Circuit Box Problem = No Hot Water

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  #1  
Old 05-03-15, 05:33 PM
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Circuit Box Problem = No Hot Water

Good Evening All,
This is my first post on this forum, thank you in advance for your replies and I hope I am able to articulate my problem well enough.

Pictures of my circuit breaker box are attached. The switch on the very top and left side (switch 01 & 03) are a 30amp breaker connected to my water heater. We noticed that we had little no hot water and of course the switch had flipped itself off. When I flip it back to the “on” position, I hear a buzzing, slight crackling noise, I feel a noticeable rise in temperature, and I can see a bright red glowing ember emitting from behind the main ‘hot’ cable (right above switch 01) that comes from outside the house. For whatever reason, when the water heater breaker is flipped to the “on” position, it does this. After a few minutes of this glowing, buzzing, heat, and crackling, the switch flips to the “off” position and the glowing/noise/heat goes away. All of the other breakers are working fine and nowhere else in the house has there been any loss of power.

At first, I was hoping some dust or a bug was unlucky and being zapped, so I grabbed a can of compressed air to clear out the area. After the dust and bits of black char went away, I can see some of the surrounding plastic housing has been melted. The top of this breaker’s plastic has also been damaged by the heat emitted from above. Any clue of what is causing this? Additionally, can I do this myself with a trip to the home improvement store?

My experience: I understand the concept of how electricity flows and how to read an electrical schematic, but nowhere near the level of experience as you professional types. I specialize in changing/adding outlets and installing ceiling fans. Also, I am not fluent in electrician jargon (sorry).

Location: Muscogee County, Georgia, good ol’ USA.

My electrical box:

Switch 01 & 03 turned to the "off" position

Switch 01 & 03 turned to the "on" position and the glowing red.

A close up of the glowing red.

The damage of this heat to the surrounding plastic pieces.

The damage of this heat to the top of switch 01.


Besides making the little ones bathe in cold water, what do I do???
 
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  #2  
Old 05-03-15, 05:39 PM
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Hello and welcome to the forums...

An electrician pro should answer shortly... stand by....
 
  #3  
Old 05-03-15, 05:40 PM
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You have a serious issue that needs to be looked at on-site by a competent electrician. You connection has become very high resistance and will only get worse over time. The high current draw of the water heater through the poor connection is heating up the already bad connection. You might be looking at a panel replacement.

IMO this is a get it looked at ASAP issue.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 06:17 PM
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Excellent pictures.

I have to echo pcBoss..... that needs to be serviced ASAP. Not only is there visible damage to the connecting line, I'm sure there will be damage behind the water heater breaker if it got hot enough to trip.

I'm fairly certain you are going to need a new panel there.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 06:34 PM
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You don't need a third opinion, but stay clear of that connection. It is hot all the time and there is no practical protection from electrocution. Call an electrician as soon as you can. Wake one up tonight to get on his early list for tomorrow. You have stepped across the twilight zone and out of DIY.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 06:41 PM
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Thank you for your speedy replies. So you think that the whole panel needs to be replaced because of this one area? That's a bummer. What would you say that is in a good deal American dollars-wise? Just to be clear, you would not even think it is any kind of a semi-decent idea if I tried to replace the damaged breaker and replace any type of metal to metal connections? I'm just spit-balling ideas to save my emergency stash of pennies. Thanks again.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 06:50 PM
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Prices vary too much to give a reasonable estimate, but I suspect at least $1000
 
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Old 05-03-15, 06:54 PM
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That lug will be useless from the heat fatigue. The bar where it connects may be partially melted. That joint not only glows with the water heater on but with the range and every other heavy load.

That wire is burned and may have to replaced. Looks like aluminum with no anti oxidant on it..... plus a loose bolt.

We can't see all the extent of the damage. Your electrician needs to make the decision. If it was my house, based on what I CAN see, I'd change the panel out.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 07:06 PM
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Where does the 100 amp breaker go? Obviously to a sub panel. Until you get an electrician out, minimize the loads associated with the left wire. That would be 1,5,9,13,17, etc on the left side breakers, and 4,8,12,16 etc on the right side breakers.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 07:23 PM
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For some reason it feels like it is ongoing problem and you are just seeing the effect now.I don't see main breaker for the circuit box at circuit box.Is it possible that you are not getting enough amps and that is causing melting of wire strands.?Who knows,good luck with electrician.Hopefully its not a big problem and its fixed soon.Keep us Updated.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 07:32 PM
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His panel is too far from the meter requiring a main disconnect at the meter. That's actually a good thing as the panel change will be easier with that remote main breaker.

That damage is pretty common for a loose connection.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 07:33 PM
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Unless it is a split bus panel.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 07:44 PM
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Welcome from Columbus, GA, home to Ft. Benning, and a host of time zone nightmares

Anyone else concerned with eddy currents in the box due to separate entrances for the primaries?
 
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Old 05-03-15, 07:53 PM
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Chandler, which 100amp breaker are you speaking of? The large cable that is heating up goes to right outside into a thick pipe leading to my Georgia Power meter, which goes to the under ground power box by the curb.
Lowes, I know this was an issues a while back and then it went away on its own after a day. I am just afraid of a fire and want hot water.
I contacted a reputable electrician on spaceBook here in my city, just waiting for a reply. He's a mutual friend of a friend and a fellow veteran, so already I trust him. I'll keep you guys updated. Thanks again for all the help. (I should have been an electrician.)
 

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Old 05-03-15, 07:56 PM
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Larry..... not sure I understand..... the wiring for the panel enters thru a conduit in the bottom of the panel.


(I should have been an electrician.)
That's what everyone says. It's not all it's cracked up to be. Now plumber...... that's different.... at least here in NJ.
 
  #16  
Old 05-03-15, 07:57 PM
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Chandler, the time zone nightmare only happens when you deal with those living deeper in Alabama. Other than that, everyone else is wrong and just go with EST when you're running late going across the Chattahooch..
 
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Old 05-03-15, 08:09 PM
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Looking further at your pictures..... at first I though you had aluminum wiring but it looks more like armored cable.... like BX.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 08:10 PM
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PJmax, that is correct. In my first picture of the whole box, the large black cables go from the top of the panel > down to the left and right > into a conduit > This is what is on the other side of my wall:

I'm no professional, so I may be wrong.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 08:13 PM
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I heard from someone in the past that I do have aluminum wiring, which I guess was the norm in home construction in this area back in the '70s.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 08:19 PM
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Pete, I see that, now. Shadows and bifocals play tricks on me.
Ilostmynods, the 100 amp breaker with the red and black wires going to it.
 
  #21  
Old 05-03-15, 08:21 PM
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This panel is toast and must be replaced. Assuming there is a disconnect at the meter because there is no main breaker in the main lug only panel, this would be a subpanel, but it is just wired with 3 wires and all grounds and neutrals are mixed on the neutral bus. All branch circuits appear to be aluminum as well as the aluminum feeding the panel. No antioxidant was used at the main lugs and the main lugs haven't had any maintenance tightening probably since the home was built. The left main lug has been very very hot. This project requires an electrician who is familiar with aluminum wiring......VERY SOON!
 
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Old 05-03-15, 08:21 PM
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I thought that was aluminum. Have you had any other issues in the house ?
You MUST be vigilant for intermittent/unexplained electrical issues as the aluminum wiring can be a problem with loose and corroded connections. All device replacement in your house must be handled differently than with copper wiring.

Mention to your electrician the aluminum wiring. Actually he'll see it in the panel anyway.

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Old 05-03-15, 09:21 PM
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I looked again Larry, still looks like SE cable feeding both the panel and the 100 on the right side.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 09:27 PM
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The red and black ones go to the heating system in our attic.
PJmax, we have not had any major issues since I bought the house 5 years ago. We replaced every outlet and light switch from day one, knowing aluminum is considered more of a hazard than copper, I wrapped all my outlet/switch connections with a single layer of electrical tape where you screw down the pos/neg wires just as a precaution. Every once and a while we'll run everything at once in the kitchen and it will pop the switch as it is intended to, but that's about it.

The electrician called me up, offered to come out tonight fearful of a fire hazard, but I respectfully declined, and he'll be here tomorrow in the late afternoon. Thanks for your help and I'll let you know what happens. Have a great night.
 
  #25  
Old 05-03-15, 09:41 PM
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Hi iLostMyNuds,

With all respect I want to specifically answer and respond to a few of your questions and statements in a very particular way... but please do not take my responses as offensive nor that I am arrogant BUT to ensure that you UNDERSTAND the SEVERITY of your particular Electrical Problem...

You asked: "So you think that the whole panel needs to be replaced because of this one area? That's a bummer." Well, there will be an option to not replace the whole Panel... the whole House may needs to be replaced after an Electrical Fire, which in this situation it can occurs at any moment while that panel is still receiving electricity.

You also asked and said: "What would you say that is in a good deal American dollars-wise? Just to be clear, you would not even think it is any kind of a semi-decent idea if I tried to replace the damaged breaker and replace any type of metal to metal connections? I'm just spit-balling ideas to save my emergency stash of pennies." Well, I really doubt that those stash of pennies will be enough savings to live at another place after your whole House being replaced instead of the whole panel as explained before (you should understand what I mean).

Finally, you said: "I am just afraid of a fire"... Well, there is something I can guarantee to you... that you are not afraid of a fire; if you are, an electrician should have already visited your house at the very first time you saw, hear, felt, etc. signs of smoke, excessive heat, melt, burnt, etc. in any Breaker or Wire at that panel...

Oh and you ended that sentence saying: "I am just afraid of a fire *and want hot water.*"

Well, please have in mind that your Thread title could go from:

"Circuit Box Problem = No Hot Water"
to "Hot Water = No House."


I hope you already contacted a Licensed Electrician; your particular Electrician Problem is not for a DIY, at least is not a job for you with the statements you have made.


With all respect.

Jos
 
  #26  
Old 05-03-15, 09:48 PM
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Jos,
Thank you for your comment. I truly feel as if you took the time out of your evening to write such a well thought out response, that this IS a very serious problem. A professional electrician has been contacted and will be here tomorrow afternoon. Thanks again for your professional opinion.
-iLostMyNods.
 
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Old 05-03-15, 10:14 PM
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Excellent.

You are welcome. I hope everything goes right, and keep in contact with us to let us know how things go tomorrow.

God bless you.

Jos
 
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Old 05-04-15, 07:29 AM
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I bought the house 5 years ago. We replaced every outlet and light switch from day one, knowing aluminum is considered more of a hazard than copper, I wrapped all my outlet/switch connections with a single layer of electrical tape where you screw down the pos/neg wires just as a precaution.
Did you use CO/ALR rated wiring devices? If not, they'll all need to be replaced again with CO/ALR rated devices after properly abrading the exposed aluminum ends and applying an antioxidant compound. The wrapping of the devices with electrical tape is not necessary, but is sometimes done. I prefer to not wrap them.
 
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Old 05-04-15, 08:13 AM
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CasualJoe is absolutely right. He made a great, very important observation.

iLostMyNods, if you used Aluminum wires and did not use CO/ALR devices; you will have to replace every Switch and Outlet too. If you used CU-AL, etc. that's NOT acceptable for Aluminum wires, even that states AL. But the worst part is if you used Cu Only devices then the Potential Hazard of an Electrical Fire in your House will remains considerably high even after replacing the Electrical Panel.

If you change the Switches and Outlets to CO/ALR as minimum, you can keep the Aluminum wires; however, if that were my House I personally will prefer to re-wire everything with Copper.

You may find interesting to read the information in this Link: MobileSitePreview
 
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Old 05-04-15, 08:29 AM
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Just to add there are no safe wire nuts for aluminum wiring. Connectors like Polaris must be used. Purple wire nuts are approved by UL but there has been so many reported problems they are not recommended. What's Wrong With Using Twist On Connectors For Aluminum Wire Repairs? - AlumiConn | Aluminum to Copper Electrical Connectors
 
  #31  
Old 05-04-15, 03:00 PM
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So I am looking at a spare outlet I did not use when I replaced them all and it clearly states on the back that it is for CU and copper wire only. so.... FML. Looks like I am going to not only use all my pennies, but I'm gonna have to dig into my nickels too! FML. Thanks for the heads up. The 1970's failed once again . The electrician should be here in about an hour.
 
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Old 05-04-15, 06:02 PM
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Instead of the wire nuts there are the King Alumiconn connectors.
 
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Old 05-04-15, 06:15 PM
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Note the neutrals under the screw heads of the buss.
 
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Old 05-04-15, 06:18 PM
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There is a professional only system of joining copper pigtails to aluminum so Cu only receptacles and switches can be used. If he has the training and equipment that would be a way to go.

On the other hand is he wants to wirenut copper pigtails to the aluminum you need a different electrician.
 
  #35  
Old 05-04-15, 06:32 PM
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There is a professional only system of joining copper pigtails to aluminum so Cu only receptacles and switches can be used. If he has the training and equipment that would be a way to go.
That would be the Copalum method, but I have always heard they are pretty expensive in addition to renting the tool from Tyco. This isn't a DIY method because it takes an electrician who has a certification after taking the factory training course.

The 1970's failed once again . The electrician should be here in about an hour.
You need to educate yourself to know if the electrician knows what he is doing with aluminum wiring repairs. Here is a great resource, print it and keep it for reference.

http://www.cpsc.gov//PageFiles/118856/516.pdf
 
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Old 05-04-15, 06:43 PM
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If you used CU-AL, etc. that's NOT acceptable for Aluminum wires, even that states AL.
Where did you learn that? That is exactly right!

U.L. gave the approval to manufacturers in 1966 to mark the existing product line receptacles which were designed for and being used for copper wiring with the "AL-CU" or "CU-AL". Those devices were not designed for nor were they ever intended to be used with aluminum wiring when they first went into production. The U.L. approval was an option for manufacturers and was not a requirement. I have run into these devices a few times.
 
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Old 05-05-15, 08:18 AM
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Casualjoe

Can you elobrate more on it.I alway thought CU-AL AND CU-ALR are one and the same things,well now i know better and how can you distininguish between one that is acceptable and one that is not.
 
  #38  
Old 05-05-15, 11:25 AM
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AL-CU or CU-AL is an essentially unregulated marking that does not imply any level of safety with aluminum wiring. It was created based on an assumption in the 60s that aluminum wiring terminations would not be much different than copper. (Wrong!)

CO/ALR is a UL standard that was introduced in the 70s for devices intended for use with aluminum wire. Testing in the decades since has shown they are somewhat better than AL-CU devices, but still much more hazardous than copper wiring.

The COPALUM and AlumiConn connectors are the only two aluminum wire remedies that seem to have been pretty well tested and demonstrated to improve safety of aluminum wire branch circuits. Both are fairly expensive and require very good installation technique to be effective. Bad technique with any aluminum wire splice is a recipe for disaster. The COPALUM system requires an electrician with training from the manufacturer. AlumiConn is available over the counter for DIY, but installation instructions should be followed exactly (including buying the expensive torque screwdriver) and existing wiring inspected for damage before remaking connections.

Houses with aluminum branch circuit wiring have somewhere around a 40x to 50x greater chance of an electrical fire versus houses wired with copper, so getting this stuff right is quite serious. If you don't want to deal with the repairs, rewiring with copper might be a more cost effective solution, especially if you have basement and/or attic access throughout the majority of the house.
 
  #39  
Old 05-05-15, 05:35 PM
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ibpooks

wow.great information.So what about service entrance conductors,i have seen them mostly to be aluminium,so does that mean main circuit breaker panel or combination panel are rated for aluminium?B'cz even there i mostly see CU-AL.
 
  #40  
Old 05-05-15, 06:00 PM
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Lugs in a panel and breaker terminals are listed for use with both copper and aluminum.

The issue with aluminum was the 15 and 20 amp branch circuits, not feeders and service cables.
 
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