Why deliberately shorting equipment to blow breakers might be a bad idea . . .

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I can't recall whether it was here in CHA or in alt.home.repair (hence the crosspost) but I am certain I read messages from people who short outlets or wiring with a screwdriver (instead of using a meter or a fox and hound toner set) to find the controlling circuit breaker for that branch. The article below points out the possible downside of that approach:
Missouri: Inquiry Ties Wiring to Fatal Group Home Fire
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/20/us/20brfs-Fire.html
By LIBBY SANDER Published: December 20, 2006 Hours before a fire killed 10 people in a group home for the mentally ill and disabled on Nov. 27 in Anderson, a maintenance worker trying to repair a furnace short-circuited wiring in the attic, where fire investigators said they believed that the fire started. The worker told investigators that he did not know which circuit breaker operated the furnace and that he deliberately tripped the system, according to a report from the Missouri Fire Safety Division. The wiring may have become overloaded, the report staid. The fire marshal said the home did not have sprinklers. The report was obtained by The Associated Press under an open-records law.
-- Bobby G.
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tragedy suggests safer constrction codes.
"Gov. Matt Blunt on Friday proposed a sprinkler system mandate for Missouri's long-term care facilities in response to a fire that killed 11 people at a group home for the mentally ill. The Anderson Guest House was not equipped with sprinklers when a Nov. 27 fire started in the attic and swept through the one-story building. After the fire, Blunt ordered a review of Missouri's fire safety regulations for such facilities. . . . The report also recommends that smoking be banned in bedrooms and restricted only to designated smoking areas at long-term-care facilities."
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0612300047dec30,1,5333633.story
Robert Green wrote:

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Robert Green wrote:

If everything is "to code", aside from the personal hazard to the one doing the shorting, this practice should be completely safe.
But the consequences of something being amiss (not to code, poorly done wiring, etc) and causing a fire, with damage or worse, is too high a consequence to pay for a little convenience.
Its a classic "low risk of occurrence, high cost of occurrence" scenario.
Dave
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All it takes is some idiot doing this and the next NEC will require GFC, and arc faults for everything.
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

...
Something seems left out here. As you say, unless there's another fault, there really is no reason this should cause any problem whatsoever -- how does the breaker or rest of the circuit "know" it was a deliberate act as opposed to accidental or a faulty piece of equipment plugged into an outlet or a ground fault developed in the furnace blower motor? All the breaker was supposed to do was trip to remove the fault condition. Did it not do so? If it did, how was there an "overload" in a dead circuit? Was the breaker over-sized for the branch wiring?
The fundamental fault appears more deeply embedded and the consequence could just as easily have occurred had there been another causative action so I think faulting the maintenance worker unless he left an undersized jumper in place or some other action other than simply causing the short seems short-sighted -- finding the underlying fault that then caused the result should be the focus of investigation, not simply a person to point blame at. Then again, if he was smoking at the same time, too, and dropped the end of his cigarette in the attice w/ onto something flammable beside the location he got access to the wiring to make the short...
In all, I think there's more to the story still untold...
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The local news made mention that there was a poor (inproper) splice on the circuit (in the attic) and theory is that shorting the circuit, while it tripped the breaker, was likely the cause of the fire.
This was early on in the investigation, and I only heard it mentioned once. I live about 50 miles from the home and we had a lot of TV coverage of this fire - a real tragedy. I was an electrician for 30+ years and never felt this method of finding which breaker controlled a circuit was wise, but then I still believe fuses are more reliable than circuit breakers, so what do I know ;-)
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John, SW Missouri wrote:

That at least makes some sense -- see my previous comment. More than likely in this case there was a high resistance at that point and may have well been operating at nearly the combustion point for quite some time. The actual action only shortened the time until it would have happened "spontaneously" in high likelihood if that were the case.
I really still don't see the difference between the accidental and deliberate short as a fundamental problem. I don't much like the practice as it just doesn't seem "right" somehow, but fundamentally it requires the second fault for a problem to occur. It may, as in this case, uncover a hidden fault with bad consequences, but that still is a fault separate and the event being overt instead of covert is only circumstantial.
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Interestingly enough, I had a hot tub -- 220 volt, GFI in the basement. If there was a fault - motor overload, etc., it seemed to deliberately shut itself down by causing a "short."
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dpb wrote:

Just wanted to note I wasn't trying to support this practice in any way- it's never responsible to commit an act that might endanger others unless every last thing is perfect.
Dave
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com says...

Unless, while specified to code, the breaker panel is one that tolerates currents grossly in excess of the nominal capacity of the breakers.
(Our house had an untrippable Zinsco panel when we bought it.)
--
snipped-for-privacy@phred.org is Joshua Putnam
<http://www.phred.org/~josh/
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Well, breakers that don't break when they're supposed to is a fault in itself!
Exactly the kind of occurrence that makes me say 'never do this', because it requires a chain of wires/splices/devices that ALL have to be perfect for this to be 'safe'.
Dave
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snipped-for-privacy@yahoo.com wrote:

But unless that condition is true, it isn't "safe" anyway, so it's a false comfort at best...
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That, or the now famous FPE, Federal Pacific Electric. Noted for not tripping.
--

Christopher A. Young
You can\'t shout down a troll.
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Hey it worked in the dorm (mumble mumble years ago) to silence the neighbors' stereo on the same circuit. LOL
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It also works well on a coax silencing an annoying character's CB radio with illegal linear amplifier. "Blown finals" does not necessarily refer to exams. :^)
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On Fri, 12 Jan 2007 01:03:28 -0500, "Robert Green"

Good info. I was always told, never intentially create a makeshift fault to test a protective device, because it might only be designed to work once, or it might fail badly, and never work right ever again. Creating a dangerious situation.
Always use 'approved' techniques, test buttons, etc. Oh and only use qualified electricians. ;)
tom @ www.BlankHelp.com
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Imagine how many more people might have died if the fire had occurred from an unintentional fault. Maybe no one would have died if it had never been shorted, but there was obviously a deeper problem than an electrician with a screwdriver.
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Well I am the poster who checks breakers by shorting:(
First I turn OFF the breaker!
Then I check its dead with a test lamp or meter!
Then I short it intentionally just in case!
Over the years this method has saved me from some possibly nasty shocks:)
I have discovered boxes fed with multiple power sources in one box, never a good idea if you ask me......
I have also discovered some bad breakers that didnt trip under full short. On these I replaced all the breakers in the panel
Also leared FPE stab lock breakers are a known fire hazard......
I dont believe theres a difference between a intential or accidental short, the breakers should trip either way. 100% of the time. and become more sensitive to overloads as they age.....
For good reasons soon ALL receptables will be GFCI and arc fault protected
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On Fri, 12 Jan 2007 01:03:28 -0500, "Robert Green"

Sounds like untested hypothesis used to fuel conjecture. (See below ;-)
Quote: "The wiring MAY have become overloaded" hence "blow[ing] breakers MIGHT be a bad idea (my emphasis).
A literal reading of the NYTimes article does _not_ indicate that the fire was shown to be caused by tripping a breaker in my opinion. The information provided is insufficient to know what actually happened. I'd need much better information before making any inferences from this vague description.
http://www.townhall.com/News/NewsArticle.aspx?ContentGuid c6c40b-62ea-4e5b-9e7c-6a54a9fe707d     " The Nov. 27 fire at the Anderson Guest House started in the attic and swept through the one-story building. State fire officials cited an electrical short or overload as a possible cause. "
"The facility had been cited for failing to conduct an annual fire inspection in 2000, but had not been cited for fire problems in more recent years. The three other facilities run by the same company all had received fire safety citations since 2003."
Based on only the information provided, it is possible that _nothing_ that the worker did had _anything_ to do with starting the fire -- much less popping the breakers. The furnace (which is itself a mechanism for creating fire) was broken _before_ he started and the article is mute on even whether that was fixed.
Or the worker may have jumped or shorted out a furnace component such as an SCR, and _also_ popped the breaker with the latter having nothing whatever to do with causing the fire.
If the worker shorted out or interconnected components or wires in an electromechanical system, even temporarily, he may have damaged something creating the hazard in that way. He was, it is written, trying to repair a furnace, which has motors and relays and sensors and burners that themselves create fire.
I recently discovered that the single control on my downstairs heating system that turns the burners off if the boiler gets too hot is a single thermostatic mercury switch on the hot water pipe leaving the boiler. If the circulation pump were to fail AND the mercury switch failed, the gas burners would _never_ turn off because the thermostat would continue to call for heat and the 80,000 BTUs produced by the boiler would not be removed by circulating the water so the house wouldn't heat.
Moreover, the circulating water goes only to a heat exchanger in the air handler. So a similar problem could be created if the multi-stage thermostat (heat pump, boiler, or heat pump + boiler) was inappropriately programmed and the lone thermostatic switch failed. I discovered during the programming of a communicating two-stage heating thermostat that in one possible mode, the only thing between normal temperatures and an overheated boiler *was* that single heat-actuated switch! (I've added a second switch to my own setup as is required -- I've been told -- by commercial at least some residential codes .)
So if the existing problem the worker was trying to fix was (eg) a bad pump, and the added problem he caused (or not) was stuck overtemperature switch, the combination (as in my case) could itself cause a fire -- especially if such a system were in an attic (as in the case cited) surrounded by squirrel nests or leaves or stored items or other flammable items. Or not ;-)
... Marc Marc_F_Hult www.ECOntrol.org
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Last I heard they had pretty much decided that it will be impossible to determine the cause of the fire. There's no doubt that service done just prior to the fire will always be suspect. About 10 months ago a Chinese restaurant near me had a small fire just before closing. The fire department came and put out the small fire and told the owners to go home. About an hour later another fire was called in and the building was a total loss. Seems the fire department didn't do a very good job of checking and a small undetected fire in the duct was the cause of the more serious fire.
After a recent storm in my area there were numerous dumpsters in my neighborhood. One was filled half full with damp to wet roll insulation. Apparently someone threw a cigarette or something hot into the dumpster and started this insulation burning. I don't believe it ever really grew into flames, but it smoldered all night and when we came back in the morning the paint was totally burned off the dumpster from the heat. The insulation was still smolderng and putting out a lot of smoke, but no flame. Prior to this I had been under the assumption that insulation was sort of fire resistant - guess not.
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