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220 volt issue underground line

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Have an underground feed from shop to the barn that Dad installed back in 1989. He used aluminium wire at the time. One leg and it is a hot leg has gone open. It is not a bad circuit breaker as that shows power at the panel but no power at the other end. I had a guy out to locate the wire which he did but was unable to find the open as it did not go to ground. Water was also laid in the same trench at the time. I also have a water leak so started digging at where I assumed the leak was this afternoon. I kind of thought maybe I would find both issues in the same location. Water leak I have found looks like PVC pipe was used and it is cracked. Pipe is down at around 30 inches but the electrical is closer to 15 inches and not in conduit. Not sure why that was but is what it is. The electrical looks fine what I have exposed. My question is there a good way to test the electrical where I am at to see which direction I need to go to find the open. I am about half way between barn and shop at the moment. The only way I can think of is to probe through the insulation. If I do that what is the best way to seal it back up so do not have future issues at this spot?  I may find the electrical issue when I get things opened up enough to work on the water line but thought I would ask for ideas in the mean time. 

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Just a thought check for voltage to the exposed wire at both ends just after breaker lug. Have had aluminum corrode just enough to loose contact with lug. Just had to take apart clean up and reinstall. 

John

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On mine ,one open winter the frost pushed a sharp #2 stone right thru one wire. Doing the same thing.

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I put my water in from our house to the shop at 9 ft down and then put the 220 electric down at 24" in (grey plastic) electric conduit . My guy that helped me with the electric said I didn't need to do that but I figured if a few more dollars to put it in there was cheap insurance if I ever had to change anything I could pull it through the conduit , it's a hundred plus feet from the house to the shop .

Danny 

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At the one hunting club here they buried a line a few miles to the cabin. It only lasted 15 some years before they had to redo it. The acidity of the soil is hard on the wire. They were smart enough to sell the right of way to the power company and now it's their problem next time it goes bad

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I have had the wires out of the breaker and then reinstalled. That did not help. Yes if I end up digging the line mostly up trying to find the damaged spot it will go back in conduit. Think I would have ran the water in black poly instead of the PVC also. It all is what it is at this point. I am aware of inductive amp gauges which clamp onto a wire. That works if the wire makes a circuit. The guy I had out said his tester would show where the open was as a rule except in this case the wire did not go to ground so there is not a complete circuit to follow. The best he could do was locate the wires.

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We use a tool called a spit fire.  It sends out DC current almost like a fencer.  We have 2 wands that we carry and a pulse meter.  It tells us which way to go as the DC current grounds out at the fault.   I am not sure many electricians have such a tool.  We have them at the utility I work at.  Also if you have a locating service you can call sometime they have the same tool but they sometimes won't mark private lines.  Also they can get you close to your fault then they lose the signal, which is usually close.  Are spitfire tool works really well and I have only seen these at our electric company.

 

Your wire has started to powder, bad part about aluminum.  You can keep it hot but it will just continue to burn back thru the insulation.  If it won't go to ground it maybe time just to replace the whole thing and put in conduit.  More work but less of a headache.

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I wouldn't even be wasting my time.  If you have buried AL wire, it needs to be replaced with copper.   I would abandon the whole thing, and get a trencher to lay new black water pipe and wire.

I've seen enough AL wire disasters and near disasters I won't use it for anything anymore.    You poke a hole in the wire to test, you will have the same problem there in a few years.

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Yes I agree and probably what I will end up doing. Going to see if I can get the water fixed this morning before the calves run out of water. If not then will have to kick them back out with Mom's. Water is number one to fix and then I will deal with the electrical. For sure the electrical will be run in conduit the next time. The problem with this place is it is nothing but rock. I remember Dad saying they had a heck of a time getting things laid the last time. 

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Connect only one line to the breaker at a time and use one of those cheap non-contact voltage indicators to find where the voltage stops.

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When you do find a way to measure voltage, use the rule of 1/2. If there is no voltage at your present hole, dig a hole halfway between there and the source.

If there is voltage there you know the fault is between the two holes. If there is no voltage there you know the fault is between that hole and the house.

Divide the distance by 1/2 and dig another hole. Same rules as before. Repeat until you've found your fault.

Digging holes until you find it is the only way if you can't sniff out the fault with one of those fancy devices... Just do it in an organized fashion.

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Do you need 240 volt power? If not, you can unhook both ends of the bad wire and then install a jumper at the barn to tie both legs together and provide 120volt on each leg. This can be a temporary fix until you can repair/replace the bad wire or a permanent solution if 240 is not needed. A word of caution, the neutral wire is usually undersized because it will rarely see a full load. Connecting the barn as I have described, it will be possible to overload the neutral wire. Posible but probably very unlikely. By the way it is possible to overload the neutral when connected properly as well but the chances are so remote that it is allowed to be undersized. 

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6 hours ago, Jeff-C-IL said:

I wouldn't even be wasting my time.  If you have buried AL wire, it needs to be replaced with copper.   I would abandon the whole thing, and get a trencher to lay new black water pipe and wire.

I've seen enough AL wire disasters and near disasters I won't use it for anything anymore.    You poke a hole in the wire to test, you will have the same problem there in a few years.

seriously jeff, I dont think that is the solution 😲 90% of all house feed lines are ALL aluminum - at least in this part of the country they are EVEN the overhead lines are aluminum - what do you think Tri-Plex is?  

I laid underground aluminum to my folks house in 1976 never had any issues with it, its been around a LONG time and is the standard these days. I put some in my own house 15 yrs ago and its still fine. I ran it to my barn, I ran it under the barn to another portion to have to circuits/boxes in my barn for an apartment. All fine.

Utility companies use it, its the standard here and has been for years and years. My dad is a retired underground union man and yes moisture gets in you are done - dig it up and splice it end of story. Yes it will burn in two, yes it will powder but as old as most of us are fix it once and no more. I have helped my dad fix tons and never been back on a one of them. 

 

 

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regarding locating the break/burn, they make devices that will test for broken wires google/amazon

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6 hours ago, Jeff-C-IL said:

I wouldn't even be wasting my time.  If you have buried AL wire, it needs to be replaced with copper.   I would abandon the whole thing, and get a trencher to lay new black water pipe and wire.

I've seen enough AL wire disasters and near disasters I won't use it for anything anymore.    You poke a hole in the wire to test, you will have the same problem there in a few years.

 

this will be your best route to take.  In our area all the irrigators that laid aluminum 15 years ago are pulling it and replacing it with copper. Problem solved!

jerry

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49 minutes ago, searcyfarms said:

seriously jeff, I dont think that is the solution 😲 90% of all house feed lines are ALL aluminum - at least in this part of the country they are EVEN the overhead lines are aluminum - what do you think Tri-Plex is?  

I laid underground aluminum to my folks house in 1976 never had any issues with it, its been around a LONG time and is the standard these days. I put some in my own house 15 yrs ago and its still fine. I ran it to my barn, I ran it under the barn to another portion to have to circuits/boxes in my barn for an apartment. All fine.

Utility companies use it, its the standard here and has been for years and years. My dad is a retired underground union man and yes moisture gets in you are done - dig it up and splice it end of story. Yes it will burn in two, yes it will powder but as old as most of us are fix it once and no more. I have helped my dad fix tons and never been back on a one of them. 

 

 

I agree with all of the above. The only place I have seen direct burial copper, besides UF type cable, was in the local state park. I assumed that since they were using taxpayer money, they got the best. Underground copper will fail just like AL it may take a bit longer, but if the insulation is pierced, it will happen. The cost of copper these days just about prohibits it's use. Aluminum, when properly installed, will preform as well as copper and is actually a better conductor. Copper is much more forgiving to poor workmanship and will survive where AL would fail, loose connections for example. 

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2 hours ago, 12_Guy said:

Do you need 240 volt power? If not, you can unhook both ends of the bad wire and then install a jumper at the barn to tie both legs together and provide 120volt on each leg. This can be a temporary fix until you can repair/replace the bad wire or a permanent solution if 240 is not needed. A word of caution, the neutral wire is usually undersized because it will rarely see a full load. Connecting the barn as I have described, it will be possible to overload the neutral wire. Posible but probably very unlikely. By the way it is possible to overload the neutral when connected properly as well but the chances are so remote that it is allowed to be undersized. 

There is a 220 volt electric heater in the barn. At the moment I have a little heater cube going. The plug-ins still work just no lights. From there he feed on to the machine shed and I have no power at all there. As to the neutral I discovered when he wired that he has the neutral and one hot turned around in the breaker panels. The reason I say this is there are two wires the same size and one bigger. That is not a huge problem to resolve if I can locate the open. Right at the moment I am trying to get the water end of the problem resolved. Found a broken section in the PCV line which is now repaired. Still do not have great pressure or flow on the frost proof hydrant that is about 7 feet from where the break was. At the barn itself the water flow is much better, not sure if it is as good as it could be but much better. I have had the guts out of the hydrant about a year ago so I may just dig down to the bottom and see if by chance there is something blocking the opening. I blew it backwards today with air while I had the line open before installing the splice. If there is something blocking it air did not remove it. The place has an artisan well and there is enough flow and pressure that I seldom have the pump on. The place also is somewhat a swamp year around so it is hard to know when you have a leak. I left the hole open tonight although I did sit a round bale on top of it to keep things from freezing and I left the hydrant flowing slowly. Didn't see any reason to fill it back in until a get the hydrant issue resolve.  

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Nothing wrong with aluminum wire. Lots of times I find it goes bad near the ends. Lots of guys sleeve the ends with conduit and from freeze and thaw the pipe digs into the wire. You could try a cheap volt tracer. You might go ahead and unhook the good conductor from the main so you wont have interference from it. A locator will help you trace it to the break however more times than not alum corrodes like a snow ball and it will pass enough current to not be able to find it. Scotch coat will help seal it back up. Ideal makes a splice kit just for this with good 3m heat shrink that has adhesive built in. I would dig both ends up, look for big snow balls of corrosion, then maybe check the middle. If you have rocky soil just cut your losses if it's not at the ends and bury a new conduit and pull in new. Although it is suitable for direct burial I dont suggest it for the very reason your asking. Good luck 

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