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Flickering lights, neutral issue??


gordonjs
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I'm an electrical engineer, but home electric certainly isn't my forte.

So for the next 12 months, I'll be living in an apartment while on some contract work. I moved in a few weeks ago and I noticed that the lights flicker.. QUITE a bit. We're not talking just when you turn on the AC, we're talking all the time, and certainly influenced by appliances, even small ones, etc. Also, when my neighbor upstairs runs anything, I get flicker as well. It's become a huge annoyance even in a few weeks.

The apartment has a main panel, but a seperate neutral and ground. (I assume the bond is done in the outside service disconnect) and the apartments are only 1 year old, so they are fairly new wiring.

I did something which I am SURE isn't code, just to test. I used a screwdriver to bond the neutral and ground at my panel in the apartment. I got a little spark, but ALL the flickering stopped. It was smooth as silk in the apartment (I was running the washing machine to maximize the flickering).

So, what could it be? From searching around, some people seem to say neutral/ground bond, but... Help me guys!

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If the vibration from the guy upstairs or the washing machine is causing this to happen, I think you've got a loose connection arcing somewhere. When you had the cover off, did you check to ensure that the grounded (neutral) conductor was tight at its lug? I've had panels in brand new homes where I've found that the electrician hadn't even bothered to tighten down the lugs. If it's tight in the sub-panel, it might be loose at the main disconnect, though it sounds like it's in the house since the vibration is causing it. Did you call the landlord and pitch a b***h?

ONE TEAM - ONE FIGHT!!!

Mike

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It's not vibration. If they turn on ANYTHING electrical, my lights flicker.

In other words, my lights oscillate when I run my washer OR my upstears apartment neighbor runs theirs.

Its purely electrical.

I have mentioned it to the apartment company, but they haven't done ANYTHING about it, I'm going to escalate it, but I'd like to be able to tell them exactly what I think it is.

Also, my neighbors have the same issue, they said the flickering is really bad and they have lived there 7 months and complained multiple times, but they are an older couple.

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Originally posted by Tom Raymond

Could also be undersized service from the street, but that would appear more like repeated brown outs than a constant flicker. If it's happening in both units it is definately at or before the main disconnect.

Tom

That is exactly what I figured.

Plus, and maybe i'm stupid, but.. While I realize that it was dumb to short the neutral and ground at my panel, should there really be enough current to create a spark like that? I mean, shouldn't the neutral and ground be bonded right at the other end of the wire? There can't be much resistance in the line, so how the hell am I reading 6VAC and getting a spark like that?

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Originally posted by gordonjs

Originally posted by Tom Raymond

Could also be undersized service from the street, but that would appear more like repeated brown outs than a constant flicker. If it's happening in both units it is definately at or before the main disconnect.

Tom

That is exactly what I figured.

Plus, and maybe i'm stupid, but.. While I realize that it was dumb to short the neutral and ground at my panel, should there really be enough current to create a spark like that? I mean, shouldn't the neutral and ground be bonded right at the other end of the wire? There can't be much resistance in the line, so how the hell am I reading 6VAC and getting a spark like that?

There's a problem with your neutral wire somewhere between your apartment's panel and the point where the neutral and the grounding conductors are bonded. Your experiment confirms that. The potential between those two wires should be nearly nothing.

I suspect a loose lug. As Mike observed, electricians sometimes fail to tighten a connection.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Originally posted by gordonjs

Jim, exactly. At those guage wires, for, say, a 50 foot run, I imagine the resistance is amazingly low, meaning 6v and a spark, well... surprised me.

It isn't the resistance that's important, it's the difference in resistance between the two. If they're both about the same length and about the same size, they should have the same resistance.

Something's rotten.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

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Originally posted by Jim Katen

Originally posted by gordonjs

Jim, exactly. At those guage wires, for, say, a 50 foot run, I imagine the resistance is amazingly low, meaning 6v and a spark, well... surprised me.

It isn't the resistance that's important, it's the difference in resistance between the two. If they're both about the same length and about the same size, they should have the same resistance.

Something's rotten.

- Jim Katen, Oregon

Yea, good point.

The apartment complex hasn't done anything about it yet, but some of my fault for not pressing them. I hate to be 'that guy' but something needs to be done and I am going to hound them.

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