in one of those circuits - try turning back on one by one until you find the one that makes it come back. Of course, again, if this problem is infrequent, this is a long slow grind to find the guilty circuit.

4) did the electrician check the incoming feed connections at the meter box, and the wiring from the meter boc to the main breaker panel inclluding the connections a the panel ? These are commonly aluminum wiring which "creeps" under load, so the connections can get loose over time and start arcing - causing brownouts as they arc, and flickering also. This is probably a 15-20 minutes job to check along that route, and should have been one of the first things they checked - along with looking for any signs of arcing or burning or melting along the way. Checking the main breakers for good contact on the bus bars, and flicking them off and back on to check for function, would also be a first thing to check. Sometimes, with main breakers which have been installed with a tight curve on the feed wire, the stress in the wire can eventually pop a breaker partly loose from the bus bar connection, causing arcing. Good ground wire connection at breaker panel, bround rod, sometimes water pipe should also be checked. And a generally look at how much power your house is drawing versus the system capacity, to make sure you do not have an undersized system, especially if you have gone to electric heat, water heating, range, dryer and such when house was originally sized for mostly gas or oil appliances. This is fairly common in manufactured homes, which may have been built with 75-125A services assuming gas/oil appliances, and now need 150-200A services after going mostly or all electric.

5) see if you can link the occurrences to a particular event - like A/C, furnace/boiler, range, dishwasher electric dry cycle, or other high power demand item turning on. Or flickering during clothes drying with electric dryer (which is constantly turning the heating element on and off as its thermostat keeps the temperature roughly constant). Or if electric water heater, if it turning on causes it - like if it always occurs during/right after significant hot water use in tub/ shower/ washer/ dishwasher or such - that you can test by paying attention to flickering lights in bathroom while showering, for instance. Ditto to furnace/boiler/AC - easy to force them to cut in on demand by changing the thermostat setting, to see if that is causing it when they kick on and/or run. if you have high-efficiency (direct vent) wter heater with a heat pump on top, those can also have the same effect. [Note - a slight browning-down or flickerwhen the A/C or an electric furnace or water heater kicks on is normal - but just one, not a series or prolonged - is prolonged or a series then something is wrong with the unit, or your electrical system is overloaded.]

6) sometimes, in cases like this, the power company will temporarily install a recording power monitor unit on your line on their side of the meter - to trace and log whether/when the incoming power voltage is falling significantly or dropping out, indicating the problem is on their system. Sometimes, if the dropout is not dramatic, they then have to install it on the line at the transformer, or pull the meter (shut your power of totally) to confirm if it is on their side or not. Of course, you are out of power during that time, so unless this is a pretty common thing that might not help much.

7) one can shut off the main breakers (making sure both "sides" of the 220/240V power feed are actually off), then using a volt-ohm meter check every circuit for unusual readings - intermittent grounds, etc, then if any are found track down that circuit foot by foot and fixture by fixture to try to find a fault.

8) When flickering/browning down, listen for a hum or buzzing or crackle and try to trace (without sticking your hands into or near anything electrical) where it is coming from - that might put you in the immediate area.

9) Unfortunately, this sort of thing can be hard to track down, and I have known it to take as much as a full day or more in a normal size residence, in the extreme case - and could be a problem mid-wire (like a nail through it or something) so even checking every outlet and fixture is not guaranteed to solve the problem. I have done traces like this where (fortunately having been able to identify the guilty circuit) every outlet and fixture had to be disconnected, leaving just bare wire ends, to track down where the fault was - sometimes in an outlet, sometimes in a switch or fixture, sometimes in the wiring itself, most commonly in the connections.


I would say once you get as far as you can with the power company (after talking to neighbors), all you can do is try a few of the above suggestions, then get the electrician you have the most confidence in (or a new one if you did not have a warm fuzzy feeling about the expertise of those) to start a detailed trace and diagnosis. I would say (being biased by my old age, no doubt) that getting an older journeyman electrician (not an apprentice) with many decades of experience under his belt in for this would pay off for you.

Good Luck

Answered 9 months ago by LCD

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