Electrical Wiring in the Home/Tripped circuit breaker


QUESTION: My house was probably built in the 1940's or 1950's. It has a Zinsco electrical panel with the breakers placed vertically. It has a double 30 amp coupled together, a 20 amp ad two 15 amp circuit breakers at the left and right sides.
I turned off the supply of gas to the stove because my sister was always saying she was smelling gas and I put a potable double burner electrical stove to do the cooking. I also was using an electric heater to warm the bathroom before taking a shower.
So, on Wednesday I was not having power for the heater and the portable stove. I checked the electrical panel circuit breakers and the left 15 amp circuit breaker was tripped. I move it down and up but it does not reset to the height of the other breakers but it stays about a quarter of an inch below.
I do not have power in the four kitchen receptacles, in the bathroom receptacle and in the light above the kitchen sink.
Can you please tell me where can I buy a 15 amp zinsco circuit breaker and how to do the replacement?
Sincerely. Andres Ruvalcaba.

ANSWER: First, disconnect the wire to the breaker, and see if you can reset it.  If you can, you have a problem with the wiring.  It should not be turned on again until it is fixed because it could be a fire hazard.

From what I have read about Zinsco, they are dangerous and the panel should be replaced. You can Google Zinsco and both find out why they are dangerous, and where to get replacements. I see Lowe's is one place.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I forgot to mention to you that I do not see a Main disconnect above the circuit breakers. The meter is almost just in top of the breakers. And, also that there is only one black wire connected to the right side 15 amp breaker, but there are two black wires connected to the tripped left side 15 amp breaker, one of them slightly thinner than the other. I think an unlicensed electrician connected the second black wire to the tripped left breaker about six years ago.
Can I stand on a piece of wood and carefully disconnect the two black wires from the tripped 15 amp circuit breaker and see if I can reset the breaker?
And, if I can reset it and the wiring needs to be fixed, does that mean that the walls and/or ceiling need to be opened?
Sincerely again, Andres Ruvalcaba.

ANSWER: The wire coming out of the breaker SHOULD be safe. But anything else metal in the box may have electricity. If there is power, you may still get a shock, no matter what you are standing on.  Be careful, and touch only the plastic part of the screwdriver, and not the metal part. If you are not sure, then don't touch anything.  Usually, only electricians should work in the panel. It's not going to be easy to replace a breaker if you can't shut off the power.

Usually, the problems in a circuit are in the junction boxes, so you would not need to tear open any walls.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Today I carefully removed the two black wires from the bottom of the tripped left 15 Amp circuit breaker hoping that with the removed wires I would not be able to reset it because my local hardware store has this circuit breaker at a very inexpensive price, but I did not have luck because with the removed black wires I could reset the breaker, and according to what you have told me, then the problem is in the wiring. I removed the front plate of the bathroom receptacle and the front plates of three kitchen receptacles, and I did not see anything burned. there is another kitchen outlet but I never use it and I could not check the inside of the light above the kitchen sink, but I do not think there is a problem there because that light uses only two spiral light bulbs of 18 watts each.
I do not know further checks, if any, I can do. The shortest possible path from the panel to the kitchen seems to be through 13 feet of the house wall where the panel is (at the backyard) and then through 17 feet of one of the washing machine room walls, which goes to about the middle of the inside kitchen wall. But, as I said, I do not know what else I can do.
Sincerely again, Andres Ruvalcaba.

How come there are 2 wires? The short is probably just in one of them, so you might be able to get some things working.  Don't rule anything out.  A short can develop in any device, whether you use it or not.  It could also happen in the light.  It may take more than taking the plate off.  You may need to call an electrician to find the problem. Have you unplugged everything to make sure it is not a problem with something that is plugged in?  Unless you recently drove nails into the wall, the problem is not likely to be between the devices.
About Electrical Wiring in the Home
This site answers questions related to home electrical wiring, home wiring, general electrical help,and other electrical questions related to aleternating current (AC). You can find help on the National Electical Code, home electrical issues, wiring electrical outlets, installing lighting, electrical grounding, and general electrical help for do-it-yourself projects not require an electrician. If you do not see your home electrical wiring question answered in this area then please ask your electrical wiring question here

Electrical Wiring in the Home

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Bob Sponaugle


Just about any home wiring question. (not appliance repair) I have done all kinds of home wiring for myself, including adding a new breaker box, etc. Please, questions from North America only. Please be specific with details.

©2016 About.com. All rights reserved.