smoking electrical outlets

a_bearJanuary 6, 2010

How worried should a person be about mysteriously smoking electrical outlets?

A year and a half ago I bought a house built in 1958, and about a month after we moved in one of the outlets in the kitchen started to smoke. We had two appliances plugged into the outlet at the time, a coffee maker and a microwave. A toaster oven was elsewhere on the circuit. I'm not sure how many of them were running. In any case, I replaced the outlet, trimming damaged wires as necessary. Haven't had any problems since.

About a month ago, another outlet in the house began to smoke. It was on a different circuit in another part of the house. I had just plugged in a relatively small device when it happened. Nothing else was in the outlet. Also running on that circuit are a lamp, a TV, stereo, and DVD player. I don't think any of them were on at the time.

Again I trimmed the damaged wires and replaced the outlet. I haven't had any problems since.

All the outlets in the house are grounded. I don't know how old they are. They didn't look new when I pulled them out, but they didn't seem particularly frail either. I don't know who installed them originally. When I bought the house the inspector didn't see any problems.

I'm wondering if these two outlets are signaling some larger problem that I should be worrying about. Or is this just bad luck? I'm afraid one of these days an outlet will catch fire when I don't happen to be standing there.

Is there something I should be having a professional look at, or is this a normal part of aging outlets?

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It depends. If the conenction was loose and you repaired it then no problem. If the circuit is over fused then could be big issues. The wires in the walls could be melted.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 1:36PM
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Yes, you need to have a reliable electrician look at this. This is not normal, and you could end up with a house fire. Something is not right here. I don't mean to be alarmist, but you should not be comfortable with this until your whole wiring system is inspected and possibly fixed: that means the breaker/fuse box and the sizing thereof, the type and adequacy of the wire gauges, the integrity of the connections between the wiring and all the receptacles, etc. Many home inspectors are not necessarily good at finding things hidden in walls or doing close inspections of the electrical system, so that doesn't make me comfortable.

    Bookmark   January 6, 2010 at 8:13PM
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I would have been pulling every device in the house and checking for at least tight screws and aluminum wire after the first incident.

Over long periods attachments that were not tightened correctly often work loose.

Just plain old temperature cycles from day to night can loosen less than optimal connections.

Torque specs have only created much attention in the past few years for devices. Large panel connections have had them for a long time, but I cannot recall an AHJ with a torque wrench (or torque screwdriver) until about 4-5 years ago.

The numbers for device screw torque are surprisingly high to many folks.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2010 at 3:07PM
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Thanks for the responses. I don't think anything was loose, but it's possible I missed something. As for the wire, everything I've seen has been copper. In general it's a very well-maintained house, but maybe within the walls things are sketchier. Guess I'll have to have someone come check it out.

    Bookmark   January 7, 2010 at 6:02PM
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