You may have an electrical outlet that has stopped functioning or causes the circuit breaker to trip every time that you attempt to use it.
Upon closer inspection, you may notice that black soot and burn makes along one side of the outlet. This is obviously alarming, but it can have various causes and can likely be easily remedied by simply replacing the outlet.
What would cause an electrical outlet to have burn marks?Electrical outlets are designed to keep the individual wires separated so that an electrical circuit can only be formed by inserting a plug into an outlet. If the individual wires on the sides of the outlet come into contact with each other, the circuit is formed outside of the outlet, creating sparks, heat, and possibly fire.
What are the possible causes of this fire hazard?
The wiring is connected to the sides of an outlet through the use of screw terminals that are tightened down to hold each wire in place.
When one or more of the screw terminals are not fully tightened, wires can come loose and come into contact with other wires, creating a sudden surge of power that hopefully causes the circuit breaker for that outlet to shut down.
Rodents can squeeze into very narrow spaces, and if a cover plate that protects an outlet is loose, they may attempt to manipulate themselves into the gang box inside the wall in which an outlet is housed
As their body pushes against the side of an outlet, it can touch both a hot (powered) terminal and a neutral terminal at the same time. The rodent then becomes part of a live circuit and is completely burnt.
Rodents will also chew the protective insulation from wiring because of their compulsive need to chew in order to wear down their teeth and prevent them from growing to an unmanageable size.
If you see signs of chewed wiring, you should consult an electrician, because there may be multiple incidences inside your walls that need to be repaired.
Inspecting the outlet
You can check the old outlet to see if the cause of burning is simply a loose wire or a fried mouse, but you must first turn off the circuit breaker to the outlet if it hasn't already shut itself off. All you will need is a small flat head and a small Philips head screwdriver to check the outlet, and a new 15 amp outlet if you intend to replace the old one.
When you are retain that that the breaker is off, remove the cover plate from the outlet by loosening the center screw. You can then loosen the two screws that hold the outlet inside the gang box in the wall, then pull out the outlet and let it hang by the wiring.
If you see the vague outline of a burnt rodent, the answer is obvious, as well as an empty screw terminal and a loose or burnt wire. Evidence of chewed wires should be handled by a professional. If no obvious causes are seen, replace the outlet anyway, because the outlet itself may have been defective.
Replacing the outlet
Loosen each terminal screw and remove each wire by pulling them away from their terminal, keeping them separated for easy connection to the new terminal.
You will see either one or two groups of three wires, depending on the location of the outlet in the line. Black wires will be connected to the brass colored terminals on each side of the outlet, while white wires will be connected to the silver terminals. Green or copper wires will be connected to the single green terminal on top.
Loop each wire in a clockwise direction under the appropriate terminal screw and tighten the screws fully, then push the the new outlet into th gang box inside the wall. Tighten the two screws that secure the outlet inside the gang box and replace the cover plate.
Turn the breaker and try out the new outlet. If it works, and the breaker stays on, all is well, but if the breaker shuts off again, call in a professional, such as from Bausum & Duckett Electric Company Inc.
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