A breaker is loose and sparking

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  #1  
Old 12-22-20, 03:53 AM
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A breaker is loose and sparking

I have a breaker box that is loose and sparking.

It has been working fine, but when I recently reset it, I found it was loose, and
sparking:





The loose breaker box is in the last pic (15 amps).
Is the smaller panel above the main panel (the one with one 30 and four 20 amps), the breakers that feed the main panel? I know I will need to turn off the 120 AC feeding the main panel, before servicing the loose breaker, but I'm not sure the smaller panel above it is the one I need to turn off first.

Any advice greatly appreciated, thanks.
 

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12-22-20, 08:58 AM
Pilot Dane
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How tough was it to pop the breaker back in position? If it went in easily I'd consider replacing it. They should be quite stiff to clip into final position indicating good clamping force with the conductor(s).

Since your breaker was loose and arcing did you inspect the contact area? I assume there was at least some burning and any burning, corrosion or dirt should be removed from both mating surfaces so it can have a good, low resistance connection. I've seen cases where loose breakers were just popped back in and they overheat. The loose fit and dirty contacts creates electrical resistance, which creates heat worsening the mechanical fit and oxidation, which raises the resistance even more and the cycle continues until the breaker is toast.
 
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Old 12-22-20, 04:15 AM
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This is not a diy problem.
My advice is to call a competant licensed electrician to fix this for you.
As a further suggestion do not call a handyman or someone who thinks they have a solution.
Call an electrician.
 
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Old 12-22-20, 04:36 AM
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GregH, I appreciate the warning. But I am an electrical engineer, and I found my main
breaker box, right next to the power meter. It had 100 Amp circuit breakers, which makes
sense.

It doesn't seem too hard to replace a breaker box:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gT45LSQIc8g
 
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Old 12-22-20, 05:13 AM
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Sorry, but if you can't determine the source and destination electrical panels, you should not attempt to replace a breaker in either panel.
 
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Old 12-22-20, 05:54 AM
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I have the greatest respect for engineers and have worked with many,
But, my relationship has always been a tradesman / engineer situation.
Regardless of how things "seem" you still working on this as a DIY'er.
Again, I suggest you call someone competent to help you as a sparking panel is not the project with which to gain experience.
 
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Old 12-22-20, 06:56 AM
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Is it the 15A breaker that is sparking? When you say the box is sparking, that means that the buss bar is loose/bad, or a major connection or insulator is somehow in trouble.
Branch breakers are not difficult to replace; the main breaker or bus bar is another matter. Care must be taken when removing the face panel on a live system.
 
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Old 12-22-20, 08:08 AM
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If you flip off the breaker and then wiggle it with your thumb did it stop sparking?

Do not turn it back on and do not let it keep on sparking otherwise you could damage the breaker next to it and possibly damage the whole breake box.
 
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Old 12-22-20, 08:36 AM
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Ok, I fixed it. It was very easy.

I just turned off the mains, took off the front panel, and measured
with my Volt/Ohm Meter to see if the 120 VAC was there, and
it wasn't. I also saw that the 15 amp breaker had come loose. I just
turned it "OFF" first, re-seated it, turned it back "ON", turned the mains
back on, and it works fine now.

I treated the box as if it was live, even though I just tested the
120 VAC was not present.

But I must state: The design of these breakers is not very
good. There should be some sort of screw-hole in the plastic
housing, where you can screw the breaker down, so that it
doesn't come loose. As it is, you just snap them in, and it's
obviously not very secure!

I'm quite surprised they allow breakers to be like that! It's a
safety/fire hazard!

But anyways, all is well now.......time for a kick*** breakfast!

 

Last edited by Paul678; 12-22-20 at 08:56 AM.
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Old 12-22-20, 08:58 AM
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How tough was it to pop the breaker back in position? If it went in easily I'd consider replacing it. They should be quite stiff to clip into final position indicating good clamping force with the conductor(s).

Since your breaker was loose and arcing did you inspect the contact area? I assume there was at least some burning and any burning, corrosion or dirt should be removed from both mating surfaces so it can have a good, low resistance connection. I've seen cases where loose breakers were just popped back in and they overheat. The loose fit and dirty contacts creates electrical resistance, which creates heat worsening the mechanical fit and oxidation, which raises the resistance even more and the cycle continues until the breaker is toast.
 
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Old 12-22-20, 09:06 AM
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Good points, Pilot. I will consider replacing it.

When you say these breakers overheat, do you mean that they trip
too early? They trip before the Amperage that they are rated for?

Or perhaps they become a fire hazard too?
 
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Old 12-22-20, 09:27 AM
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Your breakers are dual mode. There is a thermal element that responds to both slow overloads and also to high terminal temperatures. Second mode is magnetic, and trips with more significant overloads, quickly.
Sparking metal with current, means hot metal migration and usually oxidation in the area. At minimum, that breaker should be replaced. Also inspect the buss bar in that area.
 
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Old 12-22-20, 09:32 AM
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Sometimes overheating can occur where the breaker snaps onto the fin underneath. This overheating can occur long befoer the rated amperage is reached and the breaker does not trip and the connection underneath gets damaged from all the overheating. Throwing away a breaker whose underside got deformed from the heat and not using a slot whose fin got deformed from the heat will cut down on the chances of a fire hazard.
 
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Old 12-22-20, 04:33 PM
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But I must state: The design of these breakers is not very
good. There should be some sort of screw-hole in the plastic
housing, where you can screw the breaker down, so that it
doesn't come loose. As it is, you just snap them in, and it's
obviously not very secure!
As others have noted, this is a sign that something is wrong. Breakers don't get screwed down because snapping them in is supposed to require a bit of force because the fit is tight. Hence the breakers aren't going anywhere, so no screwed holddown required.

The fact that your breaker worked itself loose and your observation when re-mounting it suggests the connection is poor. Remove breaker and inspect. Get a new breaker and depending on condition of bus and fin, maybe attach to a different slot. When you experience the tight fit of a proper connection, you'll understand why breakers don't need screws to secure them.
 
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Old 12-24-20, 02:45 PM
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Ok, I replaced this breaker box with a new type QT breaker, and the fit
was much tighter, of course. The buss bar looked ok to me, so it
didn't seem to need cleaning.

Here is a pic of the old unit:

So you can see the burn marks from the sparking that occurred. I have read
that in a pinch, you can use a pair of pliers, to squeeze the contact plates
closer together, so that the fit is tight again. But for only $12, I feel much better
putting a new breaker in, plus the contact plates of the new unit appeared
to be much better designed than this old one.

Thanks everyone, for the good advice, and Happy Holidays to you All!


 
  #15  
Old 12-24-20, 03:04 PM
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The buss bar looked ok to me
Looks like your original breaker came off the bus bar and was making contact outside edge instead of inside of the clip.
The breaker should not pull out of the bus bar when the cover is on as the cover is supposed to hold breakers down.
If the cover does not seat snugly on the breaker, adjust the bus bar or cover to make it do so.
There usually is some adjustment.
 

Last edited by lambition; 12-24-20 at 04:43 PM.
  #16  
Old 12-24-20, 04:35 PM
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The part in your hand is just a circuit breaker.
A breaker box is the metal enclosure(panel) it goes into.

.............................................
 
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Old 12-25-20, 04:16 AM
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Looks like your original breaker came off the bus bar and was making contact outside edge instead of inside of the clip.
The breaker should not pull out of the bus bar when the cover is on as the cover is supposed to hold breakers down.
If the cover does not seat snugly on the breaker, adjust the bus bar or cover to make it do so.
There usually is some adjustment.
Yeah, it's kinda amazing that I never noticed a problem with the power coming off this breaker. It must have been in close enough contact to not make a difference, and it was only sparking and buzzing when I was moving the breaker box's cover, etc. And the burning and corrosion was mainly on the thin outside edge of the buss bar fin too, which is why I didn't think it needed to be cleaned.

The cover of my breaker box doesn't really push against the breakers at all. There is about a 1/4" of space between the center strip, and the edge of the breakers. What I could do, is attach a 1/4" strip of foam rubber on the center strip, so that there is some pressure against the breakers.

Or I could just remember to push against the edge of the breakers, whenever I have to reset them.

 
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Old 12-25-20, 06:46 AM
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The cover of my breaker box doesn't really push against the breakers at all.
That actually is a big problem.
There usually is a way to adjust depth of bus bar. Some has adjustment screws. Some, you have to loose nut on mounting stud and raise a nut behind bus bar bracket, then tighten mounting nut.
 
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Old 12-25-20, 08:04 AM
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That actually is a big problem.
There usually is a way to adjust depth of bus bar. Some has adjustment screws. Some, you have to loose nut on mounting stud and raise a nut behind bus bar bracket, then tighten mounting nut.
Opps! I installed the breaker box cover on backwards!

Ok, now it's much closer to the breakers. There is still a small gap there, about maybe 1/16th of an inch, but it looks like the cover would still prevent the breakers from being pulled out.

But there is a new issue: The new 15 amp breaker tripped in my master bedroom. The old one
hasn't done that in the almost 7 years that I have been here. I wasn't doing anything unusual, I
don't believe. Maybe the new breaker is defective?

I am prepared to re-install the old one, if necessary, after having filed the contacts clean, and pinching
the metal contacts tighter with a pair of pliers.

Or I can return the new breaker for another one.
 

Last edited by Paul678; 12-25-20 at 08:28 AM.
  #20  
Old 12-27-20, 10:09 PM
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If the cover to your panel isn't seating properly you probably don't have the breakers installed properly or the right breaker manufacturer. Both of these would cause breakers to trip or spark. I know you said you are an electrical engineer but perhaps you need to get a licensed electrician to take a look.
PS - You spelled dryer wrong.
 
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Old 12-28-20, 12:13 AM
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PS - You spelled dryer wrong.
Glad I'm not the only one who noticed that.
When the panel was replaced in the apartment I'm in they totally screwed up the labels of what breaker did what I fixed that with my Brother P-Touch label maker I got many years back each breaker is labeled to what it controls and the base board heating circuits are actually labeled as to which rooms they are for other then just saying "Electric Heat"
 
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Old 12-28-20, 04:00 AM
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If the cover to your panel isn't seating properly you probably don't have the breakers installed properly or the right breaker manufacturer. Both of these would cause breakers to trip or spark. I know you said you are an electrical engineer but perhaps you need to get a licensed electrician to take a look.
PS - You spelled dryer wrong.
The labels on the breaker box cover were already there when I moved into this house.

I have the utmost respect for electricians, and I will call one if need be, but replacing a breaker
is easy, and you don't have to be an engineer to do it.

But if anyone else reading this has any doubts about working around potentially lethal
voltages, then indeed they should call a licensed electrician.
 
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Old 12-28-20, 07:33 AM
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I agree it's fairly easy to change a breaker. It's the details about using the correct breaker for the panel and knowing the cover provides support for the breakers that will get you in trouble. (not directed at you - but for anyone else reading this in the future )
 
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Old 12-28-20, 02:22 PM
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I agree it's fairly easy to change a breaker. It's the details about using the correct breaker for the panel and knowing the cover provides support for the breakers that will get you in trouble. (not directed at you - but for anyone else reading this in the future )
Well yes, I have learned a lot about breakers boxes from everyone here, which is why I
asked. I am comfortable working around 120 VAC, it's just that I never had to replace
a breaker until now. It's not difficult to do, as most people will bring the old breaker
into Home Depot or Lowes, and make sure the new breaker has the same dimensions
and Amp rating as the old one.
 
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Old 12-29-20, 07:31 PM
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The bottom left breakers are not installed correctly so obviously not anyone can do it. You don't replace breakers by dimensions. You replace them by panel make.
 
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Old 12-29-20, 10:34 PM
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The bottom left breakers are not installed correctly so obviously not anyone can do it. You don't replace breakers by dimensions. You replace them by panel make.
The pics I posted were BEFORE I replaced the breaker, so the bottom left
one was the one that was dislodged. It's not difficult to replace them, if
you are comfortable around electricity like me.

In this case, I needed the a type QT breaker.
 
 

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