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I'm leasing a commercial space and I have concerns about the breakers and electrical space. All the lights in the space are switched by the breakers, so the breaker box gets visited at least twice a day. The breaker box is located indoors. To my knowledge, the breakers are not overloaded (e.g. 10A on a 20A breaker). I have heard crackling noises from the breaker box, and have called the landlord to have it fixed. (The landlord is responsible for everything but the light bulbs).

One breaker was replaced and relocated. The faulty breaker had signs of lots of arcing at the contacts with the bus bar, and the contacts looked corroded. Replacing the breaker didn't eliminate the crackling sound, and the bus bar contact was corroded as well. The breaker was relocated to an open slot. I could still hear faint crackling, but the service person could not.

I will admit that the sound is faint, and I can practically only notice it with my ear 3-4 inches away from the breaker box, and I can't localize the sound to a specific breaker. I've noticed some intermittent minor flickering on the lights as well that let me identify the crackling breaker. I would like it to be fixed, but I'm concerned that I don't have enough sufficient evidence to convince people there is a problem.

I suppose this means that I have two questions:

Should I be worrying about these symptoms? (am I being paranoid?)

What evidence could I look for that is more obvious or conclusive than the subtle indicators that I have observed?

EDIT: Image of the breaker after repair. The replaced breaker was originally in the top-right slot. After it was replaced, it was then moved to the third from the bottom slot (marked "240V. Test").

breaker panel

Images of the replaced breaker. In normal light, the contacts are heavily oxidized (black). There were spark marks on the case in-line with the contacts, but they were wiped off.

Contacts of removed Breaker Top of removed Breaker

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  • Related: diy.stackexchange.com/questions/21685/… Some of the information there boils down to "switches wear out eventually", so whether its a light switch or a breaker, it can eventually fail. – JPhi1618 Oct 12 '15 at 14:58
  • Can you post a photo of the breaker panel and the label? This sounds like a progressive breaker-to-busbar failure, but the likelihood of it actually being that strongly depends on the type of breakers installed. – ThreePhaseEel Oct 13 '15 at 22:54
  • @threephaseeel what specifically would be helpful in such a picture? (So that I know what to include) – W5VO Oct 14 '15 at 1:25
  • I'm trying to figure out what type of panel and breakers are fitted. – ThreePhaseEel Oct 14 '15 at 1:30
  • @ThreePhaseEel i have uploaded a picture. The replaced breaker was in the top right, and it was moved to the bottom right. – W5VO Oct 17 '15 at 21:48
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If you've had some trouble, you're certainly not being paranoid.

I am curious why the service person didn't move the circuit to a fresh breaker in a fresh spot in the panel, I wonder if the contact surfaces from the bad breaker are messed up, they may need attention. I also feel it's best to take questionable equipment completely out of service, I wouldn't have put it in a fresh spot in the panel. It's possible this problem may be beyond the service person's electrical expertise, some maintenance people are fully qualified licensed electricians, some know just enough to be dangerous (literally).

I never like to switch lights at the panel. Like everything else, breaker quality isn't what it used to be. There's usually a better way to do things without breaking the bank.

Anyway, I bet you already thought of all of the above. I'd suggest you have the panel inspected by a qualified commercial electrician who will have the knowledge and equipment to conclusively test the breaker. If they find no trouble then you spent a few bucks to rest easy, if they find trouble it would be reasonable to ask the landlord to reimburse you for the cost of the testing.

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  • What's the difference if you use a breaker as a switch, or a switch as a switch? As long as the breaker is rated for switch duty (SWD), there should be no problem using it as a switch. – Tester101 Oct 12 '15 at 15:32
  • For a number of obvious reasons. For example, it's too easy for the person flipping off breakers at the end of the business day to turn off something that shouldn't be turned off, like a refrigerator. Switches are popular for very good reasons. – batsplatsterson Oct 12 '15 at 17:05
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    Convenience has nothing to do with quality. Your post makes it sound like using the breaker will somehow damage it, which is a bit misleading. – Tester101 Oct 12 '15 at 19:02
  • Also, the OP did say that a new breaker was used, and that it was moved "One breaker was replaced and relocated". – Tester101 Oct 12 '15 at 19:05

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