I was downstairs in the laundry room working on my 3D printer. The washer and dryer were going, but I could still hear a noise that bothered me. I’d catch it every now and again — a crackling or sputtering.
Finally I decided to investigate. It seemed to happen when the washer was running, but would stop when the washer was between cycles. I moved over to the service panel and heard a distinct crackling sound. I just knew it was a bad breaker.
*At this point I want to emphasize that if you don’t know what you are doing you should turn off the breaker and call an electrician.
Thinking hopefully that maybe the breaker was just partially flipped, I turned the breaker off and listened again. The crackling definitely went away. After flipping the breaker on and off a few times, it still went on crackling. My next thought was that something got behind the breaker (I found several dead insects in the panel) or that the breaker was loose, so pulled the panel cover and removed the breaker to inspect it. Holding the breaker in my hands, I could feel it was very warm. That’s not a good sign.
I snapped the breaker back in place anyway and the crackling came back. At that point, I decided that what I was doing was less important than fixing this problem. So I dropped everything and went to Menards.
My breaker panel is an ITE, a company which doesn’t exist anymore. Browsing a couple of electrician’s forums, I found out that Siemens bought them, and the a Siemen’s breaker wound probably fit. So I found a 20A Siemens breaker that matched pretty closely to my old ITE breaker and purchased it.
When I got home I tried snapping it into the panel and it wouldn’t go. My heart sank. I pulled it out, looked at it, and wondered why it wouldn’t go in. So I tried snapping it into the panel again, but this time I gave it a rap with the but of my screwdriver and it snapped correctly into place. I snapped it back out, reconnected the hot wire, and snapped it back in. No more crackling!
I think I was pretty lucky to be right by the panel when the washer was going. I fear to think of what could have happened if I didn’t catch the problem before it got worse.