breakers don't trip, electricity out

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Hi everyone,
The other night the electricity suddenly blacked out on one side of the house, after turning on a 1500 watt space heater. I then checked out the main breaker box to see what had tripped. But after checking the breakers, none of them looked like they had tripped.
So I then went outside to where the electric meter is at, and underneath the meter is another box, which contains only one big circuit breaker rated for 100 amps or so. As I lifted off the lid of the box to check out the breaker, I noticed some kind of arcing, or sparks, going on behind the panel. However, this breaker hadn't tripped either, but when I placed my fingers on it, it did have a somewhat warm or hot feel.
So while it hadn't visually tripped, I decided to switch the breaker off, and then switch it back on. I then looked over at the house, and noticed that all lights were back on in the side that had blacked out. Switching this breaker on and off had a reset effect.
As I was walking back to the house, the electricity flickered out again. I turned around and walked back to the electric meter and then switched the breaker on and off again. When I switched it on, I could hear a sort of sizzling noise. The electricity was back on.. But the electricity only stayed on for about an hour or so and then the ENTIRE house blacked out. It was like that for the rest of the cold night.
The next morning, I went back outside to the main meter, and switched the breaker off, and then on. It had a reset effect and the electricity was back on throughout the entire house and thankfully it has stayed that way the rest of the day. I made sure to avoid plugging in the space heater that triggered all of this mess.
I was just wondering....does anyone have any idea as to what could be going wrong? None of the circuit breakers look like they have tripped after visually inspecting them. I know this isn't a problem on the electric company's end because they sent a crew to check it out with their gauges.
Could this most likely a problem with the main breakers, in particular the one under the electric meter, and they'll need replacement? I think that if I do need to replace the breaker under the meter, I'll have to hire an electrician to do that work. But before calling anyone, I'm trying to see if there is a way I could trouble-shoot on my own and maybe solve the problem before spending any money.
In the breaker box inside of the house, there is also a main switch breaker (about 100 amps rated) as well.....should I replace this with a new one and see if that hopefully helps things before calling out the electrician, or that most likely isn't the culprit?
thanks, tysteel
email: tysteel5000 aol dot com
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tysteel wrote:

Have you ckecked loose connections on the main breaker outside?
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On Sat, 24 Nov 2007 22:12:14 -0800 (PST), tysteel

It sounds to me like the space heater is the problem. You didn't say if you had unpluged it before trying to reset the main disconnect breaker.

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tysteel wrote:

the outside cutoff box, like where the feed from the meter base ties into the lugs that outside breaker is plugged into, or maybe water got in the box and the lugs themselves are corroded. Cold night and thermal cycling from a heavy load sounds like the right circumstances, and a overnight cooldown making the problem 'go away' is consistent.
Seeing as how repair will likely take pulling the meter, I'd say a licensed electrician is called for. Shouldn't be more than a few hundred, even if he has to replace that outside shutoff completely. If you can give him the brand and model of the box, and the size of the breakers, he can have the parts on the truck just in case, to do it all in one trip.
Given the symptoms you described, the inside stuff is probably fine. Depending on how the outside box is constructed, you MAY be able to open the inner cover to eyeball the innards, but be careful- the feed side will be hot on both legs even with breakers in off position. IOW, look, but don't touch. Corrosion or arcing may or may not have left visible traces.
aem sends...
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If you heard a sizzling and felt heat on that outdoor breaker, either the breaker is bad, or loose connections in that box. You could pop off the cover and look for sparks (best after dark). Look at the connections, etc. If you are not comfortable with electricity call a pro., but at least look. You dont need to pull the meter to replace a breaker. Actually it's a simple 10 minute job, assuming it's a snap in breaker, but if you are afraid of it, dont do it. Yet, taking off the panel and looking (with your hands behind your back), is pretty basic and harmless.
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On Nov 25, 3:17�am, snipped-for-privacy@notmail.com wrote:

I suppose I could fix it, but I'm not sure how safe it would be to do so. The breaker is snap in type (it's a bryant circuit breaker) but there are two big lines that you are to insert into the bottom of it, and then tighten down with a screw driver.
I suppose that it may be pretty dangerous to mess with; it would so much easier if all the power were cut to the meter. I'm sure that both lines that fit into the breaker are live.
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On Sun, 25 Nov 2007 08:17:21 -0800 (PST), tysteel

Ty, You know, some things are better left to professionals. After reading your posts I am 100% positive you have no business playing with electricity. You've already wasted $60 having the electric co. come out and show you what they can do. If you get hurt or die, what good will you be to your family? Electricity is simple to work with (even live), IF, I say "IF" you know what you are doing. That breaker could be changed in minutes by someone knowing what they are doing. They also need to inspect it to see if you have any other problems. Break open your piggy bank and have it fixed safely and correctly the first time. Save your skills for something you can actually tackle. Bubba
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wrote:

That drove the nail home :-)
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Your problem is definitely a bad main breaker or bad connection at the main breaker. Call the utility company and find out who's responsible for it and have it fixed immediately. If it's left to sit and arc, the entire panel will probably need replacing

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If you call the utility co they will send someone out and may even fix it for free if its a loose connection.
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who made these breakers? any chance its FPE?
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snipped-for-privacy@aol.com wrote:

Nah, it's just the ol' K&T...
--
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Thank you to everyone for the responses. When the electric company people came over, they checked to see if power was adequately coming in from their lines to my meter, but said that they wouldn't go inside of the outside breaker box under the meter to actually fix anything...that I would have to call an electrician instead. They said they are simply "utility" guys and nothing more. But I don't think it would've been too much trouble for them to simply look at the inards under the panel, and if there was something loose, they could very easily tighten it. After all, the electric company is going to charge me $60 on the upcoming bill for just sending them out the other day.
I'll go ahead and check out what's behind the panel for loose connections. If there is a loose connection, I'll try to tighten it as long as there is no risk of electrocution..
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The utility company can do more damage if an unqualified person touches this. You NEED to get a qualified electrician to verify that the buss in the panel hasn't been annealed from overheating. Even if this was caused by a loose connection, damage could have occurred beneath the circuit breaker where you won't be able to make a visual inspection. Under no circumstances should YOU touch this without killing the power first.

Thank you to everyone for the responses. When the electric company people came over, they checked to see if power was adequately coming in from their lines to my meter, but said that they wouldn't go inside of the outside breaker box under the meter to actually fix anything...that I would have to call an electrician instead. They said they are simply "utility" guys and nothing more. But I don't think it would've been too much trouble for them to simply look at the inards under the panel, and if there was something loose, they could very easily tighten it. After all, the electric company is going to charge me $60 on the upcoming bill for just sending them out the other day.
I'll go ahead and check out what's behind the panel for loose connections. If there is a loose connection, I'll try to tighten it as long as there is no risk of electrocution..
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"tysteel" wrote

First thought here, you overloaded the 100 amp service when it kicked in.

Looks to me like first thought still.

And may have damaged the external box in one of the 'hits' possibly here?

Call your electrical company first. Sometimes the external boxes belong to them and they fix them for you. If the box is bad and it wasnt caused by trying to run over 100amps through it, they might fix for free if they 'own' the box. Happened to me in a rental once that the exterior box went out and was a free fix. It was not caused by any overload (yours may not be either and just happenstance that it looked a bit like it to me).
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You certainly have some sort of problem there. I suspect it is the breakers that are outside. Why are there breakers outside? That is not the usual procedure, although I have seen it. Have your electric company come out and take a look unless you know for sure about that outside breaker and why it is there and that it is really your responsibility .

--
Joseph Meehan

Dia \'s Muire duit
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On Sun, 25 Nov 2007 15:29:33 -0500, "Joseph Meehan"

I have a 200 Amp Service Disconnect breaker outside at the meter. That is my only "Customer Access". The full breaker panel for the house is in the adjacent inside garage wall.
Bubba is correct :)
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Thank you all for the responses, and it looks like I'll have to call a professional on this one.
I guess a variety of things could be causing the problem. For one, there is an electric water heater wired up here, and it's connected to a 20 amp circuit breaker, along with the size of wiring that fits, yet the water heater has a voltage of 4500-5500 watts....... seems like it should be connected to a 30 amp circuit breaker with a thicker wiring connection. I do suspect this could be one of the things causing the problem and is causing overloading. The original water heater certainly didn't take in that much power, and wasn't as large, but the replacement seems excessive.
I contacted the landlord who owns the place, and I've told him about this repeatedly, so I may just get it fixed myself, and take it out of the rent.
I was thinking about purchasing another water heater as that would probably be a little cheaper than having the wiring replaced as I live in a rural area ..everything is charged at an arm and a leg when you live in the country.... but was wondering what would work with the wiring and breaker that's already there. The other day I was checking out Lowe's and came across a water heater ($219...20 gallon)) that uses two heating elements rated at about 3500 watts.....from what I understand, that should work with a 20 amp breaker and the size of wiring there. If I'm wrong about that, I'm sure I'll stand corrected.
I was thinking to try replacing that first as I know that's a definite problem, and then see if this helps prevent any more overloads to the main box outside. I think that when the space heater was used, it was too much for the circuits to bear, and that's why things started to black out. If it doesn't help, I'll call the electrician.
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Your water heater wiring, while incorrect, has nothing to do with the main disconnect problem. You are correct that a 4500 watt heater requires a 30 amp circuit and #10 wiring and that a 3500 watt unit would work fine with the existing wiring and breaker

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Thanks for the response. I went back outside and checked the 100 rated amp circuit breaker under the meter, removed the paneling, and when I switched the breaker off and then on, I noticed that the arcing (or sparks) is coming from the railing that the circuit breaker plugs into,....
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