PDA

View Full Version : Main breaker blues.


Intolt
11-01-2009, 11:52 AM
First, the usual disclaimers:
I tried 'Search', and wasn't able to find this topic.
And wasn't sure if it should go here, or in another forum.

I have a main breaker that needs to be replaced.
It is in a Westinghouse box, in a 1992 house.

The electrician I called troubleshooted the problem (the main breaker) and immediately wanted to replace the whole box of breakers, quoting me $1800.00.
I balked, and asked if wouldn't just replacing the main breaker work, as that is the problem? He said it probably would, but it would be difficult to find a replacement, and besides, the cost of the troubleshooting call can be applied towards the box replacement.
I said I would like to try to replace that breaker, as funds are limited.
He said he would try.
Two days later, he calls, and says (surprise!) the breaker can't be found, but he will go down to 1500 on the job.
I say to myself, Screw it, I'll get it myself. So say my goodbye, and begin a search . Sadly, my ignorance of electrical matters is almost complete.
There is no manufacturer's name on the breaker, but numbers and fancy words like 2 Pole, and Amps and Torque. I contacted one company who asked me to email them photos of the breaker, but they received them at 4:55 pm on Friday, and won't look at it until Monday.

In case this is going to be a hard-to-find breaker, can anyone suggest a site that specializes in this?
I do have electricity, but only 120v, so no oven/stove, no heating, and the hot water tank takes all day to heat enough water for one shower, which the missus claims :/

intolt

johnpost
11-01-2009, 12:07 PM
you almost certainly have 220V but you might not have any 220V circuits.

finding some brands of breakers is hard. the companies have gone out of business and replacement parts are not available or worth 50 times their weight in gold. many of the electrical supply companies for breakers that went out of business did so because there stuff performed poorly, the lifetime of a quality main breaker is well beyond 17 years.

i would have to hunt for my names of vendors for old parts. maybe later.

KlondikeGeoff
11-01-2009, 12:09 PM
IAMAE, but I have replaced a breaker a few times. If there is a Home Depot or Lowes nearby, you might go there, and look through their breakers to see if one is similar.

You say the "main breaker" but later mention only the 220 V circuit is not working. The main is usually a large, plug-in thingie with a handle above all the other breakers. That can't be what is off, as then you would not have any electricity at all. If you mean the little breakers that control the 220 V circuits, there should be separate ones (usually a double switch, marked 50 Amp) for the water heater, the stove, and the heat system. Can you take a picture of the whole box and post it here?

Depending upon the total amperage of your electrical entrance, you could replace the whole thing, but the price that guy quoted is way, way ridiculous. You might call a couple more electricians and see what they would quote for a replacement.

However, if everything else has been working OK, and you don't need any new circuits, can't see why a new entrance would be necessary for a house that is not that old.An electrician should be able to fix that problem for much less...try somebody else.

BTW, have you tried turning the breaker on and off a couple of times to see if that would fix that circuit?

ZenBeam
11-01-2009, 12:35 PM
The main breaker disconnects the two hot lines simultaneously. From the OP's description, one side works OK, but the other doesn't. So he has 240 coming into the house, but past that breaker, only one of the two 120 V legs is powered. The hot water heater is now running at half power, but it's just resistive, so he's not hurting it, just doesn't have full power.

Presumably, he only has half his 120 V circuits working. Intolt, is this the case?

Harmonious Discord
11-01-2009, 01:14 PM
True Value is one of those hardware stores that hold onto something forever. I've found parts ten years after they stopped making it.

Here is a random site that sells obsolete Westinghouse breakers. (http://www.circuitbreakerservice.com/Westinghouse/)

beowulff
11-01-2009, 01:15 PM
First, the usual disclaimers:
I tried 'Search', and wasn't able to find this topic.
And wasn't sure if it should go here, or in another forum.

I have a main breaker that needs to be replaced.
It is in a Westinghouse box, in a 1992 house.

The electrician I called troubleshooted the problem (the main breaker) and immediately wanted to replace the whole box of breakers, quoting me $1800.00.
I balked, and asked if wouldn't just replacing the main breaker work, as that is the problem? He said it probably would, but it would be difficult to find a replacement, and besides, the cost of the troubleshooting call can be applied towards the box replacement.
I said I would like to try to replace that breaker, as funds are limited.
He said he would try.
Two days later, he calls, and says (surprise!) the breaker can't be found, but he will go down to 1500 on the job.
I say to myself, Screw it, I'll get it myself. So say my goodbye, and begin a search . Sadly, my ignorance of electrical matters is almost complete.
There is no manufacturer's name on the breaker, but numbers and fancy words like 2 Pole, and Amps and Torque. I contacted one company who asked me to email them photos of the breaker, but they received them at 4:55 pm on Friday, and won't look at it until Monday.

In case this is going to be a hard-to-find breaker, can anyone suggest a site that specializes in this?
I do have electricity, but only 120v, so no oven/stove, no heating, and the hot water tank takes all day to heat enough water for one shower, which the missus claims :/

intolt

The make and model should be written on the breaker. You may need to remove it (danger Will Robinson!) to see the writing.

Intolt
11-01-2009, 01:28 PM
Correct ZenBeam.

You can see the damage to the main (kind of melted like, caused by arcing according to the electrician). So it is only 'half' working, allowing half of the juice to the other breakers. The rest of the breakers appear fine. I am comfortable with, if the main can be replaced, all would be good.

The guy I called works for a large company, so he is certified, but I got the feeling of inexperience. I suggested googling for the part, and he looked at me blankly, then said he would have to call around for the part, and he had never had to do that before. He is in his mid-twenties.

If I can find a replacement, I would have another electrician install it, as the original guy, I'm afraid, would want to fight me over it, whether for a larger paycheck, or a defense of his expertise, or something else along those lines.

MrFloppy
11-01-2009, 01:41 PM
If it's in a Westinghouse box, it is most likely a Westinghouse breaker.

Ok, a few things. It is unusual for a 2 pole breaker to fail only on one leg. If you have a meter, set it to AC Volts and check the two incoming lives - each one to neutral/ground. I have a hunch that your incoming service may be iffy.

You should get 120V to ground from each of the live wires - REMEMBER do this on the 'live' side of the breaker not on the side feeding the rest of the panel.

Also check that the neutral is securely screwed down to the neutral bar.

If your service is normal, then the breaker is bad.

I would snap a photo of it and go down to my local Lowes/HD to see if they have something that would work.

You have a bigger issue however with the actual breaker swap. How do you intend to isolate the power to the breaker? Usually, the utility does this at the meter and usually a permit is required. How are you going to do that?

Don't work on it live. If you don't kill yourself, you could create a lot of sparks and molten metal very easily, you could damage your incoming conductors which you would then be liable for. You could blow the cut out at the transformer which you would be liable for.

I wouldn't do it and I have been around electricity for 25 years.

Check the incoming service first. Something doesn't sound right. if it is good, call another electrician.

Magiver
11-01-2009, 01:51 PM
A box costs a couple hundred bucks. I don't know what the power company charges to disconnect but I would think 4 hrs of labor at the most to pull the wires and reattach them. Assuming you buy a box that matches your other breakers this is mostly labor. Maybe some licensed electricians can explain the estimate involved.

Magiver
11-01-2009, 01:57 PM
Don't work on it live. If you don't kill yourself, you could create a lot of sparks and molten metal very easily, you could damage your incoming conductors which you would then be liable for. You could blow the cut out at the transformer which you would be liable for. I agree. Don't even think about it. I've worked with live wires before but only only if they are very small and very isolated (say 22 gauge). What goes into your box is heavy enough to arc great distances and unless you've seen what high amp arcing current can do you wouldn't believe it. I've seen screw drivers blown across the room with their tips welded off from a wall receptacle.

MrFloppy
11-01-2009, 02:00 PM
The box is a couple hundred bucks but you need the breakers to go in it including the main.

I don't think $1800 is 'out there' although I would solicit prices from two or three contractors.

Terry Kennedy
11-01-2009, 02:09 PM
First, the usual disclaimers:
I have a main breaker that needs to be replaced.
It is in a Westinghouse box, in a 1992 house.

The electrician I called troubleshooted the problem (the main breaker) and immediately wanted to replace the whole box of breakers, quoting me $1800.00.

To identify your main breaker and search for it yourself, just open the door to where the breaker handles are - you shouldn't need to disassemble anything or expose any wires. There should be a label in there, probably on the back of the door, which should give the model of the load center. for example, mine says "QOC40US" (Square D QO series 40-position). This should be sufficient for an electrical supply house (not your local home mega-center) to look up the appropriate part number. They might not be willing to sell one to you (due to the hazards involved in swapping it out), but they should at least be able to tell you the part number and estimated price.

Depending on where in the country you are, $1800 for a new load center and installation may not be that unreasonable. Sure, the QO40M200F load center is around $200 at the home mega-centers (list price is $1121, electrical supply house is $655, which gives you an idea of the markups in this business), but in addition to the box, there's all new branch breakers, extending any existing wiring that won't reach into the new box, getting the electric utility involved to pull the meter, permits & inspections, and so forth.

Additionally, replacement main breakers are quite expensive - the QOM2200VH main breaker that comes included with the $200 panel I mentioned has a list price of $468 and is $234 at the electrical supply house. This is for a product that's in current production and quite common. As stuff goes out of production, prices go up.

While I might be tempted to pick up a "refurbished" branch circuit breaker without test reports if it saved me money, I'd want to see a test report for a main breaker. For example, PEARL (http://tinyurl.com/yacrgfj) (except for the sections that require the breaker to be disassembled, as most household ones are of the "riveted frame molded case" type). This is likely going to price any household breaker above the cost of a new load center.

Terry Kennedy
11-01-2009, 02:23 PM
If you have a meter, set it to AC Volts and check the two incoming lives - each one to neutral/ground. I have a hunch that your incoming service may be iffy.

Also check that the neutral is securely screwed down to the neutral bar.

I wouldn't suggest that the homeowner perform these tasks unless they're very familiar with high current and comfortable working around it.

If they suspect that the problem is upstream of the main breaker, then it's either in the meter box, weather head, or at the pole. All of that is the domain of the electric utility - they should be able to get the utility to come out and verify proper voltage and tight connections.

A loose connection upstream from the main breaker is likely to be generating some serious heat, unless it is completely open.

Don't work on it live. If you don't kill yourself, you could create a lot of sparks and molten metal very easily, you could damage your incoming conductors which you would then be liable for. You could blow the cut out at the transformer which you would be liable for.

I wouldn't do it and I have been around electricity for 25 years.
I don't believe the original poster was saying they wanted to work on it themself, just that they wanted to know what they needed and how much it cost as they seemed to think the original electrician was dismissive of the idea of replacing just the main breaker.

One other thing to note - the original poster stated "You can see the damage to the main (kind of melted like, caused by arcing according to the electrician)." If this damage is where the main attaches to the panel bus bars, the bus bar itself may be damaged. An evaluation of this might not be possible until the main breaker is removed from the panel. At that point, if the electrician has already purchased a new main breaker but the panel isn't salvageable, they've got a breaker they'll have to try to return (likely a special-order part). Plus, at that point everybody will be pretty committed to replacing the panel, so unless the electrician has one on his truck, this will be a trip back to the shop / supply house for him, while the homeowner has their power off and the freezer thawing. That might be part of why the electrician wasn't too excited about replacing only the main breaker.

boytyperanma
11-01-2009, 02:40 PM
1800 for replacing the whole box is reasonable. Not being able to find the breaker is unreasonable. It should be easily available even if he couldn't find a new main you could get a regular 200amp breaker and feed the panel through that.

Isolating the panel is easy you pull the meter. Usually takes a pair of wire cutters to break the seal. Some power companies are more sensitive then others about doing so.

raindog
11-01-2009, 02:55 PM
Listen, I'm a licensed electrician and the Op says "Sadly, my ignorance of electrical matters is almost complete."

And...we're talking about a main breaker. Folks, this one is not a DIY---especially for someone with zero electrical knowledge.

Intolt, I hate to say it, but I think you need to call another electrician. $1800 may not be unreasonable. (it isn't here) And I agree that you should be able to find a main breaker.

I'm not convinced you even have a bad main breaker. I've found fuses in line with the service entrance cable, and even one leg of the incoming 220V loose from wind.

Read this carefully: At the main breaker you are working---on the incoming side---with live unfused conductors. The only safe way to work with them is to pull your meter from the meter socket.

If you've never done anything like this, it is my opinion that you shouldn't be doing it.

Especially since we're not even sure that the main breaker is the problem.

Intolt
11-01-2009, 04:22 PM
I wouldn't work on this at all. I can change wall outlets, light switches no problem, but something with the breaker box itself, I wouldn't.

I'm pretty sure the problem is the main breaker, because of the visible damage of it.
Or (and I'm just summarizing what I've read here on the replies), could something be out of whack with the line before it enters the breaker box? Something that could damage the main breaker?

On the breakers label, it says type CQ, and on the label inside the door it has Type
CQ200CT Main Circuit Breaker. Neither of which is found on the 2 websites search.

Thanks for all of the replies so far

intolt

raindog
11-01-2009, 04:42 PM
Have you googled that?

You'd be surprised what's still out there.

Ring
11-01-2009, 05:10 PM
Do you know whether it's a load center or panelboard? If it's a panelboard, and even if it's not, just call the Eaton Sumter SC plant (used to be Westinghouse) and ask to speak to a product engineer. I guarantee that they'll solve your problem.

UncleRojelio
11-01-2009, 05:21 PM
The only safe way to work with them is to pull your meter from the meter socket.

I've watched the electric company pull and replace the the meter. The investment in safety equipment alone is prohibitive.

gotpasswords
11-01-2009, 06:51 PM
I've watched the electric company pull and replace the the meter. The investment in safety equipment alone is prohibitive.
True. OSHA has gotten really strict about arc-flash and personal protective equipment in the past handful of years. Gloves, goggles and/or face shield, Nomex clothing, and so on...

mine says "QOC40US" (Square D QO series 40-position). QO breakers in a house? A bit unusual, but I'm sure it's a first-class installation if someone spec'd commercial/light industrial grade QO instead of Homeline or some other generic residential line.

As for the OP, my advice matches all the rest - get some more estimates for a new panel. I'd be asking for a Square D Homeline panel and for the electrician to handle pulling a permit, arranging for the utility to pull the meter and all needed inspections.

Magiver
11-01-2009, 07:57 PM
Have you googled that?

You'd be surprised what's still out there. I did and the first thing that popped up was a wholesale distributor (http://www.mainecircuitbreaker.com/). So we're looking at the cost to pull the meter, the cost to replace the main breaker, and the labor. Worst case would be to buy a new box that matches the original breakers unless that's illegal.

I'm more concerned as to why the breaker shows obvious electrical damage.

Terry Kennedy
11-01-2009, 10:46 PM
QO breakers in a house? A bit unusual, but I'm sure it's a first-class installation if someone spec'd commercial/light industrial grade QO instead of Homeline or some other generic residential line.
I did and it was :D

I'm not sure about the etiquette of in-lining images here, so I'll link (http://www.tmk.com/transient/6F5S5674-l.jpg) instead.

I replaced 2 Federal Pacific 100A 16-position panels with 2 QO 200A 40-position ones, as well as adding a 100A subpanel for the common areas (it is a 2-family house). Below the panels are 3 CT-based digital meters to keep the electric company honest - I've complained of fast meters in the past and they've come out, replaced them and taken them back to the shop and a month later I get "We tested them and didn't find anything wrong, but here's a $5000 credit for your bill". Yup, a 5K credit on a residential bill. :smack:

You may notice that there aren't exactly a lot of circuits coming out of these panels. That's because the majority of the power on each floor goes to a 120/240 15A fuse box. 4 fuses - old enough that line and neutral were both fused as per the code at the time. As I renovate the house, the old wiring is being phased out for new work on individual circuits.

Snnipe 70E
11-02-2009, 01:03 AM
Westinghouse breakers fail and are now hard to replace. It sounds llike there is some dammage to the panel busses.

If it were my house I would get three bids on getting the work done not one. And I would have two bids, one just replacement and a second bid to increase the size of the main.

HongKongFooey
11-02-2009, 06:58 AM
Listen, I'm a licensed electrician and the Op says "Sadly, my ignorance of electrical matters is almost complete."

And...we're talking about a main breaker. Folks, this one is not a DIY---especially for someone with zero electrical knowledge.

Intolt, I hate to say it, but I think you need to call another electrician. $1800 may not be unreasonable. (it isn't here) And I agree that you should be able to find a main breaker.I'm licensed too and heartily endorse this post. Some jobs just scream "hire a professional" maybe not the kid who showed up the first time though. If money's tight you might be able to ask around for a semi-retired guy who's just doing some jobs here and there for vacation money or whatever. I know a lot of guys here who do that kind of work. Go to an electrical supply place and check around. The best thing about those types of electricians is they have a lot experience behind them.

Best of luck.

rbroome
11-02-2009, 06:58 AM
A box costs a couple hundred bucks. I don't know what the power company charges to disconnect but I would think 4 hrs of labor at the most to pull the wires and reattach them. Assuming you buy a box that matches your other breakers this is mostly labor. Maybe some licensed electricians can explain the estimate involved.

I had my box replaced-at my direction. I just wasn't comfortable with it. It was quite old. $1800 isn't out of line. A new box, new conduit, new breakers, the call to the power company to disconnect the house at the transformer (around here they charge to disconnect and charge to connect), time, and the experience to do all of this without blowing anything up. What the OP needs is another electrician to look at the breaker. It may be hard to replace, but not $1800 hard.

HongKongFooey
11-02-2009, 07:06 AM
What the OP needs is another electrician to look at the breaker. It may be hard to replace, but not $1800 hard.Yes, I forgot to mention that if I had a dollar for every time I've seen a part fail because of a loose connection I'd be doing pretty well. The arcing at the terminal might very well have just been an improperly tightened connection. A new breaker and proper termination might be all that's required.

Intolt
11-02-2009, 11:43 AM
rbroome:

the call to the power company to disconnect the house at the transformer (around here they charge to disconnect and charge to connect),

In regards to that quote, is this possible? :

My house has a lone breaker by the meter. I'm guess it will shut the power off to the whole house, so one would be able to work on the inside main breaker without having the utility company getting involved.


PS Thanks again for all of the replies.

intolt

raindog
11-02-2009, 12:03 PM
Bingo.

If you have a disconnect outside next to your meter than it is likely that you can service this panel with the power off and safe.

Any way to provide photos?

gotpasswords
11-02-2009, 01:02 PM
I did and it was :D

I'm not sure about the etiquette of in-lining images here, so I'll link (http://www.tmk.com/transient/6F5S5674-l.jpg) instead.

Oooh! Electrician porn! Quite an upgrade there - going from Flames, Pops and Explodes breakers to QO. I'll wager the immediate area is cooler and quieter now - I've never seen an FPE panel that didn't hum and get warm. :eek:

HongKongFooey
11-02-2009, 01:19 PM
I've never seen an FPE panel that didn't hum and get warm.On the plus side you don't get many nuisance trips with them. ;)

Magiver
11-02-2009, 02:08 PM
rbroome:



In regards to that quote, is this possible? :

My house has a lone breaker by the meter. I'm guess it will shut the power off to the whole house, so one would be able to work on the inside main breaker without having the utility company getting involved.


PS Thanks again for all of the replies.

intoltIf you can shut off your power with a mechanical switch then lock it in the off position while you work on the box. Make sure everthing is shut off before you turn on/off the main feed. I see no reason why you can't replace the box yourself unless the pro's want to chime in. it's easier than wiring a 3 way switch. My only question would be the need for buying new breakers to replace the ones that currently work.

boytyperanma
11-02-2009, 02:39 PM
In my professional opinion he still needs an electrician to do this job. The assessment of the first electrician is questionable and/or he is correct and had good reason to replace the whole panel.

To disagree with the electricians solution then to accept his trouble shooting is a bad idea.

gotpasswords
11-02-2009, 02:55 PM
it's easier than wiring a 3 way switch. My only question would be the need for buying new breakers to replace the ones that currently work.
It's a LOT of work and far more complex than a 3-way switch. The only panel replacement I'd call "easy" is if you're replacing a panel with the exact same kind.

In the real world, the large knockouts for the main entrance are in a different location, bus bars are in different places, branch circuit wires were cut only long enough to reach the old bus and are 1/2" too short to reach the new bus because the new panel is larger, and so forth.

It's not exactly rare to need to run a new conduit and service entrance from the meter can to the panel to deal with the main breaker's new location, and it's also not unheard of to need to mount rows of junction boxes immediately next to the panel to contain the splices needed to extend the branch circuits so they reach the breakers and/or bus bars. (A breaker panel is not a junction box, so there should be no wire nuts inside of it.)

As for using the old breakers or not - I vote not. If the panel is being replaced because the main breaker's bad and no longer available, chances are really good that the old breakers can't be used in the new panel. Also, there's no time like now to update the system and bring things into code. Your local jurisdiction may require you to install AFCI (arc-fault) breakers on circuits supplying receptacles in bedrooms, for example.

johnpost
11-02-2009, 03:07 PM
the is a lot of electrical code to know and technique to do correctly for replacing or installing a breaker panel. done improperly fire and death can result even years down the road. not a job for some one who doesn't know the electrical code as it applies to residences and has lots of electrical experience well beyond recepticles, switches and fixtures.

Terry Kennedy
11-02-2009, 08:15 PM
Oooh! Electrician porn!

Thanks! (I think :D)

In the real world, the large knockouts for the main entrance are in a different location, bus bars are in different places, branch circuit wires were cut only long enough to reach the old bus and are 1/2" too short to reach the new bus because the new panel is larger, and so forth.

It's not exactly rare to need to run a new conduit and service entrance from the meter can to the panel to deal with the main breaker's new location, and it's also not unheard of to need to mount rows of junction boxes immediately next to the panel to contain the splices needed to extend the branch circuits so they reach the breakers and/or bus bars. (A breaker panel is not a junction box, so there should be no wire nuts inside of it.)

Quite true. Here's 2 other pictures of my FPE -> QO replacement. In this first one (http://www.tmk.com/transient/6F5S7495-s.jpg), you can see where the old FPE panels were, located in front of the yellow unpainted areas of the backboard. This likely isn't the first replacement that happened here - behind the meter bases you can see un-painted wood which was likely where original fuse boxes and A-base or round-base meters were located. You can see 3 junction boxes for extending circuits to the new panels. Also visible on the left (and hanging behind the lower right of the backboard) are some cables cut and labeled "DEAD". These will be removed as the house is renovated, but in the meantime both near and far ends are cut and tagged. I don't know what the "coffee can lid" cover on the top of the left meter base is for - as far as I can tell, service always entered via the back of the meter base. Perhaps this dual meter base was planned for outdoor use and installed indoors as a last-minute change when it was originally installed (long before I bought the house). All I know is it presumably passed inspection then and wasn't mentioned during the inspection for the panel relocation.

At the top of this next photo (http://www.tmk.com/transient/6F5S7496-s.jpg), you can see a second, larger, junction box. This one was installed for cables that would have reached the new panels, but which were too damaged at the ends to use. These mostly had a primitive form of AC (Armored Cable, commonly called BX) jacket which was a flat wrap, over cloth + rubber insulated conductors. These had dried out and become brittle and needed to be cut back to the point where there was enough flexibility left to safely work with them.

Hopefully this will illustrate why what seems to be a straightforward panel swap often isn't.

BTW, the orange and black/yellow stripe "wires" in the middle of the second picture aren't wires at all - they're fiber optic cables. The black/yellow stripe is a Verizon run (solid black indicates a fiber filled with flammable "icky-pic" which isn't allowed indoors - black/yellow indicates a combined outdoor/indoor rating). The green wire is a grounding conductor which runs to the water line where it enters the house. As part of the upgrade, ground rods were also driven into the ground below the new panels (visible in the picture in my earlier post).

Magiver
11-02-2009, 09:02 PM
It's a LOT of work and far more complex than a 3-way switch. The only panel replacement I'd call "easy" is if you're replacing a panel with the exact same kind.

In the real world, the large knockouts for the main entrance are in a different location, bus bars are in different places, branch circuit wires were cut only long enough to reach the old bus and are 1/2" too short to reach the new bus because the new panel is larger, and so forth.

It's not exactly rare to need to run a new conduit and service entrance from the meter can to the panel to deal with the main breaker's new location, and it's also not unheard of to need to mount rows of junction boxes immediately next to the panel to contain the splices needed to extend the branch circuits so they reach the breakers and/or bus bars. (A breaker panel is not a junction box, so there should be no wire nuts inside of it.)

As for using the old breakers or not - I vote not. If the panel is being replaced because the main breaker's bad and no longer available, chances are really good that the old breakers can't be used in the new panel. Also, there's no time like now to update the system and bring things into code. Your local jurisdiction may require you to install AFCI (arc-fault) breakers on circuits supplying receptacles in bedrooms, for example.Good post. I see the wisdom of going with new breakers and I understand your point about different entrance points. Having to wire all the way back to the meter is definitely adding to the project. If not for something like that then the worst case scenario would be to add 2 buss boxes above the main to keep things tidy. It might even be a good idea to do this anyway as a way of making future swaps easier and take out the aggravation of trying to make stuff fit. That way you start with new wire from the main box to the busses, which are set from that point on.

What is the difference in cost between standard breakers and AFCI breakers and is there a reason not to use them for all the circuits such as one with a compressor on it?

On an unrelated note, what do you do with old cloth wound wire that is in flexible conduit? Can it be pulled through and replaced with spool wire? My house has been partially upgraded and I've thought about replacing the rest. The stuff seems to crumble around ceiling lights.

Intolt
11-02-2009, 09:12 PM
Here are some photos:

The breaker in question (http://i1002.photobucket.com/albums/af141/intolt/Breaker1.jpg)

The whole box (http://i1002.photobucket.com/albums/af141/intolt/Breaker5.jpg)

Visible Damage just to the right of center (http://i1002.photobucket.com/albums/af141/intolt/Damage.jpg)

The only info on the breaker (http://i1002.photobucket.com/albums/af141/intolt/BreakerLabel.jpg)

Top part of info on door (http://i1002.photobucket.com/albums/af141/intolt/DoorLabel1.jpg)

Lower part of same label (http://i1002.photobucket.com/albums/af141/intolt/DoorLabel2.jpg)

I haven't had a chance to read the latest replies, but will do shortly.

Wow! My first thread on Straight Dope has over 30 replies.


intolt

Magiver
11-02-2009, 09:16 PM
the is a lot of electrical code to know and technique to do correctly for replacing or installing a breaker panel. done improperly fire and death can result even years down the road. not a job for some one who doesn't know the electrical code as it applies to residences and has lots of electrical experience well beyond recepticles, switches and fixtures.Yes but those codes should be available from the city or county. I just went through this with an airplane hanger. The city spelled out everything down to the type of grounding connectors to be used. This was a complete addition from the meter on so it was all straight foward wiring. I agree this could be a real mess but it can also be simple depending on what the op has to work with.

It would be nice to see an itemized estimate to get an idea of what the electrician thinks is needed.

johnpost
11-02-2009, 09:16 PM
What is the difference in cost between standard breakers and AFCI breakers and is there a reason not to use them for all the circuits such as one with a compressor on it?

On an unrelated note, what do you do with old cloth wound wire that is in flexible conduit? Can it be pulled through and replaced with spool wire? My house has been partially upgraded and I've thought about replacing the rest. The stuff seems to crumble around ceiling lights.

AFCI breakers cost about three times as much.

if you are speaking of armored cable (BX) then the wires can't be removed and the armor used as conduit. you pull that armored cable and pull new cable.

old wires have to be handled gently to keep insulation from breaking off. age and the small boxes does cause deterioration.

Intolt
11-02-2009, 09:21 PM
oops! forgot one:

Switch outside by meter (http://i1002.photobucket.com/albums/af141/intolt/Thelatest227.jpg)



intolt

johnpost
11-02-2009, 09:21 PM
the is a lot of electrical code to know and technique to do correctly for replacing or installing a breaker panel. done improperly fire and death can result even years down the road. not a job for some one who doesn't know the electrical code as it applies to residences and has lots of electrical experience well beyond recepticles, switches and fixtures.

Yes but those codes should be available from the city or county.

finding the code isn't hard. understanding and complying with the electrical code is a real study.

Magiver
11-02-2009, 09:25 PM
That's a clean looking setup but the feed lines from your meter look like they're aluminum.

raindog
11-02-2009, 09:35 PM
Intolt
Did you post this question to Mike Holt's website? Here's a link (http://forums.mikeholt.com/showthread.php?t=117518) to a very good electrical forum where someons just asked this question (you?)

At any rate, perhaps a Siemens breaker will work. I still think that boytyperanma is right and this is not a DIY job.

Still, it appears that you might engage an electrician to simply swap out the breaker.

raindog
11-02-2009, 09:36 PM
That's a clean looking setup but the feed lines from your meter look like they're aluminum.
That's pretty much standard.

raindog
11-02-2009, 09:43 PM
Perhaps another relevant thread, particularly posts 3 and 4. (http://forums.mikeholt.com/showthread.php?t=69762)

raindog
11-02-2009, 09:48 PM
If that wasn't you on Mike Holt's forum, you might try over there.

I've never swapped out a Westinghouse main breaker, but I can tell you that this forum is thought of highly by a lot of electricians.

Rather than looking for Westinghouse, check for compatible breakers. I would be surprised if you wouldn't find someone over there who knows this.

Magiver
11-02-2009, 09:51 PM
finding the code isn't hard. understanding and complying with the electrical code is a real study. I'm not going to argue with an electrician but I've installed a couple of boxes (new) and it was pretty straight forward and passed inspection. I'm not too keen on my house breaker box because of some of the crappy wire coming into it I don't want to deal with the older wire. I had no trouble tying my garage breaker box into it and that was run underground.

Looking at the pictures the op posted it all looks like modern wires in good shape. It shouldn't be hard to find a box that matches the dimensions and entance points. I'm not trying to be difficult but what do you see as overly complex in this particular setup? All the connectors are built into the box.

Intolt
11-03-2009, 11:58 AM
raindog:

Intolt
Did you post this question to Mike Holt's website? Here's a link to a very good electrical forum where someons just asked this question (you?)


No, that wasn't me, but thanks for finding that for me.

The maintenance supervisor where I work took a look at my photos, and has talked me through it. I guess it is 4 small breakers bridged to act as 1 large one, and I should be able to replace just the one that is kaput ( though I will just replace all four.
That is probably why I was having trouble finding that one big breaker--it doesn't exist. Still, I would think that the electrician that looked at it would have known that.

Patty O'Furniture
11-03-2009, 12:14 PM
I had my service panel replaced because of the exact same problem as the OP. Damaged main breaker due to heat stress (high resistance connection heating up). The electrician said that DC code doesn't require a main breaker inside the panel as long as there is already one at the meter (which there is) so he put the new box in minus a main breaker. The mains are wired straight to the bus bars. It looks like the OP has the same situation. What is the purpose of requiring two main disconnects in series?

The job took two days and cost me $1000. The second day was only a couple of hours for the drywall repairs around the box.

Patty O'Furniture
11-03-2009, 12:17 PM
The maintenance supervisor where I work took a look at my photos, and has talked me through it. I guess it is 4 small breakers bridged to act as 1 large one, and I should be able to replace just the one that is kaput ( though I will just replace all four)

I agree. Your load center appears to be in good condition so I don't see the need for a full rip & replace.

Terry Kennedy
11-03-2009, 12:20 PM
[I guess it is 4 small breakers bridged to act as 1 large one, and I should be able to replace just the one that is kaput ( though I will just replace all four.
Not a good idea. At all. For a number of reasons.
That is probably why I was having trouble finding that one big breaker--it doesn't exist.
No, your main breaker is a single part. You can tell because there is only a single UL listing label on it. Whether the manufacturer built it out of individual components or not isn't relevant - and these usually have rivets that go through all of the individual units. You'll probably also find that the common trip handle tie is permantly affixed, either by crimping or by having a pin through it.

Terry Kennedy
11-03-2009, 12:31 PM
The electrician said that DC code doesn't require a main breaker inside the panel as long as there is already one at the meter (which there is) so he put the new box in minus a main breaker. The mains are wired straight to the bus bars. It looks like the OP has the same situation. What is the purpose of requiring two main disconnects in series?
If the service disconnect switch at the meter is indeed a 200A breaker, then a main breaker in the panel may not be required. But this is specific to the locality and also depends on the distance from the service disconnect to the panel.

Where I am, a disconnect inside the house is required if the panel is more than 6 feet from where the feeder enters the house. This is one of the areas where the NEC punts to the AHJ. You may also run into the "accessible" requirement - some jurisdictions may not feel that an outside disconnect counts.

If the original poster doesn't need a main breaker where they are, it might be possible to convert the existing panel to main lugs. The existing feeders probably won't reach, so new ones may be needed from the outside disconnect to this panel.

boytyperanma
11-03-2009, 12:42 PM
raindog:



No, that wasn't me, but thanks for finding that for me.

The maintenance supervisor where I work took a look at my photos, and has talked me through it. I guess it is 4 small breakers bridged to act as 1 large one, and I should be able to replace just the one that is kaput ( though I will just replace all four.
That is probably why I was having trouble finding that one big breaker--it doesn't exist. Still, I would think that the electrician that looked at it would have known that.

This is an incorrect. It is a single breaker.

The breaker burnt out connecting to the buss bar on the of the legs. The buss bar may be damaged from arcing that occurred. Which would be why the electrician recommended replacing the whole box.

I think you should stop trying to get third party advice on this and have someone with experience look at it and go with their recommendation.

Magiver
11-03-2009, 01:29 PM
This is an incorrect. It is a single breaker.

The breaker burnt out connecting to the buss bar on the of the legs. The buss bar may be damaged from arcing that occurred. Which would be why the electrician recommended replacing the whole box.

I think you should stop trying to get third party advice on this and have someone with experience look at it and go with their recommendation. The test for this is to lock the outside switch off and pull the main breakers to see if the buss is damaged. Either the buss bar is damaged or it's not. and it doesn't sound like the electrician checked. His box looks brand new except for the mains. This particular case looks very doable by an amateur. None of the wires are burned, just a breaker which means the damage is likely contained to an easily replaceable part. This is looking more and more like a plug and play repair and not $1,800 of box replacement.

Yes, there are a million landmines that could bite someone in the ass with electrical service but in this case it should be easy for the op to visually verify where he stands.

If the building maintenance supervisor is certified then I would hire him to look it over and order the parts.

Magiver
11-03-2009, 01:42 PM
I don't want to sound like "full steam ahead" regardless of the situation but I also don't want to shoot down an easy repair.

Intolt
11-03-2009, 10:00 PM
I think you should stop trying to get third party advice on this and have someone with experience look at it and go with their recommendation.

Aye.

intolt