FYI - last night my wife took it upon herself to 'fix' a painted area above
a switch. Because we are in the middle of a remodel in this room the switch
cover wasn't installed.
Unbeknownst to her, as she 'sanded' the painted surface, little pieces of
steel wool fell onto the exposed line terminals of the switch. Once enough
collected, POOF the electricity arced and blew both circuit breakers and
plunged her into darkness...
I'll be replacing the double switch today. I hoping that no further damage
occurred to the wiring itself...
If she's anything like my ex:
1) It's YOUR fault.
2) The fact that without exception, no home improvement writer ever mentions
this hazard is NOT an indication that common sense should tell you to avoid
it. Rather, it's proof that men keep this a secret so they can cash in on
their wives' life insurance policies.
Yup! What were you thinking not warning her that steelwool: A) conducts
elecrticity and B) isn't the 'tool' to use for sanding wall unless it's made
out of steel!
Unlikely that there was any further damage to the wiring, or even the
switches themselves for that matter, other than a bit of soot from the
blowout. Of course the steelwool is probably not worth much anymore!
Yep, I can't see why the switch would be damaged; the steel wool would
make only momentary contact before going whoosh and disappearing.
Shorting directly across a switch won't harm the switch.
What I want to know, is why she was using steel wool. In my
undiplomatic mode I would say, "Why the Hell were you using steel wool
on paint?" Not suggesting that he OP say that if he ever wants
breakfast served, clothes washed, and much more important things. But
congrats to get the wife to help.
Well, to answer your question about 'Why?'....
We had finished faux painting the exposed wall areas of the kitchen we are
remodeling. For this we used a flat paint. Wanting to protect the paint,
make it 'scrubbable' (sp), SWMBO used a clear gloss poly paint. Here
selected method of application was a medium paint roller. First coat went on
beautifully, then second coat contained tiny air-bubbles. When it dried it
took on a 'pebble-grain' finish, like a basketball...
Sandpaper seemed out of place as it wouldn't get into the 'depressions' that
the drywall texture had formed. Steel wool seemed apropos....
She was not holding the steel wool when the contact was made, but as you all
know, when you use steel wool it breaks down into small 'fibers' (slivers).
These falling slivers collected on the exposed switch (again, we failed to
properly cover the switch)
It took her a few hours to get her heart rhythm back to 'normal'....
The switch is 'blackened'... I'll evaluate the condition before proceeding.
I'm sure my lovely bride will feel 'safer' if the switch is simply replaced
;-).. Circuit breakers worked - LOL
You know, given the high cost of switches, take $50 out of the bank.
Buy the switches and install them. Then take the remaining $45 to take
her out to your local restaurant* and tell her your glad she's ok.
*it need not be fancy, just something with a table cloth that's not a chain.
She's lucky the whole ball of steel wool didn't flare up and burn her
hand or whatever it landed on when she dropped it.
Most people think of steel as non-flammable, (except in the presence of
a lot of added oxygen as from a cutting torch), the thin strands in a
steel wool pad have such a high ratio of surface area to volume that the
pad will blaze away in plain air.
And it doesn't take full line voltage to start it. A single D-cell
flashlight battery is enough, as my now 40 year old son can testify he
discovered when he was about 5 years young. (And we forever had a burned
spot on the kitchen floor as a memorial to that discovery.)
Jeff Wisnia (W1BSV + Brass Rat '57 EE)
"As long as there are final exams, there will be prayer in public
This is an old survival trick. Pack some steel wool, and a standard 9 volt
battery. Touching both terminals of the battery to the steel wool ignites
it, and makes an excellent fire starter. The 9v battery just makes it
easier, since the terminals are next to each other, you can set the wool
down and just touch it with the battery. It's kind of an interesting
experiment, but do be careful- it gets really hot.
I heard a story of a guy who set his living room on fire while
stripping paint from the baseboard. There was an outlet in the
baseboard with the cover removed. As he was cleaning off paint off
the baseboard around the outlet using chemical stripper and steel
wool, apparently a bit of the steel wool got between the metal J-box
and the hot screw terminal on the duplex. Instantly set fire to the
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