Smell Coming From Main Breaker

There is a hot smell coming from my breaker box and the surface around the main breaker is hot to the touch when the smell is present. I have taken the cover off of the box and the main wire coming in from outside is very hot to the touch. I am of course concerned. Is this caused by an overloaded main breaker? The house was built in 1977 and most of the breakers are original. I bought the house last September and the problem just started. The main breaker is a 200 Amp breaker. Any advice?

Thank you.
John from West Virginia

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Call an electrician immediately! Turn off the breaker! It seems you have an electrical problem that could result in a fire.

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I agree to call an electrician. Your local fire department may also be willing to attend and determine the safety hazard.

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NEVER EVER just irgnore an electrical problem.If the issue is money,if you are renting that is the Landlord's responsibility.Call around till you find an electrician (if it's YOUR house) who will allow you to pay as you can.Electrical problems don't just go away--they MUST BE FIXED! A young Mother I go to church with kept noticing a ceiling fan problem and one night while she was at church it caught fire and they lost everything. PLEASE take care of this for your family's safety.

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NEVER EVER ingnore an electrical problem. If money to pay for repair call until you find someone who will let you pay as you can.If you're a renter the Landlord is responsible for the repair.A young single mom at church kept noticing problem with a ceiling fan and she lost EVERYTHING. For the safety of your family don't let another day go by without getting it checked out

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It is very unlikely that the incoming cable is overloaded, unless a neighbor plugs in somewhere to let you power his hydroponic lights.

Usually that heat problem is from a loose connection between the incoming cable and the main breaker. I hesitate to recommend that an amateur tighten that herself, because there is absolutely no protection between that incoming power cable and the big subdivision transformer. Turning the main breaker off doesn't do anything, since it is the connection feeding the breaker that needs tightening.

A trained electrician knows how to protect himself, and I highly recommend calling one for that chore.

If it absolutely has to be done by the home owner, I recommend the following:

Get the biggest screwdriver that will fit the connection on the main breaker.

Wrap the metal shaft of the screwdriver with a few layers of electrical tape so that only the tip is exposed.

Place a dry welcome mat or small rug below the breaker box to stand on.

Stand straight in front of the breaker and think through your action, so that you can perform it smoothly and without wondering what to do.

Tighten the connection screw until it squeaks or can't be tightened any more.

Loosen it half a turn, and tighten it again until it squeaks or can't be tightened any further.

By the way, to accurately pinpoint the heat source, a cheap black and white security camera can be used. The cheaper the better. They reach far into the infrared and hot spots appear much lighter and brighter than the rest of the picture.

Have FUN!


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This sounds like a real fire hazard !! Please do call an electrican right away. But call a few and get different estimates and ask if they charge for estimates first

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I had a similar problem. I keep smelling a burnt or melted plastic smell from our fuse box. I couldn't figure it out. One night, I walked into a hazy living room--and we had to shut off the power and call our power co. to take out our meter--the breakers had begun melting and were glowing red hot--we were very blessed and lucky that we caught it in time or it may have been worse.

Please do not wait around on this--get a professional to check it out!!!

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The first electrician recomended replacing the entire panel as the main breaker was obviously going bad. The second electrician pulled the meter, tightened the incoming connection, and replaced the meter. The problem is fixed. Always get a second opinion!

Thanks for the advice.


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Definitely... turn off the circuit breaker immediately then call an electrician! If you live in an apt complex, call Maintenance now. Do *not* wait on this.

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half the power shut off in the house. it took 2 electricians to troubleshoot for 5 hrs. I am being blamed for it. Isn't it the landlord's responsibility? If I wasn't here, my pets and possessions could have gone up in fire. Very upset. They are sticking me with the bill (2X 1/2 after hours; raising rent most likely). Help.

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I have a breaker that has just started to have a burning smell. What do I need to do? How do I track down what it is connecting to?

By Rodney

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Yes, call an electrician IMMEDIATELY - turn that breaker off & remove the fuse if you can! If you rent, call your landlord & insist on having something done ASAP!

If you have too many things plugged into this breaker, it should be tripping the breaker. Since it isn't something is wrong that is preventing the breaker from tripping, or the wiring is bad - either way, you have a fire just waiting to happen!

You might simply need to have the breaker replaced or rewired, but you need to get it checked our you'll have a much bigger problem.

A burning smell means exactly that - something is burning. It's probably just smoldering right now, the wires are getting hot & burning through their protective coating. If not taken care of, it will continue to smolder until it sparks & starts burning.

Electrical fires are bad! You almost never know about it until it's too late, because it burns inside the walls or the attic & next thing you know, the whole house is on fire! What if this happened while you were in bed & you couldn't get out? At the least, you'd lose everything you own!

My house was built in the 1970s when they used aluminum wiring in homes. It's extremely dangerous because it's prone to getting hot & starting fires. We've had outlets that have gotten hot to the touch & fortunately my husband is able to rewire the outlet up to the main wire in the attic. I've always been able to smell them when they get hot, but I try to check all the outlets by feeling them several times a year anyway.

One outlet (the one in the kitchen I used the most) had been rewired like that twice over the years, when I had my crockpot plugged into it & kept smelling the 'hot' smell. I went in the kitchen & the outlet was smoking. When my husband took it apart, the wired had gotten so hot they'd burned all the way through the wires, melted the plastic cover & some of the wood was beginning to smolder! If I'd plugged that crock in & left the house, as I usually did, our house would've burned down! My husband had to rewire it all the way to the breaker box & we haven't had a problem since.

I'm telling you this, because this isn't something to mess with, unlike Deeli's aunt, we've always been really lucky. My neighbor just a few houses down wasn't so lucky, she's a single mom of 5 who's house burned to the ground from an electrical fire cause by aluminum wiring.

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Home and Garden Home Improvement Lighting and ElectricMay 1, 2005
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