Charred wall outlet: due to vacuum?


Old 11-21-15, 03:54 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2015
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Charred wall outlet: due to vacuum?

I came home yesterday to this charred wall outlet. I have some concerns. I was not home when this took place. A vacuum was plugged into the outlet. Once the vacuum was turned on, a bedroom circuit breaker tripped. My wife unplugged the vacuum, which I am told was sparking and smoking.

I arrive home and begin investigating. The vacuum no longer works. The tripped circuit breaker did not disconnect power to this charred outlet. That is my biggest concern. How did this outlet cause a separate circuit breaker to trip?

I plan to replace the outlet. I checked the wires and all appears well. I imagine the vacuum cord is the culprit. Is there any further investigation I need to do, or am I okay to replace the outlet and monitor it closely?

My home is three years old.
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Old 11-21-15, 04:35 PM
Join Date: Nov 2012
Location: USA
Posts: 3,314
Hi, you should be fine to replace just the receptacle, the circuit breaker did its job,be sure to use the screw terminals on the receptacle not the back stab connections,the receptacle must be a Tamper resistance type, it looks like the old one already is.
Old 11-21-15, 04:45 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 14
Thanks Geo! That outlet still receiving power throughout this ordeal is normal function?
Old 11-21-15, 04:48 PM
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: USA
Posts: 3,099
Most likely reasons:
1. The plug was loose in the receptacle (outlet).
2. The vacuum cleaner cord wires were frayed (not necessarily visible)where it entered the plug.
3. The connections behind the receptacle are loose.

Loose connections get hot and can burn their surroundings too.

At any rate you need to replace the receptacle. The receptacle might still work but the charred part is surely going to be loose for the next plug you try to insert. It is also possible to buy a new plug for the vacuum cleaner from Home Depot, etc. Get a heavy duty one with little screws to hold the wires onto the backs of the prongs. Don't buy a plug that makes its connections automatically when you reassemble it.
Old 11-21-15, 05:51 PM
Join Date: Sep 2013
Location: United States
Posts: 30
If you wore out the outlet in three years, it was defective, wired poorly, or heavily used. In any case, use commercial grade outlets as replacements, IMO.
Old 11-21-15, 05:58 PM
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I was just on a service call very similar to yours. Check the wiring on the back of the receptacle for charring.

Was the circuit breaker that tripped for the bedroom an arc fault breaker (with a button on it) ?
Old 11-21-15, 06:56 PM
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Join Date: Jan 2010
Location: USA
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Once the vacuum was turned on, a bedroom circuit breaker tripped.
I suspect the bedroom breaker that tripped was an arc fault breaker and it sensed the arcing taking place on another circuit. The breaker feeding the circuit this receptacle was on didn't trip because there was no overload nor was there a direct short, just severe heating and arcing due to a loose connection. The latest codes require most circuits in the home to be AFCI protected, but some jurisdictions have been slow to adopt the latest codes and some other jurisdictions have adopted the latest codes, but amended out some of the newer high cost provisions. Regardless, replace the receptacle and you should be fine.
Old 11-21-15, 10:04 PM
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Join Date: Aug 2015
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Thanks everyone, I feel a lot better about the situation.

It was an arc fault breaker. All the wires are in good shape. I am going to proceed with replacing it. As suggested, I will attach the wires to the screws. Now, I need to buy a new vacuum. I was seven days out of warranty.
Old 11-22-15, 05:46 AM
Join Date: Mar 2010
Location: USA
Posts: 3,099
Did your wife see sparks coming from the vacuum cleaner itself or just from the plug?

The vacuum did not have to malfunction to cause the plug to burn up. Total current draw could have stayed well below the rating of that circuit's breaker.

Now, during the moments sparking was going on at the receptacle, some voltage would have been dropped there leaving much less than 120 volts for the vacuum itself resulting in sluggish vacuuming.

If you have done whittling or have cut linoleum (not just carved turkeys) in an earlier lifetime you might dissect the vacuum cleaner plug out of curiosity to see what may have happened inside.

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