Circuit Breaker Problem

Today a circuit breaker for the living room tripped all of a sudden for no obvious reason. Nothing new or heavy duty was plugged into the outlets and it never tripped before. We could not immediately reset it. After about 5 minutes we reset it, but it tripped again in another 10 minutes and that particular breaker was very hot to the touch (hotter than the others which were just a little warm). So we've left it off and are using extension cords for the tv and lamp.
Does it sound like a bad breaker? Is this something we could look at ourselves if we took the front of the panel off, or should we just wait until Monday and call an electrician? Any input appreciated.
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Are you sure that breaker is just for the living room?
I took a day and worked with a friend to make a good chart of my electrical box. He brought over a nifty gizmo that you can stick near an electrical source (like an outlet) and if the power is on it will beep and we charted all the circuits. Cut off one at a time to double check.
My master bedroom and bath is on the same circuit as the downstairs kitchen lights. Always wondered why the bathroom lights dimmed sometime -and not other times - when I used a hairdryer.
So sometimes a circuit is not so clear as to exactly what else you might have on it.
Sounds to me like either you have - inadvertently - added something to that circuit or you have a bad breaker.
Personally - I'd opt for an electrician if you are not really savvy about doing it yourself. With water, all you can get it wet. With electrical...
(My advice is worth what it costs...)
Suzanne wrote:

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Sterling wrote:

Yes. This is a small house and the breakers were already charted and identified on the panel when we moved in. We also went around and checked every outlet when the breaker tripped.

We have been here 3 three years with no problem and have added no new appliances or even had anything plugged in when this happened.

I suspect that's what we'll do. Aside from personal danger, I worry a lot about wiring and fires.

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It sounds like the breaker is doing exactly what it is there for; tripping in response to an overload. I doubt it is defective because then it would probably trip without getting hot; but if you want to make sure, you can swap two breakers and see what happens. If the problem goes with the breaker, it is defective. If it stays with the circuit, it is an overload.
However, in the interest of being conservative, you should probably turn the breaker off, and carefully see what doesn't work anymore. Odds are, you will find something big that you didn't know was on that circuit.
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toller wrote:

Nothing new has been plugged into that circuit for the last 6 months at least. Can a power surge cause an overload? The only strange thing that happened is that after we plugged the DVR/Cable box into a different outlet it went off again, but nothing tripped. It usually goes off because of a power surge.

What else besides overload causes the breaker to get so physically hot?

The breaker is still off. The only things we had plugged into the circuit were the TV, VCR, DVR/Cable box, and two lamps. That's it--and they've been plugged in for years.
If I put the breaker back on now (with nothing plugged in) will it trip? And if it does, what would that mean?

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tripping
How would you know about an power surge if you do not have the equipment to measure one? Did you have an lightning storm recently?
Something has decided to draw more power causing the breaker to get hot. Unplug everything on the circuit and plug one thing in at a time and wait for a while. Check the breaker for heating.
It is possible that the breaker has lived its life and you need an new one. Best bet is to call an pro
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Turn the main breakers off. Then check the wire on the overheating breaker. If the screw will tighten on the wire the poor connection could have caused over heating even with a lesser load than the rating on breaker. While you have main breakers off check all other breakers screws for tightness. If the house is the 1950's era you may have aluminum wiring, this compresses over time and makes a poor connection. Warren
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Warren Weber wrote:

We did just what you said and found that one of the wires on the breaker was loose and barely attached. Screwed it back on and all seems well. No trips and the breaker is not hot.
Thanks to everyone who weighed in.
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yea, like WW said on the screw tightness, however; if the breaker is hot is may be the stab that plugs over the bus bar stab has lost its grip and that loose connection is what more than likely will cause a breaker to heat up barring the loose wired connection. If you know how to remove a breaker, you might want to pull it and look for signs of heat at the plugin stab and bus bar. It's not uncommon to burn off the whole foot of the breaker over time ruining the particular bus stab & then you'd most likely put a new breaker in at a different location and probably pigtail the wire to reach it.
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The guy who said to swap breakers & see if the problem follows is your best bet if your not " electrical " . You said you mapped out what outlets are on that breaker, unplug oor tuurn off everything on that circuit, flip on the breaker, start plugging stuff in at a time giving a few minutes in between. SWAP THE BREAKER. . less time, less hassle
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bumtracks wrote:

This definitely sounds like electrician territory.
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