Faulty breaker?

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by julesy, Mar 19, 2011.

  1. julesy

    julesy New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    ca
    Hi,

    I have a main panel (unfortunately without a main breaker) and a sub panel. The sub panel is fed from the main panel via a dual pole breaker. One red and one black connection with some pretty hefty looking wire.

    When I turn off the dual pole breaker (dual switch connected), the black wire to the panel is no longer hot, but the red remains hot. I see no reason why this would or should happen, except that the breaker has failed. Can anyone concur that breakers do fail in this way?

    Thanks in advance.
  2. drick

    drick In the Trades

    Messages:
    392
    Well, anything is possible, but I've never seen a breaker fail that way (and I've seen more than my share of bad breakers). More likely you are using a cheap DVM to determine if there is voltage present or not. They are notorious for returning bad readings when no voltage is present. You need a 120/240 volt circuit tester such as http://www.drillspot.com/products/73461/Wiggy_6610VT1_Voltage_Tester or a analog multimeter if you can find one.

    Also, your main disconnect is probably at your meter.

    -rick
    Last edited: Mar 19, 2011
  3. SacCity

    SacCity In the Trades

    Messages:
    189
    Location:
    Sacramento, CA
    It is possible for the contact to have welded shut, but does not happen frequently, be careful when working on the system.
    Another possibility is a bad neutral on another circuit, which could feed back through that circuit.
    Michael
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 6, 2011
  4. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

    Messages:
    8,997
    Location:
    San Diego
    Residential breakers typically have a 10,000 amp interrupt rating. I suspect "welding" of contacts is rare.

    Are you measuring 240 between red and black with it off? How are you measuring the red wire?

    There is probably something else going on. Needs some detective work.
  5. LLigetfa

    LLigetfa DIYer, not in the trades

    Messages:
    3,901
    Location:
    NW Ontario, Canada
    A double pole breaker breaks both legs so you should not be seeing voltage on either side. I have to wonder how you are testing. If using one of those contactless testers, they are notorious for giving false positive results. Athough I've never seen them give a false negative,

    Last line deleted as it is very unsafe
    Mike
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 20, 2011
  6. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

    Messages:
    26,487
    Location:
    Cave Creek, Arizona
    IF the breaker was going bad the contact could have overheated, or arced, and welded the switch together. You also have to consider whether there is any chance that you could have a cross connection somewhere that could be "backfeeding" the power into that part of the system.
  7. mr Rewire

    mr Rewire In the Trades

    Messages:
    1
    Location:
    Missouri
    This is a condition normally asociated with FP breakers a replacement breaker is the fix.
  8. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    I just tested my main 3 phase breaker at the pole and it Doesnt work at all. Will not shut off. Stuff gets old and tired.
  9. julesy

    julesy New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    ca
    Hi,

    Thanks to all for the quick responses.

    It appears that there is *most likely* nothing wrong with the breaker, but something is back feeding the circuit as suggested by some of you in this thread.

    This is also evidenced by the fact that the breaker that powers the sub panel and another breaker both seem to be affecting the same set of outlets in the house OR-ing them together.

    I have attached a picture of the main panel and one of the sub panel. In the sub panel, it appears to be the breaker at the top right that is the one that is enabling the back feeding.

    Ok, so I know this is going to be a tricky problem to unwind. Does anybody have any suggestions here as to make it easier? Is there any way to do some sort of "binary search" by removing particular plugs from the circuit and finding the back feed?

    Also, I am going to be fixing this at whatever lengths are necessary, but how dangerous is this situation? Is it simply a case of breakers not tripping when they should or is there something else?

    One other question -

    The reason I started all this exploring is that I am installing a new bathroom and want to have it on a dedicated circuit. As the main panel is full, I was going to upgrade this sub panel. There is no ground in this sub panel, which I would like to remedy. Can I run a separate ground back to the main panel to feed the new sub panel? or should I run a new large conductor with 4 wires?



    IMG_8715small.jpg IMG_8719small.jpg
    Last edited: Mar 21, 2011
  10. ballvalve

    ballvalve General Engineering Contractor

    Messages:
    3,261
    Location:
    northfork, california
    Sure looks like a neutral there. You must mean ground.
  11. julesy

    julesy New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    ca
    Yes, you are right, I have changed it to say ground.
  12. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

    Messages:
    2,531
    Location:
    North Carolina
    There are some major issues with both panels and in my opinion way over your head. I recommend hiring an electrician
  13. julesy

    julesy New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    ca
    I have not ruled out hiring an electrician to get involved.

    I am still in the process of identifying what I believe is incorrect. If I never poked around or asked questions, then I would most likely still be using the electrics in this house, blindly assuming that all is fine.

    I would be interested to hear about the other issues if they are obvious. I do not need to hear "hire an electrician" as this is certainly not out of the question and something I am open to if I know more about the issues.
  14. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

    Messages:
    2,531
    Location:
    North Carolina
    First you say this is a main panel that does not have a main disconnect, a code violation

    If there is a main on the outside then the grounded (neutral) is required to be isolated from the equipment grounding conductors, a code violation and a danger to those living there

    The remote panel (sub panel) does not have the grounding and grounded separated, a code violation and a danger to those living there

    Then as you point out somewhere there is a back feed and another danger to those living there and a code violation

    It would be impossible to explain to you how to correct these items through a discussion board such as this one and my very best advice it to hire an electrician before you do something that causes you home to go up in smoke or even worse
  15. julesy

    julesy New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    ca
    Is there any reason why I would not be able to replace the sub panel once I have corrected the back feed? Can I run a separate ground from the main to the panel, or should I run a new 4 conductor wire? Once I have a grounded sub panel, I can then update the wiring that feeds from it, opening walls as necessary.

    I see no reason why doing this puts the wiring in a worse situation than when I started - no ground to the panel and a back fed circuit.

    I can consider upgrading the main panel after this is performed. I do not expect all the answers from this board, I was just hoping to get some general advice. I also feel that most of what I need to do can be accomplished without an electrician, except for the replacement of the main box/connection to the feed. I have done some reading, will do plenty more and will stop if there are issues I feel I am unable to tackle.

    And thanks jwelectric and others for your time and knowledge.
  16. drick

    drick In the Trades

    Messages:
    392
    As JW has pointed out this service has several issues. I would recommend moving 'upgrading the electrical service' up near the top of the to do list. Particularly if you are planning on adding anything to it. Personally I would plan on ditching the tiny sub panel by adding a couple of junction boxes in place of the sub panel and pulling those circuits back to one nice new main panel. If you remove the breaker creating the back feed in the main panel you will open up two slots, one of which you can use for adding in the bathroom circuit.

    If you really want to go the sub panel route yes you can run a separate ground. Keep in mind that you cannot combine grounds and neutrals in a subpanel. There should be a separate ground bar in the subpanel for the ground wires. Most panels do not come with a separate ground bar installed, you have to purchase it separately and add it in.

    When you touch something electrical, either to make repairs on add onto it, you are required to bring it up to code. Because your main panel is lacking both a main breaker and a separate ground bar (there needs to be one or the other) there is no way you can upgrade the sub panel and legally attach the ground wire to the main panel. (Connecting the ground from the subpanel to the neutral bar in your panel is a code violation.) Also you are adding load to a less than ideal setup and thereby increasing the risk that something will go wrong so in that respect it is worse.

    Finding out what the problems are and correcting what you can is good, but realize the main panel has problems that are going to require that it be replaced and that it will be impossible to do any electrical expansions that will meet code until that is done.

    -rick
  17. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

    Messages:
    2,531
    Location:
    North Carolina
    The NEC mandates that ALL conductors of a circuit be in the same raceway or cable that carries the ungrounded (hot) conductors so to install one conductor by itself would be a code violation.
    This would not help the remote panel as there is no separation of the grounded (neutral) and the equipment grounding conductors in the main lug panel so the point would be mute.

    It is this inability to see what this would hurt that screams loudly with the very reason why you should not attempt this by yourself but instead should seek the help of a professional

    This idea is just like the fellow that led his horse to the back of the wagon to hook her up. You are approaching the problem from the back side instead of approaching it in the proper manner.
    When someone gives a good answer to a post it is then up to the person asking for the advice to at least listen. Here it is one more time, HIRE A PROFESSIONAL AND LEAVE THIS ALONE.

    You live in the very state that started the homeowner insurance sue motto. Should you do the work on this system and do it in a noncompliant manner Ca. will allow your homeowner’s insurance to sue you for any losses they occur due to the improper installation. Now I am not saying they will but you need to understand that they could.

    Then please listen to what we have to say.

    Looking at the fuse box I can see that your knowledge of current flow is nil and nowhere close to what it should be for the type of undertaking you purpose. Everyone of the screw in fuses in that small panel are 30 amp fuses and probably twice the size they should be. You might as well as just bypass the fuse as it is useless for protection of the circuit.

    The number of problems you have will by their self be enough to have the house condemned should an inspector get involved. Please for the safety of your family spring for at least a service call to an electrician that can evaluate your problems
  18. julesy

    julesy New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    ca
    Well, I talked about replacing the sub panel (which of course would include using correctly sized breakers), grounding it and fixing the back fed circuit. Yes, there are still some areas in the wiring that are far from perfect, but I fail to see how this would make it worse than it already is. If doing that really makes the wiring worse than it was before, then I would love to know why.

    I find this rather offensive.

    Nowhere did I indicate that I was happy with the 30 amp fuses, and you should not infer anything from my lack of discussion around that topic as it was clear to me. This is part of the reason why I was planning to replace the sub panel was due to this, among other things including lack of grounding. Part of that would have been doing a load evaluation of all the circuits downstream and using the appropriate sized fuzes.

    As for adding the bathroom circuit - I had ripped out the old one and it was wired into other circuits. I had checked the code and saw that I needed it on its own dedicated 20amp circuit. I am re-wiring it so that it is up to code and not adding new load to the system.

    Yes, I am well aware that the wiring is not in the best of shape - hence why I am determining what to do about it. My main questions were about running a ground to the sub panel which got answered.

    Apart from the connection of a new main box, I really do not see many things here that I should not be able to tackle.

    I feel that half of the energy on this thread has been spent saying "hire an electrician". I just read the last two responses again. drick's response was to the point and helpful - looking at jwelectric's response it is very argumentative and rather condescending.

    Ditto. If someone asks a genuine question and you are kind enough to help, focus on answering that question rather than wasting his time repeating "hire a professional".
  19. jwelectric

    jwelectric Electrical Contractor/Instructor

    Messages:
    2,531
    Location:
    North Carolina
    To replace the remote panel will do nothing to establish a ground fault path but would ensure a parallel grounding path on this system which would be more dangerous than not having any grounding path at all.
    Well let me tell you just how sorry I am that you come here posting about wanting to make your system safer and posting a picture of 30 amp fuses on #14 conductors. I would have long ago corrected this in the name of safety if safety was what I was looking for
    at the time of installation the bathroom circuit was code compliant and needed not attention at all except maybe installing a GFCI receptacle

    And the simple answer is to hire an electrician to do a revamp on both panels. Now I understand this is not the answer you are looking for but it is the best advice anyone can give you.
    the entire change out is way over your head. IF it were not over your head there would not be 30 amp fuses in that panel any longer than it would take to change them back to 15 amp fuses.

    Bless his kind heart Drick was trying to be polite but made an error on the grounding conductor. I have been honest with you even if you find my post offensive or not. I am simply stating the facts as I see them and the installation of a conductor between the two panels will solve nothing.
    I have answered your question to the fullest. What I did not do was give you some misleading information just to make you feel good. My answers were straight to the point just as they are now. This is a project that is way over your head and something you should not try to attempt. This is a job for someone with the proper training in the field and is way above a do-it-yourself job.
  20. julesy

    julesy New Member

    Messages:
    18
    Location:
    ca
    If I were to replace the sub panel and feed it with a grounded conductor, tied back into the main panel in the same fashion as all the other circuits, with the neutral isolated in the sub panel, then how would this ensure a parallel grounding path? I ask this for my understanding, not to be argumentative.

    I would hope that this board does not encourage people to only pictures of NEC compliant wiring, for fear of being chastised for having not already corrected it. That does seem a little backwards. I was aware it was bad and am here to improve it. This house has probably been wired like this for 10 years, so me spending a little time to find out exactly what is on each circuit before messing with it further does not seem unreasonable.

    I do not believe this to be true. I had to install new outlets and my local building code which says it is based on the 2007 building code, contains in the section on bathroom remodels "New outlets are required to be on a dedicated 20amp circuit". I was striving to wire the whole bathroom in a way compliant with a new installation, even if not strictly necessary, I think it is certainly an improvement.

    Yes the simple answer is definitely to hire an electrician, but I am not here for the simplest answer. I have been burned in the past with an electrician whom I would certainly not use again, after watching him tap into the nearest circuits without even performing load calcs on those circuits or finding out what else was on them. I know there are many good electricians, but a better understanding on my end helps me to find one of the better ones.

    Again, this house has stood for many years in the state it is in now. I am the new owner and I do not feel that waiting a couple of days while I determine whether to replace the entire sub panel and downstream wiring, even possibly the main panel, rather than just changing the fuses really qualifies me as being over my head. I am still evaluating what to do.

    I appreciate both of your responses on this and am glad I have the answer.

    I appreciate the answers to your questions, and I certainly do not want misleading information. It was the saying that my knowledge of current flow is nil simply because I had not changed the fuses yet that was offensive.
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