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Electrician Question

Old 07-19-2007, 11:00 PM
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One of our 20 amp kitchen breakers keeps on tripping. It started about a month ago and I would re-set it and it would last a few days and trip again. It does not seem related to a switch or appliance being turned on. Lately it only stays set for about 5 minutes before tripping, even if no lights are on.

When I check the breaker the switch is a little loose and I can jiggle the switch a bit. Yesterday when I re-set it I heard a buzzing or I hate to say sizzle sound from the box. The house was built in 1963 and we have lived here 10 years.

My uneducated guess is that the breaker needs to be replaced because it trips on it's own without any switches or appliances being turned on. Any suggestions?
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Old 07-19-2007, 11:04 PM
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Sounds like the panel will need to be replaced soon! The buzzing and sizzling is a bad connection between the breaker and the buss bar. Replacing the buss bars in a 44 year old panel isn't very likely!
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Old 07-19-2007, 11:08 PM
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delete double post
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Old 07-19-2007, 11:10 PM
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I only heard that once when I re-set the breaker yesterday and it was just for a few seconds. Could it be that this one breaker is causing it?
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Old 07-20-2007, 12:56 AM
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If ones going the rest aren't far behind.

Breaker panel and service entrance up grade are in your future.

I'm sure in the last 40 + years more appliances have been added to the house, call a good electrician to do a load calc. on your house and check your wiring.

This might hurt [$$] but it beats burning your house down.

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Old 07-20-2007, 05:16 AM
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First thing first!

Have you removed the breaker since the problem started? Pushed or pulled on it to try and seat it better? Flipped the switch back and forth on it a couple times, just to check it out?

If you done any of those things you could have made the situation "more bad". Being that it is a kitchen breaker, it probably does have and has had more load on it than say a breaker that services a BR. Single breakers almost never fail but it does happen. I have been told that breakers can become weak over time, this has never happened to me and I have never seen one myself. The first thing I would do is check the wire connection at the breaker to make sure it is tight, when I installed the wire on a new breaker. Make sure the new breaker is seated correctly on the buss bar.

If the new breaker trips, I would plan to have electrical work done as quickly as possible.

WARNING !!!!!!!!!!

Do not install a higher capacity breaker.

I up graded my electrical service last year. Went up from 100 amp to a 200 amp service. Done all the work myself, passed all inspections required. Total cost for meter pan, 200 amp load center, wire, conduit, breakers, new ground rod, the whole 9 yards cost less that $1000. I attempted to hire an electrician but we have a building boom going on here and I couldn't even get any one's attention, let alone an estimate.

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Old 07-20-2007, 06:56 AM
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I won't have a chance to check it out until later today. What I'll plan to do is pull the breaker (I assume I need to turn off the main first) and look at the connection. I have never messed with anything in the box, so other than obvious issues I am not sure it will help.

29 - I have not tinkered with the breaker by flipping it back and forth or putting any pressure on it. From the symptoms I am having does it sound like this breaker should be replaced anyway?
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Old 07-20-2007, 07:26 AM
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Default Re: Electrician Question

I went through a similar issue several years back. The house was built in the mid 70's and the electrical panel outside and the one inside had aluminum buss bars. The lights in the house would flicker from time to time, drive you crazy.

I first removed all the breakers and inspected the buss bar, black spots, pitting, the fingers on several breakers were brittle and you could tell they had been hot, NOT GOOD!

I replaced both panels and all breakers with good stuff, problem solved.
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Old 07-20-2007, 07:46 AM
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I would be surpised if your house had breakers originally. 1963 is pretty old for that technology. Around here in Georgia a house of that vintage would still have the screw-in fuses at the panel. Given that, the breakers and panel may not be as old as the house. Not sure where you are, though. Maybe things are different there.

I agree with twentynine(again) Check the connection of the circuit wire at the breaker. Sounds like a loose connection to me.

Good luck, and please come up with something original to scream if you get shocked. Cussing repeatadly works for me, but some people find it boring.

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Old 07-20-2007, 09:04 AM
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Boatless..... please don't take this to heart.....But from the tone of your posts in this thread it sounds like you don't know a whole lot about breakers and electrical systems. With that said, I would suggest that you immediately contact a reputable electrician to correct this problem. Electricity is not something to be taken lightly nor ignored........ We don't want to find a post where your telling us that you have fire damage to your home...... Please make that call today!!!!!!!
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Old 07-20-2007, 10:01 AM
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Coming from a guy who got assualted by his garbage can. Bailey, where's you sig pic?
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Old 07-20-2007, 10:57 AM
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Yes! I does sound as if the breaker needs to be replaced. However I am in no position to tell you that it is only the breaker. Breakers don't just trip. Something-- heat makes them trip. A 20 amp breaker will cost you less than $20. In the long run if you have to replace the entire panel you will still use that brand new 20 amp breaker.

With flashlight ready and on, remove the panel front cover. Should be 4 or 6 screw depending on size. Open the main breaker, that's where the FL comes in. All the lights and power should be off in your home. Pull the offending breaker, usually they roll in. The inside edge of the breaker will have to be lifted and then the entire breaker rolled towards the outside. Do not pry sideways or stick a screwdriver in the gap and pry it out. It will take a good bit of effort, it's been there for a while.

Once the breaker is out and dangling by the wire, remove the wire from the old breaker. When you do this check the condition of that wire. The insulation should be in good shape, not crumbling or split. If it is deteriated that is a sign of heat and it is time for an electrician. Place the wire in the new breaker, don't over tighten the lug. In other words don't tighten the wire until it is flattened, but bring it tight and then put a little umph on it to secure it. Roll the new breaker in just opposite of the removal of the old one.

Look I purposely kept this explanation simple, if it is not perfectly clear to you how to change the breaker after you look it over, DO NOT DO IT YOURSELF!!! Nothing to be ashamed of, some folks are good carpenters, some folks are good lawyers, and they just don't deal with electricity.

Long story to explain the potential of a loose connection.

1994, my nieghbors have just moved into their new home, been in about a month. The husband is out of town and the lady of the house is home alone. 10pm I get a phone call with her expaining to me that something is wrong with "The Power Company" I get out of bed and get dressed and head over there. When I open my carporch door I can clearly see every light in her place blinking, going dimm and then bright, dimming and so on. My lights and the security lights I could see in the area were not blinking and carrying on, so I knew it was not "The Power Company" that had a problem.

I run over and right away I smell the burnt plastic, ozone, and hot wire. There is even a slight haze in her utility room, where the panel is located. I placed my hand near the box and I could feel the heat coming off of it so I backed off for a few seconds to think about what I was looking at. Obviously it was an internal electrical problem to the home. So I decided to cut all the power at it's source, then worry about the postmortem investigation once things were cooled down. I went back outside and broke the seal on the meter and removed the front cover. Then I removed the meter itself. This cut all the power in the home. I told the lady of the house to call the power company and get the respnse crew to come out and open the connections at the transformer. However she could not because all she had access to was a remote phone, no juice no phone. I then "hollered" back across the yard and had my wife do it.

At this point I went back in the house with a flashlight supplied by myself, to make sure we didn't actually have a fire. I opened the panel and discovered the paint discolored from heat. I then removed the front cover to inspect a little further. What I found scared the sweet bejezers out of me.

The entire main breaker located at the tp of the panel was so hot you couldn't touch it. It had gotten hot enough to cabonize and was crumbling. To make a long story even longer what I found was one of the main leads comming into the house was never tightened, it was just laying under the lugg. The conduit holding these leads was not electricly bonded to the panel nor was it bonded to the meter pan. The electrician used only the plastic bushing on the conduit no metal ring. the insulation on the lead was burnt all the way back to the meter pan connection.

At this point I asked the lady when her husband would be home and she told me the next day. I told her to pack a bag and ome on over to stay with us because no repair was going to happen that night. The original electrician replaced the panel main leads, and meter pan, along with some other things. Me, I would have got him to come over to repair the thing, then when he stepped out of his truck I would have laid him flat with a baseball bat. I'll be dang I f I'd give him a second chance to burn my house.

Interesting side note. The power company never did show up. I called them back a couple hours later and explained what had happened, they told me that it sounded like I had the situation well in hand and they didn't need to come out. They did however show up the next morning and cut the power off at the transformer.
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Old 07-20-2007, 02:22 PM
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Bailey Boat-I appreciate your concern. I tend to be very conservative when it comes to power. What I plan to do is read up on changing breakers before doing anything. I have not read 29's post above yet but I plan to. I do have a few friends who I can call if something doesn't look right.

Because it is the only breaker involved, it makes sense to get a new one before digging in. I'll keep you guys posted. Thanks.
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Old 07-20-2007, 04:28 PM
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Ok, no one has said it yet... Before you work on this, trip the main breaker so there's no current comiing through the panel. On most boxes that is the big one on top.

Then replace the faulty breaker with a new one. If that trips wth the same pattern you may have a serious problem or you may just need to unplug a few things, because when your fridge comes on the surge might be overloading that circuit.

Also, I'm told the fridge should be on a sperate circuit. Probaly to reduce this type of problem.

I'm not an electrician but I updated my circuits a few years back and the house hasnt burnt down yet. If you have any doubt get a home-repair book and look at the pictures and read the section(s) that cover the breaker box.

Good luck!
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Old 07-20-2007, 05:01 PM
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I picked up a breaker at HD and plan to do the work in the morning. It really doesn't sound too bad. Hopefully the worst part will be resetting clocks.

It's funny when I think back to a car I had in the late 70's where I wrapped a fuse in aluminum foil to keep the dashboard lights on. I still remember the smell of the burning plastic!
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Old 07-20-2007, 05:45 PM
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Before you replace the breaker, I would check to see if you have aluminum wire. Houses built in the 60's could have it. If it does it would be better for you to call an electrician.
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Old 07-20-2007, 06:48 PM
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What you heard could very well have been an arc between the bus and breaker stabs...think about that....a miniature lightning bolt. I would call an electrician out to take a look...it could be the bus where the breaker stabs on has been worn down over time. No matter how many new breakers you put in, the problem will still be there.
Personally, I would replace the entire load center...it is not that difficult of a job.
This is something I know about--I have worked in the electrical distribution industry for over 13 years. I have seen the results of an arc like I described above. Many of them when sifting through the ashes of the building.
A 200 amp main breaker load center and all the breakers you need can be bought from a local electrical supply house for less than $200.00. It would take an experienced electrician no more than an afternoon's worth of work to swap out the old one.
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Old 07-20-2007, 07:46 PM
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Kamper

If you read my directions, I specificly state to "open" the main breaker. Having just rewired my kitchen I can tell you that I have a total of 5 circuits sevicing the kitchen. 1- DW, 1- fridge, 2 counter tops, 1 undercabinet lights. Previously I had 2 circuits with a 3rd added in a previous remodel.

Wolokrab

You are evidently the man to ask. With the experience you have can you explain to me how do the buss bars wear down? They are inside in a protected enviroment, no moving parts. Please understand I am not doubting it happens. Having experienced an arc like you described I do know it can be deadly serious.
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Old 07-20-2007, 08:10 PM
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twentynine - 7/20/2007 8:46 PM

Kamper

If you read my directions, ....
Sorry. That little dog of yours creeps me out so much I never read your posts.

I wasnt directing my remarks to you but back to the thread starter, "Boatless Again." No criticism was implied on your expertise.

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Old 07-20-2007, 08:59 PM
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FWIW, we had to replace the main electrical panel in my parents' home in about 1996. The panel (General Electric) had been installed new in 1974. Replacement breakers were not available, and many of the breakers in the panel would not trip.

When we disconnected the incoming feeder (there was a disconnect switch ahead of the panel) and all of the branch circuit wiring, the plastic part of the bus assembly inside the panel literally CRUMBLED in our hands. More than half of the breakers could not be switched on and off, and thus probably would not have tripped in an overload situation.

Net: Thermal-magnetic breakers can and do go bad over time . But if there is ANYTHING suspect about the existing panelboard - particularly signs of arcing or overheating - have it replaced by a professional. Wiring is not a hobby!

(Licensed electrical engineer and contractor since 1988)
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