The craziest things can happen to you on what you think is a simple no light call. I was sent to a private house complaining of a no light, it was just getting dark out when I pulled up in front of the address. The streetlights were on and I could see some lights in the window. I did a quick visual inspection of the service wire and it
looked good. When I looked upstairs in the second floor bedroom facing the street there was a guy on a ladder hanging sheetrock. So, I thought to myself I know exactly what happened here, and I'll be outta here in 5 minutes.
A woman answered the door and told me that half of the house has no lights, I asked if I could come in and check the circuit breaker panel to see if there were any problems with the breakers. She was also complaining that her bill was way too high, boy I never heard that one before. We go downstairs to the basement and I open the breaker panel and right away I see a tripped breaker, the old Square D type breaker with the red indicator in the little window. I explained to her that she has a tripped circuit breaker but that I would test the service just to be sure. I tested the service ok, and told her she has full power, and that’s when she told me that she's being billed for the streetlight in front of her house. I said no, it doesn’t work that way, the streetlight is connected outside on the secondary wires on the pole, they don’t have a meter it’s a flat rate that the city pays per streetlight. She says, “Oh yeah, then why can I shut off the streetlight from my circuit breaker panel.” I said, “well, you can't,” so she goes over to the tripped breaker, resets it and closes it in, and it trips off again. Then the streetlight that we can see through the basement window goes off. She looks at me and says, “see I'm paying for that streetlight.” I said, “it doesn't work that way.” After about a minute the streetlight flickered back on, I told her I would check it out.
I go out and set up the truck, go up and find the neutral connection to the streetlight totally corroded on the secondary. It was clamped with those old aluminum single bolt parallel grove clamps, so I changed both connections on the lamp service. I checked the service wire to the house, and it was fine. The neutral connection for the house service and the lamp service where right next to each other on the secondary neutral.
I go back down stairs with the homeowner and I say to her, “go ahead try it again” (I know you shouldn’t keep closing in a breaker on a dead short, but I knew it would be the only way I could prove to her she wasn’t paying for the streetlight.) She reset and closed the breaker again, again it trips off and we look out the window and the streetlight stayed on. I’m sure the current on the house service neutral from closing into the short, was enough to mess up the photocell of the streetlight with a bad neutral connection. I tried to explain it to her again, but I really don’t think I convinced her. She asked me if I was going to fix the problem with the tripped breaker, and I said no, she would have to get an Electrician. I asked her if she knew where her husband was working when the lights went out, she said, “yes I had to move the extension cord to another room so he could keep going.” I said, “That’s the spot you can show your Electrician.”
Peter J McGrath - Troubleshooter; Senior Instructor