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Loose Neutral Wire causing major electronic failure - need advice
Hello, Need Help!!

My husband and I recently bought a brand new 3,700 sq ft. home a year and a half ago for ourselves and our four young children. We live in Modesto, CA (about 1.5 hours south of Sacramento, CA) Ever since moving in, we have been having lots of weird "unexplainable" power problems including electronic device failures, major appliance failures, wall outlet outages (sometimes without GFI's tripping), smoking plug ins and the list goes on unfortunately. We have invested countless hours, days, weeks and months trying to research and figure out what is wrong with our new home. How could this be happening? Why is this happening? From day one, we have involved the home builder, electrical contractor, appliance company, city building inspectors and anyone we thought could help us. Needless to say, we have done our homework, but still so many questions remain unanswered. And, who do we trust?

To begin our journey, after numerous attempts of working with our home builder and electrical contractor, we decided to call upon our local power company for help. The local power company arrived on a Saturday afternoon (back in late August 2007) after we had made a call to them for emergency weekend service. Our local power company sent a technician to our home on that Saturday and the technician found after a year of living in our home that the neutral power and one of the positive cable that feeds our home was loose. In fact, the neutral wire was not even screwed/bolted down. Upon original installation, it was left lying in the socket with room to move around (thus causing all of the problems we had been having). So, upon discovery of the loose cables, the power company technician then "so-called" tightened and fastened two of the three wires in the underground kristy box. We thought at that point our troubles would finally be over. They were not! We continued to see electronics fail and were told that would be considered the aftermath from the original problem. (Anything we owned and had plugged in before the discovery date had been susceptible to future electronic damage or failure).

Well, a little more than 5 months have past since the discovery date and we are now having problems again. We asked ourselves, how can that be?

We called our local power company again and notified them of the problems we were having. They came out with their technicians to find the neutral wire was loose again. This time the screw/fastener on the neutral wire was about 1.5 - 3 turns loose and all of the other underground wires were tight as can be. We watched closely as the technician performed his test, thus catching the mistake. Immediately, I pointed this finding out loud to the power company reps (who were closely watching along beside me and a representative from our home builders electrical contractor).

It all made sense to me. The wire had gotten very loose somehow and all of our electrical problems immediately started happening all over again (deja vu). I not only watched the technician tightly fasten the neutral wire, but I also asked that he replace the entire end connection all together in case there were a problem within the socket. So, the technician did so per my request. In addition, the electrical company decided to install a meter testing device to monitor our panel and feeding coming into our house for the next two weeks.

Here's where we are to date. We have a claim in which we have already submitted to the power company. We have included in our claim an extensive amount of supporting documentation relating to our electrical problems. This documentation includes all damages (for example replacement of our brand new kitchen appliances more than 4 times each, replacement of all of our cell phones, gaming units, small electronics and much much more), receipts, calendar items relating to our power issues (which totals over 121 documented appointment hours) and a summary of the damages which occurred.

Today, we received a call from the claims representative at the power company and she wanted to follow up with us as to the status of our claim. During the call, she informed us that the power company has discussed our most recent finding (on March 11, 2008) and the power company is only willing to take full responsibility for all of the damages which occurred up to the date of the original discovery (which was last August 25, 2007). They do not believe as a result of their negligence the first time, that we should have incurred any further damage beyond the initial discovery date and furthermore, the loose neutral which they found on March 11, 2008 was not loose enough to cause our recent damages.

Our questions for you are:

1. During the first year when we had all of the major problems, is it possible our electronics could still fail even after the 2 loose wires were tightened back in August, 2007? In other words, is there such a condition as "aftermath" havoc on our electronics? We did have a few things continue to break after the first couple of months. It wasn't until now that we've started having problems all over again.

2. If our neutral wire was just found loose again, wouldn't that cause more damage? The screw had to be tightened about a good 3 full rotations before it became snug (believe me, I watched and starred). FYI, the technician did not use a torch wrench when performing the most recent test (on March 11, 2008). He used what looked like to be a regular looking screw driver to test and tighten the screws. Furthermore, the technician and the power companies representatives present that day of testing now state the screw was tight enough to meet the manufacturers suggested tightness. Thus, they are not responsible for any of the most recent incidences. How could the technician tell if the neutral was tight enough if he didn't use a torch wrench? Sounds like the power company is trying to cover their tracks.

3. What would possibly cause the neutral to become that loose in just less than six months? Did the first technician back in August 2007 not tighten the neutral tight enough or could the problem be related to something else? Regardless, the only persons who have access to our underground kristy box is the power company. They have their own special tool they use to open the box.

4. In addition to replacing everything that has been damaged, are all of our home electronics potentially at risk to breaking or suffering damage in the future as a direct result of this ongoing problem for the past one and a half years?

5. Is our house safe? Are there any special tests we should have preformed by either the power company or a licensed electrical contractor to insure we are well protected and not in any danger?

6. Is our electrical wiring throughout our home safe? Could it have suffered any long-term damage? How exactly do we know?

Please help us if you can. We are needing some answers fast. Our claim deadline is approaching and we are running out of time. We've been told our claim will be settled and complete within a few weeks, but at this point we are especially concerned based on our most recent findings. What do we do? Shouldn't the power company be liable for it all? After all, it was their equipment that failed. We have had our home electrical inspected numerous times by our building contractor's sub-contractor and they have come up with nothing wrong on their side. Everything looks great, they say.

Does anyone have any experience with loose neutral power feeds and what issues they can cause? Please advise. We would greatly appreciate any help you can offer. We are not only frustrated, but we are concerned as well. Confused
Posts: 1 | Location: Modesto, CA (Central Valley) | Registered: 16 March 2008Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I feel sorry for what you have been through - no one should have to endure that. I will tell you what is inevitable - and you probably already know what I'm going to say. The only way that you will get any more money out of the electric company is if you hire a lawyer and pursue legal means. Trust me when I say that "Claim deadline" and "settled in a few weeks" are terms and phrases used to get you to hurry and sign to agree to settle for what they are offering you so that you don't pursue legal action. On that note, I would contact an attorney and speak with them, I'm sure they can help you. While I do believe that you will get more money going that route, it ends up being dragged out for months or years - depending on how much damages you seek so you'll have to be prepared for that. But if I were you, I would talk to an attorney sooner rather than later and get a consultation.

General Contractor/Home Builder
Posts: 498 | Location: Minnesota | Registered: 15 January 2007Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Sorry to hear about your mess, here's my two cents.

1. I guess its possible the appliances/devices could have been damaged or weakened, but its more likely they would have failed altogether if that were the case. Possible, not probable.

2. If the neutral was loose again, it would easily cause more damage. I've never used a torque wrench, I wouldn't be comfortable getting larger tools into such a small space with really big hot wires in the vicinity. That said, I tighten them as much as my hands can go.

3. Many times when I tighten these connections, especially split bolts or junctions of dissimilar metals, they will loosen up again because of different coefficients of expansion due to heat. It may sound crude, but I tighten them a lot and them beat on them with my wrenches, and in every case I can then tighten them more. I'll do it 2-3 times until they won't tighten any more.

4. As I was reading I suspected vandalism or malicious intent, but you said no one had access. Are you *SURE?*

As far as the rest goes, the wiring is probably fine. At the end of the day the breakers were still in charge and would have prevented an over-current situation. What you were getting was 240V on your 120V devices. I see no reason why your devices should be suffering after the problem is fixed. I couldn't offer any service as an electrician that would offer any assurances.

That said, I recommend getting a lawyer. It will cost you, but it will be worth it in the long run if stipulations can be agreed to that will protect you against damages unseen, etc. etc. Its like being in a car accident and having medical problems later.

Good Luck!
Posts: 20 | Location: California | Registered: 03 October 2005Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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I agree with Jay. Get a lawyer right away. Also Do not sign anything from anybody until your lawyer reviews your home warranty. You may also have a claim there as well.

The only reason that the wire could have come loose is that it was not properly secured the last time they worked on it.
What type of wires are the feeds? Aluminum or copper?
Poor or inproper grounding on 220 volt appliances will ruin them quite quickly. 110 volt not so much unless they use a motor. Electronic devices also can be destroyed by poor grounding which now a days is pretty much every appliance in a home.

As far a loose neutral feeds, It is not a fire issue unless its shorting within the inside of the house box itself. If its a outside box there should be no worry.
Posts: 1933 | Location: New Jersey | Registered: 31 January 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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Just out of curiosity. Did anyone check the lugs on the panel to make sure they were rated for the type of cable connected to them? Some panels were known to have issues with aluminum cable connections inside the lugs. Perhaps the cables should have been coated with Penetrox or Noalox before the connection was made. In your case, I think it would be worth a look.
Posts: 245 | Location: Annville, PA | Registered: 03 July 2006Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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You should call an electric to solve your problem before you end up having no working electric appliance in your house. I ruined two video cameras and one mobile telephone because I used a low quality usb cable, now I bought usb cable with ferrite and it works great.
Posts: 10 | Registered: 28 March 2012Reply With QuoteReport This Post
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