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Fried receptacle - just replace, or need to investigate further?

Fried receptacle - just replace, or need to investigate further?

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  #1  
Old 04-12-14, 09:47 AM
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Fried receptacle - just replace, or need to investigate further?

Ceiling lights in two of our bedrooms quit working a couple of days ago. Investigated the circuit today and discovered a receptacle hiding behind a bed with a burnt/melted corner. See pictures below.

Questions:
-What would cause this?
-Am I safe to just replace the receptacle, or do I need to investigate elsewhere in the circuit to determine the cause of this?
-I replaced all of the receptacles in this room a couple of years ago when we remodeled the room. Is it possible that this was caused by me not connecting the receptacle properly? I connected the wires via the screws on the receptacle sides.

Thanks in advance for any advice that you can give me.

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Notice the bulge in the one white wire that is still attached. I'm assuming that's significant in terms of knowing what happened here?
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In this picture below, the white wire that used to be connected to the top screw shown in this picture is the loose wire at the very bottom of the picture - it almost looks peach colored because of the burn marks.
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  #2  
Old 04-12-14, 09:53 AM
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Best guess is a loose connection. If you had an electric space heater plugged into the same circuit down stream of this receptacle I'd say loose connection is the primary cause and the space heater is the secondary cause.
 
  #3  
Old 04-12-14, 09:59 AM
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No space heater. This circuit's receptacles generally just host things like box fans, a humidifier, a curling iron, one floor light, and two ceiling light/fan combinations.

Do you mean a loose connection between one of the 12-3 wires and the receptacle screw?
 
  #4  
Old 04-12-14, 10:02 AM
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Pigtail your wires the next time around. Joint the whites together with a small piece of wire which will go to your receptacle. Same with the blacks.
It is my understanding that the NEC requires AFCI breakers for bedrooms now?
Might not hurt to put one in. They are designed to trip when arcs and sparks start happening.
 
  #5  
Old 04-12-14, 10:06 AM
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That is more extensive burning then you would normally see with just a loose screw.

You are mentioning 12-3..... is that exactly what you have there ?
Is that part of a multi wire branch circuit..... is there a red wire also in that box ?
Is that circuit controlled by a 15 or 20amp breaker ?

That white wire says to me that there was more current going thru that wire then there should be.
 
  #6  
Old 04-12-14, 10:17 AM
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12-2 w/ ground, actually. The black and white wires are 12 gauge. The green is much thinner - maybe 16 or 18 gauge. The house was wired in the late 60's if that's relevant. No red wire. 15amp breaker. I'm not familiar with the concept of a multi wire branch circuit. Does the lack of a red wire mean it's not that type of circuit?
 
  #7  
Old 04-12-14, 10:35 AM
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LOL, where there is a curling iron there usually is a hair dryer, a wife and two daughters taught me that. And some hair dryers can draw 10 amps. I like to pigtail as Mr Awesome stated and I always wrap the wire onto the screw in the direction the screw tightens. That helps the wire pull tighter around the screw instead of expanding away.

I have a receptacle almost identical to yours that was toasted by a space heater (as mentioned) down line. I have advised the home owner to bring in an electrician and check ALL connections in the house as it was wired by the home owner. I'm not criticizing you, but you don't want to discover another loose connection the hard way.

I just double checked the receptacle I have and it was also on the neutral side.

Bud
 
  #8  
Old 04-12-14, 10:39 AM
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I forgot about the hair dryer! Yes, there's a hair dryer that gets used a couple times a week. This room was the first one that I replaced the outlets in when we moved in, and I thus had the least amount of experience/knowledge when replacing them as compared to the other rooms I've done since then. I think I've learned more with each room I've done. It would be wise to double-check the rest of the outlets in this room while I'm at it.
 
  #9  
Old 04-12-14, 11:41 AM
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Space heater, curling iron, hair dryer are all like likely secondary cause. Not the cause but the grounding I find suspect. Why the green wires? Did you add those when you changed the receptacles? Do they just go to the box? If so why do you think the box is grounded? Do you have #16 connected to the outside of the box or is it wired with old style BX?
 
  #10  
Old 04-12-14, 01:00 PM
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You said the house was originally wired in the 60's.. And it's #12 wire on a 15A circuit..... That's not aluminum wire, is it? If so, attaching it to a device not rated AL/CU, and not using NoAlOx paste can cause damage like that. I'm pretty sure the cheap-o Cooper receptacles are CU only.. The AL/CU ones are like $3-4 apiece.
 
  #11  
Old 04-12-14, 01:18 PM
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Why the green wires? Did you add those when you changed the receptacles? Do they just go to the box? If so why do you think the box is grounded? Do you have #16 connected to the outside of the box or is it wired with old style BX?
The cable sheath coming into the box contains two 12 gauge and one 16(?) gauge green wire. In this room, and several others in the house, the original 16 gauge wire was cut just inside the box, and then 16 gauge pigtails were attached with crimp-style connectors to extend the length so they could be attached to the receptacles. My assumption has been that the electrician was planning on not using them originally, and then changed his mind later.

This room does have metal boxes. I have no idea if anything is connected to the outside of the box. Is there any way to tell if I can only see the inside of the box?

That's not aluminum wire, is it?
No, it's copper wire.
 
  #12  
Old 04-12-14, 02:15 PM
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Your explanation of grounding is sufficient. Please disregard my questions on that.
 
  #13  
Old 04-12-14, 03:37 PM
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Thank you to each one who replied with helpful advice for me. I've replaced the fried receptacle (using a single pigtail for the black and white), and the circuit is fully functioning once again. I've checked two of the other three receptacles in the room so far, and one of them had a screw connection that was a little loose. It's now been tightened down.

I like the idea of AFCI protection, but it's my understanding that I would need to replace my electrical panel to be able to use an AFCI breaker. Is an AFCI outlet located toward the beginning of the circuit the next best thing? I looked for one at my local big box hardware store, but all they had was GFCI.
 
  #14  
Old 04-12-14, 03:59 PM
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I'm no expert on the variety of panels out there, so someone wiser than I can field that one for you.
The AFCI receptacle likely wouldn't be available at depot. You would probably have to go to an electrical wholesaler. Graybar is the only company I know of in the US, one of the local electricians here could probably give you more names.
 
  #15  
Old 04-12-14, 04:04 PM
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To my knowledge arc fault circuit interrupting receptacles do not exist. Please post the manufacturer and model of your panel and one of the electricians will be able to determine if AFCI circuit breakers are available for your panel.
 
  #16  
Old 04-12-14, 04:24 PM
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Such a thing does exist.

15 Amp Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI)

However I have not handled one, so I would only be able to guess they are likely found at a wholesaler and not box stores.
 
  #17  
Old 04-12-14, 04:26 PM
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AFCI receptacles are just now coming on the market but the big draw back is they only protect downstream where as breakers protect the whole circuit. Of course if you can't find one for your breaker box you could put an AFCI receptacle or blank face at the breaker box and move the feed to that. Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI)
 
  #18  
Old 04-12-14, 04:28 PM
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Thank you. It seems to me that such a receptacle would only provide protection at the receptacle and those wired downstream so for best protection it would need to be placed near the service (or sub) panel to minimize the wiring that was not protected.
 
  #19  
Old 04-12-14, 04:31 PM
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Furd you type too fast. I was editing while you were posting.
 
  #20  
Old 04-12-14, 04:33 PM
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Please post the manufacturer and model of your panel and one of the electricians will be able to determine if AFCI circuit breakers are available for your panel.
I tried to determine my model number last fall when I had a different thread active here, but the label is quite hidden. Based on what I could read from the label at that time, nashkat1 indicated that it was likely a QOBW 20M100 Series E7.
 
  #21  
Old 04-12-14, 04:35 PM
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OP, since you aren't running a new circuit to the bedroom, I don't think you are obligated to put in an AFCI breaker.
Next best thing, if you can locate the cable feeding the bedroom, disconnect it and run it into a box near the panel with one of these:
Blank Face AFCIs

Then add a new cable from that box to the panel. This way, the only unprotected wire is the small amount running from the panel to your box.
 
  #22  
Old 04-12-14, 04:55 PM
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Just so you know, an AFCI would NOT have prevented that from happening, nor would one have prevented a fire had the issue continued unchecked. This had nothing to do with an arc-fault. What you had is a result of a 'high resistance' connection that was heating up under load. An AFCI will not detect a high resistance situation.

Don't waste your money.
 
  #23  
Old 04-12-14, 05:05 PM
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Good point, Matt...................
 
  #24  
Old 04-12-14, 05:24 PM
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This had nothing to do with an arc-fault. What you had is a result of a 'high resistance' connection that was heating up under load.
Thank you for this explanation. The 'high resistance' connection would be the loose connection on the receptacle that fried?

Does the load (aka space heather, curling iron, hair dryer, etc.) have to be downstream of this loose connection for this problem to occur? I just re-read ray's original reply and he mentioned a space heater being downstream. As best as I can tell, the only items downstream from this outlet are two ceiling light/fan combinations. My basis for saying that is that with this receptacle fried, everything else on the circuit still worked except for the two ceiling light/fan fixtures. The receptacles hosting the curling iron/hair dryer would be upstream then, I think. Or perhaps a ceiling light is enough of a load to cause this?
 
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Old 04-12-14, 05:30 PM
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Does the load (aka space heather, curling iron, hair dryer, etc.) have to be downstream of this loose connection for this problem to occur?
Yes.
Or perhaps a ceiling light is enough of a load to cause this?
Not because of its amps but because it is a continous load building up heat over time.
 

Last edited by pcboss; 04-12-14 at 06:54 PM.
  #26  
Old 04-14-14, 11:35 AM
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That was why I asked if it was aluminum wire (which was mainly installed in the 60's/70's, and it was installed one gauge larger than you would use for copper like you have - a 15A circuit would have #12 aluminum). There are hundreds of documented cases of damage identical to what you have that is attributed to aluminum branch circuit wiring (both proper and improper use).

The problem with aluminum is threefold.. First, aluminum is softer and 'flows' more easily under pressure than copper does. So unless you apply the proper amount of torque to the screws, they will loosen up over time simply due to the deformation of the wire.

Second, aluminum expands and contracts differently when heated than copper does. This also contributes to loose connections/

Third, aluminum wire begins oxidizing nearly instantly once you strip it. That's why you are supposed to apply NoAlOx paste to all aluminum connections. Oxidation increases resistance, which causes the joint to heat up, which then exacerbates the loosening due to heating/cooling expansion. It's a vicious circle.

That said, I have a tough time believing that two ceiling fan/lights with the proper bulbs in them (unless you have hundreds of watts in each) could put that much load on the circuit - even with a loose/high resistance connection - to cause that much heat. It's possible you just didn't notice that the 'beauty care' outlet wasn't working.
 
  #27  
Old 04-14-14, 12:20 PM
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Silly question, I suppose, but aluminum wire would be a different color than copper, wouldn't it? I'm saying it's copper because it looks copper colored, and looks/feels the same as new copper wire that I've purchased recently. I've never worked with aluminum, but I'm assuming it would have a different look/feel.

I do know that the 'beauty care' receptacle was working while this receptacle was fried. I have every electrical outlet in the house mapped out to a circuit spreadsheet. The first thing I did when starting to troubleshoot the two non-working ceiling lights was check every other item on this circuit to determine if any other items on the circuit were not working. Everything was working except the two ceiling lights and the fried receptacle. I tested the receptacles with one of those little handheld devices with the three lights that light up in different patterns depending on whether the receptacle is wired properly or not. Is it possible that it could have reported a good 'beauty care' receptacle when, in fact, that receptacle wasn't actually working? I have no knowledge about how reliable those little testing devices are, that's why I'm asking now. The beauty care receptacle is also a GFCI unit, if that's relevant to any of this.

One of the ceiling units hosts two 60W bulbs. The other has one or two 60W-equivalent fluorescent bulbs.
 

Last edited by jessman1128; 04-14-14 at 12:46 PM.
  #28  
Old 04-14-14, 01:00 PM
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aluminum wire would be a different color than copper,
Yes, dull silver gray.
I tested the receptacles with one of those little handheld devices with the three lights that light up in different patterns depending on whether the receptacle is wired properly or not. Is it possible that it could have reported a good 'beauty care' receptacle when, in fact, that receptacle wasn't actually working?
Best to use a lamp to test if you don't have an analog multimeter.
 
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Old 04-14-14, 01:32 PM
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I wonder if it's copper-clad aluminum? That would look like copper on the outside (and is still installed with aluminum derating), but would be silverish when you cut into it. Copper clad, just like straight aluminum, can not be used on devices labeled "Cu Only" because it still has the characteristics of aluminum.. You must use devices labeled Al/Cu/Cu Clad.
 
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Old 04-15-14, 09:30 AM
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You must use devices labeled Al/Cu/Cu Clad.
I have never seen a receptacle of any age with that particular marking. According to Leviton, the CO/ALR receptacle can be used with #12 copper, #10 or #12 aluminum or #12 copper clad wire.

Residential Electric 15 Amp 125 Volt, Co/Alr Duplex Receptacle, Straight Blade, Residential Grade, Grounding, Ivory/White, 12650 : 15 Amp

JerseyMatt

I wonder if it's copper-clad aluminum? That would look like copper on the outside (and is still installed with aluminum derating), but would be silverish when you cut into it
This would be correct. Copper clad wire is frequently thought to be copper wire simply because of the copper cladding.

IF you find and older receptacle marker Al/Cu, what you have is a typical receptacle sold in the late '60s or early '70s designed for copper wire that was allowed to be labeled as such before U.L. recognized the problem with copper designed products for use with aluminum wiring. They WERE NOT designed for use with copper or aluminum wire, but just labelled that way.
 
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Old 04-15-14, 05:25 PM
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That's odd, because that's before I was born and I know I've seen them labeled that way in the store at some point in my adult life. However, having never had the (dis)pleasure of working with aluminum branch circuits, I've never had to seek them out so it was simply an observation in passing.

But anyway, same difference. You can't use Cu Only devices on CCA wire. That's what I was getting at.
 
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Old 04-16-14, 07:27 AM
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That's odd, because that's before I was born and I know I've seen them labeled that way in the store at some point in my adult life. However, having never had the (dis)pleasure of working with aluminum branch circuits, I've never had to seek them out so it was simply an observation in passing.
It's possible that what you recall seeing could have been markings on 30A, 50A, 60A or higher amperage devices. The CO/ALR marking is only found on 15A, 120V branch circuit devices designed for aluminum wiring as far as I know (I don't think there are any 20A CO/ALR devices). I have seen original receptacles installed in the early '70s that were marked Al/Cu and only learned a couple of years ago that they were marked that way because of the demand by contractors at that time that manufacturer's provide devices labelled as approved for aluminum wiring. U.L. told manufacturer's to label their existing product as approved to satisfy that demand and later found that was a huge mistake. I have a copy of the letter U.L. sent to, I believe, Circle F stating this.

But anyway, same difference. You can't use Cu Only devices on CCA wire. That's what I was getting at.
And that is 100% correct.
 
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