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Strange smell in basement and Circuit Panel feels hot next to 100 Amp Main Circuit Breakers! We have

Post in 'DIY and General non-hearth advice' started by Don2222, Aug 3, 2011.

  1. Don2222

    Don2222 Minister of Fire

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    Hello

    It was hot last night and here is a list of what electric appliances were running:
    1. Electric washer
    2. Electric 240vac dryer with aluminum wiring
    3. Three 110vac air conditioners 5x,10k and 12k BTUs
    4. Pool filter pump 110v
    5. Media Center - TV, Media Server, Surround Sound etc.
    6. Desktop Computer
    7. Kitchen Refrigerator
    8. 2 or 3 Ceiling Fans
    9. A few room lights

    I would say maybe 60-70 Amps Total. The circuit box is a 23 yo Challenger made by GE and so is the 100 Amp main breaker and most of the other breakers. They do not seem like the best quality since I purchased the box and breakers at Somerville Lumber!
    They are the same shape as square D.

    I took the front of the Circuit Panel off and I could feel the main breakers and they were HOT!

    The main breaker plastic started melting. The wires from the meter socket were NOT warm.
    Then other breakers started to trip, like the kitchen refrig and room light, then basement light!

    What could be the cause?

    Tonight I removed the old 100 Amp main and replaced it with a new one.
    See pics of old and new below!

    Click on pic to enlarge

    Attached Files:

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  2. chrisf

    chrisf Member

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    is that aluminium wire on the sub feed it looks like it in the pic? If it is make sure the old breaker could have been used with aluminium. I see the new one is. Even with the new breaker you still need to use the anti corrsion grease on alum wire. alum wire needs to be torqued properly.
  3. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    The old breaker overheated at the bus. It looks like it was not making good contact. What did the bus look like where the breaker attached to the bus? If there is corrosion, oxidation or arcing soot and pitting there, the new breaker may have the same problem. It needs to have a firm, clean contact with the bus bar.
  4. jimbom

    jimbom Combustion Analyzer

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    My first thought also. The bus may have been damaged.

    If you have an infrared thermometer, check the temperature of the breakers. Should be similar if load is balanced.
  5. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    poor connection at bus = arcing = heat and melting
  6. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    +1

    Its amazing how many electrical problems come down just to bad connections
  7. Don2222

    Don2222 Minister of Fire

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    NO

    The only Aluminum wiring goes from the dryer to the 220vac breaker at the bottom left in the panel.
  8. Don2222

    Don2222 Minister of Fire

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    Hello

    I believe you guys are right On about the poor connection.

    It seems like a bad connection inside the breaker because when I removed the Old 100 amp main circuit breaker the spring connector stayed on the box's buss stab!

    The bus was not in bad shape, I did clean it with a wire brush however because there was some corrosion on it.

    Because of the melted plastic around this connection maybe more proof of the heat emitting from this bad connection.

    Summary
    So maybe the corrosion combined with the failing connection inside the breaker and of course the hot night with the loading was the adverse tolerance stackup that caused this failure!!!
    The failing connection inside the breaker is very likely to be the spring that keeps the breaker closed. If the spring does not push the connector hard enough then there can be heat and burning from a loose connection at high current like the 60 amp load we had!

    Well I guess $42.95 for the new good quality 100 Amp Square D Main breaker from Home Depot made by Schnelder Electric is a wee bit cheaper than calling in an Electrician!

    Just as long as I did remember to pull the Meter before working on the 100 Amp wires so I would not turn into a french fry!! LOL

    Thanks so much you guys!!!

    See pic below

    Attached Files:

  9. mellow

    mellow Resident Stove Connoisseur

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    Did your meter box have a seal lock on it? Curious how that works if you break that seal and remove the meter then just put the meter back, do you get fined if you don't call the electric company to come back out and inspect it?
  10. Don2222

    Don2222 Minister of Fire

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    Hi mellow

    Good Question!

    I called the Electric Company. They said if you have electric work done by yourself or an electrician where the Meter must be removed for safety, then after the work is done just call them to re-tag the Meter.

    The Electric Company does not do inside panel work so that is the policy!

    Thanks, I think we all learned something here!
  11. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    2nd that. I was not aware you could pull your own meter. I thought you'd get fined.

    P.S.: This thread reminds me to point out the dangers of using the "push-in" connections on the back of electrical outlets instead of the screw terminals. I've come across many that were bad.
  12. Highbeam

    Highbeam Minister of Fire

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    I pulled my meter when my electrician buddy and I swapped to a nice new panel when I bought my current home. I shoved the meter back in and everything was fine. We were having elctrical issues more recently and had the power company out, it turned out to be a bad connection where the lines from the street pole attach to the weatherhead and the power guy finally found/fixed it. While he was there I asked him to tag the meter seal and he just did it. No questions asked. Without that tag, a neighbor kid could pull off my meter without any tools.

    The power company doesn't want people messing with the meter socket due to the obvious safety concerns. However, a very common reason for them to encourage it is if you have a power outage and run a backup generator. Removing the meter is a positive disconnect.
  13. Don2222

    Don2222 Minister of Fire

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    Hello

    Well I tried the same loading tonight on the new 100 Amp Mains and they are cool as a cucumber!!

    So that was it!
    A bad breaker with a bad connection inside!! Just a little stressed after 25 years but maybe that challenger breaker made by GE was not the best quality.

    In fact I do not see them for sale around here anymore even though they still make and sell the breakers but not the panel! >> http://www.aplussupply.com/break/challenger/challp.htm

    Here is a recall on the Challenger GFCI breaker but that is not what I have.
    http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml88/88095.html

    May not be the best quality so I will see how the new 100 amp main breaker holds up. So far it stays cold under the same load!
    The challenger Panel and breakers were purchased in the late 80's at Somerville Lumber!

    Attached Files:

  14. seige101

    seige101 Minister of Fire

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    I strongly advise to put the proper breaker in there. While the homeline breaker does fit and will work they are not tested and approved for use with each other. If something were to happen again especially a fire the ins company would have a good reason to decline a claim.

    I see breakers make a poor contact with buss all to happen. Usually the buss gets fried too. Might want to consider a new panel. A 100 amp 20/24 circuit panel should only be around $75 at the local box store possibly a few bucks cheaper at the local electrical supply house.
  15. fbelec

    fbelec Minister of Fire

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    that is a definite on the challenger not being good i see it all the time. but the homeline is not to far from that also. the reg square d stuff is quality but the homeline stuff is their cheap line to compete. if you are looking for a breaker to fit that panel and it is not made, then call the local wiring inspector and ask what he'll accept as a replacement. there is a breaker made by T+B called the classified breaker and also by cutler-hammer that is classified for fit in many panels you need to check for the number on your panel and if it is on the list that comes with the breaker it can be a legal substitute. the national electrical code is that only breakers be installed in that panel be of the type and same brand as the panel. so the home line is a no no.
    second thing. in your second picture showing the new breaker installed i see the duplex breaker below looking like there is rust on the breaker. what you need to do is pull that and some of the surrounding breakers and look on the sides of the breakers for the rivet's. if they is corrosion or rust, that breaker has seen some water and the breaker is not trustworthy. code say's any breaker that has got wet has to be changed. if you are seeing water come into that panel that would make each different circuit breaker blow or shut off and turn on. and also the same thing could happen to the new breaker. the water enter the panel via the service outside. what is your service (outside) made up of? is it metal pipe, pvc pipe or cable. pipe is good cable is usually the source of the leak. i do lots of change overs to pvc pipe end of wet story.

    frank
  16. Don2222

    Don2222 Minister of Fire

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    Thanks so much for the info Frank !

    I did have to do something quick to keep the house fom burning down so that Homeline will keep me going temporarily. Upgrading the service from 100 amp to 200 amp is the right way to go here. I am not seeing alot of water but there must be some moisture getting in because there was some corrosion on the buss stab. I just wire brushed it off but I am concerned about water or moisture leaking in. I took some pics. The service pipe and meter box is all metal and installed in 1962 when the house was built. The challenger box was an upgrade from the original done approx 1988.

    So please look at the pics below and let me know how to waterproof them?

    Click on Pic to Enlarge then click again to enlarge one more time!
    PS. The L2 on the right meter socket is tinned copper wire NOT aluminum. I had that checked out for certain!!!!

    Also my electric company said since I have the new Tri-Plex wires from the Pole all I need is a new 200 amp box to upgrade the service!

    Attached Files:

  17. yooperdave

    yooperdave Minister of Fire

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    can't believe that this has happened!!
    on tue nite, half of the house went dead-power wise. got a ladder and checked out the attic right away (squirrel problem last winter; thought they may have damaged wires) but all checked out ok. neighbors were all ok.
    checked all breakers-ok
    put meter on main-only one leg had power. called power co. showed up after dark traced problem to meter box. the lines feeding into the house-one leg was completely corroded-so bad, it just broke! removed the bad section and went to bed with only one phase of incoming. next day, left work early, pulled meter myself (after trying to get the power co back out here-3 calls and each one was disconnected when they transferred me), removed meter box from wall of house, lowered it onto a good section of incoming feed to service panel. by this time power co was on site- the guy actually helped out (not officially) re-attached everything and was back in business!
    one line voltage was completely corroded, and also, the ground was corroded to a point that only 3-4 strands were left and contacting! explains why light bulbs were burning out the previous week!

    but anyway, check both legs of incoming voltage to ground- you shouldn't have that much of a difference between the readings. if so, probably still a bad connection somewhere
  18. Wallyworld

    Wallyworld Member

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    They may be the same shape as a SqD but are SqD listed to be put into a Challenger panel? NEC doesn't allow breakers to be put into panels that aren't listed to be in that panel. Just an FYI
  19. Don2222

    Don2222 Minister of Fire

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    Yes, I agree. Just had to get a new breaker in there before the house burned or I lost power completely! Just this past year they put up a new telephone pole across the street with a new transformer 5 feet higher than the old one. Since the the wire would not reach to my house anymore, they put in the new standard Tri-Plex wiring rated for 200 Amps. So all I need is a new panel now for an upgraded service!
  20. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I'd replace the meter box as well. It has definite corrosion in there. If that water traveled down the wiring on to your panel's main bus, it would possibly explain the breaker failure. Corrosion of the panel's main bus is the primary thing I have seen fail in cheap panels. The old Zinco panels were notorious for this. You are lucky to have caught this. I was in one house that had lost power. Their entire panel looked like your failed breaker. Very scary stuff!
  21. Don2222

    Don2222 Minister of Fire

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    Yes, BGreen I was lucky and glad the whole house did not go up in smoke!

    So which new panel is the best quality? See new panel pics below:

    I have just been looking around and again it is not easy!

    The new Square D Panel with the new protruding clips on the Breakers and recessed Buss OR
    The Siemens old style copper bus with the same old style recessed clip style breakers??

    Click on pic to enlarge
    The square D on the left would mean buying all new breakers! The Siemens on the right will hold my old breakers!

    Attached Files:

  22. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    I prefer SquareD, but would also be comfortable choosing a GE or Cutler-Hammer panel. It may be a personal thing but I don't like the neutral and ground bus bars to be so close to the breakers on the Siemens. It would be good to get some more feedback from the real electricians here. I only apprenticed and then moved on to other work.
  23. Don2222

    Don2222 Minister of Fire

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    Hello

    Well so far the new 100 Amp Mains are fine and not over heating! I guess the spring in breakers get weak and make the breakers just fail sometimes especially when they 25 years old!

    Thanks for your opinion on the new boxes.

    Does any one else have an opinion on the new electric panels? Which is better? What brand is better?
    What type, the new breakers that square D uses or the same old style with stabs that the Siemens use?
  24. laynes69

    laynes69 Minister of Fire

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    A few years ago I decided to upgrade our old panel. We had a 100 amp Square D QO panel that did well for over 25 years. After researching and having a buddy as an electrician I choose to stay with the QO from Square D. We put in all new from the weatherhead to the panel. I think it was around 400 total and it took about 6 hours. We pulled the meter and I ran the conduit beside the old service before we began. Local electricians wanted 1800.00 to do it. I spoke with our electric company to verify the lines would hold a 200 amp service. Right before we were done, the electric company came out and connected the new service and mounted the meter. It was well worth it.
  25. semipro

    semipro Minister of Fire

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    I'd compare the price of breakers for each panel. While the panels may be similar in cost the breakers might not be and that's where most of you expense is (assuming you're not using your existing breakers).

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