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If I understand correctly, then the proper circuit breaker reset procedure is TRIPPED->OFF->ON (ie you can't reset the circuit breaker by going directly from TRIPPED->ON state). However, the circuit breaker immediately springs backs into TRIPPED state if I try to move it into OFF state (or just as well ON state).

enter image description here

So my questions are:

  1. Does the fact that I can't even get it to stay in OFF state proves that problem is in circuit breaker (opposed to unresolved short that trips circuit breaker again)?
  2. If so, then are there any tricks to reset it?
  3. Or, is this a sign that it is time to replace the circuit breaker?
  • How much physical space is present around the breaker box here? – ThreePhaseEel Dec 11 '18 at 12:46
  • > can't reset breaker > posts picture of Zinsco panel – Harper Dec 11 '18 at 16:00
  • Is this panel of yours a standalone breaker panel with the meter somewhere else, or a meter main device with the meter socket in the same box as the panel, by the way? – ThreePhaseEel Dec 12 '18 at 1:06
  • @ThreePhaseEel 1) the box is approximately 15" diagonal. 2)The meter is ~3 feet away from this box and attached to the same wall (meter is not in the box). Will post a picture. – Hans Solo Dec 12 '18 at 1:27
  • @HansSolo -- no need for a picture of the meter. I take it there is enough space around the box that installing a taller breaker box there wouldn't be an issue? – ThreePhaseEel Dec 12 '18 at 1:34
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If you cannot move the circuit breaker actuator from the "tripped" position to the "off" position and have it stay there then there is certainly something wrong with that breaker.

You should definitely plan to replace that breaker with a new one as breakers do fail from time to time. But first you should evaluate what it was that caused the breaker to trip in the first place. If that is comprehended and corrected then install the new breaker.

  • 1
    It's a Zinsco, the whole box is bad and needs replacing. – ThreePhaseEel Dec 11 '18 at 12:47
  • One of house occupants now admitted to have turned on 12A electric heater. We have sink disposal on the same branch. Maybe both were turned on at the same time. – Hans Solo Dec 12 '18 at 1:11
  • @HansSolo -- that could explain the breaker tripping, at least. It sounds like it was damaged internally during the trip (contra UL 489, and what people expect from their circuit breakers, although unsurprising for a Zinsco), which is why it's misbehaving at this point in time. – ThreePhaseEel Dec 12 '18 at 1:16
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Uh oh, you have a Zinsco. Replace the whole breaker box!

The configuration of the breakers in the box, with 2 half-width sections taking up the full height of the box, and "Type V38" markings visible on the breaker labeling, says that this breaker box is one of the dreaded Zinsco firestarters, and cannot be relied upon to turn power off for work or protect your house from overloads, as evidenced by the fact you found a breaker stuck in the tripped position. It needs to be replaced wholesale with a currently supported breaker box -- a 100A, 30 space main breaker panel would not be out of place here, and this size is readily available from multiple manufacturers.

For those that don't know...

The Zinsco breaker and loadcenter line, while considered innovative for its time, turned out to be nearly as hazardous as the infamous FPE (Federal Pacific Electric aka Fire Protection Eliminated) breakers and panels.

Like FPE, the Zinsco breaker-to-busbar contact design is burnup-prone compared to competitors (while not as bad as Stab-Lok, it's still awful in that it's prone to failure under sustained low overloads). Furthermore, Zinsco breakers have shown significant miscalibration and jam rates in independent testing, and also have displayed a propensity for internal arc "blowout" failures during trips that can damage the breaker internally, or even hole the breaker casing. Finally, it is possible for Zinsco breakers to simply fail to shut the power off when switched off -- this "disconnect failure" mode is shared with FPE, and makes service on circuits "protected" by a Zinsco breaker unwise at best.

All of this adds up to one verdict: Zinsco (aka Kearny or GTE-Sylvania-Zinsco, not to be confused with GTE-Sylvania-Challenger panels that are essentially BR lookalikes) breakers and panels belong in a smelter, not in a building.

  • Thanks for raising attention about Zinsco. Now I am considering to replace the whole circuit breaker box. Trying to figure out whether such DIY project is legal in my area and whether it would be beyond my skill set. – Hans Solo Dec 12 '18 at 1:21
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While that indeed is obsolete/dangerous Zinsco panel, that particular circuit breaker stuck in "tripped" state does not even have outgoing wire. So it has been already out of service for a while and does not explain why electricity disappeared on few power outlets. Especially. since rest of circuit breakers in this panel are still in ON state.

enter image description here

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    If it's been that way for a while, it probably failed back then and the wire moved to a spare, but that still doesn't change the fact this you are staring at a pyromaniac, not a piece of electrical safety equipment... – ThreePhaseEel Jan 13 at 0:11
  • @ThreePhaseEel You are right, there is at least one more circuit breaker that is stuck in ON state in this panel, but not delivering power. And possibly there is a splice in the house that connects two branches from two different circuit breakers. Will post that in another question. – Hans Solo Jan 13 at 0:18

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