If your question that brought you here is why a receptacle stopped
working, you smell a funny fish like smell, you smell burning or your
lights are flickering, the following may be the problem
||The most common receptacle problem occurs when a connection at
the receptacle fails. The typical installation has the wiring coming into
and out of the receptacle box. The ideal way to do this is to splice the
wires and have a pigtail coming off the splice to the receptacle for
each wire. Often this is not the case. The wires are either attached with
the screws or using the stab lock feature in the back. The latter is the
cause of 90% of the service calls I receive.
If you have any of the symptoms of a loose connection such as
flickering lights, burning smell, a fish smell or a receptacle that is hot to
the touch, these are all problems that require immediate attention. If
you are at all unsure where it is coming from or it will be some time
before it is checked, turning the power off is the best alternative.
The best way to find the culprit is to plug in some lamps into a few
receptacles that are not working. The bigger the lamp size the better.
One by one go to each receptacle and with a closed fist bang on the
wall a few times near each one. Don't bypass receptacles that are
working in the area, many times those are the ones with the problem.
When you get the right one the light will flicker. At this point you will
usually find a receptacle that is heat damaged. It must be replaced.
If this does not work the next step is to start changing the receptacles
on that circuit or in that area. If you find the receptacles were wired
using the stab lock in the back, change all your receptacles in the
Here is a picture of a receptacle from a service call recently:
As you can see in the photo above, this receptacle had a loose
connection. The screw with the darkened area around it was so loose
it could be tightened almost 2 full turns when I pulled it out of the wall.
The home owner had complained of a fish smell or fishy smell and
actually felt the receptacle was hot. Had this been left unattended it
could very well have started smoldering at some point.
This work should be done by a qualified electrician. All power should
be shut down before you change any electrical device. The above is for
information purposes only and we assume no risk should anyone not
qualified to, attempt electrical work.
(c)Copyright Forte Electric Inc. 2005
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