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Electrical question at home

Posted on 2014-07-25
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Last Modified: 2014-07-29
A couple of months my niece attempted to connect something on one of the outlets in our home.  When she attempted to do this, a spark blew up and smoke came out of the outlet.  At that time it shutdown the power to half of the house and I went to the breaker and turned everything off and then on...the power came back up and no problems remained.  2 days ago, during the day, the television turned off while I was watching it and no one attempted to plug anything in on one of the outlets...REALLY STRANGE.  I thought this was going to fix it, but obviously, it didn't.  

Want do I need to do and how do I fix?

If I hire someone, what's a fair price to pay?
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Question by:uppercut7141
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22 Comments
 
LVL 38

Assisted Solution

by:Jim P.
Jim P. earned 60 total points
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Do you have mice?  They'll chew the plastic of cords and wring causing shorts. Check everything on that circuit to see if anything has chewed cords. If not then it probably is the wires in the wall.
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LVL 47

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by:dbrunton
dbrunton earned 30 total points
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The fact the television turned off does not mean there is a fault in the wiring.  There could be or there may not be.

Your niece inserted something which caused the breaker to blow.  The outlet concerned needs to be checked for damage inside it.  It seems like she shorted the connection - you don't specify what she inserted which could be important information.

Now when the breaker blew there was quite possibly a voltage surge through the system which may have damaged the television.  Or not.  The television failure could be due to old age or anything.

I'd have the outlet checked for damage.  The house wiring should be OK.  I'd expect the breaker to blow before any damage occurs to the wiring.  Any appliances that were on the circuit may or may not be OK.  You can't tell without an electrician taking them apart and checking and that cost is not worth it.

If you are really concerned get an electrician to check the outlet.  They may or may not replace it.  You may want them to check the wiring but that is up to you.

Please not that I am not a professional electrician and I am just expressing my opinion of what I would do if the event happened to me.
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LVL 38

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by:Jim P.
Jim P. earned 60 total points
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dbrunton may be right.

Another thing you should be able to do your own is to replace the outlet. They are generally less than $5 at Lowes and Home Depot.
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LVL 18

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by:web_tracker
web_tracker earned 30 total points
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You can buy a electrical out let tester for quite cheap between 5 and 10 dollars, depending where you live. You plug this little device into the outlet and it will have little leds indicating if the outlet is good or bad. If it is bad and you do not feel comfortable replacing the outlet, then you probably need to hire a electrician or a handyman with electrical experience. I have heard of rodents chewing through the electrical wires in the walls before, this could be dangerous and could very well spark an electrical fire, so to check things out before something serious happens is crucial.
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LVL 90

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by:John Hurst
John Hurst earned 30 total points
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I have seen trained electricians mis-wire a dual 15 amp outlet (kitchen) putting the pairs into different boxes and creating a serious hazard. (My first house).

Electricity is DANGEROUS and causes fires very regularly. Get a BBB, reliable electrician and have the job done right.

I agree with the above advice and am adding my personal experience.
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LVL 27

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by:aburr
aburr earned 30 total points
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The first thing to do is to check the tv outlet. Is it working. Plug a clock or something working into it  If clock does not work check circuit breaker for that circuit (look for tripped breaker in panel). If tripped, reset.
alternatively plug tv into a know working circuit. If tv does not work repair tv.
If resetting breaker does not clear up the problem, call an electrician. (Check by phone for costs in your area.)
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LVL 23

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by:Thomas Grassi
Thomas Grassi earned 58 total points
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Sounds to me is she got sparks when plugging in one of two things happened

The outlet or the plug was wet   is this circuit ground fault?

Other is that the item being plugged in did not have a good ground and metal on metal will spark.

The breaker going off all the time means the circuit is overloaded.

Start by making sure you know what is on all your circuits best if not already labels at the main panel is to turn off the breaker and see what does not work.

Take a small desk lamp around plug into outlets see if it comes on.

As above a tester will help this process.

If things are more than you can handle get yourself an electrician electric is nothing to fool with.

Hope this helps
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LVL 20

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by:viki2000
viki2000 earned 88 total points
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When your TV went off, then was the same breaker off as in in the case of niece outlet?
When your niece plugged in that something, as the TV on?
If yes, then the place to start the checking is the outlet where your niece plugged in "something", of course work done by a professional/authorized electrician, Most probably behind the outlet in the wall is the problem. It can have many causes, some already mentioned above as mice, or something wet, but can be also a lose wire which touch other wire or the ground, That is possible due to the heat along years and many plug in-out in possibly not high quality outlet or not proper installed (wires nit tight enough), Can be also melted wires due to high currents...
So pity that you do not know how do it. It takes 15min max. and does not cost too much. Maybe you have a friend with the proper technical knowledge that can help. Well, if not, be ready to pay over 100$. I do not know why it is so expensive (at least for me sounds a lot for that kind of job):
http://www.homewyse.com/services/cost_to_replace_electrical_outlet.html

The both outlets should be checked before you buy a new one: the TV outlet the the niece outlet. Maybe your are lucky and was only an overload or a simple lose wire.
Only after somebody sees what is behind each of those 2 outlets can say if there is a relation between the 2 events: niece plugin and TV off.
The way how you described it sounds as the nice outlet is the cause, but is not a must, can be also other causes.
Conclusion: first a technician to open niece outlet first and TV outlet second.

I would be glad if you post here back what was found in the end.
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Author Comment

by:uppercut7141
Comment Utility
Here's a quick update...

The same original outlet which "blew up" and then fixed by resetting the switches, is good; however, I still don't have power to the other outlets/lights.  

I called an "electrician" from Craigslist because I don't have much money to spend.  Hope he doesn't charge me tooooo much.
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LVL 91

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by:nobus
nobus earned 58 total points
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just hope you don't get an uppercut (lol)
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LVL 23

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by:Thomas Grassi
Thomas Grassi earned 58 total points
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Be careful with craigslist way too many scammers out there.

I would go to your local hardware store home depot lowes  or an electrical store and ask them

They would better tell you.

If you had sparks then a wire could have become disconnected somewhere along the circuit.

What room was this in ?

What color is the outlet? does it look like it is burnt?

Did you look at the outlet by taken off the faceplate?

How many wires in the box? how many wires on the outlet?
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LVL 91

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by:nobus
nobus earned 58 total points
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if you're not familiar with electricity - don't try opening it
look for a friend or relative who has the knowledge to look at it
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LVL 27

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by:tliotta
tliotta earned 29 total points
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I thought this was going to fix it, but obviously, it didn't.
"This"?

What is "this"? And what were you expecting "this" to "fix"?

I would only advise contacting licensed electricians and never relying on a Craigslist entry without a parallel background  check. I would also advise against home electrical system advice through an anonymous internet forum. This type of subject carries serious risk and potential liability. Take the advice to use a credible electrician.

Contact a few of them and ask for estimates. At least some will give things a look-over for free.

Tom
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LVL 20

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by:masnrock
masnrock earned 58 total points
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Pay for the trained technician. Craigslist is full of people who may or may not know what they're doing. (And that's not even factoring in the scammers)

If they mess up, then you're going to end up paying more in the end because you'll then get the trained person, who you would end up paying as well as the person who screwed you in the first place. It is usually more worthwhile to just pay the money upfront, then to have to get rework redone because you were trying to keep the cost low in the first place.
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LVL 20

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by:viki2000
viki2000 earned 88 total points
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What is your location?
Maybe experts from here can recommend you a qualified technician in your area.
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LVL 20

Assisted Solution

by:masnrock
masnrock earned 58 total points
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BTW - If you own the place you live in, do you have a home warranty? If it covers your electrical wiring, you could just call them out and pay whatever fee is in your plan. Those tend to pay themselves off pretty fast.
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LVL 16

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by:dhsindy
dhsindy earned 29 total points
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>> I still don't have power to the other outlets/lights.

Sounds to me like the breaker could be tripped or bad on this one circuit.  Circuits may have one or more devices on each branch circuit.  My house has up to two bedrooms on one circuit.  Only replace circuit breaks with the same/correct size and type.

Most services have a "trip charge" which is like a minimum charge and possibly extra for parts.  I would think it would cost $150.00 or less.  A diagnosis should be included in the trip charge - get a written estimate before repairs are started.

Paying with a credit card offers you some protection.
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Author Comment

by:uppercut7141
Comment Utility
I ended up fixing this myself, with the help of my Electrical company.  I reset the main power/switch.  I turned this device off for 5 minutes and then powered on.  This was the fix for the issue.

Thanks for all your help.
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LVL 20

Accepted Solution

by:
viki2000 earned 88 total points
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All right, then now is the moment of truth :)
What did your niece plugged in that socket?
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Author Comment

by:uppercut7141
Comment Utility
It was a power cord for a cell phone...really strange.
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LVL 18

Expert Comment

by:web_tracker
Comment Utility
the charger must have been shorting out to blow a circuit breaker. or she shorted out the contacts when plugging it in. Glad you were able to resolve your issue with out having to pay a fortune to an electrician. Thanks for awarding the point fairly.
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LVL 20

Expert Comment

by:viki2000
Comment Utility
"the charger must have been shorting out to blow a circuit breaker. or she shorted out the contacts when plugging it in."
If that is true then will happen again and must be thrown away and replaced with a new one, because is a dangerous one, assuming that the short-circuit is inside the charger.
I cannot imagine how could she make a short-circuit to blow out the circuit breaker with the short-circuit from outside, just plugging a good charger somehow in a wrong way in the outlet. Can someone do that? How? For me seems as would say that probably was a 5KW charger :)  and that's why the main circuit breaker tripped off...
Well, next would be interesting to know what kind of circuit breaker was that?
Maybe is an RCCB/GFCI type http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Residual-current_device , but that does not explain the smoke out of the outlet and therefore the cause points again to defective charger.
Did she plugged it indeed wrong? Touching the ground?
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