Working on LIVE CIRCUITS – Replacing Circuit Breakers in Old ZINSCO Panel
There are many old-school breakers out there still working today, even though their companies have shut down, and these materials have been outlawed for safety reasons. Many of these terrible breakers…are in my house currently. So today we swap them out, and talk about WORKING ON LIVE CIRCUITS SAFELY.
Connecticut Electric reached out to me about a year ago and we sat down and did an episode together talking about many of the products they offer. They manufacture brand new breakers for old legacy electrical systems like Federal Pacific, Zinsco, Wadesworth, Pushmatic, Challenger, and Murray.
When I told them I have an old Zinsco panel they asked me to snap a picture of all of the breakers and they offered to send me all new replacement breakers so I could test out their equipment. I happily agreed and thought it would be a great opportunity to test out my new GoPro 9 in the process. Many of you have asked that I strap on a GoPro and work so you can see first hand how I work. So I went and bought one so I could replace all my breakers.
I found, in the process, that one of my busses was damaged, and it was the spot on the bus where the existing 100 amp main breaker attaches. You can tell that there’s been some heating issues over the years and when I tried putting the new 100 amp breaker in it’s place it gave me a lot of trouble. But that’s not a flaw in the breaker, it’s a flaw in the bus. All of the other breakers went in just fine and now I have a practically new panel…except that I’m going to be ripping it all down and replacing it soon lol. That damaged bus makes me a little leery, even though I haven’t had any issues with it in the past.
Once I got all of the new breakers in I began working on the live main breaker. I didn’t have the luxury of the power being disconnected on this one, so I put on hot gloves and a face shield because of the environment I was working in. I don’t recommend working on live wires if you don’t have to. It’s extremely dangerous, even when you’re fully aware and paying attention. But every once in awhile you do need to work on live circuits, and there are companies that make PPE just for the occasion.
There are full flash suits that can be worn, however I chose not to wear them in this situation. I have many years of experience in this trade, I’ve worked on live circuits for years so I used the amount of PPE that I wanted to for the situation. This is also my own home, my own company, my insurance, so it was my liability to work with the level of PPE I did. Some would say I shouldn’t have bothered wearing any at all, others would say I should have had the full suit on. Every electrician is the smartest electrician on the planet, so take what they say with a grain of salt. Just be careful working on live circuits. Make sure you wear proper PPE (information can be found in NFPA 70E), and don’t do this kind of work unless you are a licensed and insured electrician, or are under the direct supervision of one.