My wife noticed a "burning plastic" smell coming from an outlet in the
house that a cell phone charger was plugged into. I pulled out the
charger and it was hot as hell, as was the outlet. There is also
discoloration over the outlet from the heat I guess? I shut off the
breaker for it, and unscrewed things, and here's a picture of what it
Im going to leave the circuit breaker off until i figure out what to
do. Is this a big deal? Should i just replace the outlet? or is my
house about to burn down?
That outlet feeds another outlet downstream, looks like.
So, it probably wasn't the charger that overheated it,
but rather the other load. What else is not working
now that the circuit is off?
Best guess is that the screw terminals weren't tightened
properly and that caused the connections to over heat.
Replace the receptacle. BTW, I don't see a grounding wire
on this one...
Thanks for the response! The other load on that breaker is the
refrigerator. And as far as I can tell that's the only other thing
that went out with this breaker off. This kind of sucks cuz I have to
turn the breaker back on for the night unless I want all my food to
rot. I put the outlet back in and flipped the breaker back on. Think
this will be ok until I can swing by the hardware store tomorrow?
I would take the melted outlet out of the path.
Turn off the breaker.
Clean up or cut off & re-strip the wires.
Wire nut the wires (black to black) (white to white)
Turn the power back on, you should be good to go unitl you have time
replace the outlet.
I am not an electrician, and I hope someone who knows more than I will
comment on this.
But the refrigerator and a 110 room air conditioner are the biggest
thigns plugged into a 110 outlet.
I think when you put this together again you should continue to use
wire nuts b to b and w to w, and add a short length from the wire nuts
to the receptacle in that box. Won't that cut down on the number of
connections that the current to the fridge has to go through??????
Now it has two, one at each screw, but then you'll only have one. Is
that fair to say guys??? Even though he'll have three wires in each
If so, should he use copper wire for the short length, and a
Does he need special wire nuts for aluminum?
This kind of sucks cuz I have to
After an hour, I would put my hands on the fridge plug where it goes
into the wall. AFAIK, it shouldn't be warm at all. (But I guess even
if it is bad, it idn't cause the problem at this outlet.)
And on the receptacle. It shouldn'be warm at all.
Plug something in to the problem outlet, even if you don't turn it on.
Its plug prongs might conduct the heat from hot connections to the
plug better than you can feel it when you touch the receptacle.
If nothing is warm, then you can leave it on all night. If you have a
smoke detector. Check in the morning. If nothing is warm, you can
Plug in the charger in another outlet. Does it go in or come out very
very easy. It's the loose connections that get hot. Leave the
charger plugged in for an hour. Check if it is hot in the other
outlet. If it is, well, I'd be surprised.
putting b-b and w-w with a short tail to the outlet is good practice.
Its called a pig tail. I always do it if I have enough room in the box.
Then, if an outlet goes bad you will not be in the situation of the OP.
As for Aluminum. I did not notice that in the image. Good catch. There
are special considerations for Aluminum. I cant comment on those.
Yep it is a big deal. No way to tell from the picture if the charger was at
fault or the outlet was to blame. Looks like AL wiring, Ace hardware has the
best deal on small quanties of AL devices that I have found. My home is AL
Might be time to check your devices and look for the AL-CU rating on them.
Properly installed there is nothing wrong with AL. NOTICE I said properly
installed. When I moved into my home I checked all of the outlets and
replaced all of the switches, SO wanted rocker ones. Found a few that were
a tad loose. Gee installed in 1975 I am not surprised.
Yep its aluminum wiring. Could you please clarify "check your devices
and look for the AL-CU rating on them."? and what you mean when you
say "AL Devices"? I know next to nothing about this stuff.
There is a good explanation here:
with links to more.
If indeed you have a home with aluminum wiring
you could be sitting on a serious problem.
Today's incident may just be a taste of events waiting to happen.
(I don't mean to sound alarmist.)
and GOOGLE: CO/ALR or Aluminum Wiring
Dig up all the info you can before making any rash decisions.
Thanks for the info, I will read up on it. FYI, with nothing plugged
into this outlet for a few hours now, it is not hot at all, so it only
appears to be getting hot when a load is attached to this outlet. Does
this tell us anything else?
I know for a fact I've got aluminum wiring... When I moved in, my real
estate agent recommended that I replace all switches and outlets with
CO/ALR ones. Of course I didn't do it. Would you folks recommend
this? Another friend of mine told me to leave well enough alone, and
that I could stir up more problems by replacing things.
Your real estate agent was trying to keep the house from burning down,
and gave you a good hint. Your friend told you to just sit tight, since
your house is not on fire yet.
AL wiring (as you will or have seen from your googling) is tricky and
particular. You DO need special everything: special wire nuts, special
outlets, special switches, special installation procedures, special
precautions when mixing different metals, etc. And this DOES matter,
its not just an obscure code issue, or a marketing ploy, or whatever.
I don't have AL myself, so I don't know all what is involved. If you
think you are up for it, do your homework, then replace all the
switches, outlets, wire nuts, and everything else necessary, to get
everything to be safe. If you don't feel up to it, find an electrician
that knows AL to take a look through, make recommendations, then fix
eveything needing fixing.
As others have said, you might just have a few of the wrong type of
outlets, but otherwise properly-installed AL wiring. Or you might have
a real dangerous and extensive mess on your hands.
Devices listed for use with aluminum wire are marked CO/ALR. The worst
devices have steel screws.
This site has the best information I have seen on aluminum wiring. Last
I looked most of it was derived from the Cosumer Product Safety
Commission which reportedly tried to force a recall.
The best link in the above site is
This is a paper based on extensive testing of aluminum connections for
the CPSC and gives a wide range of fixes for aluminum wiring. Note
particularly the advice to apply anti oxide paste to the wire and then
abrade it. Very specific on what to do and brands. If I had aluminum
wire I would probably wire nut a copper pigtail to devices.
bigger than a big deal: immediate dangerous electrical hazard due to
one or more of the items you mentioned: the refrigerator, the circuit
wiring, each outlet related to this circuit, and the circuit breaker
and its panel.
I got an electrician over here. Here was the problem: That was an
outlet rated for 15 amps, on a circuit rated for 20 amps (hence the
fridge being on the same circuit). It was getting too much power, so
it melted. He pigtailed b to b and w to w like you guys said, with a
copper wire coming off each, and put in a 20 amp outlet. Anyway, I'm
gonna have a prof. electrician replace all the outlets with CO/ALR
Thanks for all of your responses here, I really appreciate it.
There is no difference between 15 & 20 amp receptacles. They are all 20 amp
internally, which is why the Code allows either on a 20 amp circuit. The 20
amp receptacle will accept either a 15 amp or 20 amp plug (with a "T"
configuration for the prongs).
From the looks of it, the terminal connections overheated, probably a result
of poor installation, aluminum wire and poor clamping pressure from the
screws. Did the electrician also confirm that the wire is properly sized for
a 20 amp circuit?
Typically, aluminum wire requires one
gauge increase, i.e. 12 gauge for
15 amp circuit. So, if this was a 20
amp circuit, the size would have to
be larger than the normal 12 gauge ....
like 10 gauge. I doubt, from the
picture, if it was 10 gauge. I'll guess
that many "newer" electricians never
heard of aluminum house wiring and don't
know how to handle it properly.
Ben Miller wrote:
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