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Old 12-26-2018, 10:45 PM   #1
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Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


I been trying to figure out why the lights in half my house randomly flicker, I have not found the root cause as I have already replaced breakers and checked all neutrals, but I was going around with my thermal camera and noticed 3 vacant receptacles were glowing orange at about 100f in a 68 house. These 3 receptacles seem like they are wired into the same circuit as I got up in attic and could see the romex dropping down into that wall, and even that romex was glowing on my thermal, no other Romex was showing heat. Strange thing too, I noticed one breaker in the box glowing with heat. Tomorrow Im going to see if that breaker is connected to that circuit, and if so, I will measure the amp going through it after I can isolate what ever else that might be on that circuit. Is their anything that will usually cause this in particular, since nothing is plugged in? I even check a receptacle that had a 11000 btu heat pump running, and their was no heat coming off of it on the thermal camera. Any advice on this would be greatly appreciated
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Old 12-26-2018, 11:12 PM   #2
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


A misplaced nail in the right place can cause a circuit to have enough draw to heat up before tripping the breaker.

I found one that actually caused the sheathing to melt, and cause a lot of smoke.

Seems that the homeowner was looking to collect some insurance money, but this discovery, caused the fire department to cite him for attempted arson, and the insurance to be cancelled.

Check the wiring good for a nail penetrating the sheathing all along the entire circuit, before the problem gets that far.



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Old 12-26-2018, 11:28 PM   #3
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


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Originally Posted by Ehopson85 View Post
I been trying to figure out why the lights in half my house randomly flicker, I have not found the root cause as I have already replaced breakers and checked all neutrals, but I was going around with my thermal camera and noticed 3 vacant receptacles were glowing orange at about 100f in a 68 house. These 3 receptacles seem like they are wired into the same circuit as I got up in attic and could see the romex dropping down into that wall, and even that romex was glowing on my thermal, no other Romex was showing heat. Strange thing too, I noticed one breaker in the box glowing with heat. Tomorrow I’m going to see if that breaker is connected to that circuit, and if so, I will measure the amp going through it after I can isolate what ever else that might be on that circuit. Is their anything that will usually cause this in particular, since nothing is plugged in? I even check a receptacle that had a 11000 btu heat pump running, and their was no heat coming off of it on the thermal camera. Any advice on this would be greatly appreciated
Don't wait until tomorrow that needs to be tuned off yesterday.
You can follow the hot wires back to where is no longer hot and if that is a box you can disconnect everything that is a problem so you can run the rest of the circuit.
It could be a wire that is to small for the breaker and likely something is running that is causing the over heating.

Last edited by Nealtw; 12-26-2018 at 11:30 PM.
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Old 12-26-2018, 11:40 PM   #4
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


It is not unreasonable for electrical cables to heat up if they have a good solid load on them.
But what is too hot ?
That's subjective, but cables are rated for 75 celcius.
Ditto for outlets, if they are carrying a good solid load.
The load doesn't have to be pulled out of that outlet,
But if it is part of a circuit which has heavy loads,
Then it can carry heavy current thru it.


If your not happy about it ?
Then upgrade your electrical system
Bigger cables heat up less
ditto for high grade heavy duty outlets and switchs.
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Old 12-27-2018, 09:51 AM   #5
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


Its most likely not the only receptacle on the circuit. Any receptacle upstream would be carrying the same current, or more. It they are not hot, the problem is most likely in the receptacle location.

Id kill the breaker and let it cool for a bit. Then pull the receptacle out of the wall and look for problems. Most likely is a bad backstab or a loose connection.

Id probably replace the receptacle (they are inexpensive) eliminating all back stabs in the process. Check all the wirenut connections, replacing any wirenuts that show signs of overheating.

Then repower the circuit to see if that eliminated the heating problem.
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Old 12-27-2018, 10:49 AM   #6
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


I think you can do detective work before actually replacing the receptacle and rewiring it. Just start disconnecting things until the current stops. I don't mean to state the obvious and I'm sure you already know, but heat = current flow in this case. Disconnecting things one at a time will narrow down where the current flow is, even if it's as simple as untwisting some pigtails.
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Old 12-27-2018, 10:58 AM   #7
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


He has hot wire in the wall too, that's an over current, breaker to big for the wire.
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Old 12-27-2018, 11:36 AM   #8
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


Just a note, the wire is 12/3 romex on a 20 amp breaker. I will keep yall updated on what I find.
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Old 12-27-2018, 02:57 PM   #9
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


Is your infrared camera showig a uniform orange line representing the entire circuit or are there hot spots in brighter orange and yellow here and therein the image at outlet box locations?

Check in the bedroom or attic or wherever the circuit traced out in orange ends, to see whether you forgot about somehing plugged in and turned on at the far end.
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Heat went off in the dead of winter? Excellent idea to be late or absent for work and to spend the day winterizing your house to keep pipes from freezing. Every house is different. For those of you not hit yet, think of what things you need to do.

Last edited by AllanJ; 12-27-2018 at 03:00 PM.
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Old 12-27-2018, 03:41 PM   #10
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


A clamp meter sure would come in handy to find out how much current is being drawn.

A thermal camera is handy.....but an AC clamp meter would be handier right now.
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Old 12-27-2018, 03:58 PM   #11
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


You can learn a lot from a voltmeter.

Measure voltage at an outlet on another branch circuit. Then measure voltage at end of this suspect circuit. If there are loose connections or nails through wires then you should see a noticeable voltage drop on that branch.

I would assume the warming is a problem until you prove otherwise. Open up the box in question. If the outside is 100 degrees the loose wires will be even hotter and possibly charred.


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Old 12-27-2018, 05:45 PM   #12
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


Just because a cable heats up
Doesn't mean a fault exists
It is perfectly normal for a cable to heat up under heavy loads
But is it heating up too much ?
That's a very subjective thing
We need accurate temp readings
remember cables are rated 65 celcius
So if a cable is running at 40 which most people would say is hot.
it is still well within it's ratings.


We need an experienced electrician to confirm cable size and ratings
And to measure current in the cable
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Old 12-27-2018, 06:19 PM   #13
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


Well, regardless of whether this is safe or not (and I agree with dmx there isn't necessarily anything unsafe about a warm wire), the issue remains: why is there current flowing through this wire (very significant current) when he doesn't think anything is using it? At the very least, we have a lot of money going down the drain.
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Old 12-27-2018, 07:28 PM   #14
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


Quote:
Originally Posted by dmxtothemax View Post
Just because a cable heats up
Doesn't mean a fault exists
It is perfectly normal for a cable to heat up under heavy loads
But is it heating up too much ?
That's a very subjective thing
We need accurate temp readings
remember cables are rated 65 celcius
So if a cable is running at 40 which most people would say is hot.
it is still well within it's ratings.


We need an experienced electrician to confirm cable size and ratings
And to measure current in the cable

Maybe, but 32 temperature rise over ambient is not trivial and when you consider that is after a metal box which is acts to spread the heat over a large surface. If the entire box is 32 degrees over ambient the wires are surely higher, maybe 55-60 degrees over ambient, maybe more.


A 14AWG wire with 15A current through it (the upper limit of what you would expect to find) should only exhibit a 10 degree Celsius rise (16 degrees F).


I just think its wise to assume this is a problem until you prove it otherwise. I would open the first box, pull the receptacle out and look at the wires. Any signs of charring, burnt plastic odor, ... Its a 5 minute check for peace of mind.


It might be nothing but it seems suspicious enough to warrant additional investigation.
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Old 12-27-2018, 08:35 PM   #15
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Re: Vacant receptacle is hot to touch


If an unused outlet is getting hot, then the most likely cause is a loose connection. The downstream load is passing through that connection and heating it up.

Yes, it is imperative to get it repaired quickly, but at least it is a simple fix.

Here are a couple pictures I took of a situation that sounds exacly the same as you describe. The single wire that is hanging free was under one of the screw terminals, but the screw wasn't tight any more. The backstab connections were actually fine.
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Vacant receptacle is hot to touch-meltedoutlet.jpg   Vacant receptacle is hot to touch-glowing.jpg  
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