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I rent a older 2 bedroom 1 bath trailer home. This is my first home , it me and my daughter's . I have lived here for a few months shy of a year . The tenants before me lived her 12 years and I am almost positive they always fixed everything themselves . I bought a new GFI circuit because my kitchen lights and 2 living room outlets would turnoff randomly and for days. I have gone through 15 - 25 packs of light bulbs . If I even barley tap a light fixture they blow. I Bought a new hanging light fixture for my dining room ,it takes 6 smaller bulbs . I blew 6 trying to put them in. My dad had to do whatever to make it work . I am now being given the option to buy. I am a young first time home owner . I feel a safety concern with the wiring in my home . Where do I start ? What do I look for ? If I buy I want all new light fixtures but don't want to go through an it her 200.00 in bulbs. Any advice is appreciated .

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  • You may have some very serious problems involving your voltage fluctuating as high as 240V! One workaround is to buy certain LED loght bulbs which are made for 120-240V power. They will not be harmed by voltages as high as 240V and will work fine. They make them that way so they can sell the same product in US and Europe. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 9 '17 at 8:09
  • Can you get a decent voltmeter and measure the voltage at your receptacles? – ThreePhaseEel Feb 9 '17 at 12:43
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    Unless you can get this place for next to nothing DO NOT consider buying it!!! Old trailers/mobile homes are money pits and death traps. – Speedy Petey Feb 9 '17 at 14:21
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    As a renter, this is the landlord's responsibility, regardless of what the last tenants did or did not do. If the landlord refuses to fix it, they are not upholding the terms of the lease (under any standard tenancy law) and you would be free to seek someplace safe to live. I see no attraction in buying the place and making it your responsibility. – Ecnerwal Feb 9 '17 at 15:01
  • I agree with @Ecnerwal: because you are renting you, normally, are not responsible for most home repairs. That falls under the landlords responsibilities. I'd double check your lease contract to ensure that that is the case. If you go ahead and start doing demo work, or renovations, that could be in violation of your lease contract, and depending on the landlord, you could face an steep penalties / fees, fines, eviction, lawsuits, etc. This is not legal advice. But I would recommend, if you want to pursue doing this, get an attorney to review the lease contract if there is ANY gray area. – Scott Ramboz Feb 9 '17 at 17:44
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Mia, I don't mean to panic you, but you really should get an electrician to inspect your wiring as soon as you can. If it's something minor, you've taken a sensible precaution and gotten a problem fixed. If it's something major, you may save you and your daughter's lives.

There's a possibility that it's something serious enough to start a fire.

It sounds like you may have loose connections in your service panel (breaker box) or even loose or broken connections somewhere else, like in an outlet box or inside a wall. There's a chance it is a single bad connection.

If the neutral connection in your service panel is loose or open, you could get wildly fluctuating voltage on your branch circuits, as you turn lights and appliances on and off, which could burn lights out quickly or even cause appliances to suddenly catch on fire.

There's even a condition where an open neutral can cause current to "leak" into moist wood in your walls, which over enough time can completely dry the wood out and turn it into kind of a charcoal tinder, which is another fire risk.

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  • I'm glad i asked but don't like that you agreed with what I was thinking . – Mia Feb 9 '17 at 8:50
  • How much can it cost for an inspection ? This is all brand new to me . – Mia Feb 9 '17 at 8:51
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    I have to say that as a renter you should be having the landlord being responsible for keeping the property safe and operational. As a potential buyer of said rental property I have to say that you would really have to love this particular place over taking the sane approach and considering looking for a better place to purchase. – Michael Karas Feb 9 '17 at 9:45
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    I totally agree that the landlord should pay for the inspection. You (Mia) should be alert that the person doing the inspecting is competent. If they're a licensed electrician they should have a pretty good idea what they're doing. They don't get to be licensed until they've completed class work and testing and spent a lot of time working under the direction of another licensed electrician. – Craig Feb 9 '17 at 14:35
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Sounds like this is on you

I would go straight-away to the library, or book section in your home-improvement store, and browse the books on electrical repairs. Find one that seems accessible to you, i.e. easy to "get". Different people are different.

Your house needs a LOT of work by your own indication. Nobody can afford to just burn up paycheck after paycheck hiring contractors. To have a safe, practical home at a sensible price, you really need to learn the electrical craft (and a lot more crafts). Electrical is one of the easier ones, just treat it with a healthy and fearful respect. You will need a few tools, but certainly not more than $50 worth. Life is better if you buy quality, particularly for the wire stripper. I like Klein. Once you understand things like how to de-energize a circuit and know it's de-energized...

Look at your neutral wiring

Most of us think your problem may be a faulty neutral, possibly in the panel or meter housing (you don't open up the latter). This would be indicated by socket voltage much higher or much lower than 120V. If you checked them all, you would find all of them are two different values - say, 93 volts and 147 volts. (which notably, add up to 240 volts). This needs fixing immediately if so.

If it's like this on every socket in the house, the problem might be in your breaker panel -- but it also might be in the power meter housing, the one covered with a tamper seal. That's put there by the power company. They control everything in that box, and they must fix anything in there for free. This qualifies as a power outage, so call them immediately (certainly before the next ice storm!)

Also, good to know the power company can turn off your power for you, if you need to mess with the feeders or buses in the service panel. Some smart meters even let them turn the power off remotely so you can get it done with a phone call. This is generally free, as they'd prefer you not fry yourself. They may even give you a meter upgrade to the remote-shutoff kind.

Problems are usually in wire ends, or gadgets

Wires rarely fail inline in the cable, unless somebody drove a nail into one. Problems are almost always at the ends of the wires (terminations), or the gadgets they attach to (receptacles, switches, wire nuts, breakers, buses). And, Code requires all terminations be in an accessible junction box, not covered up by parts of the building. You must be able to access it simply by taking the cover off. So chances are you can find every wire end.

Armed with the skill to do work properly, you can reach everything to do the work, and parts are crazy cheap. In fact I recommend going upscale and use the $3 screw-and-clamp receptacles instead of the 60 cent cheapies.

Don't mess around with aluminum

I don't think aluminum is your problem, yet. But it shouldn't be ignored.

First, check the aluminum wire, if it says AA-8000, that's the good stuff, just use the anti-oxidant goop with aluminum-rated devices and you're all set.

Otherwise if it's AA-1350 or unmarked, that's a problem and should be resolved one of two ways.

  • I for one believe the best way to deal with that is an arc-fault-detecting (AFCI) circuit breaker on every aluminum circuit. When it corrodes and arcs, the breaker trips, and then you use the second option.
  • OR, use Alumiconn splices which are listed to go from aluminum to copper. Go to a short 8" bit of copper wire, then to the gadget. I don't agree with wire-nutting with the goop, that's not Code.

Don't buy without LOTS of research

Two things about this real estate deal give me the heebeejeebies.

First, land contracts and rent-to-own are generally bad news. They are extremely favorable to the landlord. They both usually wind up defaulting back to the landlord, and in the meantime he's forcing you to do a lot of heavy maintenance on the unit. The furnace on its last legs finally quit? Since he "sold" you a unit with a working furnace, you're obliged to replace it or he takes the unit back. Etc. They can cheat you because they know you don't have the money to sue. Really research how those work - check with Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman, and if it doesn't make sense, don't do it.

Second - trailers, especially old trailers that you know need work - are extremely severe money-pits. I don't find it a coincidence the guy is eager to do RtO or land contract, because it passes the maintenance burden off him and onto you, which makes him more money, and gets his property fixed up for free when you default and he takes it back. It seems very exploitive to me.

Nobody said a tiny-house has to be tiny

Look at the whole tiny-house community - youtube, forums, etc. The upshot is they're building entire homes, themselves, at very low cost, to their own spec so it's theirs in every sense. And it's BRAND NEW so it's not a money pit. They build it on a towable trailer frame so it's technically an RV not a manufactured home, and can be moved readily. They have to pay trailer park fees is all.

It can be quite large, as long as it stays towable and meets highway clearance.

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  • Nice post. I do agree with the sentiment about not regular wirenuts with alox inhibitor. Also, kudos for mentioning Dave Ramsey and Suzie Orman and avoiding a money pit, and economical options both for the electrical problem and the more general housing issue. – Craig Feb 9 '17 at 19:48
  • I appreciate everyone's advice. I didn't put in all the details of my rental agreement which apparently makes a difference . The landlord passed away 4 months ago and his son and daughter took over for everything . We didn't have a rental agreement . I pay monthly , not even a due date. His kids just brought up the idea of me buying instead of renting. I told them about the electrical issues need looked at , they live 2 hours from me. If anything needs replaced I pay for it then take it off my rent. No body is taking advantage . – Mia Feb 9 '17 at 20:41
  • I work full time and can't afford anything else here . I'm going to start school for nursing and am doing what I can to make my situation better . I will have them fix any electrical problem if and when I decide to buy. I am thinking the breaker box may be the problem . After replacing the GFI circuit in my kitchen I have had no issues there . – Mia Feb 9 '17 at 20:44
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    A plug in tester might tell you that you have low voltage in some 120 V circuits and high voltage in others. – Jim Stewart Feb 9 '17 at 22:03
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    It would have to be a tester that reads out voltage, e.g. A voltmeter or Kill-a-Watt. A "hot or not" lamp tester won't tell you that. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Feb 9 '17 at 22:18
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Forty-six years ago I took up residence in a 2-bedroom 1-bath trailer and lived there for four years. Some lights flickered. The connection of the electric water heater once gave a giant spark and bang when I brushed it once while turning it off or checking connections. The aluminum wiring of the trailer was just twisted on to the water heater cord and taped with paper masking tape.

All the problems were due to improper aluminum wiring CONNECTIONS. Have someone capable check and tighten all the connections in the electric service panel and in the wall boxes. You almost certainly do not have to "rewire" the whole trailer. If you have aluminum wiring, and do not have the CO/ALR receptacles and switches, then pigtailing all the receptacles and switches might be in order.

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  • Also, if there are any connections between aluminum and copper wiring, those connections are highly susceptible to corrosion and becoming loose over time because aluminum and copper have different rates of thermal expansion, and are also subject to galvanic corrosion when in direct contact with each other. So it isn't always just a matter of tightening the connections, but can a matter of needing to install the right connectors. A standard wire nut is NOT appropriate or safe for connecting aluminum and copper wire, for example. – Craig Feb 9 '17 at 14:45
  • A standard wire nut (at least a Scotchlok red twist on connector) will make a good connection (both Al to Al and Al to Cu) if the right antioxidant compound (e.g., Burndy Penetrox) is used and if the aluminum conductor is abraded with the antioxidant. It is not the best connection and it is not to code, but I pigtailed my house 35 years ago using a procedure not as good as that and have had no failures. AlumiConn is the only practical connector that is code approved and I am slowly replacing my original work with that, but I believe that standard wire nuts with Penetrox better than nothing. – Jim Stewart Feb 9 '17 at 16:52
  • In the real world some people are not able to afford best practice code approved work. Affordable second rate is sometimes necessary and sufficient when the money is not there for code approved standard. – Jim Stewart Feb 9 '17 at 16:59
  • Hi Jim, sure, but if the trailer burns down, nobody's going to be talking about what a shame it was that they couldn't afford aluminum oxide inhibitor or proper aluminum-to-copper connectors. – Craig Feb 9 '17 at 17:03
  • I was recommending using oxide inhibitor and good quality wire nuts as better than nothing. You are saying it is unacceptable. AlumiConn connectors are $3 ea. and the average electrician doesn't have them in his truck. At two minimum per receptacle (wire nut for the grounds) that's $6 per receptacle which is beyond what some people can or will spring for. – Jim Stewart Feb 9 '17 at 18:57

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