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Broken Circuit Breaker

During the past 3 or 4 months I have a couple of outlets that stopped working. I mapped the circuit breaker box and found the switch that tripped. It was barely loose. I had to turn it on and off a couple of times to get it to work. Not a good sign right. I only found those two outlets on the circuit. I only had a toaster oven and the telephone plugged into them.
It tripped again a few days ago. Yesterday it tripped again. I checked my map went back out to the box and the switch wouldn't move then it moved and now it is floating. Also the blue plastic below the switch handle is broken.
Q1. How dangerous is it in this condition?
Q2. Is there an online source for finding a qualified electrician? I can't find my yellow pages book. Why do they still deliver them? I guess most of my neighbors don't have computers... I'm in sunny and dry Sacramento, CA.
Q3. It seems like this could be done in one billing hour. About how much should I expect it to cost? I'm on a very tight budget.
The house was built in 1950 and I bought it 7 years ago from a couple of kids, 20-ish, that were trying to get rich flipping it. In other words I have no idea what shortcuts they may have taken behind the walls. They did a crappy job and deserve the bankruptcy they ended up with.
I can build a computer and repair one but house wiring scares me unless I have very explicit instructions on how to check my work. I know enough not to touch the breaker box except to flip the switches.

Re: Broken Circuit Breaker

Yes , it's possible that it could be dangerous should the breaker fail to trip . If it's tripped now , leave it that way . Borrow a phone book from a neighbor or even look it up online . It's a very simple job to replace the breaker , but I'm not sure how an electrician would bill it (One hour minimun , two hour , etc . ) .

Re: Broken Circuit Breaker

DW, thanks for the info.
After I posted I sent an email to my real estate agent and he sent me one contact. I'll see what he has to say. But with the holiday and all... I'm in no hurry. Just don't want the house to burn down with me and my pets in it.
The box is a "Zinsco". The switch is totally broken. No OFF or ON. It's loose. So I guess it's stuck in a tripped state. It's a 15A single. There is another 15A next to it but I can't find anything it controls. Might be the security alarm which I don't use. The other side of it is a double for the range/windowAC, which I don't use either because of the expense. Since I'm single I just use the toaster oven or microwave. This little old house doesn't have central heat and air so I use small space heaters for a couple of rooms. Doesn't get terribly cold and stay cold around here.
Yeah, the local TV station does PA's about unplugging everything. I get the part about things like TV's being vampires or something with a clock, but I don't understand why a regular toaster or hairdryer would be drawing power. Like they show in the PA.

Re: Broken Circuit Breaker

Well, this isn't going to make you happy...Zinsco electrical panels keep electricians working.

Zinsco circuit breakers & breaker panels have been plagued with problems for years. Over the years, whenever I answered a service call & found Zinsco circuit breaker panels, more often than not there was severe arcing between the circuit breakers & the electrical bus bar in the panel. If the arcing wasn't too severe, a new circuit breaker could sometimes be installed in a different slot in the panel. If the arcing was severe, or the arcing was between the main breaker & the bus, then the panel required replacement. The arcing is due to a couple of underlying problems. First, the breakers (right out of the box) aren't a very snug fit when installing them into the panel. A loose fit causes overheating, which leads to a looser fit, which leads to overheating, which...

Second, some (if not all) Zinsco panels used aluminum bus bars. There have been many problems associated with aluminum wiring in homes.

When you find an electrician, be sure to have him remove all of the breakers & inspect them and the panel. Arcing causes heat, which causes arcing, which.....you get the idea.

Here's a link with more info.

Don't delay in getting this looked at.

Re: Broken Circuit Breaker

Wow, you're right. I'm not happy to hear this. I'm trying to figure out where I'm going to get the money for one breaker... I have no children to sell to the gypsy's... I'm old and fat so I'd make more money collecting cans than I would prostituting myself. I have no idea how old the breaker box is. At least 8 years. I live in a low income neighborhood and things like this get stolen as you probably know. The good news is I now know when the electrician starts talking crazy that he/she may actually be telling the truth.
That't always been very frustrating to me with auto mechanics. The cams have to be replaced because the widgets are stripped and we have to pull the engine to get to the thingamabobs and we need $1000 to get started... Luckily I haven't been able to afford a car in many years. Haven't had any problems with the house yet that I can't handle til now.
I'm having serious problems with my teeth and struggling to find the thousands the dentist wants to do the root canals and crowns needed right away. Then there is the other stuff...
Just found out a couple of days ago that my mom has cancer...
Trying not to get depressed here...
Thanks guys for all of your expert help here. It means a lot to me and actually takes some of the stress off of me. I'll just have to wait to talk to the electrician after he gets a chance to look at the situation.
Maybe I can get a second...

Re: Broken Circuit Breaker

Wow thanks DW and all. Next question: Do I have much choice as to new box and all? I guess I want a different brand. My plan was to tear down the house about now... Stuff happens. It's a 600 sq ft little thing. I was hoping to replace it with 1000-1200 sq ft. In other words I'm not looking for something with a lifetime quarantee. But safety first.
You guys are great. I'm glad I thought to ask. And that I have experts to help me with this.

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