Shocking! (not)

Ginger was drying clothes last weekend… checked the dryness, needed to let them go longer, pushed the Start button, and… nothing! So immediately our thoughts went to the worst-case scenario: spending money (yuck!) on a dryer, and the painful process of trying to find one that just dries clothes without having all kinds of electronic computer-controlled features.

Breaker BoxThen our thoughts turned to the best-case scenario – flip a tripped breaker. We went to the breaker box in the garage and noticed the one labeled “Dryer” was tripped, over to the “off” side and showing orange. It’s nice when the breakers are labeled! But this day it wasn’t going to be so easy – never before have I seen a breaker that just wouldn’t go back to “on”, but this one just wouldn’t. Repeated flips over and back just wouldn’t ever get it back to “on”, so we were stuck. Being the troubleshooter that I am and wanting to explore all possibilities, we even unplugged the dryer just in case there was a short in it or its cord that immediately tripped the breaker whenever it wound try to come on… but nope, the problem was really at the breaker box.

We let the problem lie for a couple days, contemplating calling an electrician because I didn’t want to get fried by touching all those scary wires in the wrong way. After bringing up our problem amongst our respective coworkers, both Ginger and I had people suggest it was a bad breaker; I didn’t know that there was such a thing as a breaker “breaking” or “going bad”, but that seemed to be the case here.

Breaker Panel RemovedI unscrewed the panel surrounding the breaker box, exposing the assembly that houses the individual breakers and all the bare wires running into them – it looked like each breaker was a small cartridge-like thingy that could be removed easily enough. But I sure didn’t want to go digging around in there with my bare hands or a screwdriver without doing a little more research.

A guy at my work confirmed what I was thinking: I could turn off the “Main Principal” breaker , cutting power to all the breakers below, rendering them harmless. Then I could touch anything below without sending sparks flying. The idea was to disconnect the wires to the breaker, remove it, go to The Home Depot and buy an exact match, install the new one, reconnect the wires, flip the “Main Principal” back on, and have the dryer and everything else electrical still work, all without killing myself or burning the house down.

Breaker Main OffBack at the house… a borrowed volt meter confirmed that turning of the Main Principal indeed killed power to all those below it. I was able to unscrew the fittings into which the red and black wires ran, then basically snap out the offending breaker. I made a 10-minute trip to The Home Depot and bought its exact match replacement, a QO 30amp double pole breaker (no, I don’t know what any of that means) for $15.47.

Breaker CompleteIt was super-easy to snap the new breaker into place and reconnect the wires. Now the moment of truth: flipping the Main Principal back on. It would be a good thing for the dryer to work again; better would be for all of the lights and appliances to still work; best would be to have no sparks or fires or injuries. Success! Everything electrical in the house works like a champ, and I even got it done in time for the SmartUPS in the office to keep all of the computer and network stuff running on battery power while the power was off. And we didn’t have to mess with scheduling with (or paying for) an electrician – it only took $16.75 and some patience, effort, and a little courage.

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