I just want to heat my food in the kitchen, not the living room!
June 11, 2016 7:10 PM   Subscribe

Weird electrical issues (or possibly poltergeist) in my kitchen that are making my microwave and stove not function optimally.

I tried heating up some leftovers in my microwave last night and while all the lights turned on and the table spun, nothing actually got hot. Ran the microwave through a few more one minute intervals, still nothing. Fuck it, I thought, the microwave isn't that new and it's bound to die one day. So I move my food into a pan and put it on the stove. Lights come on to tell me that the stove is hot, but no heat comes from the burner. My sausage and peppers look forlorn in its frying pan and my stomach grumbles on. No matter which burner I tried there was no heat, I even turned on the oven on broiler and got nothing. Everything else in the kitchen seems to be fine. The overhead lights work, the fridge still keeps my beer cold, and the coffee maker still keeps correct time. I ended up unplugging the microwave and plugging it into an outlet in the living room, where it worked just fine. Everything seems to be isolated to the kitchen. I'd like to get an idea of what's happening before I call my landlord since they live in another state. Time for an electrician or exorcist?
posted by carnivoregiraffe to Home & Garden (7 answers total)
Electrician time. Your stove and microwave are getting enough power to turn on their indicator lights and revolve, but not do their intended things. I had this a few months ago. I would only get something like 30v out of the outlet. I forget if it's loose neutral or loose hot, but that circuit has problems that can only be fished out by an experienced person.

I didn't want to try to hunt it down, who has THAT time, so I called a guy and it was fixed when I got home. Probably a house call charge plus materials, like $200.
posted by sanka at 7:24 PM on June 11, 2016 [2 favorites]

Do you know where your breaker panel is? Are the breakers labeled?

Do you know which circuits your kitchen electronics are?

Electric stoves are generally on their own circuit as most are 220V instead of 110V. Refrigerators also generally have their own dedicated 110V wall plug circuit, which would be why you aren't seeing issues with your fridge.

Best practices call for kitchens to typically have 2 or more circuits for counter-height receptacles (outlets), and lights are often on their own circuit.

It sounds like you're having low-voltage problems on probably two different circuits; your stove and a counter-height circuit. They may be next to each other in the breaker panel or both run along a similar path, for both to stop working simultaneously.

If you can figure out which breakers those are (the stove as a 220 will be a double-width breaker), you can try flipping it OFF and ON and then see if the problem is resolved.

If that doesn't work, leave the breakers to those two circuits OFF until your landlord can get an electrician in.
posted by bookdragoness at 7:34 PM on June 11, 2016

We've had variations on this question a couple of times before.

I think what's happening is that one of your 120V circuits is tripped or has bad wiring, but is getting some power because of a back circuit through a 220V appliance -- in this case your stove.

Find your breaker panel and look for a tripped circuit; remember that a tripped circuit usually has a switch only a little out of line with the others, not all the way over to 'off'. If you find such a switch, flip it all the way over to 'off' and then flip it back to 'on'.
posted by jamjam at 8:28 PM on June 11, 2016

I took a look at the breaker and nothing seemed to be out of position. I turned off the breaker to the stove and unplugged everything in the kitchen with the exception of the fridge. There are two switches in the panel box labeled "Kitchen plugs" but I'm hesitant to flip those off in case the fridge is on one of them. The landlord is sending an electrician over on Monday, is there anything else I should do until they get here?
posted by carnivoregiraffe at 8:59 PM on June 11, 2016

The fridge is definitely on a separate breaker from the microwave since it is not having the problem. Can you tell if the stove is on an actual double pole breaker or if it is on two separate single pole breakers? (The latter is a code violation, but is fairly common. Sometimes the person who did the shoddy work does at least tie the breaker handles together with some wire which theoretically keeps it from being actively dangerous)

The reason why I ask is that if your stove could be wired such that one side of the 240V is coming from the same breaker your microwave is on and the other is coming from a circuit on the other leg (like your fridge) and one side tripped but the other didn't. That would give the same symptoms as a broken neutral.

Assuming you still have some incandescent bulbs, you don't notice major flickering or fluctuations in intensity when heavy loads kick on like your refrigerator's compressor (or an AC unit, whatever) do you? If so, you have a potentially dangerous situation. (That would indicate something is broken at the service entrance which could induce higher than normal voltage on the working leg of your 120v service) Otherwise it's probably at least not going to fry any electronics or burn your house down.

If you are having those sorts of symptoms it is an emergency situation and you should make your landlord get someone out tonight.
posted by wierdo at 9:41 PM on June 11, 2016

I have no idea what breaker my fridge is on, but the stove looks to be an actual double pole breaker. I don't have incandescent bulbs in the kitchen, we switched over to LEDs shortly after moving in. We did notice that the original bulbs burnt out pretty quickly which is part of the reason we switched over to LEDs.
posted by carnivoregiraffe at 10:02 PM on June 11, 2016

There is nothing you have to do besides keeping your microwave unplugged. I'd turn the kitchen plugs breakers off. If one of them turns off the fridge then wait 5 minutes and turn the breaker back on; this procedure won't hurt your fridge. Having those breakers off would prevent a very remote possibility of ending up with more than 120V at some random outlet so if you can turn them off with out affect your fridge it would be a good idea.
posted by Mitheral at 1:23 AM on June 12, 2016

« Older Tailgater Haters   |   Insure my laptop -- against myself? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.