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smoky electric smell

Posted by jally (My Page) on
Tue, Feb 7, 12 at 18:58

OK, first the intro, then on to my question.

There's a local guy who hooks up telephone connections, and he has worked for an electrician, so also knows about electric outlets. Since I needed a phone connection done, I asked if he can convert some 2-hole outlets to 3-hole outlets.

Apparently, the house wiring is already grounded but for some reason, back in the 1950's they used to install 2 hole outlets. This guy had already converted the outlet in my computer room to three-holes, and it's been serving me fine these past months. He'd also done another one in a bedroom where a handyman used his power tools to install windows.

This time, I asked the guy to convert outlets which for some reason had SIX 2-hole sockets in a row.

So as of now, those outlets which formerly had SIX 2-hole-sockets,
...now have TWO 3-hole sockets.

Question:

I had plugged in my Bissell electric broom into the socket which he'd converted to a double-3-hole-outlet (from that weird six-in-a-row configuration). After just a few minutes of swishing the Bissell all over the room, I started smelling a smoky electric smell, which sometimes emits when an electric broom (or electric heater) breaks down.

Indeed, the Bissell has had alot of usage, but i'm still not absolutely sure if the smoky smell is due to depreciation or due to defective outlet-conversion.

So an hour later, I tried the Bissell on another house-outlet (one of the original outlets which came with the house, and which I'm positive is safe).

Again I smelled the smoky smell.

I also tested my Dirt Devil electric broom in the newly-converted outlet, and that emitted a weird chemical smell (albeit not a "smoky" one like the Bissell). Note, I've hardly used it since I can't stand the racket it makes, and its inefficient suction.

But then, much later, I again tried the Dirt Devil in a basement outlet, and again smelled the weird smell.

At this point, I'm not sure if that newly-converted outlet has been causing appliances to emit weird smells whenever/and/wherever they're used thereafter.

Any suggestions? (hopefully simple ones?
Note that as soon as the guy had converted the outlet, I tested it with a blow dryer on high setting for a good while, and nothing seemed amiss, so I told the guy it seems to be OK.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: smoky electric smell

Use a voltmeter. The changes he made are really not clearly explained. No way to tell if all is correct without being there.


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RE: smoky electric smell

I'm a little confused about how SIX 2-hole-sockets became TWO 3-hole sockets. Do you have any pictures?

In the future, you might consider hiring a licensed electrician rather some guy who used to work for an electrician. That third "hole" serves an important function and without the correct wiring going to the receptacle, just switching receptacles may create a hazardous situation


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RE: smoky electric smell

Prior to posting this, I had tried finding an online picture of those 1950's outlet-covers (the ones with six-in-a-row) but couldn't find any pics online.

A pic would have explained it better than words. Suffice that it was like this:
1 1
1 1
1 1
1 1
1 1
1 1

instead of the usual 2-hole outlet covers which are:

1 1

1 1

As for the know-how of said guy, as I've said above, he had done other outlets for me which turned out fine.

This house is really weird, in that it was done with a mixture of 3 types of outlets.

As follows:

3-hole outlets in the kitchen.

2-hole outlets in the remainder of house (albeit their innards being grounded).

Some of the latter outlets being in a configuration of six-in-a-row.

I don't own a volt meter, nor ever used one.
are you referring to something like this ES-501?


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RE: smoky electric smell

With all due respect, the absence of odd smells coming from your vacuum cleaner not the measure of the successful wiring project. It should also be noted that it's generally illegal for unqualified persons to do electrical work in other people's homes. Now that's not to say that your guy hasn't done perfectly acceptable work but rather sometimes it's better to have a qualified person do the work, especially in older homes where there can be a variety of wiring methods and "improvements" over the years that may or may not meet modern code.


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RE: smoky electric smell

can I test it with the voltmeter which I linked in my above post?
..and if so, is there a YouTube multimeter vid. clear enough for newbs like myself?

I browsed some high-rated vids on YouTube, but my slow grey matter couldn't comprehend them.

As for legalities, I surfed the www trying to find an objective electrical forum, but at least one was for electricians only, others seemed to be moderated by electricians, and granted that makes sense, but it appeared as if gardenweb would be the most objective. Which is why I posted here.

But even more to the point, the outlets at issue are for the most part inactive, and I don't really need them at this time. I can plug any new vacs i buy into other outlets. Perhaps now you'll understand why I'm not yet rushing to find an electrician - especially when I'm in midst of dealing with a printer which won't print due to poor communication with XP, heavy mold issue in basement (and wondering where to get concrobium & which dehumidifier), workmen who left a huge mound of mulch spilling over onto neighbor's side of property after grinding tree stump due to the roots undermining foundation, very-geriatric parents & associated ramifications, and so much more. Suffice that not everyone has "neatly coherent" lives, much as they'd wish it were so.


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RE: smoky electric smell

jally
so much for objectivity, but we are certainly glad you took the time to justify why you have put your and anyone else, that may be in the house, lives at risk. it could be as simple as a bad vacuum, but you don't seem to be able or qualified to make that assessment. lastly in your defense, I too am horrified at the number of printer communication deaths.


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RE: smoky electric smell

Regarding these comments:

As for the know-how of said guy, as I've said above, he had done other outlets for me which turned out fine.

and

Note that as soon as the guy had converted the outlet, I tested it with a blow dryer on high setting for a good while, and nothing seemed amiss, so I told the guy it seems to be OK.

and

This guy had already converted the outlet in my computer room to three-holes, and it's been serving me fine these past months.

Just because something 'works' doesn't mean that it is properly wired and safe to use.

As an analogy, I could light up a cigarette while filling up my gas tank. If the first time I do this I don't blow up, it doesn't mean that it is perfectly safe to do so. In fact if I do this for 5 weeks in a row without an incident, it still doesn't mean that it is safe.

I don't mean this as an insult, but it seems fairly obvious from your posts that you are not very knowledgeable about electrical systems. And you seem to be in an old house that has probably had a lot of different people tinkering with the electrical system over the years. It is in your best interest to have it looked over by a professional electrician, not just somebody who knows how to connect two wires.
Your 'guy' may or may not have any clue what he's doing and there is no way for you to know whether he has a clue or not.


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RE: smoky electric smell

... and I'd like to qualify my statement with the fact that I am not an electrician. In fact, I am an avid DIY supporter but there are certain jobs that are too complex for a first-time project. This is probably one of them.


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RE: smoky electric smell

...ah, but there's a difference between "5 weeks in a row" and several months in a row, day after day, of using my computer system in the outlet converted by the guy long ago (not the recent ones he did).

But, hey, I understand where y'all are coming from (erring on the side of caution). I understand that none of you want to feel responsible in case it was done wrong - similar to health food companies who never dare to give advice at risk of being jailed by the FDA.

So I guess it was silly of me to ask in the first place.
;-)

May I also deduce that nobody here is taking chances on answering my above follow-up Q about whether the multimeter I linked would accurately diagnose the safety of my outlets...


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RE: smoky electric smell

A meter is one thing. Using it to take readings, properly interpreting and acting on those readings is another thing.


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RE: smoky electric smell

jally-
I just read all these posts for the first time, and it seems clear to me that you want reassurance that: 1) everything was done correctly, and/or 2) you can figure out whether there are any defects in the wiring using a multimeter, even though (and no insult intended) you have almost no electrical knowledge. It can't be done. It's not that we are trying to avoid taking responsibility for answering you; it's that what you want can't be achieved through this or any other forum. The work you had done can only be assessed in person by a qualified person such as an electrician. We would help you if we could, but you're asking the impossible.


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RE: smoky electric smell

I understand, and sorry for any misunderstandings. It's just that the guy I used is quite intelligent & capable, as many of you might conclude had you met him in real life.

That's what happens online - you don't see the real-life protagonists, rather the dry words which people post, so it gets lost in the wash.

Same idea applies to the odors I smelled, because there's a good chance the Bissell got damaged NOT from the outlet, but rather from suctioning in a metal object (there had been windows installed in that room, so it could have been a small nail that got suctioned in). That's aside from what I already stated about the Bissell having been used for a long time.

So, due to the way I posted my OP, you may have concluded "uh oh, she's mentioning bad odors, therefore it must be a botch job by the electrician."

Whereas, all the SEQUENTIAL NUANCES which ACTUALLY took place, got lost in the wash of my "dry posting". Comprende?


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RE: smoky electric smell

My first suggestion was to use a voltmeter. Nothing indicates that you have done so. When your meter was purchased new, it came with instructions. Just a lousy voltage reading is all I suggested. I will not be making additional suggestions.


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RE: smoky electric smell

Something could 'work' for 20 years and still not be wired safely.


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RE: smoky electric smell

No one here can tell you if the receptacles are wired correctly unless they come to your premises and look at them carefully.
A voltage reading will enable us to tell you if the voltage could be the cause of the problem with the Bissell.

Here is a link that might be useful: meter


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RE: smoky electric smell

OK, thanks bus driver.

Once I get the meter, I'll probably need further instructions re: testing the outlet.

I hope to keep you posted - it should take awhile though. Please bear with me.


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RE: smoky electric smell

you don't need a volt meter you need a phonebook.


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RE: smoky electric smell

Bus Driver, can you respond to comments such as groundrod's? I'm obviously not qualified to.
[nibbling my lip]


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RE: smoky electric smell

Ron White was right!


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RE: smoky electric smell

I agree w ground rod. Call a licensed electrician. There are many factors that could cause this problem and as bus driver said "No one here can tell you if the receptacles are wired correctly unless they come to your premises and look at them carefully."
I was going to offer some trouble shooting suggestions but it is clear this is a situation that is better left to a qualified professional. I have a EE , most of my work is for industrial applications but when I do work at my home I always consult with our licensed people.I do not know residential codes

3-hole outlets in the kitchen = duplex outlet w/ ground
2-hole outlets in the remainder of house (albeit their innards being grounded). = duplex outlet


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RE: smoky electric smell

jonnyp, lets say you're licensed, and I'd call you and say "hey, would you mind checking out some outlets which were recently installed by a phone-wiring guy?"

Would you be mad, or what?

BTW, I already ordered the meter. Was that for nothing? I.E. does this mean nobody here would want to instruct me further once it arrives?

Also, can't I just not use those outlets until I absolutely need them?


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RE: smoky electric smell

You should probably start with one of these and just plug it in.

Here is a link that might be useful: receptacle tester


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RE: smoky electric smell

Jally,
Calm down. I am talking from experience, I have often been called by friends and family who have gotten themselves into a dangerous situation without knowing. Honestly, a blog forum is not a place to get advice on home wiring. I very infrequently visit this page because of some of the advice I have seen meted out.A multimeter is not going to do much good in your situation.
I will tell what I suspect. The conductors are not making proper contact resulting in arcing. The wires were pushed into the back of the outlet as compared to being secured with the screws or there is a splice w/ a wire nut that is not secure.The outlet could be defective. The screws on the outlet could be touching the the metal box.You could have 2 circuits from opposite sides of the main panel in the box ( very dangerous). There are a whole host of other conditions that are possibilities.
As far as a calling someone qualified, just state the problem. There is no need to inform them who did what, just what the problem is.Most electricians don't pass judgement, they fix the problem and move on.


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RE: smoky electric smell

Gotcha jonnyp - thanks! Any idea what the charge might be by an electrician for testing the 3 outlets installed by that guy?

I also would like a simple light fixture installed outside the house (attached to outer wall of house). There's already a 1950s outlet in place on the inside wall of house - on the reverse side of where I'd like the external light socket, except much lower down.

What might all this cost?


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RE: smoky electric smell

I can't see the outlet issue costing more than a 100, may be less, depends where you are. As far as the outside light goes you will need a fixture , a box, wires fished and the old box hole patched. Is the reason for lowering it to allow for bulb replacement, if so leave it where it is and get a compact fluorescent rated for outside use.These bulbs last a whole lot longer and are cheaper to run.
Call around,talk to friends and coworkers, I am sure you will find some one reasonable.Make sure you are thorough in explaining your scope of work. And ask to see their license.


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RE: smoky electric smell

Thanks again, and no, I would not be lowering the fixture.
Since a pic is worth 1000, below is a rough sketch.
Where's the cheapest place for me to buy a basic non-frills outdoor fixture (and all necessary wires) in prep for the electrician?
Or do electricians come equipped with same?

Image and video hosting by TinyPic


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