Is this electrical feature dangerous?
June 20, 2014 12:32 PM   Subscribe

When I'm sitting in the room with the breaker box to my house, I hear a series of short buzzes, like "bzzzt." The noise seems to be coming from the breaker box, and I notice that a faceplate to one of the switches is missing (breakers were last switched off a month or two ago, when new heat pump was installed.). Here is (or should be) the image (if not, there's just copper surface where the breaker faceplate should be):
posted by mmiddle to Home & Garden (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Bare metal inside a breaker == DANGER MASTER ROBINSON! It's probably live, and if you touch it you won't be.

Call an electrician. This is not a repair job for an amateur.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:42 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

gosh, thank you.
posted by mmiddle at 12:43 PM on June 20, 2014

Yeah, electrician, STAT!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:52 PM on June 20, 2014

He's on his way. Thanks for these fast responses. I'm still shaking.
posted by mmiddle at 12:59 PM on June 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yes. Call an electrician.

From your description, it sounds like the electricity is arcing in the panel. This is a fire hazard, though realistically the safety features of the breakers will probably be enough to prevent a fire. But, besides the fire hazard, when electricity arcs, it damages the electrical equipment, the earlier you correct this, the less equipment will have been damaged and the less you will have to replace. Getting it properly fixed early is best for your safety and best for your wallet.
posted by Flood at 1:21 PM on June 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

I suspect the "bzzzt" sounds are a breaker trying to throw and not being able to. Which is terrifying to think about.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:48 PM on June 20, 2014

Looking forward to a follow up.
posted by theora55 at 6:37 AM on June 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Following up! It turned out to be okay; I don't completely understand why, but he said that the copper (?)breaker, which goes to the water heater, was a 'breaker lock,' which would prevent one breaker flipping from affecting adjacent breakers. He put his hand on it to reassure me, and said that it was a really good-looking breaker box, with several safety features including a master switch. I'm sure it would have helped if I had been successful in posting the photo - bottom line, I will err on the side of caution and call him whenever I am worried about an electrical thing. Partly because he didn't charge me a penny!
posted by mmiddle at 4:21 PM on June 21, 2014

Also, re series of "bzzzzt"s - he said that that was coincidental, as it indicated that some connected electrical appliance was experiencing a surge in demand on it, but that it was normal and nothing to worry about. It's true that although I often heard that noise sequence, it was not constant.
posted by mmiddle at 4:29 PM on June 21, 2014

I had the BZZZT thing in my office for awhile and it just meant the breakers were an older model. It went away when we got new ones. Electrician said it wasn't the scary thing I was imagining it to be.
posted by 4ster at 2:06 AM on June 22, 2014

Yes breakers can buzz a bit when the load they protect surges or they're running close to maximum current.
posted by werkzeuger at 4:50 AM on June 22, 2014

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