A Broken Electrical Record

I used all my blogging time writing the following e-mail to electrical people (Dusty, Lena with the local solar company, Roger at GCEA, and Peter, who will hopefully come save us from all this). I doubt you care, already being up to your eyeballs in my electrical complaints, but it’s all I’ve got for today.

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Today is the third consecutive day our garage circuit breaker has tripped.

Perhaps we can blame this on the addition of a quartz heater to the garage, but it wasn’t on two days ago, and this happened before the heater was added. The heater is needed to maintain a temperature of at least 40 degrees to keep the boiler warm.

These are the latest electrical issues in a string that dates back to our occupancy of the house, which began on Aug. 16. We have talked to our contractor, electrician, solar contractor and GCEA; this time I am sending this to everyone (except that I don’t have an e-mail for Shawn Johnson), including Peter Darling of Argent Electric, whom I have asked to come take a look at our electrical issues as soon as his schedule permits. I am also copying my wife, Lynn Schumann.

On Oct. 15 I went to GCEA and spoke with Roger about a series of electrical issues we have been having since we moved into our new-construction house on Aug. 16. He could not find much in their reports, and suggested I document any additional anomalies.

For review, here are glitches that occurred prior to Oct. 15:

Sometime in late August I was home for the first noticed power outage, a blip long enough to stop clocks.

On Aug. 30 Lynn tripped a breaker while vacuuming; this breaker has since been replaced. That same day or a day later, our $50 microwave tripped a different breaker 3 or 4 times, then stopped functioning.

On Aug. 31 I tried the microwave on a different circuit, and got blue sparks. This marked the definitive death of the microwave. Shawn blamed the microwave itself, noting other microwaves worked without problem on that same circuit.

At some point my steam shower tripped a breaker.

Prior to Sept. 15, a smoke detector went off at 3:15 a.m. and I also tripped the steam shower breaker while pushing random buttons on my control panel (the steam was probably on). The breaker was reset, but I did not realize the steam unit itself had also tripped.

On Sept. 18 I experienced another very brief power outage, enough to stop clocks, c. 7:10 a.m.

On Sept. 28 the steam shower breaker was replaced with a higher-amperage breaker.

I was able to use the steam shower three, possibly four times, before the next use, around Oct. 13, tripped both the breaker and the steam unit once again. Following a reset of both, the next day both units tripped again, followed by the smell of something burning. While the breaker has been reset, I have not bothered to reset the steam unit. This was reported to Dusty, who tried perhaps once to contact Shawn, and that was the last any attempt was made to address this, until I contacted Peter this week.

When I spoke with him, Roger advised that I keep a log of problems. Here is the post-Oct. 15 log:

Oct. 18, 8:26 a.m. Another power outage, again very brief, knocked out clocks, the TV satellite, and caused lights on the refrigerator door to come on.

Dec. 3. The garage breaker blew for the first time, apparently as Lynn closed the door after backing her car out at 5:45 a.m.. Or sometime between that action and me noticing when I tried to open the door around 10 to get my car out.

Dec. 7 10:20 a.m. The vacuum cleaner tripped the breaker while plugged into an outlet near the mud room bench.

Dec. 18, c. 10 a.m. The garage breaker tripped, presumably as I closed the bay door after backing my car out. The quartz heater was plugged in but was not operating when this happened.

Dec. 19, probably 5:45 a.m. (between then and 8 a.m.). The garage breaker tripped, presumably as Lynn closed the bay door after backing her car out. The quartz heater was likely on.

Dec 20, repeat of Dec. 19.

I am enclosing some screen shots from my Sun Power reporting interface. I’m not sure how reliable or credible we should consider this, because we have also had non-stop problems with the reporting component, although Lena assures me the solar panels appear to be producing adequately.

She thought Sun Power finally had this fixed, but my “year-long” report shows more usage from the grid than the panels for every month, while my first GCEA bill on net metering showed the meter going backward. The second bill used up a few of our banked kWh, and the third bill had us at plus 124. (I think.)

So, while this may be suspect, you can see Sun Power showing an odd spike in usage of perhaps 4 or 5 kwH somewhere between 9 and 10 a.m. on Dec. 18. I am unaware of doing anything that would cause a large spike in electric usage.

Then we get to the Dec. 19 report, which is my main reason for sending this to all of you, showing a massive spike of perhaps 30+ kWh right around the time the breaker blew. I am completely sure that we did not use more kwH in one hour when Lynn was gone and I was lying in bed with an unplugged laptop than we usually use in an entire day.

I am also enclosing the Dec. 20 report as of this morning, showing yet another spike, although this one had to have happened before the garage breaker tripped, because Lynn was able to get her car out at 5:45.

So far, everyone has assured me that everything in this house, electric and solar, is working just fine, and there are very few indicators from GCEA, at least as of Oct. 15, to suggest there might be a problem. So everyone is content that there is not a problem at their end, and in the meantime Lynn and I have had more electrical difficulties in our five months in the county than we had during my entire 27-year tenure in my house on Irwin Street inside the city limits.

I am hoping Peter can find something to fix, because I’m sure all the rest of you are going to tell me everything looks fine at your end, but I would like you all to be aware of just exactly how very frustrating it is to have made such an incredibly large investment in an otherwise very nice house only to have it break at the slightest flip of a switch.

Thank you for your time.

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