Why Is a Burning Smell Coming from My Circuit Breaker Box?

2015 Sep 01
Posted in: Electrical

If you smell a burning smell and hear a buzzing sound from your breaker box, then you need to act fast. Because your home could be in danger.

This could be a sign of one of two things:

  • A “bad” circuit breaker (one that no longer works)
  • A circuit breaker’s wire isn’t connected properly

Both can lead to an electrical fire.

What you should do now:

  1. Turn off and unplug all electrical equipment in your home. These can get damaged when you turn your home’s electricity on and off.
  2. Turn off the main power supply by switching the service disconnect switch to “off”. If you have a backup generator, turn it to standby. 
  3. Call an electrician to fix the problem (We serve the metro Phoenix area if you need us)

Your service disconnect switch should be a large double-pole switch like the one pictured below.

Electrical Panel Diagram

Understanding what’s actually burning 

What’s causing the burning smell depends on what the issue is.

If the circuit breaker’s wire is loose then, the smell means that the wire’s insulation is burning.

If the breaker has gone bad, then the the breaker wire’s insulation could be burning and the breaker itself could be melting due to an electrical overload.

Let’s explain that last problem in more detail because it’s critically important that you understand how dangerous a bad breaker is. 

When your home’s wiring get overloaded (pulls in too much electricity) the only thing preventing those wires from bursting into flames is the circuit breaker.

But if the breaker goes bad, it won’t “trip” (shut off the electric current). That means that high current keeps flowing through the circuit unimpeded. The heat from the electricity starts to overheat and melt the breaker.

Here’s a thermal image of a bad breaker that’s clearly overheating.

Bad Breaker

Please don’t try to tighten any wiring or replace the circuit breaker on your own. 

This isn’t a job to DIY since you could get electrocuted. If you smell the burning smell from your breaker box, please call an electrician ASAP. They’ll find the root of the problem.

Need an electrician and live in metro Phoenix?