Circuit Breaker Box Smells - Do I run?!


Old 01-17-06, 04:12 PM
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Exclamation Circuit Breaker Box Smells - Do I run?!

First off, I'm clueless abuot most things electrical. Thanks in advance for your patience.

I noticed (last night or the night before) a weird smell in my kitchen. Like something burning, maybe something baked-on in my oven, but the oven's off. Tonight I traced the source of the smell to my circuit breaker box, and I'm freaking out... Doesn't have that ozone-type smell I'd associate with electrical issues, but I have no clue what kind of stuff is back in the wall behind this box (the box & breakers are about 25 years old; building is a 55-year old condo). When I put my hand to the breakers, they feel somewhat warm. Having never done that before, I wonder - is this normal?? No smoke is coming out from the box, but that smell doesn't seem organic. Kind of dusty, maybe chemical a little, but I really think something's frying back there.

Now, I just replaced my thermostat about 10 days ago, with a new touch-screen honeywell deal. The last programmable one I had failed after about 3 years, with a fried internal contact pin. My friend the electrical engineer couldn't explain it, the line voltage associated with the pin tested o.k. But my big fear was that something's weird in this old house's wiring which maybe fried the thermostat. And now, the new one's working fine but I've got this damn smell from behind the breaker box!

FYI, tonight when I noticed the smell, the auxilliary heat (I have 2-stage heat pump) had been running. I know that draws a lot of current, so am wondering if that has something to do with this situation.

I know I need to have a professional look at this, but in the interim am trying to figure out if I just need to shut down the HVAC and every other breaker, and run for the hills/call the fire dept, or if I can sleep here tonight! (I don't even know if there's a main power switch that can shut off all electric to my condo...) Thanks for any opinions/advice.
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Old 01-17-06, 04:36 PM
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The smell of something baking from the electrical panel is usually melting insulation. This is usually caused by excessive heat due to a poor connection. It could also be a proper connection to a breaker or fuse which has been improperly increased in amperage.

Breakers that feel somewhat warm is probably a normal condition.

The thermostat is probably unrelated to the other information in your post.

The fix may be as simple as tightening a screw. Please have it attended to as soon as possible.
Old 01-17-06, 05:09 PM
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those were the symptoms i had when a radiant heat sub panel crapped out. i had to replace the sub panel. the feed lugs were "decomposing" and some of the baseboard units quit working. checked output at the double pole breakers and found low voltage. shut down any loads you can live without and call a pro. my electrician knows my capabilites and told me i could handle the job. if your not comfortable have it taken care of so you can sleep at night.
Old 01-18-06, 06:57 AM
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Go ahead and have your electrical panel checked out just in case. But the smell might be from the dust burining off of the 2nd stage heater elements.
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