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Monday, July 19, 2010

7/17/2010 - Lights out!

Siempre Sabado has had an electrical mystery for quite awhile. I'm not sure exactly when we first noticed it but we're pretty sure it was before I made any modifications to the electrical system. Here's what happens. We'll be sitting at the table doing crosswords or something. The light over the table is on and maybe one other light. One of us gets up to go to the head and, when we turn the light in the head on, all the lights go out. Doesn't have to be the light in the head. It could be any light on board. And, it turns out it doesn't even have to be a light. It could happen when we turn the heater on. And, nothing else needs to be on when the power goes out. Well, in reality something is always on. The composting toilet exhaust fan doesn't have a switch so it's always on. And the stereo, even though it appears off is always on to some degree.

It's definitely not a case of circuit overload as the lights are LEDs and the fan in the composter is a little computer muffin fan.

So, how do we get the lights back on? Well, generally we start randomly flipping switches on lights. Then we go to the breaker panel and flip a few breakers on and off. Usually nothing much happens at first. But on the second of third try (or sometimes the first) turning on something like the spreader lights will result in the whole system coming back up. But not necessarily. The lights eventually come back on as a result of some action on our part, usually flipping a breaker that we've already flipped again, but the time the lights are off seems to be getting longer.

When the lights go out, so does the stereo and the heater. And guess what? They're all on different breakers. And guess what else? the VHF radio never goes out and, although it's on it's own breaker, that breaker shares a common buss with the others.

My experience with electrical anomalies in 12VDC systems often ends up with a faulty ground being the source of the problem. In this case, the lights are on one ground buss bar and the heater and VHF are on another. So no commonality there.

Now, I've had quite a bit of experience troubleshooting electrical circuits. However, one of the basic needs for successful troubleshooting is to be able to run tests while the problem is present. Unfortunately, in this case, by the time I get some alternate lighting and my multimeter, the lights are back on again.

So, today I spent several hours diagraming the electrical system. I learned a few things, cleaned a couple things up, and established a good record for use in future troubleshooting but I didn't turn up any likely culprits.

So, if anyone has any ideas about what can inconsistently cause an electrical failure on some of the circuits on a panel but not on others and then cause the circuits to remain off for varying lengths of time before coming back on as a result of a seemingly unrelated action, or perhaps no action at all other than waiting and then repeat itself in an hour or maybe not again for a week or two in spite of the fact that we do things pretty much the same everyday, please feel free to chime in. I've had enough electrical experience to know that there's some concrete answer. I just haven't found it yet.

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