Sparks Inside Outlet Box!?

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Help!
We have an older home and an air conditioner plugged into an outlet in our master bedroom. Same one we've used for a few years.
Today, I just happened to be cleaning the room and noticed what looked like flashes of light behind the outlet cover. I thought it was from the window and as I got closer I noticed it seemed to be SPARKS inside the outlet box! The plastic cover is also warm, but not too warm to touch.
This is obviously not good! I turn off the air conditioner and it stops. I turn it on and after a few minutes this flashes start again.
We have had this air conditioner runnings for months, even when not home. I can't believe this is a safe thing, but have no idea why it's happened, know nothing about electricity and have no idea why the circuit breaker for that room would not turn off if this was happening.
Of course, I discover this on a Sunday when electricians are not available and it's 90 degrees out. This can't happen during the week or on a cooler day.
Am I overreacting to think I need to shut this thing down? I am just wondering how long this has been going on.
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Not only should you certainly shut the air conditioner off, but you should also go to your main breaker panel (basement or closet or wherever) and shut off the entire circuit that the outlet is on, too. If you are not sure which breaker to switch, plug a radio turned on loud into the outlet (or a lamp or something) and then start flipping breakers till you find the one that stuts off the outlet.
Really. You are ripe for an electrical fire. This is a major cause of house fires.
Go do it now. I'll wait.
Ok, got the breaker off? Now check to make sure that BOTH plugs are shut off. It is unlikely, but you may have a "split circuit", where the two plugs are on different circuits (in which case they are supposed to be on one double-breaker, but diy'ers screw this up all the time). You want NO power to that outlet box.
Now finally, dont turn that breaker on until you have the box looked at by an electrician. A DIY'er can diagnose these things, but you say you "know nothing about electricity", and today is not a good day to start fiddling with wires. So call an electrician. They might recomend a new run of wire, or upgraded circuit, or all sorts of things. You might also ask them to poke around some of your other outlets and wiring. Overhead lights are a cause of problems, in particular (the heat ruins the wiring).
-Kevin
BTW -- if you haven't shut the breaker off, I wasn't kidding. I'm won't stop writting until you do it... Well, ok, it's your house. Nevermind.
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Yeah, like "BURN THE HOUSE DOWN" not good. Immediately shut off that circuit at the breaker.
Sounds like you've got loose wiring. If it's aluminum wiring you're in even more trouble. Unless you're VERY handy with electrical work you should call an electrician. Leave the circuit off until one can come out and fix it.
DO NOT USE THAT OUTLET UNTIL IT'S FIXED PROPERLY. And do not half-ass it by putting the AC unit on an extension cord to another outlet. The house is already warning you, LISTEN TO IT.
The wires probably came loose. Either from faulty wiring, a cheap socket or potentially issues with older aluminum wiring. If it's copper wire and it's just come loose you /might/ be able to get away with just replace the old outlet with a securely installed new one. But if the wire suffered damage then it'll have to be replaced. Unless you're used to looking at wire it can be hard to tell what is or isn't damaged.
Running an air conditioner on a circuit not designed for it often a guaranteed way to overheat and ruin the wiring. If you really want to continue using a window AC unit you really should consider putting in a circuit and outlet SOLELY for that purpose. The amount of current an AC unit draws is often more than most residential circuits can reliably handle. Sure, they 'ought to be able' to handle it. But the various ways circuits get installed and additions made can greatly reduce the safety of them when high-current loads are involved. Better safe than sorry. For some that's going to draw that much current and be expected to operate in an unattended fashion for hours on end it's really not a good idea to take too many risks.
But meanwhile, TURN IT OFF AT THE BREAKER PANEL.
-Bill Kearney
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This is Turtle.
What you have is a loose Plug and receptical. Replace the Plug and the receptical and cure the problem. now just changing one will not cure it but prolong it from coming back again but soon it will mess up again.
TURTLE
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WHAT did you say, Turt?
Sorry;you must have had one too many when you wrote that.
And yeah, all the responses have been on target, OP. Hope it's taken care of by now.
Pop
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This is Turtle.
I see you did not read too closely here by I saying to change both plug and receptical which nobody including yourself said that. I know for a fact if you don't change both, you will come back to work on it again. Please read before correcting people. And yes i can't spell too well without a dictionary.
TURTLE
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Um. Turtle, you okay today?
Just to reiterate for the OP, who describes himself as "knowning nothing about electricity": you really need to turn OFF the circuit, then don't turn it back on until an electrician takes a look at a few things. Specifically: - the receptical will need to be replaced - the circuit box itself may need to be replaced - some of the wiring may need to be replaced - the circuit breaker may need to be replaced - the plug on the air conditioner may need to be replaced - other outlets or wiring in the house may need to be repaired or replaced.
And since this just seems to be a once in a lifetime love-fest of agreement on usenet, with the exception of turtle, that is), I'll give a hearty nod to whoever said not to be afraid of caling the electician. It may well turn out to be just some very quick and easy repairs, due to loose wires, or some other simple cause. Or your house might burn down tomorrow.
-Kevin
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This is Turtle.
I thought that the poster before me had cover the calling or not calling a sparky to do the work and to just turn it off at the breaker which others had told him but my reply was to the work after the sparky came or he did the work. Change both plug and receptical to get a proper job right and also everything else that need to be. i guess I'm going to have to start repeating what other have said to be right i guess.
TURTLE
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THANK!
Well, I did what you all asked right away, but haven't been able to post.
The bad part is the house being old the circuit breaker box has all kinds of names for things that don't make sense. Like there is a breaker for "pool" when there is no sign in the yard there ever was one, so I can't tell what it's referring to. Same with some other circuits. Also, odd things occur like the kitchen microwave and stove are on the same line as the guest room above it.
That said, something is now even more wrong.
The master bedroom has no power now to half of it including the outlet the AC was in, the ceiling light, etc. The other half of the room works fine. Even when all breakers are on, half of that room is now dead and no breaker ever tripped. We did change the one plug where the sparks were coming from, but that whole side of the room went dead.
We have unplugged EVERYTHING from those outlets, kept it off and called an electrician, who can't come until Tuesday afternoon. We are now sleeping in the guest room because of the no power/AC problem in the master.
How can you loose power to half a room without a breaker tripping? I am very nervous about this, but other than keeping everything off and waiting for the electrician, I am unsure what else to do.
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Ryan wrote:

....
The stove had <better> be a dedicated 220V circuit...unless you're meaning something other than an electric range???

If the above is even remotely close to true, you have some <serious> problems, agreed. Sounds like an abomination of previous "home handyman"... :( .....

Lose of ground or other break somewhere in the feed...
You're doing the right thing--I would strongly recommend you get the fella' to check the whole house while there. It sounds to me like your situation is one that is ripe for a complete upgrade.
When did you purchase this house and was an inspection done at the time? If recent, and depending on state disclosure rules, inspections done, etc., etc., and the actual cause(s) of the problems, you just <might> have some recourse against the seller...
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"When did you purchase this house and was an inspection done at the time?"
I purchased the house 5 years ago and it was inspected by a well known local inspector who, except for a few small items that were not electrical) said the house was in outstanding condition for being 75 years old. You know, the seller was an 80 year old woman who's husband (aka handyman) had died so she probably wouldn't have known much. They owned the house for 40 years, but we found all kinds of odd repairs as we redid the rooms after buying it (paint, carpet, etc.. no electrical changes)
We have never had something like this happen before. And, we have run the AC on that same outlet for a couple of years without any problems until yesterday.
All will stay off until the electrician can arrive. I guess that's all we can do. Hope the repair of this isn't a nightmare.
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Ryan wrote:

I'd be budgeting... :(
For a house of that age, if the bulk of the wiring is still original as I would presume it to be, the initial service was probably (maybe) 50A. It has undoubtedly been added on to over the years, and if, as sounds likely from what you've discovered eleswhere, it was done by the former homeowner(s) who didn't know much about what he (they) was (were) doing, it's quite likely there are any number of latent problems waiting to cause future grief. The real thing w/ wiring shortcomings is that they have potentially disasterous consequences and the incipient locations often are totally obscured. For example, who knows how many junction boxes there are that were simply covered up? Any one of those could have a loose connection which could heat and be the ignition source for a major fire. Didn't see it mentioned anywhere in the thread, but you haven't found any Al wiring, have you? If so, I think it's even more of a potentially dangerous situation.
Not trying to be <excessively> melodramatic here, but w/ the symptoms you're describing, I believe you need to treat it as a serious problem at least until it's confirmed not to be.
After 5 years you probably do have no practical recourse...sounds like the inspection might have been a little lackadaisical, but then again, most of them are.
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This comment right here..thanks for posting it...seriously. This is why we often times say, GET A PRO, period. Sometimes, when there are things that you cant see, WE sure cant see them over the net and the liability of trying to help feel around, as it were, in the dark (dark being the internet) isnt worth it. Sometimes you have problems from day one, even thou things seem to work fine. When they fail, and things are put back right, is when you find you have larger issues...or the original screw up caused more than you realized.
This time of year is when the bad stuff shows up and all of us get behind. Im so far behind right now I cant see daylight and the ONLY reason Im on now is to send a mail to a customer.
Good luck and hope it all works out.

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Ryan wrote:

I hope so too. Given all the conditions you've mentioned I'd expect cloth-insulated wiring on insulator posts inside the walls.
I hope I'm wrong, and wish you the best of luck.
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Typical gas range uses 110 to operate a light and a timer.
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Edwin Pawlowski wrote:

That's true...had a reaction of "omigawsh, the guy didn't split off a 110 from the stove to drive the rest of the counter top, did he?" reaction when I read it thinking of electric range....I assume that your surmise is <probably> (and hopefully) the correct one. I think the above is not <current> code, though, is it?
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Prepare your checkbook. You're in need of some serious rewiring. While it may end up costing a grand or two that's a lot less expensive than dealing with a house fire.
The pool breaker might have been for an above-ground type. Or for a room that had a pool table. Rooms tied into odd parts of circuits can be directly attributed to someone being lazy. Someone wanted to add an outlet and rather than run a new wire to the panel they just pulled it off something they found nearby. Once upon a time the power loads needed for rooms (including kitchens) was quite a bit lower. Tying a bedroom and bathroom together it wasn't a big deal. That is until they started making the high wattage accessories we all use these days.

Sounds like you have wiring being chained from once place to another or perhaps worse.
And did you replace the plug (the part on the end of the wire) or the outlet (the part mounted in the wall junction box)?

This really is your best course of action. Turn off as much as you can from the breakers. It would be a real tragedy to have this escalate into an electrical fire between now and when the electrician can come take a look. If there's not one in there already, put a smoke alarm up in the bedroom.

Well, if the wire to the outlets comes loose you'll certainly lose power. The wire could come loose without tripping a breaker. Or you could have disturbed enough of it to break the connection while you had the breaker off replacing the outlet (if you did, that is).
YES, you should BE NERVOUS. Make sure your smoke alarms are working.
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While it may seem odd to you, it is done intentionally. Houses are wired in such a way that losing one circuit in a room will not render the room useless. Receptacles on the front wall are on one line while the ones on the opposite wall will be on another even though they may be in the same room.
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Edwin Pawlowski wrote:

To add to the confusion, some single receptacles are wired 1/2 to one circuit, the other half to another. This is why you must check both halves for current before messing with the wiring.
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TURTLE wrote:

More crappy advice from Poop.
-- Pop aint shit, he's just Poop
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