Author Topic: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!"  (Read 677 times)
MVMH_99
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Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « on: April 27, 2022, 03:57:56 PM » Author: MVMH_99
Hello everyone,

   I know all of our members (myself included!) clearly have a “thing” for electricity, given the nature of the website.  As such, I thought I’d share some of my favorite electrical “horror stories” with you – whether I’ve heard about them or experienced them first-hand.  Take your pick as to your favorite, and please feel free to share any of yours, too!  I will number them to enable easy differentiation.  This is going to probably look like a short novel when I’m done, but I have TONS to say here!

1. In our 1953 home (soon-to-be-fully-rewired but for now still has all of its original wiring, except for circuits added and/or extended over the years), we have plenty of electrical issues (hence why we’ll be fully rewiring).  The issues are:

                 •  A LOAD “NEUTRAL” conductor that functions by being grounded off of a COLD WATER PIPE (YES, REALLY!)  Historically, whenever someone would flush the master bath toilet, it would occasionally cause a noticeable decrease in the fan noise of certain appliances; namely my HEPA air filter (which draws less than 1A max!)

                 • WAY overextended circuits – such as having half of the house fed off one circuit.  For example, the kitchen circuit feeds not only virtually every kitchen receptacle and appliance (except the microwave, double-oven, and toaster), but also the washing machine in the garage AND all but ONE of the family room receptacles!  The “living room” circuit also feeds our entire den/home office and half a bedroom!

                 • One circuit (the “living room” one) is run (and spliced) so far that if you try to run something high current (like a vacuum cleaner or space heater) on the outlet on the very “end of the line,” it struggles to operate due to the generated impedance/voltage loss.  For example, a space heater that would usually heat up instantly may take up to 10 seconds to “fully” warm up, but it still won’t run as “powerfully”/fast as it should.  This probably means it’s generating heat, too, and it is also one of the infamous “overfused” (20A breaker on 14-gauge wiring!) circuits.  Needless to say, we are very careful as to what we run on certain lines…

                 • 20A breakers on 14-gauge wiring.  Some are 14-gauge everywhere; others are a mix of 12 and 14 (probably because our 1953 home originally had a fuse box and some IDIOT put in a higher-rated fuse, and the person who later swapped the panel wasn’t paying any attention).  Good ol’ fire hazard.  And YES, the circuit with the plumbing-fed “neutral” has this same problem as the “cherry on top!”

                 • TONS of standard (non-GFCI) 3-prong receptacles on ungrounded wiring – probably the single-most common electrical issue in older homes.

                 • One time, an outlet behind the master bed started visually AND audibly arcing due to a loose terminal screw, which we fixed.  Luckily the wall box was metal!

                 • The (current) main service panel isn’t even correctly grounded – all “grounding” consists of right now is a bare copper wire stuck into the soil outside, with neither a grounding rod nor cold water bond!

                 • Maybe now you’ll understand why we’re having the house re-wired this year, complete with a new service panel and grounding system?…  ;) :laugh:

2. At a VERY crappy rental house we once stayed at (for vacation), it had a VERY poor wiring system coupled with a fire-starter Zinsco panel (if you’re not familiar with “Zinsco woes,” a Google search will tell you everything pretty instantly!).  Nevertheless, it made even sleeping there uncomfortable because:

                • ALL receptacles in the dining room (and part of the living area) would become HOT to the touch if running a 1500W space heater at full output.  This place was such a dump it didn’t even have central heating (it only had some crappy ‘70s/’80s electric baseboard heaters, which did jack).  Nothing else was being run on the circuit at the time, and neither was anything even plugged in to the other (quite-literally “HOT!”) receptacles.  I’m guessing the house either had crappy aluminum wiring (given the ‘70s nature of Zinsco panels AND aluminum wiring), and/or poorly-“stabbed” receptacles, as opposed to looping and fastening the wires AROUND the side-screw terminals.  We thought this was going to start a fire!

                • On the night we had a BBQ, we decided to (try to) use an electric (heating element type) charcoal starter we found in a cabinet, as opposed to the (charcoal-lighting) chimney.  However, when plugged in, it didn’t even heat up enough to start glowing before the light on the outdoor deck/patio mysteriously went out.  Upon checking the breakers, none of them had tripped, but the outlet on the deck, along with the light, would refuse to work.  And, ~15 minutes later, the light mysteriously came back on again!  As of now, through my research, I realized the electric panel was indeed a Zinsco (as I recalled the infamous small, multicolored handles), which was not only prone to breaker mechanism seizure, but also arcing/melting of the bad-quality aluminum busbar and breaker terminals!  What I believe happened here is that when the (current-hungry) electric charcoal starter was plugged in, it heated the busbar for the respective breaker, causing the aluminum to contract (aluminum contracts when heated) and thus no longer maintained contact.  It likely had prior, unseen arc damage or something.  And then, once it “cooled down” again, the already half-scorched aluminum expanded just enough to make slight contact again – VERRRY  NIIIICE!!

3. In the garage of my (sadly mentally-ill, hence why she never maintains things) grandmother’s townhouse, she had a rodent infestation, and the rats got behind the drywall and chewed all of the Romex around her electrical sub-panel.  This meant live conductors were exposed in the walls (in places they shouldn’t be!), thus posing a massive fire hazard.  She also stated that one night when she tried to plug in a small night-light, the outlet (which clearly had a loose connection) exploded with sparks and even generated a small flame, fully scorching it.  And, of course, this STILL hasn’t been repaired!

4. In the detached garage of one of our good family friends, the husband (who ironically knows a lot about electronics/electrical principles) had “Macgyvered” a “wireless” motion sensor for the outdoor lights.  What he had done was take a “screw-in” wireless motion sensor adapter (for, say, a table lamp or EXISTING outdoor incandescent fixture), cut off one end of the Romex for the outdoor lights, before splicing on a loose-hanging lamp socket to the “line” side and screwing in the wireless adapter.  Next, he spliced the OTHER end of the Romex onto what looked like an SPT-1 lamp cord (complete with an electrical tape “seal”), before plugging that into a “screw-in” light socket adapter (AKA “Handy Outlet,” which he then proceeded to insert into the “bulb” side of the wireless sensor adapter!  Talk about a “homeowner special” electrical-hackjob-fire-hazard-mess at its very best!   :poof: :eoled:

              • This same person was powering a full-sized window AC unit by first plugging it into a 2-3 prong adapter with no grounding (a big no-no by itself), and THEN plugging it into a light-duty, 2-prong household extension cord!  I’m surprised this didn’t melt.


5. Another one of our family friends, many years back, plugged a 1500W space heater into a light-duty extension cord, causing it to overheat so badly the heater’s plug not only melted, but FUSED itself into the extension cord!

             • She stated to us recently (~10 years later) that she stopped using her bedroom space heater because “…the outlet had been loose for a while, and recently it got so hot it melted the plug and left a burn mark.”  And no, she hasn’t had this fixed, as she doesn't quite have all her priorities in the "right place."


I think that’s it…  I can’t wait to hear your take and/or personal experiences, and I hope you enjoyed!  :lol: :D


« Last Edit: April 27, 2022, 04:02:30 PM by MVMH_99 » Logged

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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #1 on: April 27, 2022, 07:09:55 PM » Author: AgentHalogen_87
No. 2 is my favourite.

Here's my story that frightened the life out of me:

I was home alone, after returning from a school open evening where I as demonstrating SOX street lights. I had recieved another traffic light in the post earlier in the day, but waited util later to wire it. This signal, to be exact. It was late autumn, in the evening. So it was dark out and I was working under my garden street light. I spent several hours cleaning the fixture and wiring it to a cable. I just grouped all the lamps together. I could add individual switches at a later date. I also added an in-line swith to the cable close to the plug end.
Happy with my work, I took the signal into the kitchen to confirm it worked. The time was close to midnight by now. I got the signal close enough, confirmed the in-line was on, pluged it into the wall, and flipped the swith on the socket. As soon as I hit the switch on the socket, there was a very loud SNAP :short: as the bug zapper light that was pluged in next to the traffic signal caught a large mosquito! I just about jumped half way out my skin and actually hurt my neck a bit from my flinch response! The signal worked fine, but geez that was the fright of my life!
« Last Edit: April 27, 2022, 07:13:08 PM by AgentHalogen_87 » Logged
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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #2 on: April 27, 2022, 07:33:01 PM » Author: MVMH_99
Wow!   :poof:  I can imagine that WOULD scare the S*** out of you!  I would immediately have thought something was wrong with the wiring and exploded!   :laugh:  Quite the coincidence that your bug zapper just so happened to catch a huge mosquito at the split-second you flipped the switch... What are the odds?!   @-@
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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #3 on: April 27, 2022, 09:29:27 PM » Author: High Intensity
I have a few myself. First, starting off with what the last owner of my parent's house left us with.

-I was rewiring the lights in my parent's backyard, each of the floodlights was mounted on an indoor rated round electric box, and the wires were crimped together using what looked like bits of steel wrapped in electric tape (this would end up being a common theme in my parents house when it came to its wiring).

-In the living room of my parent's house are 5 ceiling mounted receptacles, we are not sure what they were for, but we believe they were once controlled by 5 of the 7 light switches in an adjoining coat closet, one of those 7 switches happens to control the living room lights too somehow. Also in the living room is a light switch that is mounted 6 or 7 feet off the ground.

-A few years ago, i found a uncovered, live electric box on one of the outer walls of the house, the wires were uncapped and pulled out of the box, making them a bit of a hazard for anyone who may not notice it, but i've since covered it up with a light fixture.

Thankfully, it didn't get much worse than that, and anything that did was replaced, except for the GTE Sylvania sub-panel (which is basically a rebranded Zinsco panel) that feeds the second floor of their house (the main panel is a GE 200A panel, installed when the house was rewired sometime in the 80s(years before my parents moved in)). But i did have to help fix some of my father's handywork, as well as teach him a few things too. Which can be read below.

-Replace a floating (not mounted to anything solid) sub-panel that he had put in the garage for Christmas lights, on that sub-panel also had a melted X10 outlet on it (as seen here) that my father did not want to replace due to the fact that it still somewhat worked.

-He would also push circuits to their limits for extended periods of time, so a 15A circuit would have a 15+A load on it for hours on end, which would result in melted plugs and extension cords, that he would then continue to use, he would also often do this with cords that are rated for 12A max, which would cause them to run really hot. A few years before i really got into electrical stuff, my father tasked me with repairing an extension cord that he had accidentally cut in half, so i did, using the best tools i had at the time (some wirecaps and electric tape). And it stayed like that until a few years ago, when i was working outside and saw the patch suddenly shoot sparks 15 feet in the air, despite nothing being plugged into the cord, upon closer examination, it appeared that he had overloaded the cord, with melted the electric tape and wirecaps. So i disconnected the cord, and gave it a proper repair this time, where it is still used sometimes, but has never been pushed to its limits since then.

-My father would also often work on circuits while they were still live, sometimes blowing up screwdriver tips or wire cutter blades, but somehow, he was never harmed.

And thats all i can think of at the moment, i've seen some bad things while out (like this light switch or this retrofit job) which might be worth talking about.
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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #4 on: April 27, 2022, 09:51:10 PM » Author: MVMH_99
Wow, that is priceless!  5 outlets on a bedroom ceiling and switches 6+ feet above the floor - WTF?!  I also got a kick out of your story with the extension cord "hack job" repair, when it exploded and shot sparks.  That actually reminds me of ANOTHER funny story:

Some odd number of years ago, back in like '06 or something, our lazy-@$$ gardeners "accidentally" mowed over our (clearly-visible) red extension cord, which was laid out across the pathway (it must've been set up for our {former} small bounce-house or something).  Rather than buy a new one, they simply cut off the damaged ends, stripped the wires (probably with a pair of shears!), ( :laugh:) and then taped it all together with red tape, thinking we wouldn't notice!!

We kept using that cord for several years thereafter, and it worked fine - but mind you, they didn't even twist the wires, permanently "affix" them, or make a good seal - I'm surprised it never overheated and/or shorted out! 
« Last Edit: April 27, 2022, 09:56:13 PM by MVMH_99 » Logged

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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #5 on: April 27, 2022, 11:02:38 PM » Author: wide-lite 1000
My story :  My house !! The end !!  :lol:
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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #6 on: April 28, 2022, 06:29:32 AM » Author: -Gopnik-
My whole house is an electrical nightmare...
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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #7 on: April 28, 2022, 08:20:58 AM » Author: Mandolin Girl
I have posted this story before but it fits with the title of the thread...

Quite a few years ago, I was sharing a flat with a friend, who had decided to go away for the weekend.

This presented the ideal opportunity for me to do some work on the electrics of the flat, or so I thought...  :poof: :short:
I tripped the main breaker so it would be safe to work on the socket that I was working on, however my flat mate came home early, saw that the breaker was off and reset it, and I was thrown backwards through a partition wall.!!!  :poof:
I have subsequently found out that it was my leg muscles contracting that threw me off the socket. If I had been in another posture I would have been deaded.  :DeAtH: :short:
Suffice it to say I wasn't very happy...  :slap: :slap: :slap:
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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #8 on: April 28, 2022, 11:57:36 AM » Author: AngryHorse
I did something really stupid once, looking back on it now!, I ran a de-luxe, 125watt MV lamp in a standard British table lamp, on a small shelf in the corner of my living room, (with the ballast conveniently mounted under the shelf).

It lit the room perfectly, with just enough light and little glare, with its shade on.
I wrongly thought the heat from the lamp would just convect through the open bottom and top of the shade, harmlessly passing the, (quite high heat from a 125 MV), over the elliptical shape of the bulb. I didn`t figure however, the glass temp, and the distance from the side of the shade, (that I thought was ample)!, turns out it cooked it, to the point that smoke started to come off it one night, (luckily, VERY LUCKILY, just as I came back in the room from upstairs to see it)!!!
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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #9 on: May 04, 2022, 08:15:59 PM » Author: MVMH_99
I have posted this story before but it fits with the title of the thread...

Quite a few years ago, I was sharing a flat with a friend, who had decided to go away for the weekend.

This presented the ideal opportunity for me to do some work on the electrics of the flat, or so I thought...  :poof: :short:
I tripped the main breaker so it would be safe to work on the socket that I was working on, however my flat mate came home early, saw that the breaker was off and reset it, and I was thrown backwards through a partition wall.!!!  :poof:
I have subsequently found out that it was my leg muscles contracting that threw me off the socket. If I had been in another posture I would have been deaded.  :DeAtH: :short:
Suffice it to say I wasn't very happy...  :slap: :slap: :slap:


OMG... That COULD have very well been MUCH worse!!!  I wonder why it didn't occur to them that if it was off, maybe someone was working on the wiring and that they SHOULDN'T just immediately turn it back on??   :curse: @-@
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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #10 on: May 05, 2022, 09:23:18 AM » Author: Mandolin Girl
That is exactly why they make lock out kits.  :curse:  :poof: :short: :DeAtH:

I thought that a locked door would be enough to protect me. :wndr:
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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #11 on: May 15, 2022, 06:00:13 PM » Author: marcopete87
Being told about metallic cable duct catching fire and melting because eddy currents near EAF and unwanted ground loop?  :poof:
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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #12 on: June 21, 2022, 01:51:28 AM » Author: 108CAM
Some of the worst horror stories are when DIYers do a better job than the professionals.
A personal horror story of mine would be when I was testing my B2224 and having the ballast explode into a display of electric fireworks and creating enough of a short circuit that it fried one of my power strips. Thankfully, the bulb survived the carnage and the fixture got a new ballast.
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Re: Awesome Electrical "Horror Stories!" « Reply #13 on: June 22, 2022, 06:49:43 PM » Author: Gearjammer
As an electrician the stories begin everyday as soon as I arrive at my first service call in the morning.
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