Residential Electrical Problem

I have some strange probs in my new house.
Background:
1) I had the electrical service to my house changed from arial to
buried. 2) Electician installed new meter base on the back of the detached garage - 320 AMP. Installed 200 AMP disconnect for the house on the back of the garage. Used triplex alum from garage to house buried in 2" duct. LB's bring the triplex to the service panel in the house. The house ground is a standard grounding rod that was installed at the time the panel was installed. 3) I replaced the original 1961 house service panel with a 200 AMP 30 space GE panel. 4) No new circuits have been run in the house. 5) I also had the cable and the phone service buried. It's carried to house in separate 1" duct. Cable is used for television and cable modem. Phone line has one hot pair and is feeding a single wireless, DC-powered VTech set.
Problems:
1) I now have a loud 60 HZ hum and vibration coming from the new service panel. The panel's door hinges pick up the freqency which makes it louder. It's in a living area, so I would like to quiet the panel down. The original panel was silent. What could be causing this hum?
2) The picture moves back and forth (side-to-side) on my computer monitor. It's driving me crazy. I need to make it stop.
3) The 30AMP dryer breaker popped. Upon resetting it at the panel, sparks flew out the top of the panel and it made a loud pop. I called my electician. He came out and reset the breaker without it popping (of course). He said there is nothing to test for unless he can reproduce the faut. Is there a way to troubleshoot this? What would cause this intermittently? The dryer has been working fine ever since. One more thing: the dryer breaker has some sort of resistor or cap bridging the two leads of the breaker. The electrician didn't know what it was for, but installed in on the new panel anyway. Why would sparks fly out of the panel? Shouldn't the breaker prevent this if it is doing its job correctly?
4) I am popping light bulbs left and right. I am new to this house, so I am not sure if this was happening before. I wonder if this is related to the other issues.
5) Here's the kicker: when the electirican installed the new panel, he wired two 15A ceiling light circuits out of phase and sparks flew and there was a loud pop, which tripped the 200A disconnect out at the detached garage. He said that the circuits are looped or connected. He swapped one of the breakers to bring them into phase and they both work fine now. Is this a safe condition? Again, why would sparks fly out of the panel? Shouldn't the breaker prevent this if it is is doing its job correctly?
Thanks in advance for everybody's help.
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ejsimcox wrote:

Lets see: unsafe condition + inept electrician = disaster.
The lights blowing suggest a bad neutral connection.
Guessing at the cause of the sparks, the humming, the tripped 200A breaker is not wise. In my opinion, it need to be fixed, *now*.
The component across the dryer breaker might be a capacitor, used to bridge the phases for something like an X-10 system which sends control signals over the house wiring.
Ed
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ehsjr, the previous owner did use x-10, so that explains the bridge device.
I agree with you regarding having the situation corrected and will do so. I still want to understand what has happened here so that if this turns out to be professional incompetence, this electrician does not pull the same thing on another unsuspecting homeowner.
Thanks for your help.
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www.bmillerengineering.com

If you have an open neutral, then the current is flowing out on one hot wire and returning on another hot wire in a different location, rather than the neutral in the same pipe. This creates a large "coil", and puts your monitor in the middle of the magnetic field. It also puts the conduit and metal service panel in the middle, causing heating and vibration (hence the hum). It needs to be investigated and corrected immediately.
Ben Miller
--
Benjamin D. Miller, PE
B. MILLER ENGINEERING
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More information is needed and you need to find a qualified electrician to take some voltage and current measurements.
For conditions 1 and 2, does this breaker hum exist 24 hours a day or only when certain appliances are on? Condition 2 indicates that your monitor is in the presence of a strong AC electromagnetic field (or not operating at the proper voltage! or a possible neutral probelm), obviously it should not be doing this under normal conditions. Strong AC electromagnetic fields are associated with large current flows through wires, and especially coils and electric motors. Does relocating the monitor solve the problem?
Popping bulbs and possibly popping breakers is associated with over voltage conditions. This in turn could be related to a defective, open, or intermittent neutral wire.
You may have a serious, life threatening problem here. It could burn your house down. I would suggest getting a competent electrician (someone other than the installer) to check it out.
Beachcomber
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Beachcomber:
Regarding condition 1, the panel hums all of the time. Somtimes, it seems a little louder, but it might be the vibration being picked up by the panel's cover.
Regarding condition 2, moving the monitor to another room worked to fix the jitter. Leaving the monitor in place and running an extension cord to other circuits does not fix the problem, leading me to believe you are correct regarding the magnetic field. The original location is about 8 ft away from a gas-fired water heater and HVAC system in the garage. However, the condition persists regardless of if these two units are powered.
Is this strong electromagnetic field safe for humans? We were hoping to use this room as a children's room.
I will be hiring another electician this week.
Many thanks, Ed
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Is a strong electromagnetic field safe for humans? As I remember, there was a huge debate about this around 8-10 years ago. Maybe it is still going on... The original concerns were for homeowners who lived near potential EMF sources such as electrical substations and near high voltage transmission lines.
I don't recall that there was a scientific study that proved 100% conclusive either way, but I'm sure there are others out there with far more expertise in this field who may be able to comment. Google "Low Frequency EMF Safety" and I'm sure you will find many opinions.
Your situation with the monitor is quite unusual. If it is an EMF field, something is using a whole lot of current in close proximity. Is the monitor near a fan or blower? You could try flipping individual breakers OFF while observing the monitor to see if you can at least isolate the circuit. I'm also thinking that perhaps if the neutral return is not adjacent to the hot wire carrying all that current, you might have a giant current loop somehow in your house. It could be related to faults in your neutral or grounding system.
Beachcomber
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On 10/09/05 01:47 pm Beachcomber tossed the following ingredients into the ever-growing pot of cybersoup:

I have looked many times without success, both online and in my collection of clippings, for an article 10 or more years ago in the UK magazine previously called "Wireless World" (but at the time already renamed to something with "Electronics" in the title) in which it was argued that the data concerning the effect of LF electromagnetic fields on the human body were inconclusive precisely because the researchers had not distinguished between 50Hz and 60Hz supply frequencies. The author claimed that the effects of the two different frequencies were significantly different, but I don't recall which was alleged to be worse or why.
I do have a personal interest in the issue, because my first wife died of breast cancer at a comparatively young age and with no family history of cancer. We lived across a very narrow lane from an 11KV 50Hz overhead power line, and I often wonder whether this was a contributing cause.
Perce
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Did you ever measure the field strength in that home? I have measured LF fields hundreds of times and ALWAYS, the fields from sources inside the home are greater than those from outside the home. Magnetic fields are proportional to current and inversely proportional to distance from the source. This usually means that the wiring in your house is a larger contributor than the mean old ugly line out on the pole. Of course it is no fun to sue yourself, so many try to blame the source with the least contribution.
Charles Perry P.E.
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Charles Perry wrote:

Read the BMJ Report dated 20 June 2005?
"While few children in England and Wales live close to high voltage power lines at birth, there is a slight tendency for the birth addresses of children with leukaemia to be closer to these lines than those of matched controls. An association between childhood leukaemia and power lines has been reported in several studies, but it is nevertheless surprising to find the effect extending so far from the lines.We have no satisfactory explanation for our results in terms of causation by magnetic fields or association with other factors. Neither the association reported here nor previous findings relating to level of exposure to magnetic fields are supported by convincing laboratory data or any accepted biological mechanism"
--
Sue

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Did you? What was your point? There have been many attempts to explain why some studies show that living "near" a power line shows an increased risk. Studies that included measuring the actual magnetic field exposure always come out showing no increased risk. One study in the US found that socio-economic standing showed a positive correlation (poorer = closer to lines = higher cancer risk).
Charles Perry P.E.
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Charles Perry wrote:

What was the point of "Did you?". A further excerpt from it reads, "However,adjustment for socioeconomic status of the census ward of birth address did not explain our finding."
--
Sue




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Well it all depends... I also have a Gaussmeter that I have owned for about 10 years and was very active in measuring different sources of LF EMF's in a home environment...
It is true that there are local concentrations of high intensity in the home >= 1000 mG. This can be your electric razor or the bathroom fan in your ceiling. For the most part though, human exposure to these concentrated EMF sources is time-limited (Most people don't spend all day standing under their bathroom fan!) Computer monitors, TVs, and any type of electric motor can be a concentrated source. High readings were also present near service entrance equipment if the power load on the house happened to be high. The point generally was that although high areas of LF EMF's were found in the home, exposure was generally limited to a few seconds to a few minutes.
Outside the home it can be different. In the area of the country where I live (Oregon), there are upscale homes directly adjacent to transmission path corridors. The exposure levels can be relatively constant 40-50 mG on the residential properties and sometimes approached the 1000 mG level under certain peak load conditions. I personally would not buy a home adjacent to such a transmission line right-of-way and I am aware of the studies that say there is either no correlation to ill-health effects or the results are still inconclusive.
New subdivisions should be aware that underground routing of distribution lines can be a source of moderate but constant EMF levels. The voltages are lower, but the currents are higher, thus you get higher level mag fields. Also, the cables may be buried on your property at a depth of 3-5 feet and are closer to you than they would be if mounted on a pole.
As for electrical substations, I wouldn't want to live next to one of those either, but that's mostly because I've seen the effects of an exploded transformer and do not fancy any chance of having molten copper flying through my living room if I could do anything to avoid it. In some very dense urban areas, the utility builds "blast walls" around each individual transformer. Very comforting! ...
Beachcomber
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On 10/10/05 06:30 am Charles Perry tossed the following ingredients into the ever-growing pot of cybersoup:

I had already moved away from that house -- and even from that country -- before I became aware of suggested effects of power-line proximity on health.
For the sake of the health of my new family I did make sure that our current house was well away from HV power lines, and in our subdivision everything is underground. I am now in 60Hz country.
Perce
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The magnetic fields created by household appliances and internal wiring will be higher than that from HV power lines. While a high voltage line might have 600 amps on it, it will be hundreds of feet away. Remember, magnetic field strength drops proportional to the SQUARE of the distance. The wiring in your home may have 100 amps (service conductor) and be a few feet from you. An electric blanket may have 5 amps (or 10) and be inches from you. The magnetic field is NOT related to voltage.
Charles Perry P.E.
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Perce:
I tend to believe your theory that the lower the frequency, the worse it can be for human beings. Maybe I just find the lower 50 Hz buzz more irritating when I walk under a European transmission line then a North American 60 Hz line. I understand that New York City used 25 Hz for metropolitan transit well into the 1970's and the Pennsylvania Railroad was electrified at something like around 16 Hz (Yipes!).
Probably one of the worse places to experience LF EMF's is on the French TGV trains where passengers are placed under the close proximity of high current 50 HZ conductors for extended periods of time. This is part of the locomotive catenary's power pickup. US high speed trains that operate on the east coast with overhead power catenaries operating on AC may provide a similar experience.
For a little over a hundred years or so, mankind has been exposed to these AC power fields indoors, outdoors, and even from currents in the ground. From the 1920's onward, this included broadcast frequencies, short-wave, and later, emissions at microwave frequencies. Within the last 20 years or so, you can add cellular phone emissions, and an explosion of point-to-point communication services within the same bands. Do you live near a TV Station broadcast antenna in the US? That station probably just installed a high power digital pulsing transmitter on their tower for HDTV. Not to mention their high power Doppler radar system that has enough power to cut through 350 miles of heavy cloud cover.
I for one am skeptical of claim that all these emissions cause no ill health effects on the human body. I had a friend who died of what formerly was a very rare form of brain cancer. He was a heavy cell phone user. Coincidence? I personally don't think so...The human body contains many chemicals and substances which are sensitive and react to changing magnetic fields.
Beachcomber
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When I lived in Miami, my 1947 constructed house had the wiring contained in conduit. When I rewired and remodeled, the conduit was retained, no ROMEX permitted. A friend had a newer house constructed with ROMEX and near high tension lines. He also was suffering MS. worked around radios and was concerned about EMF fields. He bought a tri-field meter and reported high values in and around his house. He brought that same meter to my older house and the meter barely budged. I have always wondered if use of ROMEX is a contributor to some of these reported illnesses.
Charles Perry wrote:

When I lived in Miami, my 1947 constructed house had the wiring contained in conduit. When I rewired and remodeled, the conduit was retained, no ROMEX permitted. A friend had a newer house constructed with ROMEX and near high tension lines. He also was suffering MS. worked around radios and was concerned about EMF fields. He bought a tri-field meter and reported high values in and around his house. He brought that same meter to my older house and the meter barely budged. I have always wondered if use of ROMEX is a contributor to some of these reported illnesses.
--
Joe Leikhim K4SAT (transmitted in DSB to placate the "Kooks")
"The RFI-EMI-GUY"
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On Tue, 11 Oct 2005 00:57:03 GMT, **THE-RFI-EMI-GUY**

The steel or steel allow metal in conduit does not shield against electromagnetic fields (electric fields, yes, if it is grounded, but not magnetic fields). There are few materials that do shield against magnetic fields. One material that does is called "High Mu" metal (Mu being a letter of the Greek alphabet). This materials include thick Ferrous Iron plates of the type used in wood stoves and such.
More important (as far as the creation of emf fields) is the placement of conductors, the direction of the current, the magnitude of the current, and the separation distance between conductors. You don't need to fully understand Maxwell's equations, but if you understand that wherever there is a changing (AC) current flow in a conductor, there will be an electromagnetic field created around that conductor.
For this reason, the old knob and tube wiring is potentially the worst for EMF if the conductors carry any significant current. The current flow might go up one wall and come down another, producing a giant open field.
Romex is better because the conductors are closer together and the opposite current flow tends to cancel out the emf field that is created. Obviously there is no shielding whatsoever with Romex and the current carrying conductors are close but still a measurable distance from each other.
The best cable (from a standpoint of minimal EMF emissions) would probaby be individual wires twisted together in conduit or the standard multiplex service entrance cable. This is why telephone wires, microphone cables and data cables are always twisted, both to minimize the emmission, but also the absorbtion of stray fields, known as crosstalk.
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The loud 'buzz', monitor problems and #5 suggest to me that you have circuits carrying current out on one feeder, and returning on another. Such 'looping' could create some magnetic fields in the house that affect your monitor, and mismatched currents in the conductors of a circuit can cause magnetic fields in the panel that would make it 'buzz'. The cross-tie between the two circuits listed in # 5 needs to be found and the circuits properly separated.
When your dryer breaker tripped, the electriction *should* have at least taken the cover off the panel and looked. Sometimes a good visual will show were the sparks flew from (discoloration can mean overheating/loose connections or frayed/chaffing insulation). If it was as dramatic as you make it sound, there should be some 'evidence' inside the panel.
Popping light bulbs usually means overvoltage. This is often caused by a bad neutral connection that allows the neutral point to shift from one hot to the other depending on the amount of load.
These things are dangerous. You will need to find a competant electrician and explain each of these items to them. They can't read minds, so give them as much detail as possible about what you've been seeing.
The voltage/neutral problem could be the utility's fault. If the service was just worked, they may have a problem in their installation. Call them and most will come out right away and check the voltages on your supply. Then they ask you to turn on a large 120V load (toaster, microwave, hair-dryer). If the voltages between line and neutral change almost any amount at the meter, they have a problem. Happened to me last year, they had repaired a pad-mounted transformer (I too have buried service). Noticed the next day that when the refridgerator started, the lights in the living room *brightened*. They came out the same night to fix a loose neutral in the transformer.
daestrom
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Thanks for the replies. Simple question: what can I ask an electrician to make sure he/she is equipped with the appropriate knowledge and tools to troubleshoot these problems and make the necessary changes? Obviously, mere licensure does not ensure these qualifications.
ejsimcox
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