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Electric circuit breaker corrosion



 
 
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  #1  
Old December 23rd 03, 07:08 PM
Jim Witte
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Default Electric circuit breaker corrosion

We've had a problem for the past year or so where every so often one
circuit in our house starts to brown-out intermittantly. This circuit is
the newest one in the house, and I believe was inserted on it's own
breaker. In addition to the brown-outs, evidenced by light flickering as
well as phone, TV and VCR turning on and off sometimes (one can hear some
relay in the TV clicking repeatedly), a static-like noise can be heard
coming from the breaker.

An electrician told us that the problem was corrosion in the breaker or
in the wireing in the entire electrical box, which showed up first on the
grounding strip. He said that to fix it the entire box would have to be
rewired, but that there *wasn't* any risk of an electrical fire.

The odd thing is that it ONLY occurs with this one circuit, and that if
all the lights on the circuit (about 260W load) are turned on, the
brown-outs will go away in about 10 seconds. If they are turned off, the
problem comes back, but if left on for about half and hour, the problem
seem to clear up (at least for anywhere between a day to six weeks).

Now for the questions: Why would current flowing through the circuit
seem to stabilize it (reverseing the corrosion to some degree, or causing
changes in the wire metal which temporarily bypasses the resistance
created by the corrosion?) Is there really no risk of electrical fire?
Why would it only occur on one circuit, if the entire box had corrosion
in it?

Thanks,
Jim Witte

Indiana University CS
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  #2  
Old December 24th 03, 06:56 PM
Michael Lacy
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Default Electric circuit breaker corrosion

Jim Witte wrote:
We've had a problem for the past year or so where every so often one
circuit in our house starts to brown-out intermittantly. This circuit is
the newest one in the house, and I believe was inserted on it's own
breaker. In addition to the brown-outs, evidenced by light flickering as
well as phone, TV and VCR turning on and off sometimes (one can hear some
relay in the TV clicking repeatedly), a static-like noise can be heard
coming from the breaker.


An electrician told us that the problem was corrosion in the breaker or
in the wireing in the entire electrical box, which showed up first on the


This does not make sense. If the problem were the breaker, an honest
electrician would simply have replaced it, to the tune of say $10 for a
breaker and 5 minutes labor. And, the symptoms you describe could be
worrisome--- flickering of a light likely means arcing somewhere in the
circuit, arcing means heat, and .... And yes, you are correct that
problems on one circuit only are not consistent with a problem with the
entire box.


My guess for why the problem would improve after a load was on the circuit
would be that there is a loose and therefore high resistance connection,
which heat sup under load, causing metal parts to expand, and thereby
improving the connection until they cool down again.
(I can't understand how this would "cure" the problem for weeks, though.)

I would suggest you call another electrician, and sooner, rather than
later.

Note--- I am not a pro, just a DIY type who has done a lot of electrical
work.
--
=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-==-=-=-=
Mike Lacy, Ft Collins CO 80523
voice (970) 491-6721
  #3  
Old December 24th 03, 07:21 PM
David Efflandt
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Default Electric circuit breaker corrosion

On Tue, 23 Dec 2003, Jim Witte
wrote:
We've had a problem for the past year or so where every so often one
circuit in our house starts to brown-out intermittantly. This circuit is
the newest one in the house, and I believe was inserted on it's own
breaker. In addition to the brown-outs, evidenced by light flickering as
well as phone, TV and VCR turning on and off sometimes (one can hear some
relay in the TV clicking repeatedly), a static-like noise can be heard
coming from the breaker.

An electrician told us that the problem was corrosion in the breaker or
in the wireing in the entire electrical box, which showed up first on the
grounding strip. He said that to fix it the entire box would have to be
rewired, but that there *wasn't* any risk of an electrical fire.

The odd thing is that it ONLY occurs with this one circuit, and that if
all the lights on the circuit (about 260W load) are turned on, the
brown-outs will go away in about 10 seconds. If they are turned off, the
problem comes back, but if left on for about half and hour, the problem
seem to clear up (at least for anywhere between a day to six weeks).

Now for the questions: Why would current flowing through the circuit
seem to stabilize it (reverseing the corrosion to some degree, or causing
changes in the wire metal which temporarily bypasses the resistance
created by the corrosion?) Is there really no risk of electrical fire?
Why would it only occur on one circuit, if the entire box had corrosion
in it?


Obviously something is not making good contact. The buzz is something
arcing trying to make contact, and higher or prolonged current is heating
something up (things expand when hot), completing the circuit. That is
NOT good.

Did the electrician actually look at the box and check where the circuit
interruption is (why didn't he fix it?), or just guess over the phone?
If the latter, how would he know you didn't have an aluminum wire with an
unsuitable connector somewhere, which has been known to start fires?

--
David Efflandt - All spam ignored http://www.de-srv.com/
  #4  
Old December 24th 03, 07:41 PM
Jeff Wisnia
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Default Electric circuit breaker corrosion

Jim Witte wrote:
snipped



An electrician told us that the problem was corrosion in the breaker or


in the wireing in the entire electrical box, which showed up first on the
grounding strip. He said that to fix it the entire box would have to be
rewired, but that there *wasn't* any risk of an electrical fire.



snipped

I second Mike's conclusions, it's probably a corrosion/thermal condition, and
I'll add:

Check to make sure the circuit isn't wired with aluminum wire. If it is, get
some hands-on expert advice.

Your electrician may be suggesting a complete replacement just to make sure
that he doesn't get a callback in a couple of months if another circuit
starts doing the same thing.

If I were faced with that problem I'd cut the power to the breaker box and
pull the suspect breaker out. Look closely to see if there's any signs of
arcing (burning) on the blade in the box over which the breaker fits.

If there is, scrape it off and install a NEW breaker, as the female contacts
in the breaker probably are also burned and have lost their springiness.

You'd be well advised to wet the breaker box blade with a couple of drops of
a conductivity enhancing liquid. I swear by "Stabilant" which happens to be
made by a college classmate of mine from nearly 50 years ago. See:

http://www.stabilant.com/

That stuff has worked wonders for me. I used to have problems with the switch
blades in the several fused disconnect switches in my home HVAC systems. They
would corrode with time and start heating up enough to darken them and the
fuse clips and eventually melt the fuse links. Once I cleaned them and put a
little Stabilant on the switch blades and the fuse clips I haven't had a bit
of trouble.

Even if you don't find corrosion, put in a new breaker anyway, they're cheap
enough. And if you do find corrosion, take the time to pull all the other
breakers, check them and put a little Stabilant (or similar) on them.

It also wouldn't hurt to check all the screw terminals on the breakers and
the neutral and grounding bars with a screwdriver. They can have a tendency
to loosen a bit over time.

DISCLAIMER: If you're not knowledgable about how to make sure you've shut
offd ALL the power going to the breaker box, leave the job to a professional.

Good Luck and Happy Holidays,

Jeff


--
Jeff Wisnia (W1BSV + Brass Rat '57 EE)

"If you can keep smiling when things go wrong, you've thought of someone to
place the blame on."


  #5  
Old December 24th 03, 11:06 PM
Al
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Default Electric circuit breaker corrosion

Wait- Before we shoot down the electrician, you should consider this
may be a problem with a neutral bar, or a bus bar problem, in which
case this WOULD affect the whole problem.
  #6  
Old December 25th 03, 12:47 AM
Jeff Wisnia
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Default Electric circuit breaker corrosion



Al wrote:

Wait- Before we shoot down the electrician, you should consider this
may be a problem with a neutral bar, or a bus bar problem, in which
case this WOULD affect the whole problem.


I wasn't sniping at Alex, and after rereading the OP's description of
what he was told, I should have used the words "checkout, cleanup and
tightening" rather than "complete replacement."

I'm hard pressed to think of a problem with a neutral bar that would
affect just one circuit and couldn't be "worked around" by moving that
circuit's neutral wire to another spot on the bar. But I suppose
anything's possible.

I would agree that if the bus bar had a badly burned breaker connecting
blade which was causing the OP's problem, and there were no free slots
left in that box to put another breaker on, that would probably justify
a total box replacement. The time and trouble required to obtain and
install a replacement bus bar, if one could even be found, would
outweigh the cost of replacing the whole box. ('Course if it were me,
I'd probably spend a couple of hours fabricating and brazing a
replacement blade onto the old bus bar. G)

The steps I suggested to the OP are equivalent to "rewiring the box";
i.e. checking for connection problems under every breaker and also
making sure all wire to breaker and wire to neutral bar connections are
socked down tight. I can't think of any other way to "rewire a breaker
box" other than replacing every wiring run in the house, which is pretty
ridiculous in this instance.

Happy Holidays,

Jeff
--

Jeff Wisnia (W1BSV + Brass Rat '57 EE)

"If you can smile when things are going wrong, you've thought of someone
to blame it on."


 




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