Electrical Hazard

Over the last week at work we have been preparing an unused part of the facility for use. We need a place for an industrial freeze dryer and a walk in cooler. But first we had to clear out a massive pile of junk that had accumulated, and do demolition on a lot of old equipment and piping to remodel the space.

A burned and melted power receptacle
A burned and melted power receptacle

Demolition? Break out the sawzall! We used a big sawzall, a small pile of saw blades, an angle grinder with a diamond cutoff wheel, a bit of muscle and a lot of sweat to get it done. The pile of trash accumulated rapidly along the fence, old lumber, a lot of PVC pipe, and a lot of rust… A big dumpster will appear later.

Rust. This close to the ocean everything is badly corroded, do not even try to release the old bolts, just pop a fresh battery into the angle grinder and let the sparks fly. The 20 amp sawzall does not use batteries, good for the thicker pipes and framed walls, it rips through PVC like butter.

Corroded Receptacle
A corroded receptacle that had been exposed to weather when the cover was broken

Demolition done, it is time to put things back together. One of the first chores here is to checkout and refurbish the electrical system. Most of the receptacles are badly corroded, do not even attempt to use. The fluorescent lights actually work, the plastic fixtures in decent shape. The light switch is about to fall out of the box.

Pulling out the old receptacles reveals just how bad the damage is. One falls apart in my hand. One GFI receptacle has a melted wire and a burnt case, even the wires in the box with it are melted, no wonder the receptacles down one side of the room did not work as they were daisy chained from the melted GFI.

The receptacles down the other side of the room worked, at least the ones not exposed to the weather and corroded. Pull one of those out and it gets worse… The wires badly burned, black with heat and a melted case. I just look at the burned mess in my hand and laugh. There is a reason I have a whole contractor box of new receptacles beside me, I will replace them all.

I look again at the wiring… Oh sh*t, we were pulling power through that for the sawzall. Contrary to good practice the electrician had wired the daisy chain through the receptacle for the downstream power instead of using a pigtail.

Damaged GFI receptacle
A damaged GFI receptacle

This burned receptacle is a good example of why using the receptacle in-line of the circuit is not only bad practice, but a code violation. Because of the burned wire I had to pull new wires through the conduit to the receptacle box from a nearby junction box to properly fix this.

At the end of two days of work I have replaced all the receptacles, two sections of burned and melted wiring, and the light switch. I look at a completely refurbished electrical system confident that others can plug in their stuff without encountering a rather severe electrical hazard.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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