Evidence of 'heat' inside outlet ?

soozDecember 25, 2010

Our panel has now been replaced with 125 amp stuff, AND a ground for the house, which we apparently did not have. Thank you to those who responded to my initial post.

The washer is now on a separate circuit, as is the fridge. The two-man crew who did that also checked some of the outlets by taking them apart since there was a problem with arcing in the panel, and in two out of the four outlets they checked in the living room, there was evidence of "overheating." I could see that two of the outlets they pulled out of the wall were very different from the other two outlets they pulled out.

I could be (very) wrong, but it seems like I should just rewire the whole house rather than do it piecemeal for this or that outlet. I really didn't want them checking every single outlet because that's time on the clock and if two out of four needed to be rewired, chances are a lot more need the same.

Any advice?

Also, the house is plaster/stucco - would re-wiring entail making holes in the walls so the new wiring can get to where it's going?

When a house is re-wired, does this includes rewiring the on/off switches for all the rooms and does it include rewiring the wiring that goes to the ceiling lights and ceiling fans, too?

How much does a job like this cost?--we're in So California over by the San Diego area. I'm getting an estimate Monday afternoon but don't want to embarrass myself by fainting or bursting into tears..

Thank you for any help.


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You may just need new receptacles that are installed with properly tightened screws.

Something more than the $0.39 receptacles for frequently used ones might also be a good idea.

Unless you have solid aluminum wiring, it is very unlikely there is any reason to replace branch circuit wiring.

Inadequately tightened screws and wire nuts are a common source of heat from arcing.

Receptacle screws need to be surprisingly tight for long term reliability.

    Bookmark   December 25, 2010 at 11:09AM
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Thanks, Brickeyee, but how do I, as a consumer with little to no experience other than "flip-the-switch, light-goes on", know that for sure?


    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 12:22AM
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Brickeyee's advice is good but I feel compelled to go down another path. This has the faint odor of "we're here and we need more work so what else can we do". So I'd suggest getting at least one other opinion and quote for the work.

I'm not sure how "arcing in the panel" led to them checking the outlets - but what did this "overheating" look like? Charred/blackened wires? Melted plastic? Etc. What did you see that was different about the two "bad outlets"? Did you notice if the wires were under screws - or were they just stuck in holes in the back of the receptacles?

As was suggested - I wouldn't think that the wiring needs to be replaced. And if you want to replace the receptacles don't pay an electrician $15 to install a $0.50 one - spend a little more and get quality hardware.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 12:16PM
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"how do I, as a consumer with little to no experience other than "flip-the-switch, light-goes on", know that for sure? "

Hire a licensed electrician to install better quality receptacles (get at least a couple bids).

Using an actual torque screwdriver (or wrench with screw tip adapters) is a good sign, and often needed in panels.

An experienced electrician should have a good 'feel' for how tight is enough, but it is surprisingly tight.

If ANY receptacles are using the 'push wiring' holes (not to be confused with back wiring devices that use screws and pressure plates to clamp the wire) the devices should be removed and replaced.

The push wiring is so unreliable it is not even allowed on 20 amp (#12) branch circuits any more (the hole is to small for a #12 wire, but will accept a #14).

    Bookmark   December 26, 2010 at 12:35PM
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IF there is evidence of arcing in the electrical fixtures, this is a serious issue. You say nothing on the type of wiring or the brand of the electrical panel.

Standard breakers usually do not trip from arcing as the breaker does not read this as an overload. That is why arcing in receptacles can cause house fires.

The obvious question to the electrician is why the receptacles show evidence or arcing and how is replacing the receptacles going to cure that problem?

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 11:03AM
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I think the original poster said the arcing was in the panel and not in the box - at least that is how I read it. It wasn't clear to me whether this was in the panel that was replaced or the new one.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 5:07PM
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The most common cause for arcing is lose fasteners on breakers and devices.

The screws need to be surprisingly tight to stay that way over the normal thermal cycles they will be exposed to.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 10:46AM
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What she said was that the panel had been replaced and there was evidence of overheating in some receptacles. Evidently the electrician was checking outlets to see what was causing the arcing in the panel. Curious why an arcing breaker did not trip or perhaps it did.

Her response was a question about rewiring the house which is very expensive.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 10:20AM
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"Curious why an arcing breaker did not trip or perhaps it did. "

Arcing within the circuit path (like a loose receptacle screw when a load is present at the receptacle) does not draw excessive current.

Arc fault breakers are designed to deal with this issue.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 10:41AM
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Ditto dennisgli.

Define heat and Over_Heating and "evidence of" and what it means here.

Sooz, it smells unclear to me.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 11:12AM
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OK. If I understand what she said, the electricians who installed the new panel discovered arcing from one of the breakers. They were then pulling receptacles looking for what was causing the arcing. I understand arc fault breakers. I was a little surprised that an arcing breaker did not trip. Assumed they fliped it off.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 4:21PM
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"I was a little surprised that an arcing breaker did not trip."

I have seen all sorts pof manufactuer's panels have arcing from breaker to buss bars.

Most appeared to be from a breaker not fully seated, but a few older ones did not have enough spring tension in the contacts grabbing the bus.

If the arcing removed the temper, or the temper was inadequate to start with cannot be determined very well after the fact.

I remember one panel that had an arc that cold be seen lighting up the inside of the panel in the dark.

here were enough small holes around cable clamps and screws to allow some light out (along with the buzzing crackle you could hear from across the room).

The breaker was feeding an electric stove, so the load impedance was pretty small.

As long as the arc is in the normal path of current in a working circuit, the breaker does not respond.

Arcs do not by themselves increase current draw.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 4:51PM
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Brickeye, I appreciate your read on arcing breakers. Every so often there will be a blurb in one of our local rags about a house fire attributed to defective wiring. It is never mentioned what was the defect. Presume some fires may be due to arcing perhaps in a reeptacle or panel.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 9:30AM
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The fire marshals like to ascribe anything they cannot reliably determine that started even NEAR wiring as 'electrical fire'.

It is used as a sort of catch all without any actual lab results.

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 1:24PM
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