popping outlet

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  #1  
Old 04-27-04, 05:29 PM
nutty
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popping outlet

First some background: I have a degree in computer engineering but have little to no knowledge of home electrical wiring (other than what crosses over from computers).

I'm currently renting an apartment in a two-family large, old house in Boston. I have only a single outlet in my room, and its a two-pronged one. Needless to say, I have a lot more than two cords to plug in. I leave my computer on 24 hrs/day, as I need to be able to remotely connect to it from work (And its sporting a 600 watt power supply, which is necessary). I also have a color TV, a box fan (long story, but i can't sleep without the noise of the fan), an alarm clock, and various other smaller items plugged in to that outlet (other items are my printer, which is nonly on occassionally, cell phone charger, etc).

Since upgrading to the 600-watt power supply, i've noticed occassional "popping" noises coming from near the outlet. At first I thought it was my speakers, as it only seems to happen when i have some sort of sound coming out of them. However, upon closer inspection, i can actual visually see that it is the outlet (brief flashes). I know this cannot be good at all, so I've been doing everything possible to minimize what is on and plugged in, but i cannot continue to do so, as it is affecting my work situation (leaving the computer off). Well, we had a good lightning storm tonight and I arrived home, walked in my room, looked out the window, saw a close flash of lightning and got the loudest POP from the outlet yet...complete with BIG sparks....it scared me a lot, as I have great respect for electricity and also since the single outlet is RIGHT next to my bed...I immediately unplugged everything until the storm subsided.

Anyways, my landlord has been very unhelpful in the past. We previously had problems with the breakers tripping whenever somebody used the microwave (my bedroom and one other share a circuit with the kitchen). After almost 3 months of first asking for something to be done, then demanding something be done, and finally, another month of "yeah, as soon as I can get an electrician to come", he basically rerouted the microwave to a different outlet in the basement. Solved that current problem, but now this.

I do not want to have to threaten the landlord again, as everything else about the apartment is absolutely perfect (great location, affordable rent, etc...basically impossible in Boston to find anything remotely similar for the same price) and our lease is up soon, which we want to extend.

I am afraid that some night the sparks are going to cath my bed on fire and I'm not going to live to see the new lease. Am I being follish thinking this? And does anyone have any suggestions on this at all? (something Ican do myself, any sort of diplomatic thing i can do to solve this without angering the landlord too much, etc?) I'm basically about to drill a hole in the wall and run an extension to the bedroom nextdoor which is unused and has a couple extra outlets...would that be sufficient? (I THINK that bedroom is on a dif circuit, but I am not sure).
 
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Old 04-27-04, 05:35 PM
nutty
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Just as added info, I have been keeping careful tabs on whether or not the outlet gets hot, and so far it hasn't even gotten warm, which would suggest that its not overloaded, right?? Is this a grounding problem (I do have a computer plugged in through a powestrip, but i've lived in old houses with no grounding thirg plug my whole life and have never had a problem with it).
 
  #3  
Old 04-27-04, 07:13 PM
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Tell your landloard this. If he values his apartment and his tennants he would get an electrician to fix this asap!!!!!!!!!! Not to scare you but yes it can cause a fire. Pluging too many things in one outlet is not good. I hope anyone who reads your question replies. Once we all respond print a copy and show it to your landloard. Everyone please join in.
 
  #4  
Old 04-28-04, 04:24 AM
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Location: Oregon
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If you are seeing sparks, then call an electrician _now_. Do not wait to discuss things with the landlord. Do not wait for some stranger on the internet to help you figure this out on your own. Unplug everything from the circuit, turn the circuit breaker off, and call a professional. Don't whine about the inconvenience of not being able to use the circuit or your computer. You computer will be _useless_ when it is a molten puddle of plastic and metal at the bottom of a burned out shell of a two family home.

Flashing means that something is forming an arc, which is more than hot enough to ignite flammable materials if close. Sparking means that something is getting so hot that particles of molten metal are being blown out of the source. Your fire has _already started_; you've simply been lucky and it has not spread.

You almost certainly have a bad connection somewhere. The current flowing through this bad connection is causing the connection to heat up, and making the connection worse. The outlet as a whole may not be getting hot, but some part of it or the circuit feeding it is getting _very_ hot.

The relation between the flashing and the load may indicate a simple bad connection. The relation between sparking and lightning may indicate that your building has a _serious_ grounding problem. Even if your outlets are not 'grounding' outlets, your building electrical system is supposed to be properly connected to ground. If it is not, then the entire building electrical system will need to be repaired or upgraded.

-Jon
 
  #5  
Old 04-28-04, 09:09 AM
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I suggest that you turn off the breaker, remove all the plugs and take the cover plate off the outlet. Start looking for evidence of arcing. You may need to remove the outlet from the box. You should find blackening and melted wiring. Once you find it, take several pictures of it and call an electrician. Most accept major charge cards so you don't have to come up with the cash up front. Renew your lease, if you're sure you really want to live in a house that has obviously been poorly maintained and may be dangerous, and then send copies of the pictures and the electrician's bill to your landlord. If he doesn't reimburse you, take him and the pictures to small claims court. Are there any children in the house? Working smoke detectors? I think I'd have trouble sleeping WITH the noise of a fan, or anything else that's plugged in to that wiring.

Rerouted the microwave to a different plug in the basement?? Standard extension cord or heavy duty?

Sorry to go off on a tangent, but this seems like an appropriate place for this... For everyone's reference - Most people don't think about the fire department until they have some type of emergency, but many fire departments conduct free residential safety inspections and other prevention services. They are usually familiar with local construction pitfalls and know the types of things that have historically caused problems in the area. They usually have a non-emergency phone number listed in the white pages to call for information. It's well worth the effort. There are also several different programs that provide free smoke detectors to those in need of them. The fire department will know what programs are available locally. If the fire department is working properly, they should be spending more time on prevention than they're spending on suppression.

Good luck.

Doug M.
 
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