Apartment Electricity problem - Help identifying

January 21, 2014 at 10:41:47
Specs: Windows XP
I live in an apartment where there is some faulty wiring or I believe something is wrong with the meter outside. The problem started a few months ago, I shut down my computer one day and then when trying to turn it back on there was no lights or anything powering on with the computer. Now I thought maybe the power supply just went bad on the pc but that was not the case, as I hooked up 2 other computers in the same room and one of the pc's power supplies died the other one (this one) now has an electrical problem, I believe it has something to do with the voltage because the pc's bios boots some times and says "Warning system battery voltage is low." this problem never happened with these pc's before. The landlord wired this building himself and because this is a problem with the landlord's wiring do you believe that the landlord should be responsible to buy me a replacement computer and also fix the wiring? Also where is the problem exactly? What is causing the power supplies to fail? All the computers that were here were working normally before this happened, and there's no noticeable problem like dim lights or anything with the power as of now but the power supplies continue to fail. So what could it be? Also is there any other forum where I can ask this question?

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January 21, 2014 at 11:29:34
The system battery is what powers the CMOS chip that keeps your time and settings, it has nothing to do with bad wiring, it means the battery is dying. You can replace the battery yourself, it's a CR2032 and is about the size of a quarter. You will find it on the motherboard. You should be able to purchase them at just about any grocery store, drug store, electronics store or computer store.

If you suspect bad wiring, put a voltmeter on the line and watch what voltages you get. You might also get one of those testers you plug in the wall socket to detect if the hot and neutral wires are reversed. Other than that, if everything checks out, you might call the power company, they can put monitors on the line to measure anomalies.
I would be careful to get as much info as possible before blaming the landlord or asking him to replace your power supplies.
Depending of where you live, to replace the wiring in a building you need to be properly licensed to do such work and need permits as well. If he isn't properly licensed or obtained the permits to rewire the building, you may have a valid lawsuit.

message edited by THX 1138

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January 21, 2014 at 11:45:12
Did you try the recommendations given in your previous thread 3 months ago:


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January 21, 2014 at 11:56:31
THX 1138 is right; your warning has nothing to do with the wall power.

You could hire a professional electrician to run a few checks. The hourly rate will depend on where you live, of course. It'd also be non-reimbursable, but useful if you decide to sue the landlord. (Don't do this unless it's your ex-landlord.)

You could also just buy a line conditioner, a line-interactive UPS, or an online UPS. The latter two would also keep your computer up in a blackout/brownout.

How To Ask Questions The Smart Way

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January 21, 2014 at 12:55:50
Of course it is always possible to have bad power but mostly for this to cause hardware damage on a computer it has to switch on and off rapidly enough to notice it on other appliances too.

The failure of more than one computer is just as likely to be down to pure coincidence and you will always have one heck of a job to blame the electricity supplier, with compensation being almost unheard of.

Always pop back and let us know the outcome - thanks

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January 22, 2014 at 18:47:53
Yeah but 3 power supplies could have not just failed out of coincidence, there has to be an electrical problem somewhere because it was on 3 different computers all with different hardware.

I guess that's what I was trying to ask for help here maybe to help the landlord identify what is causing the power supplies to fail before he looks at it. And I already mentioned something to him about the circuit not working right. The strange thing is that it seems like nothing is wrong with the circuit at all. And I know him, he won't spend a penny on an electrician, he'd rather do it himself.

About the battery in the pc: I mentioned the battery in one of the pc's because that was one of the problems that came up AFTER this problem had started, there was nothing wrong with the battery BEFORE this happened. I thought maybe the low voltage in the battery was an indication of some kind of voltage problem because there was no problem with voltage with this battery before this.

Also when I power on the pc it turns AMBER it's a dell, (old backup pc), when I looked it up it said there's an internal electrical problem. Something has to be causing the electrical problems within the pc's.
There's no blue screens of death or anything either. When the pc powers on it has it fans spinning (low rpm) then no video comes up.

I don't want to do anything like sue the landlord, they are a friend of my dad's and not to mention i still live here, I just want to get a new computer and the electricity working then right way again.

This has to be an electrical problem because the person in the apartment next door (power is on the same breaker panel) has had his pc stop working too he also had a power supply problem with his machine and now he has another computer plugged into another circuit seems like works. So i know it's not just me having problems. I was just trying to identify what it could be.

message edited by So-Unfair

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January 22, 2014 at 19:35:43
Well you have been given several options/answers, as well as more options in your 3 month old post.

Are you just here to rant or what?

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January 22, 2014 at 20:55:36
The CMOS battery is not effected by line voltage, it just supplies a small amount of 'juice' whenever there is not power coming into the computer to maintain the CMOS memory.
Buy the plug in tester, they are not expensive and if you plug it into many different outlets in the apartment, will tell you if there is a problem/trend and will indicate the amateur level of your landlord's electrical skills. If some outlets are reverse hot/neutral and some have a faulty ground, then you will have a reason to insist that the landlord have the entire electrical system inspected by a licensed electrician since these things can be a safety hazard both from shock and fire. If all of the outlets test OK, then your will find it difficult to demand anything. You might be able to get him to agree that you would pay the electrician if nothing was wrong but he would pay him if anything significant was found wrong.
Without testing by yourself or paying and electrician yourself, you cannot know anything for sure, and if these computers are old ones, there are many possibilities for them failing, especially if you are not using at least a surge protector for your computers. A surge protector will protect your electronics if the local grid or a localized issue like a bad transformer on a nearby electrical pole causes fluctuations in the power into the building (a possible cause of many electronics failing about the same time).
Don't speculate, test.

You have to be a little bit crazy to keep you from going insane.

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January 22, 2014 at 21:09:52
The most common hardware failures on computers are the Power Supply Unit (PSU), hard disks and laptop batteries. Mostly these happen when a computer is over five years old and are not associated with domestic power issues. I have also known earlier motherboards to fail if there has been a violent and noticeable voltage swing - less likely when using good quality modern PSU's, which are highly protective.

Of the detailed suggestions, which have you carried out? There is no way we can investigate your domestic power quality from afar - it is a "hands on" situation requiring measurements. You say "I know this is an electrical problem" but all you seem to have provided is circumstantial evidence.

I once had a car that over nine years was always getting punctures (nails and so forth). This continued even with tyres of different brands from various sources. My next car was fine, over a similar time period. Coincidences and runs of bad luck definitely happen. This is why some people swear by a particular brand (of anything) and others swear at it.

Always pop back and let us know the outcome - thanks

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January 27, 2014 at 22:12:30
So today I got the landlord to measure the voltage in the apartment, turns out the voltage is 130 volts in most of the apartment one spot had 140 volts in 1 spot and 150 volts in another spot, isn't a power supply only suppose to get 115~120 volts in the usa standard?
My power supply says 100~240volts.

Odd because the voltage measured 120 volts when I first moved in here, the landlord says "it's normal voltage." I wonder what could have changed within that month before my computer had this problem.

He also said "it's probably something within the computers itself." Will that extra voltage in the wiring cause problems? I don't think he will fix anything though even if it did. So what am I to do?

I asked him if there could be something wrong with the meter, he said if you want to you can call the power company and ask them to check the voltage on the lines. Do you think they would be nice enough to check the voltage in the house even though they aren't really responsible for the house wiring?

I also told him we need a test computer one that you know is working, but one that can be thrown away if needed and test it on the line to show him i'm not just making this up.

I know my computer was working a few months ago before this problem happened. Something had to have happened within the last few months. The only thing I can think of is the cable company putting up cables for Time Warner cable, and they did a pretty bad job when they put those cables up the wiring hangs low and they threw the wiring over the top of the building, it looks terrible and unprofessional. Not saying it's their fault but something had to have happened within the few months ago.

message edited by So-Unfair

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January 28, 2014 at 01:01:45
That does seem to be a bit on the high side. I assume your measurements were made with a good RMS meter? I'd get the power company to come out and test whatever they can, even if it's only the outside wiring. While they're there you can tell them about the measurements done at the wall sockets.

Assuming there is a problem, if the power company people can't fix it because it's inside the house they should be able to direct you to city agencies that can do something.

message edited by DAVEINCAPS

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January 28, 2014 at 06:20:07
I suspect the high readings are incorrect. That can only happen if the power station or substation is delivering them, which is most unlikely. There is nothing within the property that could possibly cause that.

The difference of 20V in the range of measurements is a lot, therefore the lower ones could point to either bad connections or undersized cables. I wonder if he knows what he is doing with that meter, or whether it is faulty.

I agree with DAVEINCAPS, get the supplier to check them properly. That is the only way to prove or disprove this issue.

If your computer power supply is non-adjustable and can tolerate 100~240volts then the steady state voltages wouldn't matter, even if they were wild as suggested.

Always pop back and let us know the outcome - thanks

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January 28, 2014 at 07:24:16
USA line volts (main voltage) can be a little erratic at times; more so than in the UK - and they can/do vary there a little too (depending on season and time of day). 240 volts in the UK is more like 220-230 (if you're lucky) due to more interference and meddling in UK affairs by Brussels. It was brought down to "harmonise" with the rest of Europe - a while back...

If I was finding in excess of 120-130volts on my line volts into the property - I'd be very inclined to get the electricity supply company the come and check just exactly what is coming in, and why - when "they" measure it.

If your computer power supplies are OK upto 200/220 volts - in theory they ought to handle the swings you may be getting with the nominal 110-120volts incoming. But… I wouldn't count on it… Surge protectors are more aimed at spikes etc…; and serious swings and the like may be outside their range of ability - unless you have really good/commercial one? And there may other factors involved too - see below...

You say that the landlord wired up the property… mmm is he a really qualified - or at least capable of doing it properly? If he has wired up the house in such a way as to have significant load balance issues - then you could be getting an assortment of problems with neutral current running around at any given socket/outlet and at any time of the day/night. For those (in the UK at least) not familiar with N. Am (110-120volt) wiring systems…, incoming to house is 220-240(nominal); at the "fuse box" where it's broken down into two 110-120 volts rails - a split phase arrangement - that share a common neutral with a half phase on either side - so it "looks like this - graphically as it were - with 110-0-110 cct. breakers hanging off each 110-120volt rail/leg. (the " 0 " being the common neutral.)

Lighting and general power outlets ccts. are arranged in groups of both (usually a mix - but not always). and if there is more being drawn on one "side" of the neutral than the other at any time, then there will be an imbalance and a neutral current will flow… That neutral current which might be barely perceptible at times (and at others a little more so…) can cause a range of issues; some rather dodgy too for anyone with a heart problem (and possibly a pacemaker fitted). When we used to tie-in (to buss-bars) to draw power on the road - for lighting power if not using a generator - we had to be "very" careful not create a neutral current; and similarly with a generator too. The latter could get "very upset" if there was significant neutral current - due to unbalanced loads on the two 110-120volts rails!

And if one wants a 220-240volt outlet then its: 120V phase, 120V inverted phase, neutral - and possibly - ideally - a ground (meaning three or four pins accordingly); 220-240volt N.Am. appliances are not the same as in Europe/UK...

It is not uncommon too - in some older wiring situations at least - to get "a wee tingle/shock" effect from metal parts - either when the appliance/lamp etc. is switched off or on (it can be one or the other - but not both for the item in question) due to a neutral current effect… Again not an ideal situation for those with pacemakers etc…?

I would be much inclined to have the wiring arrangement for your residence checked out fully - by someone who knows what s what and suitably qualified…


shows it a little more clearly…

as do these:



Way back when a colleague/friend who was at one time part of Ontario Hydro inspection department observed that wiring in the UK was probably the safest method to adopt (and also the most economical too…!) - while that adopted in USA/Canada left a lot to be desired… But geographical and historical reasons led to each going the way it has...

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January 28, 2014 at 09:05:01
Just for info, nothing has really changed at all in the UK. Our voltage was originally 240 plus or minus 6%. Because of Brussels and complying with Europe it is now 230 plus 10% minus 6%. This gives the UK a bit more leeway than before but little if anything has been modified. Mostly when measuring actual UK voltages they remain around 240V and very stable in most places.

I note and accept the general points about USA including neutral currents and imbalances. Just the same I have a job to believe that you would ever see 150V but only proper measurements would tell.

With so many devices (including computers) running internally at low voltages via switched mode power supplies, the general stability of domestic power supply voltage has become rather less important. Violent swings (transients) are a different matter and have been known to cause computer failures.

Always pop back and let us know the outcome - thanks

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January 28, 2014 at 22:05:31
Have the power company come out to test the voltages because you cannot trust in your landlord's readings and you do not want to pay a master electrician to do it right. Conceivably the local transformer, typically on the electric pole near the house but can be underground in cities, can be a cause.
As already mentioned, purchase a plug in tester (as mentioned already) to see if the in-house wiring is as proper as your landlord would have you believe. This wiring cannot be the cause of a difference is voltages around the home (unless the panel load imbalance mentioned is the issue) . If you detect wiring issues with the plug in tester, some of these can be dangerous and you should be aware of them and ask the landlord to have the problems properly fixed by someone qualified and licensed.

You have to be a little bit crazy to keep you from going insane.

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January 29, 2014 at 17:55:17
All I know is that the landlord did the wiring himself because he's into home remodeling/dry-walling/construction. Him and a few others built this apartment for me. I'm not sure if he had problems with the electricity in the past before this part of the building was an apartment.

You said shorter cables(or wiring) can cause problems? I know he's been doing home remodeling / construction for a long time, but the one circuit was done by someone else a while back while existing wiring and new wiring was added by the landlord. He put a lot of work into this apartment, added a shower, washer dryer, had someone help with plumbing (piping adding water lines) and did dry-walling.

This circuit was an older one on the building before new outlets were added for when the apartment was built, it's a small apartment, it was made for me, by the landlord, who is also friends of my dad.

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January 29, 2014 at 18:35:17
"shorter cables(or wiring) can cause problems"

Not sure where you got that from. Long or undersized cables can cause voltage drop. There's no advantage to anyone to make cables longer.

Always pop back and let us know the outcome - thanks

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