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During a power outage I attached my generator incorrectly (I have never done this before - I just was not paying attention). Anyway, I crossed the ground at the box with the black. When I turned on the power and then the specific circuits inside the nearest GFCI arced and smoked. I turned off the power immediately and found my error. The rest of the house is working fine now on generator power but the one GFCI outlet will now trip every time I turn on that specific circuit which feeds a run in the basement. I did replace this outlet with a new equal amperage GFCI. Did I damage the specific breaker? As I said, everything else is working properly and no trips or issues - just this breaker. It is immediately adjacent to the board in the basement.

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"Turned off the power immediately and found my error." This always makes me laugh. Unless your reaction time is faster than the speed of light, you were too slow to avoid damage. It's not clear exactly what you did, or how you've tried to remedy the situation. Please provide a more detailed account of what happened, including what you were trying to do (exactly), and what you've done since. –  Tester101 Dec 23 '13 at 13:06
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You might want to contact an Electrician, and have a proper transfer switch/panel installed. This will avoid any future mishaps, and may save the life of a poor lineman working to restore your power. –  Tester101 Dec 23 '13 at 13:08
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As tester101 suggests, a transfer swith is the recommended method. A cheaper (though less failsafe) method is to pull the main breaker (100A.. 200A ) prior to connecting the generator. All backfeeding issues can also be avoided by running extension cords individually to the appliance needed (freezer, refrigerator). –  HerrBag Dec 23 '13 at 15:34
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Fyi, linemen who value their lives have a habit of shorting out supposed-to-be-dead lines on both ends, thus tripping or frying your generator so that they don't accidentally try to work with live lines. Save a life and save your generator - install a proper transfer switch. –  antiduh Dec 23 '13 at 16:24
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It's not completely clear what you did, but it sounds like you may have connected the generator hot to ground. Depending on exactly how you connected it, you may have sent the entire output of the generator through that ground and back through neutral (which have no overcurrent protection except what the generator may provide), so you may have overheated the wiring and melted insulation. I'd bring in an electrician and show him exactly what you did and let him evaluate it. –  Johnny Dec 23 '13 at 18:58

2 Answers 2

You probably overheated and burned every component in that line, including the wiring and the GCFI outlet.

You probably melted/decomposed the insulation on that circuit. The GFCI is tripping because you have significant leakage on the hot or neutral lines, which means they're leaking to either the ground or to some other path within the house.

You may have damaged wiring on other circuits in the house, even if they appear operational.

I don't think it's possible to burn out a breaker unless it was already defective. It interrupts the hot leg and has no grounding, so it has nowhere to short to, and will shut off it senses too much current, saving itself and whatever is on that circuit.

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This is a case where I'd want to bring in a professional electrician. It's not 100% clear from the above description what happened, so it'd be best to bring in an electrician. If you try to explain it here, you'll explain what you think you did, which might be different than what you actually did, which would probably be more clear to someone on-site. And take his advice when he tells you you need a proper transfer switch even if it seems expensive (rebuilding a burnt down home is expensive too, as is a fine or criminal charge after injury or death of a power company lineman). –  Johnny Dec 23 '13 at 22:31

Circuit breakers have a maximum current that they're rated for, usually around 10,000 amps for a residential one. You can look it up for your model if you're worried, but it's probably way, way more than your generator is capable of generating.

In fact, the circuit breaker is probably the only electrical thing in the whole house that you can pretty well guarantee was not damaged. Anything else is suspect.

I agree with others: your wiring may well have been damaged. I would say you should shut the power off to as many circuits as you can bear, particularly the GFCI one, and call an electrician immediately. Even if a circuit is functioning OK right now there may be burnt/melted insulation or damaged connections just waiting to start a fire. I assume the electrician will want to do an inspection of all the circuits, similar to what you would do after a lightning strike where they electrically test the insulation and connectivity properties of the circuits.

Clearly something is still wrong, so you should not just brush this off as a near miss.

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