Breaker Bad

Hot and Smelly

Last night around 11:00 PM, we noticed a strong but intermittent smell of burnt plastic. We couldn’t notice the smell when we went to the open window, thinking that the smell was coming from outside the apartment, so we determined that it was coming from inside the apartment.

It turned out that the smell was coming from the electrical circuit breaker box in the kitchen. As we observed the box, we also heard a buzzing noise emanating from the box. Using a silicon oven mitt, to protect myself from electrocuting or burning my hand, I opened the box and began flipping switches. The buzzing had stopped once I flipped the switches off and on, but I wondered whether there was any inordinate heat coming from the box. There was: my infrared food thermometer read the temperature on the left group of switches as high as 200°.

We called the landlord, who in turn called an electrician, and had us turn off the power box in the apartment and the basement. We spent the night in the dark, with no lights, no air conditioning, or any fans. We did have a good stockpile of flashlights and batteries preparing for Hurricane Irene last August. As far as staying comfortable, the open windows and occasional cross breeze kept us cool last night. (It actually wasn’t all that bad so I’ll stop complaining.)

Bad Circuit Breaker

This morning, an electrician came and in a matter of moments replaced the defective circuit breaker. You can see in the photo that the breaker had developed some warping around the imprinted “900”.

It was fortunate that we were both home and vigilant about identifying the scent of burnt plastic.

If you smell a burning smell from your electrical circuit breaker box, you should…

  1. immediately turn off the breaker box (ours is in the kitchen)
  2. immediately turn off the main power supply (ours is in the basement)
  3. call an electrician to fix the problem

If it’s a hot summer night and have to wait until morning, suck it up:

  1. take a shower
  2. drink a glass of cold water
  3. open a window
  4. put a towel on the bed (this really helps me)

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