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