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I hope this post helps someone else avoid what we narrowly avoided last night.

It started on New Year’s Day, I was making curtains for Maggie’s room (before and after coming, I swear!) and I needed an outlet for the sewing machine. One thing about older houses, less electrical outlets (you gotta love the technology age and our need for bajillions of outlets for all our gadgets).

So, I found this plug and the top outlet was slightly discolored, like a previous appliance had blown a fuse. So I tried the bottom, the plug wouldn’t hardly go in the outlet. So I tried the upper. Same thing.

I moved on to the next outlet, found success, and made the curtains. This was all on Tuesday. Wednesday and Thursday I did a few loads of laundry, which is right near this busted outlet. But there was nothing noteworthy going on. No sparks. No loss of power to other outlets nearby (indicating a tripped circuit). Nothing out of the ordinary.

Late Thursday night the Handy Husband went to take care of the cats (their food is also right near this outlet). He could smell something remarkably like a glue gun. His first thought was “Did she really leave the glue gun plugged in?!” He was on his way to teach me about responsible glue gun ownership when the smell seemed stronger (because he walked right past the outlet).

He turned, and there was the culprit. The wires running to the outlet were in contact with the poorly installed metal electrical box (in newer homes, these boxes are often made of blue plastic). The electricity was trying to ground through the box which was causing the plastic on the outlet face to melt. We turned off the electricity to the circuit and removed the problem, before out house burned down.

What amazes me about this is 1. In trying to use the outlet the other day I clearly jiggled things around enough to allow this to happen, but the effects were not immediate. Matt and I agreed the outlet needed replacing ASAP. But as there was no eminent need we just put it at the top of the “to do next weekend” list. 2. Aside from smell, and it really did smell quite a lot like a glue gun, there were never any sparks or shorting out or tripped circuit breaker to indicate a problem. If we had gone to bed, who knows how quickly this would have escalated into something more serious.

Unfortunately we also discovered that some of the wiring in our house is 2 wire (without ground wire, but the outlets have all been deceptively replaced to three prong. Some of the wiring has the much safer ground wire as seen in the electrical box. Which bumps an electrical overhaul up on the old to-do list.

So, if you ever smell anything in your home that can’t be easily explained by last night’s chili dinner, investigate! Joni the Kitchen Witch recently smelled gas in her house and no one else could even smell it, but it did turn out to be a nearly undetectable leak, but it was there!

You never know when a problem is something or its nothing.

CONSTANT VIGILANCE

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