Section of house losing power

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We recently bought a 30 year old home and it has developed an interesting electrical problem. There is one outlet in the basement that seems to control whether or not one side of the basement has power or not. If something (anything) is plugged into this outlet the outlets/lights have power. If we unplug from that outlet, so that there is nothing in it, and then turn on a light, it will flicker and that entire side of the basement loses power. As soon as we plug something into that outlet the power comes back to that side.
The only thing that I know of that has recently happened is that the outlet immediately to the right of the "controlling" outlet had a nightlight short circuit and begin to melt the light sensor. The "electrical fire" smell was very strong in that area. That's the only way we figured out where the problem was.
Has anyone seen anything like this before?
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On Jan 21, 12:13 pm, diane_at_thomlinson_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (diane330s) wrote:

Starting cheap and working up to expensive, I'd replace that outlet, or if I was really busy/lazy just leave something plugged in to it.
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re: if I was really busy/lazy just leave something plugged in to it
Would you really leave a known electrical hazard in place?
It's obvious that there is a loose connection that only makes decent contact with the help of an external object. Would you really just plug something in to mask to problem?
Wow!
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Probably not, it's too cheap and easy to replace the outlet, I was just having fun with the CALL THE ELECTRICIAN guys.
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And possibly endangering the lives of neophytes & others who see your stupidity. Idiot.
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On Wed, 21 Jan 2009 10:31:56 -0800 (PST), Eric in North TX

I would DEFINITELY not leave something plugged in and would MOST DEFINITELY check the connections on both the "controlling" outlet and the one that had the smoked nightlight.
Not getting to the root of the problem and fixing it is quite likely to cause more problems - possibly including a fire.
Pull the fuse for the affected circuit untill it can be fixed. With the fuse out, pull both outlets and check for loose connections and/or signs of heating. If aluminum, get CO-ALR rated receptacles and have someone with some experience replace them for you. If copper make sure they are not "back-stabbers" - in other words make sure the wires are fastened by screws, and the screws are tight. - and for the price of a decent outley (not a cheapy) I'd replace both just to be sure.
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On Jan 21, 9:32 pm, snipped-for-privacy@invalid.com wrote:

It's OK if you feed the friend first, but don't give him the six-pack until the outlet is fixed.
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lol,k good catch!
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On Jan 21, 1:13 pm, diane_at_thomlinson_dot snipped-for-privacy@foo.com (diane330s) wrote:

Smitty is right, pick up the yellow pages.
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More than likely the "controlling" outlet has "back stabbed" connections for the wires. If these connections are not installed correctly, they will act just like yours. Replace that outlet and make the connections on the screw terminals, then see if it solves the problem
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Could be dangerous and overheat. Fix, properly asap. If you don't have good electrical skills and tools, call an electrician quickly; turn off that circuit at the breaker panel or remove the fuses when you sleep. Two other points: a) Safety. Three children were killed by a night time electrical fire a few miles from here over Christmas! b) If a known potentially dangerous item not repaired promptly insurance companies are notoriously fussy about it!!!!! Agree with previous posters; it may very likely be one 'bad' outlet. But it only takes one to cause a fire! Also since the electrcity flows through the wires from one outlet to another, even if that outlet has nothing plugged into it, it can be carrying all the electrical load for other outlets further along that circuit. Not unlikely perhaps in a 30 year old house where possibly additions/changes have been made! Good quality outlets are much better bet than those 'back stabbers' where the wires are merely pushed into holes in the back of the outlet and not screwed on! Two other points: c) Make sure there is no dampness due to say warm air condensing into a cool outlet and thereby hastening corrosion (no matter what type of outlet). d) Ask the electrician while replacing the outlet (or outlets) if it is 'Aluminum' wiring. Aluminum was used to some extent about 30+ years ago. It showed some problems and it's use was generally discontinued. All outlets. switches etc. used with aluminum must be compatible. So just going to a general store and buying a cheap outlet may or may not be satisfactory or safe. Sorry too preach! But the death of those children and another serious fire during the same time period, two fires in this area with a population under half a million makes one think! Smoke detectors in each area and batteries up to date also?
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But what caused the "melted nightlight" and all the smell of burnt parts?
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Maybe crappy Chinese nightlight

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Ture, but ... in this situation it's something that must be answered, IMO as the situation could still exist.
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On Thu, 22 Jan 2009 15:20:42 -0500, "Twayne"

I would ASSUME the crappy burned out night lite has been discarded, so it is no longer a player in the equation. Replace the suspect wiring devices and make sure the connections are solid. Then, if it was an aluminum wiring or backstabber issue, have someone competent replace ALL the wiring devices in the building with quality devices, using screwdown connectors. If the house has aluminum wiring, have CoALR devices installed, bringing it up to code. Don't get talked into the crimp-on copper pigtail route - it is overpriced and trouble prone.
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On Wed, 21 Jan 2009 19:39:58 -0500, "Twayne"

I suspect a bad outlet caused the melted night-light, and not the other way around, but it really is hard to say without actually seeing the parts.
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Agreed & very possible. Several mentioned aluminum wireing too, and I've seen those outlets get really hot; once lived in a mobil home with it.
Twayne
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diane330s wrote:

Diane, I am not (unlike some who have responded) a misogynist. Some of my best friends have females for neighbors.
Your symptoms are probably (95%) caused by defective connection on either the problematic outlet or the one upstream. This defective connection is, in turn, caused by (99%) the labor-saving "back-stab" technique.
Replace both electrical outlets. DO NOT use the back-stab option with the new outlets; loop the wires around the screws and tighten.
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And ignore a melted nightlight and the smell of burnt offerings?
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Twayne wrote:

Sure. That event has statistical clustering written all over it.
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