As if the bar exam wasn't horrible enough.
July 26, 2013 7:22 PM   Subscribe

I'm house-sitting. A moment ago, the lights in my kitchen dimmed, and then went out. The stove was on while this happened. The A/C has also stopped blowing cold air, although it was making a weird buzzing noise before I manually shut the blower off via the thermostat. Lights and the fan in the living room are working, but everything is dead in the kitchen except the stove. Upstairs A/C and lights are dead as well.

None of the circuit breakers are tripped. I sent the person I am house-sitting for an email, but am unsure when I'll get a response. I've lived in apartments all my life and have no idea what to do next. Should I call an electrician? An A/C person? The bar exam is in four days. Help.
posted by sevensnowflakes to Home & Garden (19 answers total)
Sometimes the breakers are tripped but only move slightly so you can't tell by just looking. Are they labelled? If so, can you find the one for the kitchen and turn it off and then back on? If you can't find the specific one, you probably need to try them all, one at a time.
posted by raisingsand at 7:27 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh, wait - I misread none of the breakers as some of the breakers. (Read for content, jferg.) In that case, it sounds like maybe one side of the 220-volt feed is gone; it's likely an issue at the power company. Call them.
posted by jferg at 7:27 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

I live in an old house that has a breaker panel AND a separate fuse box. If the house you're in has similar, it could be a blown fuse.
posted by gnutron at 7:33 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For further detail (since I'm not racing to correct the post that somebody (helpfully?) deleted) - electric service (at least in the house) comes in as two 110-volt lines of opposite polarization, which combined make 220V. Since most of the house is 110V appliances and lights, if you lose one of those two lines (often due to a transformer issue upstream, it's likely your neighbors are having the same problem), some portion of your 110V things will get full power, and some will get none; your 220V things (AC, stove, etc) will only be getting 110V (which is bad). So you did the right thing by turning off the AC. Turn off the stove as well, call the power company, and let them know you're having problems.
posted by jferg at 7:33 PM on July 26, 2013

Yeah, this happened in my building this week and it was a power company issue. When we called, they said we would have to pay $80 or something if it was inside the house, but it wasn't.
posted by katinka-katinka at 7:34 PM on July 26, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks, all. It appears, from a look out my window, that neighbors may also be having problems, although I live in a wooded area where there aren't many houses around. That would support the power-company-problem thesis. I gave them a call.

Please, god, let this get fixed quickly. I can't afford to spend the next four days sweating.
posted by sevensnowflakes at 7:39 PM on July 26, 2013

Check the breakers again, turn them off and then back on, all of them. Once my husband insisted that no breakers had tripped, but one had, it just did not look like it did. Also, there may be another panel somewhere. I lived in a house that had three separate panels in different areas.

It does not make sense that the power would be out in the neighborhood and that you would have power in part of the house. I have lived in the country most of my life. When the power goes out, the whole house goes out. If it is a brown out, then you get dim lights, but you still get lights.
posted by buzzieandzaza at 7:45 PM on July 26, 2013

Best answer: Something similar happened to me a while ago. It turned out to be an outside breaker where the power came into the building.
posted by dortmunder at 7:51 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

This happened to me the first time I was staying alone in my parents' house overnight without an adult. It was a brownout and affected my whole block. It was fixed within a couple of hours.

It happens a lot in the summertime, especially in unseasonably hot weather when the power infrastructure is handling heavy loads.

You might also want to try unplugging/shutting off things that are still working but don't currently need to be in use. No idea if that will affect anything, but it's good manners in hot weather, anyway.

(FWIW in my experience buzzieandzaza is incorrect. This can DEFINITELY happen when there is a brownout. Though I don't know enough about either building electrics or regional power infrastructure to know how likely it is where you happen to be, in your particular house.)
posted by Sara C. at 7:55 PM on July 26, 2013

Turn off the stove as well

Just want to point out -- if you have a gas stove, electricity has nothing to do with whether it's working or not. Most gas stoves have electric igniters, but if you already had a flame going before the power went out, you wouldn't notice any difference.
posted by Sara C. at 7:59 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Should I turn off all the breakers?
posted by sevensnowflakes at 8:01 PM on July 26, 2013

In our neighborhood, the two bare wires at the very tops of the poles are something crazy high, like 660. Each of those is connected to transformers (one transformer for each wire) at intervals, the lines drop down to the 110v lines lower down the pole. If one transformer blows, or one of the upper or one of the lower wires gets broken, you only have one 110v leg as stated above.
At work this lead to some funny situations, we lost a leg, but due to poor wiring inside the building, the other leg was backfeeding through the 220v water heater (a big resistor) giving us very dim incandescent lighting.
I called an electrical engineer friend when this happened, he explained it to me, and told me he had been to a house recently where this was happening through the 220v electric range (range= stove). You could dim/brighten the lights by turning down/turning up the controls on the electric range.
posted by mareli at 8:05 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

Could you go talk to the neighbors? If they're also having issues, it would save you from having to fiddle with breakers or fuses in a house that isn't yours.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 8:19 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you have lost a phase, then you should be able to break the link between the two phases by shutting off all of the 220V circuits (dryer, etc). At that point, if I remember what the inside of breaker boxes look like, all of the circuits on one side of the box should be live, and all of the circuits on the other side should be out. That would at least confirm what's going on.

(This is only to find something you can test now; hopefully an actual electrician will come along to refute/correct my vague memory)
posted by kiltedtaco at 8:26 PM on July 26, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, the best thing to do to troubleshoot right now is to completely turn off ALL of the breakers, and then turn them all back on. Sometimes when a breaker trips it doesn't appear to have moved, so this will eliminate that as a possibility.
posted by markblasco at 8:27 PM on July 26, 2013 [1 favorite]

This same thing happened to us earlier this summer. Fortunately, the transformer was located close enough for us to hear it explosively burn out, so we knew exactly what it was. I shut off all the breakers except for the one for the bedroom, we left one lamp in the on position and went to sleep. At 3 am when the light switched on I turned all the other breakers back on.
posted by infinitewindow at 8:44 PM on July 26, 2013

Response by poster: All right, power company emergency person has come and gone. It was a problem with the main wiring going from the electric pole into the box on the outside of the house - the person they sent chopped off a big segment of bad wiring and put in new. That's the technical description, of course. Et voila!
posted by sevensnowflakes at 8:55 PM on July 26, 2013 [6 favorites]

posted by Jahaza at 6:42 AM on July 27, 2013

Good luck on the bar!
posted by Capri at 8:02 AM on July 27, 2013

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