Hot Topics: Mystery Wires

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Doityourself.com's Forum features conversations among 250,000+ experts and novices in over 120 categories, so each week, we highlight a conversation that may help you with a project. This transcript has been lightly edited.

Original Post: Can Anyone Tell Me What This Is?

RKPDiy - Member

This is located on my front porch and seems to go into a downstairs apt.

I've been curious for quite awhile, but now I am having electric issues involving a lack a juice from certain outlets in my apt.

Here's a link to several pictures.

Norm201 - Member

To me they look like telephone wires.

Geochurchi - Member

Hi, I would also agree, pretty sloppy telephone cables.

PJmax - Group Moderator

Definitely phone wiring. It looks like by the screw holes that there was a small grounding demarc block there that has been removed.

Definitely not going to cause problems with AC receptacles.

RKPDiy - Thread Starter

Thanks everyone, I actually have a small area in my kitchen near there that "I" wanted to put a real phone booth in (maybe some clark kent glasses glued down or some kind of gag) because it just looked like it should go there and it had an old phone jack.

I was sitting on my porch waiting for signature required mail an it was bugging me again, I thought maybe it was to the building linked fire system (but I kinda wanted to snip it lol) so I figured it'd be a good time to ask.

I planned on signing up anyway to ask some other more possible related questions, but that was just in my face at the time. I have a 240vac earth grounded breaker I run a top of the line UPS with LCD off, and it's dropping 4-5 volts when my neighbors run things.

I am in an old style building...but I still don't see that being legit since they have their own breaker box. So i'm checking whatever I can.

Appreciate the responses.​​

PJmax - Group Moderator

It's possible that the service supplying that old style building is undersized for that building which is a pretty common problem for older buildings.

The distance between the transformer and the electrical service and loads can also play a part in voltage sags.

RKPDiy - Thread Starter

Could I ask you to put that in a bit more lamen terms...although I figure that was pretty much as lamen as it gets...lets go for completely uneducated, zero terminology (or special ed. haha), I'm all for learning (house wiring actually really interests me), but trying by book/online just isn't realistic, at least for me.

What exactly do you mean by service supplying the building?

At the risk of looking like a total fool, I don't have time today to research before asking...but I thought the transformer was on the pole outside? Or this if i'm not mistaken, lol.

exterior wire connections

I had thought about entire building drain as a possibility because it honestly doesn't seem like theft (as i tried pinning that down), but the possibility of how that could happen was way beyond my scope.

​​​​If someone doesn't mind wasting their time on giving me some peace of mind, I have all the breakers and such photographed and on video on youtube that I am more than willing to post tomorrow, just tell me the preferred method to put it here and I certainly will, after taking better pictures and/or a video.

I have been running around for like two months trying to figure this out the dumb hard way since my landlord is useless and I won't even bother anymore. Left my fridge with no ground, enough said heh.

By the way, sorry for the edit over this...but thank you.

Norm201 - Member

This is not yours? You are not the owner? Then you better not touch it! The landlord must rectify any electrical problems. If need be report him to the authorities. If that means he will try to punish you, then time to look for new digs.

RKPDiy - Thread Starter

I'm asking because i'm writing the landlord a legal letter (involving another issue as well) an rather than accuse a tenant of theft I would like to know whats going on, since both just happened when they moved in after 5 yrs of tenancy.

I don't intend to touch anything myself, no need for concern there. I know it's a DIY site, but I have gotten a better idea here than anywhere else already...figured it couldn't hurt to get opinions.

If my special ed. comment didn't give it away, i'd likely cook myself lol. ⚡

I have put a lot of work into this apt, built my own room from a storage room, multiple repairs and work around's (all with permission), but i'm really only skilled in two things--all things computer based, and legal situations. Both unlicensed, self-taught, and pretty much unintended (I probably don't even belong here).

But if there is one thing I learned from that in my life, it's that someone with a piece of paper for backing is not always the best person to ask for the best results.

If that situation prohibits anyone from helping any further, I fully understand, and i'll close the post now...but i'm really just looking for answers.

Its a bit much to explain, but too many coincidences at once for me to negate the idea someone IS messing with things themselves behind his back.

Norm201 - Member

You're on the right track.

PJmax - Group Moderator

I added your picture and labeled it. We can only warn you not to do your own work in an apartment. You can take or leave our warning but you are still welcome to ask questions.

In your picture.....old 100A cloth covered cable. Never seen that type of fitting to bring cable in the house. The meter must be in the basement. The old phone cable is 12 pair cloth covered while the new cable is 6 pair PVC.

Yes.... the transformer is outside on the pole. The distance to the building and the size of the wiring make a difference. It looks like there is a single 100A service in your building. Are there multiple meters in the basement ? If not then one person is paying the entire bill.

Many old buildings were converted to multifamily. It was not always easy to completely separate the units so it is very likely that one circuit is shared between tenants.

RKPDiy - Thread Starter

As i said, I have pictures or I can YouTube a short clip of everything, as for the meters, there are four meters, one ancient looking one, and two others...30 second or so clip here I had already. I'll grab one of the wiring tomorrow, I don't want to keep making you re-label my pictures (ty though).

The middle one (of the three similar) is mine, last one NEVER moved, and I JUST noticed mine seems to be the only one spinning (I did check the number on my bill)

You have all been more help already than I can possibly tell you, things I didn't consider like the spinning disc are hitting me just from the comments. I appreciate everything, really.

PJmax - Group Moderator

Then where I added 100A service cable to your picture is incorrect as you have four outside meters. That must be a service cable up to one of the apartments.

RKPDiy - Thread Starter

Well, irony of that is, there are only three units, two downstairs, and mine upstairs spanning above both lol.

Which is why the fourth older looking meter and the one that never moves (as all units are occupied) is so suspicious, and I don't mean the disk, I tracked the numbers for over a week and they never budged. Two units (including mine) are gas, one is oil if that would matter.

See why i'm so sketched out by all of this? I never did check meters or anything before, but a few times over the years my electric bill had doubled for a month (and I am extremely habitual)...since it was rare, I simply let it go.

At this point, my living situation is really bad here and he's not listening, so now i'm on my own hunt...if for no other reason than to pin someone to a wall. I know something is off big time, I just can't prove what.

I was looking for differences quickly at the time (incognito) so my numbers from back then are pretty scrap paper and hard to make out now, but what i can say for sure if from left to right, if following apt number like most things here do, the oil apt moved less than me but they are younger and out all the time, mine moved the most, an the last has been at 1-1-1-9-2 for as long as I can tell, being the other gas unit and where I know the drain is from.

You obviously we able to access my drive folder the first time, I added more photos I had already to it showing where it all connects if that helps.

i'll post another short video tom. on YouTube showing the layout so you don't need to re-link photos (i need a pic hosting site lol). by 100A I assume you mean amp, but beyond that considering I have a normal meter line, I don't understand what it could be for. I have no massive utility hookups like washer and dryer type, just a range, fridge, and basic outlets. Although I believe the one below me does (part of my other issue, breathing problems)

Sorry, but atm its all I have--don't like linking my drive myself...but in this case, its worth doing.

RKPDiy - Thread Starter

Main short video - Wiring Video

Secondary set of wires, just looks like a dish to me.

In case

I couldn't edit the original post, probably due to how long its been up, but this would be all of the pictures and more.

Here's a question I should have asked long before, there are four circuit boxes in the basement (one the landlords by label), should that one meter never moving with all units occupied be an obvious blaring red flag? Heh.

The older meter made me second guess that or I would have simply called on that already.

Sorry for all the edit bumps lol...I was going to buy a kill-o-watts and a few other simple tools, is there anything I could grab without tampering with the house or zapping myself that would allow me to check if my voltage is going where it should be?

Rather than driving you people nuts with pictures, about something you may not even be able to answer by sight alone. Although I gotta say, i'm extremely impressed with what you did answer from pictures alone lol.

Zorfdt - Forum Topic Moderator

The three meters are likely for the three apartments and the fourth is the landlord meter. Usually there's not much on the landlord meter except common area lights. Even a LED porch light should register some electricity usage over a week though.

A somewhat common issue with older (and sometimes newer) buildings is that circuits are inadvertently cross-connected. It's hard to say if this is a possibility - it usually happens when buildings are retrofitted. If this has been a 3-family house forever, it is less likely to have that issue.

RKPDiy - Thread Starter

Ya, the old one isn't the one that's not moving... that went up slightly, the last of the three meters still hasn't ticked past

1-1 (left side) since almost a month ago which makes no sense in the direction they calculate by watching mine...else their all pretty screwed up lol.

​​​​​​I was running an AC and my tripp-lite UPS which reads at approx 11kva / 13kw an hour (plus my fridge an maybe a light or two) and I could actually see the left number going up slowly and my disc spinning like a CD (ehh, bad analogy, microwave plate maybe?) where the first was moving less than half that and the third barely creeps and (unless my eyes are playing tricks on me) occasionally hops back then creeps again. The numerical one I generally had no clue if it was even electric since we have oil and gas in the building.

As for the wire crossing--this apt. definitely had new three prongs put in at some point since the two prongs are low enough to be a violation by todays code standards if I found the correct information while checking way back on it, and I would guess since my apartment is above two, it was possibly split downstairs, one is nice (the issue one) and the other still has only two prong outlets (I didn't mind my last neighbors, heh).

Like I said, I intentionally ran my UPS off a 240vac earth grounded socket which was in the spare room I did all the work on, Never intended for use, no heat, etc., directly above where I believe my problem is--the third apt, which is the barely moving meter.

So, safe bet would be to call and have them check the meter for starters I guess...and go from there. I had to stare to notice the disc spin and I never have before, my uneducated guess is there using enough power to reroute mine. Course I don't know arm from elbow, but that would make sense considering they seem to run heavier appliances than I do such as laundry and the same exact AC.

I just killed my AC an checked an barely noticed any change in speed (by eye) and I also had my "odometer" reversed in this post so I wanted to correct it (twice corrected, no I did not, but my left side was actually going up as i stared). Ironically though, I have never seen the left side of the third meter NOT be on 1... which considering mine went up half a digit or so while I watched for about a minute running just 16kw an my fridge... can't be legit. No way they don't run a fridge, and I doubt 16kw (UPS LCD) is more than an air conditioner or stove that people always use... and I know for a fact there's a built in working dishwasher.

Either that meter is busted, which I assume would not be left that way, or somethings def. fishy here.

Appreciate all the help everyone, bouncing ideas around alone made me pay a lot more attention. I'll call on the meter and keep an eye here in case anyone else has anything to add.

Wish I had the proper skill sets to return the favor to other users, but i'm better suited for tom's hardware in the PC build and software categories unfortunately heh. I will keep my account and stick around though. Everyone's been great, maybe i'll get the chance eventually.

If any of you ever have a PC related question or problem, feel free to drop me a message...i'm always happy to help people that are willing to do the same. ????*????

Thanks again, if I figure anything out i'll drop an update, nobody likes unanswered questions, even when it's not their own. ????

RKPDiy - Thread Starter

I actually have one more question, regarding the very first picture i posted...we have a fire alarm that runs through every apt if one goes off. That 'phone wire' as I was told couldn't have anything to do with that could it?

The thing is extremely annoying going up my steps, as well as an eyesore, I kinda want to snip it...is that safe?

PJmax - Group Moderator

Doubtful it has anything to do with the fire alarm.

The fire alarm should be hard wired - battery back up devices.

Can't just snip it if you don't know who it's feeding.

RKPDiy - Thread Starter

Sorry for the vanishing act. I moved lol...problem solved. Well, one problem--unfortunately the new issues have no place here. But that was the end result.

Appreciate all the help...once my fridge reported an open ground and I found a second circuit box hidden behind an old looking led light I just left.

New place has kept me too busy to even bother with my other e-mail, but I said I would post the end result...so there you have it.

Thanks again.

PJmax - Group Moderator

Now you see him.......

Thanks for letting us know how you made out.