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Old 04-12-2010, 09:10 PM   #1
Just call me Andrew
Join Date: Mar 2009
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Electrical disasters waiting to happen...

My question after you all read this is: what disasters have you come across where you have thought,"It's amazing this house hasn't burned down yet!"

Here's mine, from today, in my own house:

So after months of planning, I had my bathroom gutted today to the studs. This is a tiny 5x6 bathroom with an outlet, vanity light, and fan. There were 3 hidden electrical boxes with no cover plates on them buried in the wall. In one case the wire was about 8" too short so they spliced it together instead of running a new wire. The whole run of wire was under 3 feet! The vanity light was screwed to the stud with no box, and the wires were sticking out of the wall into the back of the light.

The box with the outlet and switch in it was not mounted to...anything. It was being suspended by the BX cable going into it. Also, this BX cable was going into a plastic box. Not only that, the metal sheathing was cut about an inch before the cable entered the box. It wasn't protected from damage or grounded. I'm sure glad I decided to GFCI protect this bathroom about a year ago. I didn't realize the whole thing wasn't even grounded!

I am so thankful I am redoing this bathroom, especially after finding this mess, and the plumbing looks just as bad!

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Old 04-12-2010, 09:50 PM   #2
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Join Date: Dec 2009
Location: Minnesota
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This is a timely thread!

I just got back from checking out a problem at my friend's new house.

They were attempting to connect a laptop to their TV with an S-Video cable, and got a spark between the cable and TV. Now the laptop's toast and the S-Video input on the TV doesn't work. So they called me to see if I knew what was going on. I told them to unplug everything, and headed over with my meter and tools.

What I found had me scratching my head for a while. The outlet the laptop was plugged into had 120V hot-neutral and hot-ground, 1v or so N-G. No problem. The outlet the TV was plugged into had about the same readings, no problem. So just for kicks, I plugged an extension cord into the first outlet and brought the end over near the second outlet.

That's where it gets weird. I've got 120 between the first and second outlet's neutral, and ditto between their grounds! So I'm thinking this shouldn't even be possible...

I had to take a step back and think it over for a while. The TV was on top of a little corner cabinet thing, with an electric fireplace/heater built in. Looking at the outlet box and adjacent lightswitch box, I see some horrible ground connections that look more knotted than twisted, and about 3 inches of romex sheath inside the box on each cable. Oh yay.

I pull off a panel near the bottom, and there it is: A GFCI receptacle, wrapped in electrical tape and hangoing by it's wires out of an old metal box in the wall. Must have been too small for the GFCI and wirenuts.

I look at the wires coming out of the wall, and they're old cloth and rubber covered wire, both black and unmarked. And I see one connected to the GFCI line side hot, and the other connected to the line side neutral AND GROUND. Wonderful. Reverse polarity and a bootleg ground on the same outlet. Luckily no one got bit yet, and I'm going back saturday to help them rewire it. They've got the electronics on an extension cord from another circuit for now.

It just blows my mind that someone knew enough to use a GFCI on an ungrounded circuit, then proceeded to wire a bootleg ground anyway. Not to mention the reversed polarity...

I'm hoping the wires are in conduit and I can pull some new THHN and ditch the old crap. I'll find out Saturday when I go back.

Sorry for the long post, but this one drove me nuts for a couple hours. So here's a friendly reminder to the other DIYer's: Assume nothing! Check the cover plate screws for voltage against a known ground before you touch them. If I had been grounded when I went to pull those cover plates, I coulda got lifted. No good.

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