My apartment is suddenly in a state of electrical chaos
June 10, 2012 7:04 PM Subscribe
I just installed a new lightswitch in my bathroom. Now, when I turn my living room air conditioner OFF, the power in most of my apartment goes out. And even when the AC is on, the power level is extremely low. WTF???
posted by Artifice_Eternity to home & garden (40 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I'm competent to do basic home repairs. I know enough about electricity to have successfully installed wall light fixtures and hanging lamps many times with no mishaps. So I figured I was qualified to replace a lightswitch. But I'm totally bewildered by what has happened subsequently.
The lightswitch in my bathroom developed a mechanical defect months ago (it would flip itself into the on position). I've been using pieces of tape to keep it in the off position, but clearly it needed replacing. This evening, I switched off the breaker controlling my bathroom -- which also happens to control my living room and back bedroom -- and proceeded to take out the old bathroom lightswitch and install a new one.
I wired up the new switch, turned the breaker on, and turned the switch on (with a screwdriver handle, in case I'd made any kind of wiring mistake). There was a small ZAP and some sparks, and the bathroom lights did not turn on. I turned the breaker off again, took the faceplate off the switch, and realized that I needed to wrap some electrical tape around the switch unit, to cover the terminal screws holding the wires in place so that they didn't contact the metal box around the switch. (The old switch had tape wrapped around it.) I wrapped the switch generously in electrical tape, and when I turned the power back on, the new switch worked...
But it seemed like the bathroom lights were a bit dim. In fact, I noticed that lights in all the rooms on that circuit were kind of dim. Then I noticed that the living room AC -- a wall unit on a separate circuit from the rest of the living room -- seemed to be ofw. I had had it on while replacing the switch, and hadn't noticed it going off. But the AC knob was still in the on position. I turned the knob to the off position -- and the lights promptly went out in the living room, bathroom, and back bedroom!
Subsequently, I've discovered these further facts:
1. With the AC knob in the on position, the power in the living room, bathroom, and back bedroom comes back on -- again, at a low level. It's low enough that my desktop PC, in the back bedroom, turned itself off after a few minutes; I started this post on that computer, but am now rewriting it on my netbook.
2. The living room AC is actually on -- barely. I can hear the fan and compressor operating very faintly.
3. This freakish power issue is also affecting my refrigerator -- which is on its own separate circuit! The fridge seems to be cycling on and off every few minutes. When it's on, the light in the back bedroom gets brighter, as does the work light I currently have plugged into my microwave/toaster outlet in my kitchen (which itself is supposed to be on yet another separate circuit). Even when the fridge is on, I suspect it's not at full power -- the internal light seems a bit dim. It's possible that this cycling behavior is actually being triggered by the AC cycling on and off -- I don't know. This can't be good for my food -- or for my fridge!
4. The power cycling issue is affecting my cable modem as well -- I seem to lose my internet connection when the power level is super-low, which happens every few minutes.
What in bloody hell is going on!?