Fishy smell from electrical panel??

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Old 05-16-13, 08:50 PM
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Exclamation Fishy smell from electrical panel??

So the past week my wife and I have smelled a fishy smell only when using our dryer. I thought maybe a rodent got in the vent or something and cleaned and inspected it and nothing in there, I walked past my panel and the smell was 100x worse so I popped it open only to smell that awful smell and know for sure it was coming from that. The breakers for my dryer were fairly hot to the touch, what does this mean and what can I do??
 
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Old 05-16-13, 09:09 PM
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Sounds like something is burning. That would suggest one of three problems.

1) The screw terminals on the side of the breaker are loose.
2) The breaker is internally defective.
3) The stab on the back of the breaker where it connects to the panel is loose/worn.

That should be addressed ASAP.
 
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Old 05-16-13, 09:14 PM
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Do you know if this is generally an expensive repair? I'm all tapped out for the month and only have like $50 to my name for 2 more weeks.
 
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Old 05-16-13, 09:21 PM
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A service call from an electrician would run 100.00 - 125.00 here in NJ.
Probably less in your neck of the woods.

I can't make any recommendations because I don't know your comfort level around electric.
You could remove the panel cover and look without touching to see if anything is visibly burned. Do you have a friend or acquaintance that works with electric ?
 
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Old 05-16-13, 09:29 PM
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I used to work as an apprentice for commercial electrical construction for about 1.5 years so I have some experience and tools but that was over 10 years ago lol

I still remember some stuff and if you have any ideas of what I could do (hopefully diy) I'd love to try.

I'm very VERY careful with electrical and if I felt uncomfortable doing something I wouldn't do it for sure.
 
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Old 05-16-13, 09:34 PM
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The first step is a visual check.
The second check is to TURN OFF the dryer breaker and check to see if the wire attaching screws are loose.
The third step is to unsnap the breaker out of the panel.

What brand is the panel ?
You could pop off the cover and shoot us a pic too. We can tell a lot of things from a picture.
 
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Old 05-16-13, 10:23 PM
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Here's a few pics I was able to snap, I can take more if needed.

The Dryer is the one with the red and black wires at top right.
 
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Old 05-17-13, 05:47 AM
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I don't see any labels that identify the panel clearly though.
 
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Old 05-17-13, 05:58 AM
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Nothing looks obviously bad. Breakers will get warm during normal operation, but they shouldn't be burn-your-fingers hot.

Do you notice the smell only when the dryer is running?
 
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Old 05-17-13, 06:25 AM
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It only smells when the dryer is going, but what's really weird is it's not necessarily every time the dryer goes, but most times.

When I went to put the panel cover back on I saw this and freaked out a little
 
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Old 05-17-13, 08:20 AM
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Well, the location looks correct for it to be the dryer's breaker.
 
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Old 05-17-13, 10:38 AM
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If you look close at the screws on the right side of the panel breakers some are blackened. Should I jist go ahead and replace all the breakers to be safe?
 
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Old 05-17-13, 11:26 AM
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First you need to pull the breakers and see if the bus bars are pitted and burned.
 
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Old 05-17-13, 03:11 PM
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When I went to put the panel cover back on I saw this and freaked out a little
Originally Posted by Michael Rivers
Well, the location looks correct for it to be the dryer's breaker.
Clearly the problem is on the right side. It looks to me, though, from the smoke pattern, like the source is further down - at or below the bottom breaker on that side. The smoke on the back of the deadfront particularly seems to point that way. What is that breaker for, and have you inspected it
 
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Old 05-17-13, 06:46 PM
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The smoke on the back of the deadfront particularly seems to point that way. What is that breaker for, and have you inspected it
The breaker above the bottom right breaker looks like a 100 amp 2 pole with aluminum conductors to me. That's where I'd focus my attention in addition to the dryer breaker that gets hot. If you've had that much smoke, there is damage in there somewhere and I suspect it will be the busbars.
 
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Old 05-17-13, 07:38 PM
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i see major buss bar issues. The aluminum buss looks severely corroded. If the main is up then it's the right hand side connection from the main to the breakers.

Looks like your panel is taking on water from the service.
 
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Old 05-18-13, 06:03 AM
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I have to agree , PJ. We don't know for sure if the panel has aluminum bus, it could be tin plated copper, but I suspect this is an older Bryant or Westinghouse panel with aluminum bus. The aluminum bus cannot withstand overheating.
 
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Old 05-18-13, 07:32 AM
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I assume the buss bar(s) are what carry the current to the back of the breakers where they snap in?

I do see the corrosion but no trace of water in the panel. You guys think a house this old (about 40 years) should just be rewired and a new panel or what?

With as many problems as I'm finding I have a feeling that a lot needs to be done on my electric
 
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Old 05-18-13, 07:45 AM
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If you're panel is getting water in in it..... it usually comes from the service and in particularly the meter pan.

Take a look at your service where it comes into the electric meter. Is it the gray type cable ?
Where it enters the meter pan it's usually sealed with putty that may have dried out and cracked.

It's hard to make a recommendation to you without being there. When I get a call like that the first thing I'll do is open the meter. Unfortunately that is something that a homeowner should not do. I'll check for leaks and water. Water can follow the service cable right into the panel where it usually runs into the main breaker and runs down the buss bars to all the breakers.

You may need the services of an electrician there to at least survey the problem and make recommendations.
 
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Old 05-18-13, 07:52 AM
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Originally Posted by jbrdbr111
I assume the buss bar(s) are what carry the current to the back of the breakers where they snap in?
Yes.

Originally Posted by jbrdbr111
You guys think a house this old (about 40 years) should just be rewired and a new panel or what?
Age is not really a factor in replacement. There is much electrical equipment 75 years and older that's still in regular service. If it's damaged to the point of not being repairable to good working order, then out it goes. (IMO)
 
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Old 05-18-13, 12:45 PM
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Doesn't seem like anyone wants to work on panels, are they that bad? 3 electricians found excuses not to come out when I told them what kind if issue it is, guess I should just research how to do it myself?
 
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Old 05-18-13, 01:20 PM
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You guys think a house this old (about 40 years) should just be rewired and a new panel or what?
I totally agree with what Nick said about that:
Originally Posted by Nick D.
Age is not really a factor in replacement. There is much electrical equipment 75 years and older that's still in regular service. If it's damaged to the point of not being repairable to good working order, then out it goes. (IMO)
In an earlier life I totally replaced the service and wiring in the house we were living in. It was built and first wired in 1908. I left some of the original wiring in place. It passed every inspection and, so far as I know, that wiring is still in service today.
 
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Old 05-18-13, 06:00 PM
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3 electricians found excuses not to come out when I told them what kind if issue it is, guess I should just research how to do it myself?
That's a pretty big undertaking for a DIYer and it will probably involve upgrading the entire service entrance based upon the age. Try calling a local electrical supply house about mid morning, after their morning rush, and ask them for some names of contractors who do residential service changes. You'll likely get a list of 5 or 6 names. It will cost more than $50 so be prepared.
 
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