Small Electric Fire

  • Advertise with us

« back to Safety in the Woodworking Shop forum

Forum topic by Betsy posted 10-31-2015 05:55 PM 884 views 0 times favorited 9 replies Add to Favorites Watch
View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3865 days

10-31-2015 05:55 PM

So I’ve had quite a summer and fall – very expensive season for me. First I had a bad allergic reaction to Aleve and very nearly lost a lot more than money. I’ve fully recovered except for the bills. Then last Friday I was cooking dinner and sparks starting coming from an outlet – and not tiny sparks either. I ran like a crazy woman to throw the main breaker to the house. Grabbed a screwdriver and pulled the outlet out of the wall toot sweet. The wall around the outlet was smoldering and the outlet itself was way blackened and one wire was burned off its screw. Not the way it’s supposed to look for sure. I checked the rest of the wall and it did not feel hot so I was pretty sure I caught the little booger in time before it led to a major issue.

I happen to have aluminum wiring in my house. As most of you know aluminum is a great electrical conductor – but the industry found that it did not work so well in residential applications. It works fine if you have it AND you maintain it. I’ve worked with copper wire before and have actually wired a whole house with no issues (yes – inspected by a master electrician friend of mine then passed city inspection). But aluminum wire – I’ve known is different so I’ve not messed with it. I had an issue 8 years ago when I was home from neck surgery – that was also a sparking issue that I did call the fire department for. Being in a neck brace – thought that was the best – the firemen came and checked the entire house for hotspots and the only issue was that one plug that was obviously bad. They turned off the breakers to the back of the house and I called an electrician the next day. The electrician came out and repaired the one outlet but did nothing more. I was very much not in the “thinking right” mode due to pain meds so I didn’t think to ask him to check all my outlets – and he didn’t offer.

That brings us to back to Friday last week. I called a local electrical company that does 24 hour emergency calls. It costs more – but I felt better. So anyway – he came out and fixed me up for the night and made sure I was safe. We unplugged absolutely everything in the house that did not need to be plugged in – which for me was everything but the fridge. He also cut the breakers to everything but the shop. I had my Kindle charged up so I was set for the night. He set an appointment to come back on Monday. Lucky for me – was that my garage shop was not wired when the house was built. It was wired many years later with copper wire – so I did have my shop up and running – which meant I could stay busy over the weekend and keep my Kindle charged – so all was good. On Monday the electrician came back with a buddy to fully check the entire house for any repairs to be made. They pulled every outlet and switch. Come to find out – I had FOUR outlets that were completely burned through – but the one that really got my heart racing – was the fridge outlet. Recall we did not unplug that one. And in hindsight the electrician did say that since we were not unplugging that one he should have pulled the fridge out on Friday night to check that one outlet. Regardless – it was way burned and the drywall was not warm – it was hot!

Long story short (or not) ended up having all the outlets replaced and pigtailed with copper and a special kind of wire nut for the purpose of meshing aluminum with copper – it’s purple and I think he called it “cobra or chohar??”
Also installed tamper resistent plugs which were of much better quality than what was in the house to start with.

So after all that – I did not know that with aluminum wiring you have to occasionally check your connections and make sure they are tight. I’ve never done that or anything else for that matter with the wiring. I dodged a bullet – so if you have aluminum wiring – please get it checked to be sure you are not going to be surprised like I was.

Oh and one last thing on this particular issue – no – insurance will not help with repairs like this. Now if it actually had started a fire and I had damage insurance would kick in. Insurance does not pay for repairs of any sort that are not the result of a covered claim.

Finally, some of you watching the news know Texas is being battered again by heavy rains. I’m in North Texas. We got quite a lot of rain – but unfortunately for me – it came inside – yes – my trials continue – I have a roof leak. Bank account is taking a hit for sure. Insurance may help with this – but need to check into that.

Life of a homeowner. Be safe all.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

9 replies so far

View ellen35's profile


2734 posts in 3401 days

#1 posted 10-31-2015 06:16 PM

What a week!!!

-- "Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Voltaire

View lew's profile


12019 posts in 3724 days

#2 posted 10-31-2015 06:32 PM

Geez, Betsy, if it wasn’t for bad luck you wouldn’t have any luck at all!

Seriously, we are glad it wasn’t any worse and the damage was minimal. Most of all we’re glad you (and the puppy) are safe.

-- Lew- Time traveler. Purveyor of the Universe's finest custom rolling pins.

View TheFridge's profile


9252 posts in 1455 days

#3 posted 10-31-2015 06:49 PM


aluminun sucks for devices because of expansion/contraction.

-- Shooting down the walls of heartache. Bang bang. I am. The warrior.

View Kelly's profile


2003 posts in 2913 days

#4 posted 10-31-2015 07:04 PM

Glad it went better than it could have.

I had an outlet you couldn’t touch, because it was so hot, even with nothing in it. Then it dawned on me, most houses jumper from one outlet to the next. I had a clock, which was fine, on the end of the run. The connection at the hot outlet was loose, so it became a resistance and heat built up. It sounds like you may have been dealing with the same thing.

Now my rules are: If an outlet will not hold a cord, replace it; If I move into a house, check each outlet; If I’ve been in a house a bunch of years, swap the outlets [and lights for LED’s, etc.]; Don’t go cheap, fifteen amp outlets on a twenty amp circuit will work, but you shouldn’t run more than fifteen on the circuit, and the larger amp outlets are, usually, built better.

I just swapped out two second story 400 watt metal halides for LED’s that use 1/4 the wattage. I used silicone grease on the [mogal] bulb threads to make it more likely I could get the bulb back out in five years. Elsewhere, where applicable, I use deox to keep oxygen off connections. For example, my dyer circuit had that telltale powder from a weak connection of aluminum wire. I cleaned the wires and, before reinstalling them, sealed them.

It’s all “investment,” in our equipment, buildings, property and, most important, lives.

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3865 days

#5 posted 10-31-2015 07:05 PM

I do feel fortunate that’s for sure. My little furry buddy did quite well. He stayed with friends a couple of days while I was in hospital which did a lot for him being socialized which is a good thing that came of all my woes this last few months.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

View jeffswildwood's profile


3055 posts in 1946 days

#6 posted 10-31-2015 11:46 PM

My wife and I returned from a trip once and had a kicked breaker. Copper wire. Checking outlets I found burn on the paneling around one. It was the brick type paneling so must have been flame resistant. The culprit was a metal housing for the outlet touching the wires on the side. Scary stuff!

I also know about aleve. I found out the hard way after taking two for a headache. Next stop-emergency room for a drug allergy. Aleve contains naproxin. As it turns out I have a drug allergy to this.

-- We all make mistakes, the trick is to fix it in a way that says "I meant to do that".

View Monte Pittman's profile

Monte Pittman

28965 posts in 2307 days

#7 posted 11-01-2015 12:19 AM

Extremely hard to look on the bright side sometimes. But the reality is that all of the situations could have been much worse. Hopefully you have used up your bad luck and will have many good things happen for you in the future.

-- Mother Nature created it, I just assemble it.

View Kelly's profile


2003 posts in 2913 days

#8 posted 11-01-2015 10:01 PM

We have one of those panels that have no main breaker, except for the 120’s. We are scheduled to have it replaced in a week or so. At that time, we’ll be installing arc fault breakers for all the 120 circuits. They aren’t cheap, but, if your panel can take them, they’d be a good investment, even if only one at a time.

View Betsy's profile


3391 posts in 3865 days

#9 posted 11-01-2015 10:24 PM

Kelly – the electrician mentioned those. You are right they are not cheap. I’ve elected not to install now, after hospital bills and the initial repairs, my bank account needs a break.

-- "Our past judges our present." JFK - 1962; American Heritage Magazine

Have your say...

You must be signed in to reply.

DISCLAIMER: Any posts on LJ are posted by individuals acting in their own right and do not necessarily reflect the views of LJ. LJ will not be held liable for the actions of any user.

Latest Projects | Latest Blog Entries | Latest Forum Topics