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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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?
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.
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
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
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?
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.
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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