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I replaced a toasted outlet myself. The wife is concerned about my skills...

I replaced a toasted outlet myself. The wife is concerned about my skills...

Old 04-13-12, 01:32 PM
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I replaced a toasted outlet myself. The wife is concerned about my skills...

Basically, we have a basement office where all 3 outlets recently stopped working. After some investigation, I realized that one of the outlets (the first in the chain) was halfway melted, and I decided to replace the outlet.

After doing this, it fixed the issue right away, and the circuit was restored. When I opened it up, the wires on the melted side of the outlet weren't all the way connected, so I hypothesized that the current had arc'd between the wire and the screw on the side of the outlet, and melted the plastic.

My wife is concerned, however, that there could be a greater electrical issue here and recommends that we pay a few hundred bucks for an electrician to come over. I don't really know what they would check, even if they came over. That I installed the outlet incorrectly? It really didn't seem all that difficult.

Since this is a fine community of DIY experts, could you help me decide if I really need to call someone to come take a look? I plan on opening up the outlet later today to make sure that the new one doesn't have any issues or show any signs of issues.

Thanks ahead of time!

Last edited by the_tow_guy; 04-13-12 at 01:41 PM. Reason: Link removed
Old 04-13-12, 01:45 PM
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You have a marital issue here at least as much as an electrical one.

Good luck!
Old 04-13-12, 01:46 PM
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Mod note; Removed the link to your website blog. The ban is for your member name which is not allowed; if you would like to continue as a member, please re-register.
Old 04-13-12, 01:53 PM
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follow up.

This is the OP, since my account got thwacked.
I truly meant no harm and wasn't trying to promote anything.
I apologize if I violated any forum rules there.

I am just looking for some feedback from the community.

Here is the post, in full... Sans any links.
What do you folks think, do I need to call in an electrician?

A few weeks ago, we started having some electrical problems in my basement office. At first, all of the outlets in the room would stop working whenever anyone turned on the computer. A week later, the outlets went out completely. The problem had reached critical mass.

Working with electricity actually intimidates me a lot less than say, repairing drywall. While DIY is not my specialty, if something in my castle breaks, I am at least going to take a look at it before paying someone else. As long as the repairs donít require any artistry, I can often get the job done. I started looking into this problem where any electrical investigation should start: the circuit breaker box.

Disclaimer: If you attempt to work with electricity, you do so at your own risk. Electricity is dangerous and can cause serious injuries or even death. If this scares you, please consult a professional. If death doesnít scare you, consult a professional of a different kind.

The Breaker Box

The first thing that comes to mind whenever I have an electrical issue, is that a circuit breaker may have flipped. The circuit breaker box is the main distribution center for the electrical circuits in your home. In the event of an electrical surge, a single breaker can often tripped, which shuts off the flow of electricity to that circuit. Many times, an electrical issue can be fixed by simply flipping the tripped breaker off, and then back to the ON position. This will reset the breaker and allow electricity to flow into the circuit once again.

In my scenario, unfortunately, none of the breakers were tripped. I ended up flipping all of the breakers in the house off (including the main breaker @ the top), and then flipping them back on, but it had no effect on the outlets in my office. The only thing that this accomplished was forcing me to reset the time on about six digital clocks.

GFCI Outlets

Moving on from the breaker box, I headed back into the office. I noticed that while none of the 3 outlets in the room were working, the ceiling lights were bright and happy. This meant, of course, that the lights were on a different circuit. Depending on how a home is wired, it is possible that there are rooms in different parts of the house that are on the same circuit. If there was an issue with an outlet in a different room that happened to be on the same circuit as my basement office, then it could explain the issue.

The first thing to look for in this scenario is to see if a GFCI outlet may have been tripped. The special outlets, like the one in the picture above, are specially designed to protect people from electrical shock. These GFCI devices feature an interrupt button on the outlet (usually in the middle) that will get tripped if there is a major variation in current. They are often found in garages, kitchens, and especially bathrooms.

I checked all three GFCI outlets in my house, but none of them were tripped. The cause of my problem was apparently in the office itself.

Checking the Outlets

In the office, there were only a few possibilities. The wiring in the wall could have been damaged by water or a rodent or something, but we had no other evidence that either of these things had occurred. The more likely possibility was that one of the outlets was damaged. All of the outlets and switches in a circuit are daisy-chained together, and if the circuit is broken in any of those stops, then other outlets or switches could potentially stop working (like what often happens to strands of Christmas lights).

As I began looking at the outlets, I quickly noticed the one that is situated closest to the breaker box (the first stop), actually appeared to have some damage to it. This was going to require some further investigation!

Before opening up an outlet or light switch, be sure to shut off power to that circuit from the breaker box! When I was certain that all power had been cut off, I unscrewed the face-plate and pulled out the outlet. Sure enough, the outlet had signs of severe overheating and the plastic was partially melted! In what had initially seemed like a hard-luck situation, I quickly realized that my family had been very fortunate! We were extremely lucky that the issue that had caused this outlet to melt itself, didnít cause a fire!

Powered Up

After replacing the outlet and flipping the breaker switch, all three outlets in the office began working again. My two boys who regularly use the office for both homework and playtime (Sim City and Roller Coaster Tycoon are family favorites), let out a loud cheer. But nobody was cheering louder than me, who had tracked down the issue and figured out a little DIY puzzle. Hiring an electrician to come out and look at it would have probably cost hundreds. I got it working with only having spent $5 for a replacement outlet, and surprisingly- without electrocuting myself!
Old 04-13-12, 02:38 PM
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The side damage looks like loose wires. The face damage looks like damage from using a space heater or other high amp load in a receptacle for too long, especially a plug that fit loosely.
Old 04-13-12, 03:12 PM
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Two questions: Is the circuit you replaced the receptacle on a 15A circuit? And, did you wire the new receptacle with pigtails, or with one wire to each screw?
Old 04-13-12, 06:55 PM
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I see no reason the call in an electrician. You have narrowed down and fixed the problem. Now for the bad news: Who installed the outlet the first time? I suggest going around to all the outlets and switches and make sure all connections are tight and there is nothing else "wonky". This was a classic case of a loose connection.
Old 04-13-12, 06:58 PM
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Wives just don't understand what that "S" stands for on our chest, do they?
Old 04-13-12, 10:00 PM
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I agree with Scotts, TI, assesment x2.
Old 04-15-12, 06:38 AM
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Loose connections will result in toasting of switches, receptacles, etc. even if nothing is plugged into that one.

You could go from one outlet box to another all through the house and check for loose connections and tighten them up. Regarding the thread title, you could start at one end of the house and your wife can start at the other end and it will take about half the time.

Where wires are poked into the back of receptacles and not specifically held rigidly in place with screw activated clamps, it would be a good idea to undo them, cut off nicked or chewed up wire ends, and reattach the wires using the side screws.

When two wires want to go under the same screw, cut a short length (pigtail) of the same color, screw that on, and connect the other end to the two other wires in question. Two wires of the same size can be held with one screw if there is a cover plate or grooves that will hold the wires in place without wrapping around the screw and just before the screw is tightened, except that each neutral (white) wire entering the panel must have its own screw in the terminal strip (bus bar) .

Also check all the smaller screws and set screws in the panel for tightness. Don't forget to flip off each breaker before touching its screw. (An experienced person will have to come in and check the big lugs where the fat wires from the meter are attached.)

Don't use tremendous force when tightening screws.

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