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The breaker keeps tripping…

This is yet another addition of the “Burned up Sh*t” collection:

GE 30 Amp 3 pole breaker

GE 30 Amp 3 pole breaker

It is a breaker from a 5 ton AC compressor.  Back in the bad old days when I was the Director of Engineering for a 28 station group Headquartered in Harrisburg, PA, I received a phone call from one of the local engineers.  He stated that the studio AC unit compressor had burned out again and the breaker keeps tripping.  What did I think, asked he.  I thought perhaps he should dig a little deeper and determine why the breaker was tripping before throwing another AC compressor at it.  When are you coming to town again, he cheerfully inquired.

Okay, I get it.

I started by calling the HVAC company to inquire what had gone wrong with the compressors.  Winding shorted to case for both units was the answer received.  It being July and mighty hot out, the various worker bees in the studio where feeling inconvenienced by the sweat in their eyes and dripping on their work, etc.  I called the local manager and asked for a hotel room, I’d be up tomorrow.  Then I called the HVAC guy back and asked in to meet me at the studio tomorrow afternoon.

Upon arrival the next morning, I found the fifth floor studios to be hot, as reported.  I trip to the roof location proved to be hotter still.  I tested the voltages at the compressor unit with a DVM and everything looked good.  A trip down to the utility room found the electrical panel in reasonable shape.  Then the local engineering guy chimed in, “Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you, the breaker hums and gets hot when the compressor is on.”

It’s always that little bit of missing information…

I took the breaker out and sure enough, the fingers were all arched and nasty looking.

I replaced the breaker, the HVAC guy showed up, with a new compressor and the studios began to cool off around 3 pm.

Since then, I specify Square D QO bolt on breakers for new installations, especially for heavy loads like AC units, transmitters, and so on. They are a little more expensive, but in the light two AC compressors, the unscheduled trip out of town, and the grumbling staff, it is better to pay upfront for better equipment than to put up with preventable outages.

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6 comments to The breaker keeps tripping…

  • Gary

    it is better to pay upfront for better equipment than to put up with preventable outages.

    That, my friend, is the money quote of the day! And the fact that it is backed up with an actual incident? Well, this story should be required reading for every manager everywhere. “No, we don’t need that. It’s too expensive.”
    Until it’s too late. Then all of a sudden, the checkbook opens up. It just has to open wider than if you had just opened it enough to begin with. Never enough to do it right; always enough to fix it (even though it costs more).

  • Paul Thurst

    As the saying goes, “Pay me now, or pay me later…”

  • Gary

    As the saying goes, “Pay me now, or pay me later…”
    Oh so true! What people don’t tend to understand is that, “pay me later” actually means “pay me a LOT MORE later”.

  • J. Aegerter

    Unfortunately, QO breakers will not work as a replacement in your existing panel! And, I have to disagree with you on your choice of “QO”. First, the “QO” clamp is rounded and doesn’t really grip the bus well in a standard “QO” panelboard. What you really need is a “bolt-in” breaker, and if you like the French so much, then a “QOB” type “bolt-in” will make a tight low resistance contact to the bus. Our experience with “QO” has been a lot of mechanical failures with this breaker series, and since they are supposedly warranteed for life, you can get a new one on exchange after some haggling. The classic 1 inch breaker that you show is either a GE, ITE, Bryant, or possibly General Switch brand. We’ve evaluated them all, and have the least problems with Cutler Hammer (now owned by Eaton) and Siemens (formerly ITE). The other thing to be aware of is the bus material. Many residential or light commercial panels have an aluminum bus, which is not suited to continuous heavy loads found in industrial applications. Now, if you care to study the designs of circuit breakers like I have, Cutler Hammer copied the 1/2 inch wide “QO” design and made it better by attaching a retaining clip on the jaws to keep high tension on the bus contact. If you like 1/2 inch breakers, the “CH” series now made by Eaton has been a trouble-free breaker. We have never had a problem with them.

  • Paul Thurst

    John, Actually you agreed with me.

  • J. Aegerter

    OK, but I wouldn’t necessarily blame the GE THQL breakers, as they actually make a better contact to the bus blade than the standard “QO”. GE makes “bolt-in” types in a 1 inch configuration that I believe run a little cooler than the 1/2 inch types because of greater mass. However, I am not a big fan of Schneider Electric, the French company with a German name! Their prices are the highest, and in my opinion after years of experience, we have had to return many for mechanical problems. In a 1/2 inch breaker, checkout the Cutler Hammer type “CH” and compare them closely with the “QO”. You might just see my point.

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