What's up with our electricity?
January 23, 2013 5:50 AM   Subscribe

We woke up this extremely cold morning (9F/-13C) and various electric things in our condo seem to be flaky, like there's not enough power. I also noticed that the thermostat for our heat pump says "Auxiliary Heat On", which I haven't seen before. Has anyone seen something like this before? Since it's all electric, it seems like it might be related.

Flaky things:

Electric stove won't heat up to bright red, just very warm.
Light in refrigerator is dim.
CFL in bathroom flickering.
Stereo receiver won't turn on from Standby.
posted by smackfu to Home & Garden (15 answers total)
It could be bad power quality - i.e. the frequency or voltage is too low, or changing too much. Although I would expect that if the voltage was dipping down so low that the stove doesn't work properly, that the entire grid was just shut right off (although, there can always be local variations, like your neighbours suddenly turning on some massive equipment). Where are you geographically? Have you contacted the power company?
posted by molecicco at 5:55 AM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: Call the power company, and if your condo has a super or a management company, call them. Check with neighbors, if they too are having a problem, it's likely an issue with the power supply to the building.

Once, this happened in our condo. It was weird because the front half of the unit was fine, it was the back part of the unit that had lost power.

Turns out that one of the two cables from the pole had loosened. the whole building was on half supply.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:56 AM on January 23, 2013

Actually, it all sounds like low-voltage to me. Maybe your neighbour started a grow-op!?
posted by molecicco at 5:57 AM on January 23, 2013

You're missing one of he legs of your three phase power. You super or the electric company can fix in a few minutes.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:58 AM on January 23, 2013

Sounds like the heat pump couldn't supply enough heat (in normal operating mode), so it's supplementing with some electric resistance heating, which is either on the fritz or drawing more power than your service is prepared to supply.
posted by jon1270 at 5:58 AM on January 23, 2013

You're missing one of he legs of your three phase power.

It would be very unusual for a residence to be wired for 3-phase.
posted by jon1270 at 6:00 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

In the meantime, you might want to avoid using electric appliances and/or equipment as much as possible.
posted by HuronBob at 6:01 AM on January 23, 2013

Response by poster: Well, two trucks from the electric company just showed up outside, before I could even call them. So seems like a bigger problem than just our unit. Thanks!
posted by smackfu at 6:09 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

It would be very unusual for a residence to be wired for 3-phase.

In Germany, it would be common for houses. But yeah, in German apartments, or any other residence anywhere else in the world, three-phases would be very, very unlikely. And the effect on the stove would be two elements burning bright, and one not working at all. Low voltage is the only thing I can think of, that would allow standby to work, but prevent something from turning on the whole way without tripping a fuse. Similarly, a functioning but flickering light suggests low voltage.
posted by molecicco at 6:12 AM on January 23, 2013

Best answer: If it is 9 degrees out, it is completely normal for the auxiliary heat to be on. Even very modern, expensive heat pumps can't pull enough heat out of 9 degree air to satisfactorily heat a residence. This is why heat pump systems have regular old electric heaters built in to the indoor unit - they kick in to provide auxiliary heat in very cold weather when the heat pump alone isn't enough.

As for the other power-related problems, those are, of course, not normal. I second the earlier suggestion that you may wish to turn off and unplug expensive electrical equipment (stereo, tv, computer, etc) until the problem is fixed so that they will not be affected by the improper voltages which it seems you are receiving.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 6:16 AM on January 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: And now the power is out. Thank god for laptops and cell tethering. But it's going to get cold in here.
posted by smackfu at 6:43 AM on January 23, 2013

Yes it would be weird for a house to be wired for three phase, but different houses in your neighborhood are wired to different legs to help balance how much power is pulled from each leg. If one leg goes missing then power leaks from one leg to another (mostly through motors) and causes an under-voltage condition on the missing leg. This is the symptom your having.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 6:49 AM on January 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

We had this happen one time in my mom's stand alone house. Everything was dim and the back half of the house had no power at all. It was super weird, but it had something to do with the electric company supply to the neighborhood, not our specific house. I can't remember exactly what they said broke, but they were out there fixing it and then all was well.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:26 AM on January 23, 2013

Also see this recent question.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 12:19 PM on January 23, 2013

Response by poster: Well, everything is fixed now. Power was out for about 40 minutes, but the guys were here all days using a jackhammer to dig through the frozen dirt. Don't envy them. Guess I won't get much closure other than "something bad broke."
posted by smackfu at 1:39 PM on January 23, 2013

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