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Question DetailsAsked on 12/23/2016

All electric in home went out but no breaker tripped.

The whole electric in my house went off briefly (2-3 seconds) but then came back on by itself. I went to the breaker box and no breakers popped. I called my electric company and they said that they saw a brief lapse of electric at my residence but that it was a isolated incidence at my residence and there was no wide spread power outage in my area. If the power went off for a few seconds and then came back on by itself with no breakers popping is this an electric issue that occurred before the electric met my breaker panned? In other words is this an incident that was on the electric company's end outside of my house rather then an issue with the electric inside of my house?

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4 Answers


The only way the utility could have seen a brief outage at your residence is if you have a remote-reading digital "smart meter" - meaning if they saw that it lost power, so there was no power to the meter - meaning it was a fault in the incoming line or within the meter panel on "their" side of the meter. Unless they have a continuous-recording meter on your house (usually only on larger commercial buildings and some houses using altaernative power [solar, wind, etc] which is selling power back to the utility, their system would not have second-by-second tracking of power usage, so would not "see" a fault on your side of the line. Almost certainly, you have a remote-read digital meter which they were able to see had an interruption only because the meter went off, and their system registered its signal when it kicked back on again and "reported in" to their system again. Typically, a smart meter can report each time that it has been out of service, and the time out and back on - called the "blink count history".

If they say it occurred at no other residence, then I would call them and ask for a free service check - of the meter and the incoming lines, because of a suspected fault. Do not just ask for a service checkup - many utilities charge for that - tell them the call is BECAUSE of an apparent supply fault to your house only which they recorded. If only at one residence, could have been a branch fell across lines or rarely an animal (that usually does not cause power to actually fail, just "brown out" or go dim usually) shorting out the lines for a couple of seconds, or if windy could have been bare overhead lines to your house crossing for a few seconds - or could be you have a wiring connection in bad shape that had an open circuit for a few seconds (possibly due to arcing) - which should definitely be repaired. If on "their side" of the meter almost always their repsonsibility to fix it at no cost to you, though in a few areas their responsibility ends at the transformer, not at the meter. Normally in remoter areas with overhead lines and individual pole-mounted transformers for each house, and commonly longer runs to the house from the main power lines (sometimes miles of "dedicated service line").

Answered 3 years ago by LCD


In my area, the power company comes by, takes a cursory look, and tells the homeowner that it is not a power company problem. The home owner then calls me (I'm an electrician) and I determine the casue. If it is a power company problem, then I call them, describe it and they come a second time and fix it. I think they do this to avoid getting tangled up with a homeowner's deterioranting panel that disintegrates when they remove the cover.

To be safe, you may want to have an electricain examine your panel for signs of corrosion, arching, and heat damage at the main breaker and busbars. They may even be able to identify a bad but working connection on the power company side.

The problem you describe is almost impossible unless you have 110V power. Most residences have 220V power. I suspect that half the house was on but you didn't have those lights on or devices pluged into those outlets.

Answered 3 years ago by Kestrel Electric


Kestrel made a good point - if you are positive both sides of the 220 went out (ALL, not just about half, of outlets and lights were out), then the fault would have had to have been either a "full circuit fault" in the utility wires (like both live wires crossing and shorting each other out), or an open circuit (wire losing continuity because it was loose at a connection or splice or such) on the neutral wire, which serves as the neutral for both "sides" of the 220V power. Or a dead short in the incoming wires like damaged insulating wrap at the weatherhead or power pole, resulting in a dead short to ground along a ground bar on the utility pole or down the weatherhead mast to the ground or such - though unless racoon or wind-induced causing wire sway and intermittent one-time contact, usually that would burn through the wires and they would stay dead.

Probably the most common causes of this are trees contacting the lines, and if only one "side" went dead (so about half the house's circuits), then probably by far the most common cause is the incoming feedwires (usually aluminum) being loose in their connections in the panels, causing "make-and'break" situations like yours, which can cause very dangerous arcing in the panel. This occurs because the aluminum wire "creeps" under the connection pressure (commonly a slip-in and screw-down a screw on the wire connection rather than the compressing clamp type that is better for aluminum), so the wire comes loose in the connection and can make and break connection - commonly it will almost break contact but the minimal contact area still touching then heats up because of the concentration of power through it so the wire expands back into better contact - this can continue off and on over time, or sometimes occurs at night when there is minimall load so you wake up to flashing digital clocks but not knowing what happened. Very dangerous because of the heating the occurs due to the bad connection - I have personally put out several electrical fires in neighbor's houses from this, because people do not realize aluminum wire connections (at least) should be tightened back down every 5-10 years, so this type of fire commonly occurs in 10-20 year old homes. We had a rash in our area over a period of about 5 years - dozens of panel fires or meltdowns - when our area (rapidly built up over just a few years during a building boom) reaches about 15-20 years old. This situation can be particularly bad when on the utility side of your main breakers - also in panels (which some areas now ban) that have the main breaker in the panel itself rather than out by the meter, so the main breakers do not protect the feed wiring to the and into the breaker panel. So if your wiring has not been checked would be a good idea to have an electrician check your panel for safe wiring and to checkk all connections to be srue they are tight.

Different meter models might or might not have registered total loss of power if the incoming neutral went dead - would depend on whether the meter uses the neutral wire or the meter panel neutral/ground connection, but in almost all panels the neutral and ground are bonded together and the neutral is used for the metering circuitry so registering loss of power would have required interrruption of BOTH the live feeds.

You might also ask neighbors if they had a power loss at that time (blinking digital clocks and such) - just because the utility told you it was only your house does not necessarily mean that is so if they did not actually go to the trouble of checking adjacent meter tripping records for dropouts. Could have been a line fault tripping out a self-resetting circuit interrupter that actually affected everyone on that feed circuit or transformer. Or if you have a significantly long run feeding to your house only, it may have a circuit interrupter where it comes off the main line, especially if your line goes through a lot of trees, to protect the main line from a fallen tree on your line. This is pretty common in heavily treed rural areas, especially in tall tree areas where clearing trees back 100-250 feet on each side of the line to prevent falling tree failures is not practical. A circuit interrupter is like a power company circuit breaker - it trips open when there is a short circuit/overload on the line, but typically makes up to 3 attempts to reconnect (but sometimes only 1 or 2 depending on model/brand), causing flickers in the lights as it is doing that reset-retrip cycle. If it trips out again after the last reconnect attempt then it stays disconnected until they manually reset it after fixing the problem. This sort of circuit interruption with automatic reset commonly occurs when a major line goes down in the system (like a car taking out a power pole or major transformer or a tree falling on a major line), causing power flickers or very short blackouts (typically less than a second each) until a main breaker on the damaged line finally trips out due to the overload, removing the fault from the system. Also commonly when animals or kites or flying toys short out a line, there is a leak in underground lines which lets water in which then vaporizes the water out when the short occurs so the fault is intermittent, when lines cross in high winds, or a tree or branch falls on and shorts out the lines but then falls clear so the short is not long enough duration to totally trip out the breakers on the system.

But as Kestrel says - I would get the incoming system looked at to be sure, and if they find nothing or cannot confirm it was caused on their side of the meter panel then have an electrician check out your system too, because a line making and breaking connection in your meter panel say can be VERY serious - can basically result in a welding arc forming between the wire and the connection as it makes and breaks, causing melted equipment and commonly local charring, if not a fire. And because the breakers on the utility side are very high amperage and that is on the unprotected side of your household breakers (including in most cases the main breaker), commonly a meter panel or incoming utility drop arcing event can continue to do that until it melts away the wire enough that it no longer makes contact, readily generating enough heat to get siding and adjacent decking and such burning.

It would also help the electrician if the power company was able to say (depending on how "smart" their meter is) whether there was a total loss of power or just a brown-down (some track maximum and minimum voltage), and whether it was on both "sides" of the 220 or not.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD


One thing I totally spaced on - if you have an underground service drop (the feed from the utility comes into a conduit which leads up from the ground to your meter box), water in the cable to your house or at the "service pedestal" - where your household line connects to the underground distribution cable - can cause a short which momentarily causes your power to mostly or totally drop out. Then when the shorting heats up the connection or cable enough to flash-evaporate the moisture, the shorting stops and your system goes back to normal. May or may not be associated with a bang or sizzling sound, if near to the point where the issue is. Have had that happen at my house twice in the past 3 decades or so.

Can be virtually impossible to feasibly track down - usually you just end up having it occur intermittently (maybe only once to a few times once a year) till it arcs enough to either trip a breaker or much more commonly, to burn through the circuit which then cuts your power totally till fixed. Usually occurs during spring snowmelt, during rains or snowmelt if due to standing water, maybe some hours to a day or two after heavy rain if in the underground cable, or sometimes during fall or during freeze-thaw periods when cold temps cause condensation of the moisture in a transformer or connection box or when condensation which has formed as frost melts in a thaw.

Same thing can occasionally happen in your incoming line, especially at the weathaer head (if overhead) or in the meter panel if leaking - though in those cases because of the smaller cable size, it more commonly melts clear through in just a few events - and should normally show fairly clear external signs of melting of the insulation or arcing burns.

Answered 3 years ago by LCD

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