Main breaker keeps tripping

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Old 11-25-15, 09:36 AM
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Main breaker keeps tripping

I am not an electrician, so please bear with me. For the last several nights (and only at night) the power in my house has gone out several times. When I check the main breaker panel, the main breaker (or maybe it's 2 breakers controlled with one "bar") has tripped but none of the smaller breakers (I guess they're subbreakers) has tripped. The problem has recurred several times a night, when only my wife and I are home and no large appliances, etc are running (and during the day, we use the microwave, vacuums, etc without problems). Our electrician got a new main breaker to replace the existing one, but this didn't solve the problem. We have lived here since 2002 (house built in 1997) and this has never happened before. We recently put in a security system, but unplugged the whole system (ADT) and the problem still occurred. We also recently switched from Verizon phone service to Cox digital phone service. The electrical company (So Cal Edison) says the problem is not between their transformer and our house, and said that for the past 24 hrs they got a low reading of 240 and high of 243. I apologize for this long description, but my electrician is "stumped" and I am extremely frustrated. I would sincerely appreciate any ideas about how to approach (and hopefully localize) this problem. ADDENDUM: Yesterday, this happened in the early afternoon for the first time. Also, after the lights in the house were back on, I tried to turn on the front porch lights and they didn’t work. The back patio lights did not work either. About 15 minutes later, the main breaker tripped. When I flipped it back on, both the front porch lights and back patio lights were on. This must be a clue … Thank you.
 
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Old 11-25-15, 09:48 AM
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Are there any unused circuits in your house that you could turn off at the individual breaker - ie: if you don't use the basement living room much, turn off that breaker, etc. - that would at least help cut down the number of circuits that could be causing the problem.

Is that front porch on a breaker of its own? Thinking you could turn off that breaker, let it sit for a week or so and see if your problem shows up again, and if it doesn't you could at least narrow it down to that circuit? That's of course assuming you can get by without everything on that circuit for a short period of time!
 
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Old 11-25-15, 10:04 AM
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This is not something to mess with. You need an electrician with a clamp on ammeter that can measure actual current draws on your various circuits. You know it's not the main, since it was replaced. Badly corroded connections between the main and the buss bars can cause this, but the electrician should have looked for that when he swapped the main. So you need to figure out if you have a bad overload on one circuit with a bad breaker that isn't tripping on that circuit, or a sum of smaller loads that is exceeding the main breaker rating without tripping individual circuits. I think you need another, better electrician.
 
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Old 11-25-15, 10:32 AM
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Do you have a furnace that uses heat strips or a heat pump? I could see that causing it to trip especially at night now that it is getting colder. You canb test this by cranking up the temp on your thermostat and seeing if the breaker trips.
 
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Old 11-25-15, 10:43 AM
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Neither an alarm system or cable draw significant power so they are not likely the problem.
  • What is the size of your main breaker?
  • What is the make and model number of your main panel?
  • Do you have any 240 volt loads such as stove, heat, water heater, electric dryer?

When this happens you need to feel each of the branch circuit breakers. Do any feel hot. If you have any of the 240 volt loads listed above turn them off till you can find an electrician who can figure this out.

As has been suggested you need to put a clamp on amp meter on the main breaker and observe what is going on. If you can't borrow one even at the cost of $30-40 buying one would be a good first step if you can't immediately find an electrician who can help.
 
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Old 11-25-15, 11:29 AM
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A recording amp meter may be needed to see how much power you are using when the breaker trips due to the timeframe when it trips.
 
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Old 11-25-15, 01:13 PM
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Our electrician got a new main breaker to replace the existing one, but this didn't solve the problem. We have lived here since 2002 (house built in 1997)
Who is the manufacturer of the panel? Can you post a picture of the panel with the cover removed? The only '90s era main breaker that I can recall having a tripping issue was a 100A Square D Homeline. In fact, I saw two of them within the same week.
 
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Old 11-26-15, 01:57 PM
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New panel but same problem

This situation has gotten insane! First, thanks for the replies. I believe that my electrician did all the detective work he could (with meters all over the place, etc) before deciding to replace the entire panel (yes, I know that people will respond that it was the wrong thing to do, a needless expense, etc., but what's done is done). This was done yesterday -- new panel, all new breakers. I'll attach a picture of it, although that may not provide useful information.
Last night (with the new panel in place), the power in the house went out twice, and I think what I found at the panel must provide a clue. The first time, every single breaker on the panel was tripped -- the main breaker(s) and ALL of the subbreakers. The second time, only the main tripped and none of the subbreakers tripped. I've been unable to talk to my electrician today (Thanksgiving), but he told me that if the problem recurred with a brand new panel, it must be "on the electric company's end" (So Calif Edison). Ideas/suggestions? Thanks for your time. Howard
 
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Old 11-26-15, 02:37 PM
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First question.... where is the meter..... are those shorting bars in there ??

I see a four breaker main in the panel but I see a LOT of circuits. If this were a power company problem you would have blown out appliances and other devices.

ALL the breakers in a panel just don't trip. For every one to trip that panel would be red hot.
 
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Old 11-26-15, 04:04 PM
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new panel, all new breakers
\

This new CSED (panel) is inside?
 
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Old 11-26-15, 09:40 PM
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answer to questions

PJmax, I apologize, but I don't know what shorting bars are. Honestly, the first time the power went off when the new panel was in place, ALL of the breakers tripped. I am not an electrician, but I can certainly see the difference between a breaker that's "in place" (as in the picture I posted) and one that has flipped over to the middle or the other side. The second time the power went off, it was just the main breakers at the bottom of the panel. This happened again tonight -- power went out about two hours ago; I re-set the main breakers and the power went back on (and has remained on).

The meter was previously where that round hole is, to the left of all of the breakers. My electrician still has something he wants to do inside the garage (the panel is on the outside wall of the garage), and my assumption is that he'll replace the meter when the work is done. It did seem odd to me to walk outside and see that the meter was not in place.

The panel is outdoors. The weather is fine.

Maybe what I'm describing doesn't sound plausible, but I'm a reasonable observer and what I've reported in this thread is exactly what happened.

Thanks for your patience, Howard
 
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Old 11-26-15, 09:46 PM
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In the picture of your panel.... there is a place for the meter.... where is it ?

You will need to locate an electrician that has a data logger. You will have to chart the voltage and current used to see what is happening.

I've been doing this a long time and have never seen every breaker in a panel trip before.
When you went out to reset the main breaker.... was anything hot.... not live but physically hot to the touch ?

There is no one messing with you....is there? Like Aprils Fools ?
 
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Old 11-26-15, 09:51 PM
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Looks odd but not sure what it is.

Name:  new panel 1.jpg
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Old 11-27-15, 03:58 AM
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I agree, Ray. It looks like (not normal) shorting bars, and hopefully a glass cover with a bad reflection on it. If not a reflection, is it an arc??
 
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Old 11-27-15, 07:34 AM
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That meter is slugged for sure. The "real" meter should be someplace else.

The only time I have heard all the breakers trip is from lightning strike. It sounds to me like you have a phase to phase short some place. If it was on the PoCo side I wouldn't think your breakers would trip, the over current protection on their transformer would.

You still never replied to my question above. Do you have a heat pump or heat strips for your heating system?
 
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Old 11-27-15, 07:55 AM
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So I have to ask: since the panel is outdoors, any chance you have a critter problem (of the two legged variety)? In other words, is somebody pranking you? Torqued off any neighbors lately?
 
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Old 11-28-15, 08:21 AM
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In other words, is somebody pranking you? Torqued off any neighbors lately?
I was wondering the same thing, but it is obvious if a breaker is simply turned off and not tripped. Does the OP know the difference? I am also wondering if the problem will go away if the panels is locked.

I can't tell for sure from the picture, but it appears there are both NM cables and metallic flexible conduits entering the raintight top of the CSED. Since the CSED is outside, this could be bad.
 
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Old 11-28-15, 10:30 AM
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ALL of the breakers tripped again ...

Thanks for all the replies. This is going to be a long post, but I want to provide as much info as possible.

To clarify what that “round hole” is, I’ve attached a photo. I’ve also attached a photo of the old panel. My assumption is that my electrician left the meter off because he worked until late in the day Wednesday and that he’ll rectify the situation on Monday, but that’s an assumption.

Casual Joe said “it is obvious if a breaker is simply turned off and not tripped.” I think I know what you mean, but to (hopefully) clarify this, I’ve attached two photos of the panel after the lights went out last night (see below).

Tolyn, you asked if we had a furnace that uses heat strips or a heat pump. I don’t know the answer to that question. I can tell you, though, that we haven’t turned on the heat in the house this fall / winter until last night (this being Southern California …).

I will mention the term “phase to phase short” to my electrician, but I think he’s already thought of that (he keeps telling me “there’s got to be a short somewhere”). Is finding out whether there’s a short like this something that a good electrician should know? (Yes, I’m assuming that he’s a good electrician).

Here’s an update, which may sound bizarre. I’m just telling you what happened.

Yesterday, I flipped the breakers on the spa sub-panel to take the spa and its heater out of the equation.

Last night, my wife and I were standing in the master bathroom when the lights went out in the bathroom and adjacent closet. My wife said "the bedroom lights are still on," and less than a second later they went out; the entire house was dark. I immediately went to the panel and, as happened once before, every breaker was tripped. Nothing on the panel felt hot (or even warm). I've attached a couple of pictures of what the panel looked like. I flipped all of the breakers back, and the lights came on and stayed on.

Before you tell me this isn't possible, please allow a brief analogy. I teach Emergency Medicine at a hospital near UCLA. Sometimes a patient has a combination of symptoms and physical findings that don't seem to fit together. A medical student or young doctor will say "that doesn't make sense" or "that's impossible," with the undertone that the patient is "faking it." Over the years (I'm 63), I've learned to say "it's possible; it's just that we haven’t figured it out yet." Very often, an explanation is eventually found. I'm HOPING that an explanation for what's happening at my house will be found, and soon!

I’ll investigate the suggestion that this is being done maliciously with a motion-activated camera that saves 30-second clips (the side of the panel with the breakers does not have a lock on it). If this is the answer, someone is going to owe me a lot of money.

Again, apologies for the long post. Thanks for sticking with me! Howard
 
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Old 11-28-15, 10:43 AM
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Last night, my wife and I were standing in the master bathroom when the lights went out in the bathroom and adjacent closet. My wife said "the bedroom lights are still on," and less than a second later they went out; the entire house was dark. I immediately went to the panel and, as happened once before, every breaker was tripped.
One circuit went out AND THEN another circuit went out. Not both at the same time.
Somebody is messing with you there.

Good idea with the camera. A motion sensing light was my first thought but that would just chase them away.... not catch them.

I'm still a little confused with the meter situation. I see where it "was" on the old panel.... but where is it now ?
 
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Old 11-28-15, 11:14 AM
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Your breakers are switched off, they are not tripped. If they were tripped they would be in the middle position, not off. I am starting to feel like somebody is messing with you now.

Panels like that should have a place where you can install a lock. Go buy a padlock and lock the panel so nobody can get into it.

Not sure why your electrician would not install the meter. It just pushes in like a breaker.
Meter appears to just be slugged with some copper wire. This should be fixed because you could be accused of stealing electricity, which you essentially are.
 
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Old 11-28-15, 11:59 AM
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I agree with mod./Tolyn Ironhand.if its slugged and no meter -regardless of who did it ,if you dont report it - they go after you.. ! had someone try this on a place i had that was vacant many years ago.I think they put a lock over it after reporting it.
 
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Old 11-28-15, 08:22 PM
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Get one of those infrared cameras for photographing animals, and hide it well.

I have seen shorting bars on a meter socket before, but this was only when a service was being moved to a new service entrance and the power was temporarily going through both sockets.

Maybe the electrician had the power company temporarily remove the meter to see if it was causing the trouble.

I was really puzzling on this, because I could think of nothing that would cause both the circuit breakers and the main breaker to trip.

Before the photo showed that the breakers were being turned off (not tripped), I was thinking of varmints somehow getting inside the panel and pushing bare ground wires around, touching busbars and circuits. I was also thinking of a lightning arrestor that had developed a conductive path after several lightning hits on the area.
 
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Old 11-28-15, 09:10 PM
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The POCO's do not allow a meter to be jumpered like that. They certainly wouldn't leave it like that.
 
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Old 11-29-15, 04:41 AM
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I have shorting bars in my tool pouch, but they are rubber coated, made of probably 1/8" flat metal with substantial blades for insertion. Yours looks to have a couple of pieces of #12 wire twisted and placed in the meter jaws. Definitely not done by the POCO and definitely unsafe, if not illegal.
 
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Old 11-29-15, 05:25 PM
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"Progress" report / update

Thank you for all the replies. I’m sure the “jumpering” of the meter was a temporary “move” by my electrician until he completes the work; I found the real meter just inside the garage. The electrician will be here in the morning, and I will share your comments with him. Needless to say, I am “disappointed” (to put it mildly) that he went this route.

The most enlightening comment (to an electrically-non-enlightened homeowner) is that “your breakers are switched off, they are not tripped.” Even before seeing this comment, I noted how many of you thought that this was being done maliciously. Yesterday, I hooked up a camera that’s motion-activated and records 30-second clips. I think it’s well hidden. I don’t know if someone saw me doing this, but we had no power outages last night (however, we’ve had previous nights without power problems, followed by power failures the next night). If someone is opening the panel and switching off the breakers, I hope he/she tries it tonight. An identifying photo would give me some hope of recovering the money I’ve spent on this.

The side of the panel where the meter should be has a place for a padlock, but the right side (the side with the breakers) does not. However, I’m sure I can come up with a locking mechanism, and I will.

Thank you again. If I find “the answer,” I will certainly let you know.
Howard
 
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Old 11-29-15, 05:36 PM
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You could Pop Rivet a hasp and eye on for locking.
 
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Old 12-04-15, 10:17 AM
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Please don't leave us hanging. I am curious to know what you found/what is the status of this!
 
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Old 12-04-15, 10:31 AM
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The most enlightening comment (to an electrically-non-enlightened homeowner) is that “your breakers are switched off, they are not tripped
It isn't rocket science to identify a breaker that has been turned off versus one that has tripped, it's easy to even see it from your pictures. Your electrician does not know the difference? I believe you have a non-issue that you have been playing with for a while. I hope your meter has been reinstalled, defrauding the utility carries a stiff fine in my state and that is exactly what you are doing with the meter being slugged.
 
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Old 12-13-15, 11:30 PM
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I guess I have the answer .....

... and I feel really foolish.

Thanks to all of you who suggested that my breakers were being tripped by someone, rather than tripping because of an electrical problem. It appears that the problem has been solved with a couple of padlocks. I waited quite a while to post this because I wanted to see if the power would go out again; it hasn’t since I locked the panel and the gate next to it. (We also put in a motion activated light near the panel).

This is after installation of an entire new panel (and we did have power outages with this new panel until it was locked). The only time all of the breakers were tripped was after the new panel was installed; my electrician put in the new panel after (only) the main breakers tripped many times and he couldn’t figure out why. When I showed him the picture of all of the flipped breakers, he agreed with you. Although the new panel was costly, once we got to the end of this he decided not to charge me for any of his labor (and it was many hours). (Yes, the meter is back in place).

Unfortunately, my attempt to document what was happening failed. I set up a motion sensing camera that worked great during the day, but did not record at night. A student renting a room from us thought he heard the gate opening, went outside, and then heard the gate close. I went to my computer to look at the images, and unfortunately there apparently was not enough light to capture the images at night and the camera was too far away. (I tested this by opening the gate myself and the motion did not activate the camera at night, even though it worked during the day).

In any case, we have not had power outages for a couple of weeks and the problem appears to be solved. I only wish that I had documented an intruder on film so that I could be 100% sure. Thank you again for your help. This is one of the most bizarre episodes I've ever experienced!

Howard
 
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Old 12-13-15, 11:53 PM
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Bummer about the expense but at least you found the cause.
 
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Old 12-14-15, 08:07 AM
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And thanks for not leaving us hanging!
 
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Old 12-14-15, 08:05 PM
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Thanks to all of you who suggested that my breakers were being tripped by someone, rather than tripping because of an electrical problem
What you apparently didn't know and maybe still don't realize is that a tripped breaker is not the same as a breaker that has been turned off.
 
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Old 12-16-15, 11:58 PM
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That's why I suggested an infrared camera for photographing animals at night.
 
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Old 12-17-15, 09:57 AM
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Final (I guess) thoughts

Casual Joe, after all of this I (unfortunately) do know the difference between a breaker that's been turned off and one that's "tripped" because it's doing what it's supposed to do. This was simply an incorrect use of terminology by a non-electrician. Apologies.

MidiMagic, you are absolutely right, I should have gotten an infrared "game camera." Actually, the cameras for my security system do use IR technology (I was using a portable camera from the security company, ADT). After reading about IR "game cameras," I realize that there are huge differences in how sensitive they are and their effective distances; the camera I was using evidently just wasn't "good enough" (put another way, I wasn't using it within its limitations).

As an "ER doc," I always tell the residents that "mistakes" that do not harm a patient, but that make us do things better the next time a situation arises, teach long-lasting lessons. I have learned way too many lessons from this episode!

Howard
 
 

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