# Can a neighbor steal your cable?

## How can I tell if my neighbor is connected to my meter?

You have some hard detective work to do, but it should be possible. The good news is that a very large load is likely to be a continuous load, so it shouldn't be too difficult to catch.

### First, check for any strange outside wires.

The common practice with pot planters is to bury Romex (NM) cables just enough to keep them hidden. This shoddy workmanship is usually pretty easy to spot. The correct underground cable is at least 12 "deep, the rigid pipe can be 6", but that's because you don't damage it with a shovel.

A sneaky cable would explain all of this even if they took away their grow lights. (You inspected the device, yes?) Imagine they stole electricity from the neighbor and then stole it from you too, but connected backwards . It would be a dead short, limited by the long wire run, and that might be enough not to trip the circuit breaker.

Ok no luck?

### Next, you will be educated.

I know that some people don't like to learn and don't want to be seen as smart. But honestly the alternative is pretty expensive. On the positive side, you can afford a few toys to make learning easier.

• Learn how pressure (volts), current (amps), power (watts and VA), and energy (watt-hours and kilowatt-hours) are related as you will be using them a lot.
• You have to be able to multiply and divide. It couldn't be more difficult.
• Get a book on wiring a house and read through it. There are a few things that you can skip, but the main thing is to be comfortable with wires and interior trim.
• Find out how you can immediately kilowatts can get out of your electricity meter. (Smart meters should switch to display, old meters are more difficult.)
• Toy: A \$ 20 "kill-a-watt" meter that you can use to measure most of your 120V loads.
• Toy: A \$ 100 ammeter that you can use to rewire a single "hot" wire and see what current it is drawing.
• Toy: A "whole house performance monitor" that connects to your panel and analyzes your power consumption. It shows you exactly which device is using how much electricity and gives you a very complete picture of your electricity usage. These range from \$ 300 to \$ 500 and permanently install two clamp meters in your service panel.

As soon as you are able to easily read your current wattage (e.g. on the measuring device), you can try to switch off one circuit breaker at a time and narrow it down to one circuit breaker. If your two units have separate panels but are powered by a meter, you may be able to use a clamp ammeter to measure both main heats (individually) to determine which house is the source of it.

If an answer doesn't become obvious at this point, you need a more methodical approach.

This is tedious, but very useful to know. You know all of your hardwired loads (lights, oven, etc) and you get some night lights for testing outlets. Turn off one breaker at a time and see what has been turned off. Mark the service panel with the functions that the circuit breaker controls and label each device, switch or socket with the circuit breaker number.

Next, use the kill-a-watt to measure the actual power consumption of anything plugged into an electrical outlet. It has been known that I can also measure fixed loads by opening the box and using a stinger extension cord. You can't, but don't have to measure 240V loads with a kill-a-watt - 240V loads have nameplate labels that state power consumption. You just need to find out how often (as a percentage of the time) the large load is on. By now you should have a notebook or Excel for each of the circuits and the kill-a-watt power consumption of all devices on that circuit.

### Look for anomalies

Now put the clamp ammeter on each of the "hots" coming out of a breaker. Compare that to your kill-a-watt data known Loads on this circuit. It can be helpful to simply switch this off while measuring. The goal is to take into account all of the power that is coming out of each breaker.

For 240V loads, measure both hots separately. A significant difference in the amplifiers should set off alarm bells. It is known that dryers are unequal. Turn off the dryer and check that everything goes to zero.

The goal is to narrow the unexplained train to a single circuit and then tear it into the circuit to find exactly where the train is. You can follow the circuit along the outlet chain and place the clamp ammeter on the hot wire in each outlet until you notice the leak.

Be prepared for the possibility that it is not about theft, but something that is still on (heating in an empty apartment?) Or just appliances that use a lot more electricity than you thought (air conditioning).