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Old 07-14-2015, 09:38 AM   #1
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Intermittent power from outlet


Howdy,

Yesterday evening a couple of items I had plugged into a surge protector started going on and off intermittently. I assumed it was a bad surge protector and figured I would replace it today, so I unplugged it. Well, replacing the surge protector did not change anything. I then decided I might as well replace the four outlets in the room and see if I might find a bad connection. I had changed most of the outlets in the house to new tamper "proof" ones previously, but this room had not been done.

Well, I was bit surprised when I found one outlet (not the one I was using last night, but one that feeds it) with a scorched hot wire and burn marks in the outlet box. If you look at the close up photo below, it is evident that when the outlet was installed, presumably 20 years ago when the house was built, the electrician forgot to screw down the screw that holds the wire as it is in the completely open/up position.

What I am curious about is why I have not had an issue with the outlet in the three years I have lived in the house (and presumably the 17 years before that). I assume that I must have broken the wire when I pulled the outlet out of the box, and that it had been touching the actual hot connection point all these years. Does it seem likely that the connection, although not screwed down, might actually have been sufficient to pass on enough power all these years, or is it likely that the wire has always been overheating due to a poor connection, and finally last night got to the point where the connection was poor enough that it only passed along intermittent power? Is it likely that the actual small fire that appears to have been in the box happened yesterday, or is it perhaps a result of sparking over time? Would there even be sparks from a hot wire with a bad connection, or is it simply high amounts of heat due to the poor connection that has caused either small fires over time or just last night?

I assume a breaker never tripped because the wire never touched a neutral or ground wire?

It was very difficult to strip the insulation off the wire so I could install a new outlet, so it must have melted a few inches of the insulation.

I would love to hear if anyone has any thoughts and also if you think there's anything else I should be concerned about (e.g. bad breaker, etc.)

Thanks!
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Old 07-14-2015, 10:28 AM   #2
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Intermittent power from outlet


Backstabs are bad news.

Cut the conductors back to something that's not black/cracked/charred and wrap them around the screws on the NEW receptacles this time. I'd just do all 4, but at least the one in the picture.

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Old 07-14-2015, 10:57 AM   #3
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Intermittent power from outlet


Yup, already replaced all four outlets and I used the screw terminals (I prefer those, anyway). However, the wire that charred in this case was not one of the back stab ones but instead the one that should have been screwed down but appears to have not been (you can see the wire around the screw terminal in the closeup - that's the wire that presumably snapped when I pulled the outlet out of the box).

To me it really looks like the installer never tightened the screw in the first place. However, is it possible that it was screwed down, but not tight enough, and then loosed over the years due to the heat from the poor connection?
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Old 07-15-2015, 05:18 AM   #4
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Intermittent power from outlet


Actually it looks like he may have had two wires under one screw . Looks like two wires on the neutral side going to a single screw. This is a bad idea, as the connection will loosen over time which happened to your hot side. One wire per terminal. Use pigtails with wire nuts if you have to connect more than two wires.
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Old 07-15-2015, 06:12 AM   #5
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Intermittent power from outlet


Quote:
I would love to hear if anyone has any thoughts and also if you think there's anything else I should be concerned about (e.g. bad breaker, etc.)



You would be surprised to figure out that in 2015 there is absoulty nothing
to stop something like this, which is estimated to be behind 90 to 95% of all electrical fires.
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Old 07-15-2015, 06:13 AM   #6
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Intermittent power from outlet


Quote:
Originally Posted by jproffer View Post
Backstabs are bad news.

Cut the conductors back to something that's not black/cracked/charred and wrap them around the screws on the NEW receptacles this time. I'd just do all 4, but at least the one in the picture.
It looks like the bad wire was on a screw terminal?
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Old 07-15-2015, 01:55 PM   #7
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Intermittent power from outlet


Indeed it was - the back stab wires were intact, the bad one was not screwed down at all (or somehow go extremely loose over time - my bet is that the installer bent the wire, put it around the shaft of the screw terminal, but then forgot to actually screw it down). I just don;t understand why in twenty years it decided to act up now. I would have thought there would have been an issue with the outlets in this room a long time ago.
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Old 07-15-2015, 04:26 PM   #8
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Intermittent power from outlet


Why does anything decide to stop working at the time it does? Things work right up until they don't. I shut my back door like I had 10000 times before, but one day they glass just decided to shatter. Entropy I guess.
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Old 07-15-2015, 05:57 PM   #9
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Intermittent power from outlet


It could be that the wire under the screws is feeding a receptacle that was not used or had very light use, in the past. If no power was passing though the wire then it would not have not have heated up and been an issue.

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