Thursday, November 24, 2011

Water in my electrical panel

My wife and I are getting ready for a trip back to our parents homes' for Thanksgiving.  After packing the car, I wanted to secure our home for our extended leave.  I locked the back door, then went into the basement to check the basement door.  We previously worked on the breaker box which was left uncovered from when we were installing the vent fan in our bathroom.  I wanted to re-attach the cover, so as I was re-attaching it, I am supporting the panel with my left hand, screwing in the second of six screws when all of a sudden water started to squirt out from the breakers!  I quickly unscrewed the two screws, pulled off the panel and was quite surprised to see most of the breakers covered in water.  First things first, the main was switched off.

"Honey, what happened to the power!" calls my wife.

With the main off, in the dark, I remembered that I had the business card in my wallet of the electrician that came to our home that day of the power outage in October.  I called him up.  I explained the situation, and he said, "If this were any other day, I would be right over, but unfortunately, I am with family and have a bird to take care of."  I understood, but he did a repeat of our first encounter.  He described to me how to correct the water issue:
  1. Turn off the main and each individual breaker.
  2. Take out each breaker by pulling it out from the center of the box towards the side it is on.
  3. Unscrew the wire leading into each breaker so that now the breaker is completely free.
  4. Get a can of WD-40 and saturate the breaker.
  5. Wrap the breaker in a thick towel and gently beat it.  The oil in the WD-40 will disperse the water in the breaker bringing it out of the casing.
  6. Get a can of compressed air and spray off any residual water/oil left.
  7. Repeat the towel beating and compressed air cleaning until there is no more water.
  8. The WD-40 will dry in about 30 minutes.  Re-attach the wire and plug the breaker back into its location on the panel.
  9. Repeat for all the wet breakers.
Took me a couple hours, but I completed the task and with my hands shaking, I turned on the main, then breakers 1... 2... 3........23.  Power was up and running.  We waited about half an hour to make sure everything was stable, then packed up the last of our belongings and left for the weekend.

The electrician said that water can get into the electrical box through the main conduit leading from the outside line.  It would trickle down the conduit into the home and directly into the panel.

A week later, before the next rain event, I took a look at the main power feed entering our home. The line attaches to the exterior wall at the roof line. It enters a conduit that then travels down the exterior wall to the meter.  From there, the conduit leaves the meter and goes further down the wall to the basement level where a bracket is installed.  Looking closely at the bracket, it is loose, rather unattached to the wall.  I found the source of my water leak.

Just of note, this is the same location where investigative work was undertaken several weeks prior by the structural company working in the basement.  They did such lousy finishing work on the exterior. Not only is that bracket not secured but there is also a lack of caulking.  I purchased a box of paint-able white exterior caulk from Lowes and went at that bracket. This could have been disastrous!  Imagine if my wife and I left and water continued to leak onto live breakers.  A fire erupts after a spark is created and my 250 year old wooden home burns up like a Thanksgiving bonfire.  I may sound like a "drama queen" to any contractor, but when it comes to my family and my investment, it's nothing to blow over. I have to watch future contractors like a hawk. I have to scrutinize their work as we'll be the ones living with their oversights.