Home>Discussions>ELECTRICAL & LIGHTING>Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!
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Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!


I'm having a (to me) bizarre problem in my apartment, and I was wondering if anyone here likes troubleshooting. This is going to be long, possibly random, and definitely confusing, but I'm more than willing to reiterate, explain, elaborate, or anything else that would help me get this fixed.

Here are some facts:

- I live on the top floor of a three-storey six-unit building, in Canada. It was built for this purpose, though it looks like the layout was changed at some point.

- I used my oven on Thursday evening. It seemed fine.

- The power in my apartment seemed fine on Friday. I used lights, the TV, and my computer. It was a sunny day so I had the heat (electric baseboards) off.

- Around 5:00pm on Friday I turned on my washing machine. It's a portable, the kind that has a regular grounded plug and hooks up to the kitchen sink. As it was filling I started to make dinner.

- The washing machine filled up, but when it began to agitate it did so very weakly. I thought I had overfilled it, so I took some items out, but it didn't affect the agitation.

- It was after this that I noticed the oven wouldn't turn on. Neither the indicator light nor the element turned on. The stove appeared to be okay -- the indicator lights came on when I turned on the switch, but I later realized that the elements weren't actually heating.

- I couldn't (and can't) tell if the hot-water heater is working, because it doesn't feel warm, but the wall outlet just above it *does* work. (I'm not certain these are on the same circuit though.)

- The fridge seems fine.

- Mainly my issues are with the kitchen, since that's where the stove/oven, fridge, hot water heater and washing machine are, but none of the four electrical baseboard heaters in the apartment work.

- When I did turn the oven knob ON, the overhead kitchen light BRIGHTENED slightly.

- I looked at the fusebox. The fuses are mostly of the glass plug type. There are five rows of these in pairs, in "fuse heads". There are two more rows of two which are screwed directly into the panel.

- There are also two little inner panels with handles. Inside the first are two NRN-30 fuses, and in the second are two CRN-60 fuses.

- None of the fuses were visibly blown. With the CRN and NRN fuses there seems to be no way to visualize this. But the glass ones looked alright to me. There were a couple of glass fuses that looked old or dirty so I replaced those. Everything seems normal, with fuses of both P and D type, between 15 and 30, depending on the place in the panel.

- Tonight I went through each fuse in the panel and figured out what it controlled. There were a number of fuses I couldn't find a circuit for, though -- six of the glass plug fuses, and the CRN and NRN fuses.

- I couldn't figure out which circuit the hot-water heater was on, because it's just silent, but isn't warm to the touch. (I think it normally is.)

- I couldn't figure out which circuit the baseboard heaters are on, if they are on the same circuit or otherwise, because no matter what fuse I test they're just not heating, and I don't know any other way of testing.

- When I removed any of the glass fuses, all the overhead lights in the apartment dimmed visibly. Yet I couldn't find what *many* of these fuses actually do control. (Eg. no overhead lights or electrical outlets would go out if they were removed from the panel, but they seemed to affect the power of other fuses somehow.)

- The (regular, grounded) outlet the portable washing machine is plugged into powers lights just fine on either socket. However, I've figured out that the TOP socket in the outlet seems to have more power than the bottom. For example, when the toaster is used on the top socket, it works fine. When it's used on the bottom socket, it doesn't power fully, and the overhead lights AND table lamps dim to nearly nothing (despite all being on different circuits/fuses.)

- My microwave is old and weak, but seems to work in that outlet with the same issue as the toaster -- top socket okay, bottom socket dims all lights and powers weakly.

- My mother, who visited recently, noticed that when the teapot was left to steep on one of the burners, would gradually just get cold. I wasn't sure if that was normal or not, never having thought about it, but it's quite an old stove, so I just chalked it up to that. The fuses inside the oven/stove itself seem fine, but in any case any problem with those fuses can't be related to my other electricity woes.

- A couple of times in the last two weeks or so I've heard a very loud buzzing -- almost like the sound of a really old, dying fridge/freezer, which seemed like it was coming from the kitchen, but wasn't. Each time, when I walked into the kitchen to inspect, it actually seemed to be coming from the roof. On our roof, there's an electrical 'bridge' thing that brings the wires over from across the street. I'm not sure if it was that or not, but I thought it was worth mentioning

- The problem with this one outlet doesn't seem in any way related to the fact that none of my baseboard heaters work, but at this point I've collected so much information and tested so much stuff and been able to get so little help, I'm just more confused than ever.

Good thing: Now that I've figured out that the top socket in that one outlet works, I think I will be able to finish the laundry load tomorrow once it's a reasonable hour to have it machine running. *fingers crossed* I don't think anything has changed or been fixed, I think it was just process of elimination to sort out that its old socket, the bottom, wasn't getting enough juice but the top one does. (Incidentally, that outlet is powered by two fuses, one for the top socket and one for the bottom. They are both the same kind of fuse, 20P. I have no idea what that means.)

I'm somewhat handy, being a spinster, and I'm used to figuring out things on my own, but electricity scares me and I don't want to do anything dangerous. I'm REALLY frustrated about this, though.
I can't seem to get much help from my landlord.
The hydro company says there's been nothing reported in my neighbourhood.
My neighbour says she has no problem, but she also hasn't tried to use her laundry machines or oven recently. She did say she find the lights a little dim sometimes, but wasn't sure if it was just her and thus she has never taken it seriously.

I'm sort of at my wits' end and I would REALLY like to be able to cook and not have to wear ten layers of clothes at all times in my apartment. (It's been seasonable, hovering around 0ºC day and night, so it could be worse, but I'm still wearing gloves, scarfs and hats inside my own home for the last couple of days.


Re: Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!

Hi Julie,
How often do you need to replace any burnt out fuses?

How long have you lived in tis building & have you had this problem pretty much the whole time you lived here?

Sounds to to me every thing including the heat is electric on a 6 unit buildng with old style fuses & possibly a bad/weak/old transformer outside on a electrical pole??

My best guess is the power comming in is not sufficient to run all 6 units. But just enought not to cause problems for the hydro company to stop out. The Landlord probbably for sure does want to spend the money!! (it would be lots & lots) on upgrading the electrical on this whole unit! (This is your whole problem in a nutshell) I think :confused:
Personally I dont think you can fix it. :(
So I would not go crazy trying to fix it! :eek:
To verify, you need someone whith electrical backroung to stop out and take a look at exactly what the situation is.

or if you dont know anyone I would take pics of everything I could fuse boxes, whole building, electrical comming into the building, etc,etc..... and post them here. Im sure someone will be cappable of helping you out better.
Good luck

ps Im far from an elecricain so plz keep that in mind!!
just a crazy old fart that likes to fix up old houses :eek:

Re: Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!

It sounds to me like you have a bad connection at the masthead or transformer rather than in your apartment. I would urge you to pressure the landlord to call an electrician.

Re: Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!

Thank you both for your replies.

I have lived in this apartment for just over a year and a half with no issues. I've barely had to replace a lightbulb, never mind a fuse. And the heating, hot water and oven all worked until Friday.

(I believe now that the hot water is not heating, as it no longer seems to warm up when I run the tap. I guess the hot water I had on Saturday was just remaining warm in the tank.)

Jlmcdaniel, I will pass along your thoughts to the landlord.

Thank god the weather hasn't been too cold. I would really like to take a shower, though!

Re: Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!

Yes, then your Landlord needs to know about it ASAP!
Asking others in the building to talk to your Landlord that are having a similar type of problem will also help greatly.
You could have a very serious ELECTRICAL FIRE HAZARD that needs to be taken care of before the building starts on fire!!! :eek:
Its most likely an easier fix than I had originaly thought.
let us know the out come.
Good Luck! :)

Re: Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!

It sounds to me like it could be a loose connection on the neutral. This could be a fire hazard, and it could damage appliances and electronics. Certainly a job for an electrician.

If you don't get a timely response from your landlord, there are a few others you can try calling, who may have the ability to force the landlord to fix it:

  • - Your local fire department (call the non-emergency line)
  • - Your local building department
  • - Your landlord's insurance company
Re: Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!

Well, my problem seems to have been solved, thanks to a lovely electrician who was willing to offer some advice to my landlord over the phone.

Next to the fusebox, inside the box with the giant ON/OFF switch for the power to the apartment, there are two big cylindrical fuses. One of those fuses was dead. So we replaced the dead one, and suddenly all the lights are brighter! And the heaters are heating! And the oven is heating! And I am THRILLED that I will be able to take a shower soon!!!

Thanks so much for all your advice here. This community is a great resource, and I'll be sure to return and to help when I can.

Re: Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!


Re: Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!

Good to here!!! :)

Re: Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!

Now, the million dollar question is: "Why did the fuse blow?"

There are three possible answers:

  1. Overload
  2. Short circuit
  3. Old age
Moon Over My Hammy
Re: Like puzzles? Please help me diagnose my apartment electric problem!

Lost half a phase - classic example. Went through this before we upgraded to a circuit breaker panel.

Your Kitchen duplex receptacles are split each being fed by two circuits. Top and bottom half syndrome. Each circuit from different phase half since it was one of your feeder fuses.

Your range controls still worked because their power supply was being fed by the phase that wasn't blown, your 220 didn't function because you just had 110v (half).

Overloaded half of the panel. Electrician needs to balance it your usage is over favoring one side over the other that's why you blew the fuse on half the feeder.

If your lights are glowing brighter now too bright that's a symptom of things still not right. Remember the expression used by the electrician "backfeeding on the neutral" when 220 appliances are installed and there are multiwire branch circuits, being dangerous when you lose phase.


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