Problem with electrical outlet

My grandparents live in a house that's about 100 years old. I have no idea how old the wiring is in that house but I'm fairly certain it hasn't been changed in 20 to 30 years.
They have two 10-20 y/o refrigerators and two 30+ year old freezers. Downstairs they have three window A/C units running and upstairs they have two window A/C units running. Plus things like tvs, a computer, and lights. I'd really hate to see their electric bill.
The other day I was there and something happened that concerns me. The A/C was on in a bedroom and we were vacuuming in the room. Some time after that (maybe 5-10 min) I noticed that the A/C had stopped working. Grandpa went to check the breaker and everything was ok. So I plugged the A/C into the top outlet and it worked. I then plugged it back into the bottom outlet where it had been and it wouldn't work.
What would cause the bottom outlet to stop working?
It has me concerned because they do the dumbest and unsafe things sometimes. I saw them plug a three prong A/C into an adapter that converts it to two prongs, then they plugged it into an extension cord, then into the wall. So basically, they had the A/C running of an extension cord. I think (not sure) that one of the refrigerators may be plugged in that way. In the next few weeks they will be getting a third refrigerator and I know that one will be plugged into an extension cord. I was always taught that things like that are potentially dangerous.
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It doesn't really matter what's wrong with the bottom outlet. A new outlet costs less than a pack of cigarettes. Go buy one and install it for them. If they're like most grandparents, they'll argue. Lock them out of the room and ignore them. If you're not sure how to install it, get a book from the library. It's simple and safe, as long as you take proper precautions. If the book doesn't help, make a list of other electrical horrors in the house, and call an electrician.
What's with all the refrigerators? Are they hunters looking to sock away tons of deer meat?
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JoeSpareBedroom wrote:

My grandmother (who lived in Waco,TX) at one point had four refrigerators and one freezer. Two of the refrigerators (one of which must have been a 1950s model) and the freezer were kept outside. She did this so she could buy perishable stuff on sale and store it. I thought it was a good idea until I grew up started paying my own electric bills. At that point I realized she had been spending far more on electricity to keep the stupid refrigerators running than she ever saved buying stuff on sale. At one point I tried to convince her of this, but at 90 years old, she knew way more than I did. ;-)
It really is sad to see posts like this especially in the middle of a heat wave. Two 30+ year old freezers are most definitely hemmoraging energy.
Doug
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JoeSpareBedroom wrote:

It could matter. Some outlets are wired split, where half is served by one pair, usually hot all the time, the other by another pair, usually switched.
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Yeah, but he said that the bottom outlet had worked for the AC, but then stopped, as if something had changed. Either unwittingly someone flipped a switch that controlled the bottom, or...lots of possibilities.
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That's what I wanted to say.
It takes only a few minutes (less time than it takes to post an article in a newsgroup) to unscrew and pull out the receptacle to see if this is the case. So that is what I would do first.
If the two receptacles are not wired split and one is working while another is not, then obviously replace the receptacles. If they are wired split, then further investigation is required (e.g. is there power coming into the bottom receptacle).
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They are a good example of how durable and resilient house wiring is. They probably have mixed wiring types, but it is entirely possible and probable that some of these circuits are improperly fused and overloaded. The dead outlet is possibly connected to a wall switch that is off or broken, but it is possible that only half of an outlet works. I'd have that and the general condition of the wiring checked by an electrician. They should have grounded outlets for the refrigeration stuff and size any extension cords properly and keep their length to a minimum

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Burnt contacts within the socket could be the problem.
Replacing the socket makes sense. As to the fridges int he cellar, most cellars are open ceiling. Not a big problem to run a couple new circuits. Maybe treat them to some new electric sockets in the cellar?
--

Christopher A. Young
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