This blog post is a warning for other homeowners.
It started while watching TV earlier this week when my wife asked if I smelled something burning. Turns out it was coming from the dryer. When we pulled the plug we saw this:
Removing the cover plate from the wall outlet revealed charred, melted wires. We spent the evening discussing our next course of action at the local laundromat.
Internet research suggested this possibility: the two prongs on the dryer plug each draw half of the 240 volts the machine requires. When one malfunctions, the other tries to compensate by carrying the entire load and quickly burns up.
By this theory the undamaged plug was the one that failed and the charred one had tried to pick up the slack. Fascinating, but uncomfortably close to a disaster. This was a job for an electrician.
So we called an electrician. When Kyle and Shane arrived this afternoon (right on time, I might add) they discovered a much worse culprit: a loose wire behind the outlet. Whomever had installed the outlet during construction of the house had failed to fully tighten the screw that connected the wire in the wall to the terminal in the outlet. Over the years the connection had loosened until the wire slipped away and the current was bridging the gap with an electrical arc that nearly burned the whole damn house down.
Can you believe someone’s shoddy work can lie dormant for NINE YEARS before biting you in the ass? Amazing. I’ve never been a fan of houses built after the early ‘90s and every time a friend’s roof starts leaking or the cabinets rattle as I walk through my kitchen I’m reminded that they just don’t build ‘em like they used to.
So what’s my point? To dump on those who slap together entire subdivisions as fast and cheaply as possible? Well sure, but I also want to help other homeowners avoid a potential catastrophe. The next time you have an electrician out, you might want to have him check your outlets if it's never been done before. Especially if you have things that draw power while you’re not home (alarm clock, fish tank, hibernating computer, etc.).
Incidents like this sometimes make me contemplate a ‘tips for homeowners’ show- both preventative ideas and suggestions for dealing with common problems that arise. Like the Yardcast, but for your house. I don’t know if there’s a market for that that isn't already filled by countless other YouTube videos. Is there a benefit to having them all under one flag? I’ll have to do more research.
This story has a happy ending though. After repairing the outlet the electricians noted that the terminals connecting the power cord to the dryer were undamaged, suggesting that after replacing the cord the dryer should work fine. That’s good news for a cheapskate like me but bad news for my wife, who’d already begun [excitedly] shopping for a new dryer.
Thanks again to both Kyle and Shane as well as their boss for the great service. The best advice I can give is to have the number of a professional whose work and opinion you trust on hand when trouble strikes.