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Thread: I Think I Found the Problem

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
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    ABQ NM
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    I Think I Found the Problem

    Got a call from my sister Saturday asking if I could go over fix her kitchen ceiling light. It had stopped working a few weeks ago, and she was getting tired of cooking in semi-darkness. My brother-in-law was no help; he doesn't "do electrical". He's afraid of working on anything he can't see. (I keep telling him you can see electricity...just stick your finger in a hot light socket and you'll see all kinds of electricity.)

    So I grabbed my meter and a couple of screwdrivers and went over to my sis's house. A couple of quick checks showed there was no power to the bulb sockets, so I turned off the switch and loosened the fixture so I could see if there was power to the fixture. I gently pulled it down from the ceiling, with the wires still attached. I could tell things weren't right when all the other lights in the kitchen started to flicker. I froze in my tracks and hollered to my BIL to go kill the power at the breaker. After a quick glance, I'm pretty sure I spotted the problem. I didn't have the presence of mind to take any pics of everything in place, but here's the aftermath of what I found:

    The cremains of one of the wire nuts:

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    The fiberglass insulation between the fixture and the ceiling...where the wiring had been laying:

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    The light fixture had stopped working a few weeks ago after one of the light fixture leads had melted and became disconnected. No telling how long it had been heating up each time the light was turned on. The house has aluminum wiring, and much of it was done by a previous owner who had no clue what he was doing. The melted lead was originally attached to a pair of solid aluminum wires that had been stripped of their insulation about 3", then twisted together and wrapped with electrical tape. (The tape, of course, was fried by the time I found it.) I'm no expert, but I don't think that's the way it's supposed to be done.

    I have virtually no experience with aluminum wiring, so at that point I told my sis and BIL that their problem was outside my level of expertise and that they needed to call in a pro who knows how to deal with aluminum to copper connections. Fortunately, one of their family friends is a journeyman licensed electrician who's willing to come take care of it for the cost of materials and a good meal.

    We spent the rest of the afternoon marveling at the fact that they had truly dodged a bullet, and how fortunate they were that their house hadn't burned down a few weeks ago.
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

    workingwoods.com

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    Yorktown, Virginia
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    5,011
    Dodged a bullet is right! They owe you big time for finding that. I had to look a few times before convincing myself there wasn't a fried little mouse with a red hat in that first picture.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    Cedar Rapids, IA
    Posts
    170
    Yikes!! I've, thankfully, never encountered existing aluminum wire. Good call on recommending a professional and knowing your limits. The holidays are likely to be extra sweet for them this year!!

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Dec 2006
    Location
    RETIRED(!) in Austintown, Ohio
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    5,320
    I HATE(!) aluminum wiring. We had it in a house in Tustin, CA, and it was very problematic. I did learn - via an electrician friend - that it could be connected to copper, if you used the right stuff. Home Depot in Tustin sold special (purple) wire nuts that had 'No AlOx' compound in them. You were supposed to clean the aluminum wire very carefully, then twist the Al & Cu wires together then insert them into the wire nut. I used a couple of them, and they seemed to work okay.

    The only truly 'approved method' was (is?) via 'pigtailing' which used a special splice and hydraulic crimper to make the Al/Cu connection. I was quoted $25.00 per switch or outlet to do that (back about 1995) and my house had over 60 switches and outlets. Cheaper than a total re-wire, but the pigtailing company wouldn't guarantee their work beyond a year, though.
    Jim D.
    Adapt, Improvise, Overcome!

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Oct 2006
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    ABQ NM
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jim DeLaney View Post
    ...The only truly 'approved method' was (is?) via 'pigtailing' which used a special splice and hydraulic crimper to make the Al/Cu connection. I was quoted $25.00 per switch or outlet to do that (back about 1995) and my house had over 60 switches and outlets. Cheaper than a total re-wire, but the pigtailing company wouldn't guarantee their work beyond a year, though.
    When my sis and BIL moved into this house, they pigtailed all of the outlets, but none of the fixtures. They're now a bit worried (rightly so, in my opinion) about the integrity of the pigtailed splices.
    When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson
    When the weird get going, they start their own forum. - Vaughn McMillan

    workingwoods.com

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2009
    Location
    Carthage,Mo
    Posts
    883
    Rented out my in-laws home in early 60s there in Albuquerque and had same problem with aluminum wiring.
    I do know we fought that for awhile and ending up going through every watch, plugin, fixture in the house.
    Solved the problem till house sold. Thank goodness no fires or shorts.
    David
    K

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Feb 2008
    Location
    East Freeetown, Massachusetts
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    3,019
    My electrician friend said to never connect aluminum and copper together.

    Wow - that is scary

  8. #8
    Join Date
    May 2007
    Location
    Kansas City, Missouri
    Posts
    13,439
    Yikes, good thing you caught it. Hopefully they'll have the rest of them checked as well. Have a friend that has to deal with that on his place, not fun stuff to mess with.
    Darren

    To a small child, the perfect granddad is unafraid of big dogs and fierce storms but absolutely terrified of the word “boo.” – Robert Brault

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2011
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    Spitting distance north of Detroit Michigan
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    Yes, great catch!
    The perception of perfection is perfectly clear to everyone else

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Jun 2007
    Location
    Oceanside, So. Calif. 5 mi. to the ocean
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    4,944
    Electrolysis between two different metals (and other stuff on the Periodic Table) can be a real Boon or a real Boo. There are a tremendous number of positive things we have today because of that. On the other hand a stupid electrician fastened our copper plumbing down with a couple steel brackets. 15 years later we started getting extremely fine holes in the water lines.

    The extremely fine holes continuously sprayed water out until there were quite a few gallons and the drywall would give way and we would have a $1,000 flood repair bill. After the 3rd time we completely replaced all water plumbing---Approximately $7,000 was paid by the insurance company plus a heck of a lot more was paid by the Bradley family as I remember. All because an electrician was too lazy to go back to his truck to get a couple $0.20 copper pipe holders.

    On the positive side for electrolysis, there are almost no mechanical devices we use today that would be here if it were not for electrolysis. Two very simple examples: batteries and electroplating.

    Enjoy,
    JimB
    Last edited by Jim C Bradley; 12-16-2014 at 04:28 AM.
    First of all you have to be smarter than the machine.
    VOTING MEMBER

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