Monday, June 6, 2016

Electrical Fault

I am someone who like to do my own work but I also know when things are beyond my wheelhouse of knowledge or if it takes specialized tools to complete that it would be more fiscally efficient on my part to just hire someone to do it for me. Case in point, on my recent remodel of the office, I hired a company that has done work for me in the past to help me troubleshoot shortening a return duck that apparently went "nowhere" so that I can increase the ceiling height of the room. This same company also does plumbing and electrical work as well which plays into this story.

Once they completed the duct work, I redid all the electrical which I have blogged about on here. I can do basic wiring but when I get into complex circuits of three or four way lights, I usually pass. Anyway, I rewired the office, tested everything and sheet rocked over it. I've been using it ever since with nary a problem until recently.

Using an outlet I have used many times before, I was vacuuming the floor after we officially moved the last of our office "crap" back into place and suddenly the vacuum shut off. A quick diagnosis showed that the vacuum worked but the one outlet no longer did. The following day, I popped off the cover and everything looked fine but it still did not have power along with everything downstream of the outlet. Not sure where that outlet got its power, I started popping off ceiling panels (thank god for ceiling panels over drywall) to see if I could trace where the power was coming from but couldn't find any wires there. The only place I could think of was an outlet now behind the filing cabinets of my desk but there was no easy way to get to them from the front. However, on the opposite side of the wall is our storage/laundry room with unfinished drywall up on that wall. A few measurements and a square cut out with a jab saw, I was able to rule out that outlet as the source of power. I poked, tested and checked for a couple hours before I decided I was completely stumped and gave up. I called in the experts.

They were swamped so a couple weeks later, they got me worked into their schedule and showed up. I wasn't sure how he would take it since I had done the electrical work myself and was thinking that I had perhaps screwed up somehow causing all this and now he had to diagnose my work behind sheetrock where he couldn't see. Together we ran through my trouble shooting up to now with him verifying but he couldn't find out where the wire supplying power to the electrical outlet was coming from either. Scratching our heads, he started tracing the circuit back from the electrical panel while I sat in the family room downstairs hoping for divine intervention. It came. There was an outlet in the family room on the other "side" of the office wall containing the electrical outlet but was under the stairs and not visible unless things were moved out of the way. After clearing the way, we quickly determined that power was out to that outlet as well.

After more digging, I finally found the wire heading to that outlet which led us to a junction box in the storage room which then led us to an outlet behind the water heater nearby where we finally found the reason for the fault. Previous occupants had spliced in a chunk of 14 gauge wire from that outlet to the outlet in the family room (probably because it was handy) where everything before and after that chunk was 12 gauge wire. The kicker is that this was a 20 amp circuit which means a minimum of 12 gauge wire must be used. My vacuum had evidently pulled just a little over 15 amps (that 14 gauge wire is rated for) causing it to overheat, melt the insulation and short out causing the outage. A new outlet and some 12 gauge wire replacing the 14 gauge wire later, all was back up and running.

Best of all, I learned that I didn't goof up wiring my office.


Kelly said...

About the extent of my electrical knowledge is how to change and light bulb and where the breaker box is located.

How nice that not only did you have the personal satisfaction of knowing it wasn't your error, you didn't have to try and save face with the professionals!

Glad it ended up being a fairly easy fix.

sage said...

Good work tracking it down!

Ed said...

Kelly - I picked it up when I was young and living at home on the farm. My dad was always wiring up buildings. But where I became proficient at it was at my last job where I absorbed it from someone who was an absolute genius around it. The only reason I will never excel at it like him is because I'm partially colorblind which hampers my ability to pick out individual wires from multicolored wiring harnesses so I stick to household stuff which is to my advantage, mostly black and white.

Sage - Thanks!