Warning! Hidden Danger if you have a 220 Disconnect Box!
A warning and a cationary tale for anyone that has one of these in their house...
This simple box had me within a few minutes of losing my entire house.
New Years day, I got a message on my phone that my thermostat had losts it connection. I figured that i had a wifi issue and put if off till later. I went about my day and realized that my house was getting a bit chilly. When I checked the thermostat, it was blank. I found the breaker outside had tripped and reset it making a mental note that this breaker had tripped a year ago and that I should replace it in the very near future.
A bit later there was a wierd POP from oustide my house. I didn't think much about it till my four legged friend came to my office and she was very unhappy with the noise. This isn't a dog that is scared by noise. She loves fire works and lightning and all things that send most dogs slithering under the furnature shaking in a ball. So I was off to investigate. I found the breaker tripped again and noticed a faint acidic, burning smell like a tire burning or something just not right. Something in the back of my brain made me stand in driveway long enough to realize the smell was getting stronger so I decided to check the air handler in my attic and this is what I found...
Before you ask why I am taking a picture and not putting out the fire... When I saw that fire, I ran down and got my fire extingisher. Anyone that knows me, my auto repair or grilling hobbies, knows that I should never be far from a good extingisher. I grabbed a brand new one still in its box and went back to attic. I realized that the fire was still contained in the box and decied for insurance, warrantty and othe reasons, that I might want a picture.
I took that picture, and immediatly put the fire out. This is what remained.
NOT PRETTY. My broker's husband is a fire fighter and he said that if I hadn't caught it when I did or not been home that I would have lost everything.
Why is this so scary. First, a friend just had the same thing happen, but it didn't burn as much and her house was ok. Second, according to electrician, these boxes wear out and will eventually over heat and if system is run too long, will over heat to the point of combustion. Electrician would not even replace this with another disconnect, only a real breaker.
Well, everything is up and running, and when the amps were checked going to air handler it was discovered that when I had my HVAC replace a few years ago they put a heating element in that was 15Kw. The wiring and breaker were rated for 60amps, which 15Kw draws. It all seems good, as long as the fan and thermostat don't take any current from system. Basically, there was going to be a fire at some point. Between the cheap disconnect box and the new 15Kw heating element, it was a disaster waiting to happen.
Why share this...
1. If you have a disconnect, make sure it is snug between the plates and doesn't wiggle at all.
2. When you have work done, it is never a bad idea to check to make sure it was all done properly. You can't trust contractors nor city inpspectors to pay attention to the fine points. It was a 60 amp heater on a 60 amp circuit, but it never dawned on anyone that the fan needed its own juice.
3. This is worth checking today. I just had a friend send a picture just like the one above. It is an easy check and especially if you leave pets alone in your house, you need to make sure there are no hidden fire hazards.
4. When a breaker pops, find out why before just getting a new breaker.