I just moved into a rental property, and one outlet was covered with duct tape to hide the fact that it had previously caught fire. After testing which circuit it's on by flipping breakers, my landlord and I discovered that it's wired into the 60A breaker feeding the dryer. I'm not really sure who would have done this or how the entire house hasn't burned to the ground yet. The receptacle is live but nothing is going to be plugged into it if this can't be solved. Is there anything I can do to safely use this outlet, or should I wait for an electrician to come have a look at it?
60A is almost certainly wrong even for the dryer! Most dryers are designed for 30A circuits. That leaves three possibilities:
- Really horrible improper wiring
- 60A is part of a Rule of 6 and it controls the bottom (usually) group of breakers and in that you'll find one for the receptacles (15A or 20A) and one for the dryer (double 30A).
- 60A controls a subpanel, so when you turn off the 60A breaker you turn off a subpanel someplace else in the house. That could be hidden behind a cabinet or appliance. Code does not allow a subpanel to be hidden, but it definitely happens. And then hopefully the subpanel has proper breakers for the receptacles (15A or 20A) and for the dryer (double 30A).
I agree that the answer is that your landlord needs to get a licensed electrician to look at it but I wanted to address the specific question here:
I'm not really sure [...] how the entire house hasn't burned to the ground yet.
As the name implies, the point of a circuit breaker is to break the circuit. That is, a 60A circuit breaker doesn't mean you will pull 60A anytime you plug something into that receptacle. It just won't turn the circuit off until 60A is being pulled. So (don't do this) if you plug something into it that only uses 5A, that receptable will be well under its 15A limit as well as the 60A limit which is not going to cause any issues assuming everything else is normal.
The danger here is that if you were to plug in something that pulls more than 15A into that receptacle, the 60A breaker is not going to trip and that's when the risk of fire comes in. For example, if two appliances are plugged into the outlet that can both pull 15A, you can easily exceed what the receptacle is designed to handle, and the breaker will not protect it. That's possibly what happened.
It's possible to use this outlet without issue but if you do, you are playing with fire (kind of literally.) It's not worth the risk. Your landlord must have it fixed. If they refuse or drag their feet, you should find the right department of your local government and force the issue. While you can avoid using the receptacle, you likely can't go without the dryer and there might be other things improperly connected to that 60A breaker.
As a sidenote, there can be similar dangers with using extension cords or splitters that allow you plug more than two items into a receptacle. Code allows 15A receptacles to be connected to a 20A circuit. As long as they are used directly, this should be safe because (proper) outlets are required to support that configuration. However, if you plug three things into a splitter and plug that splitter into a 15A outlet, it's possible for you to pull more than 15A without tripping the breaker. A good quality 15A receptacle might handle that but I wouldn't count in it and the extension cord or splitter itself might get very hot and possibly catch fire.
The receptacle stinks. Literally.
Try to get the actual layout of the circuit. Is the receptacle protected as 60A or there is another, lower-rating protection in the line?
If so, then call in a licensed electrician to check the whole circuit. If there is one such ticking bomb, who knows if it is the only one?
If not and there is more appropriate protection then call the electrician to assess the wiring for you - the burnt terminal does not need to be the only damage.
Really, there is no room for bravery and you know, graveyards are full of heroes.
I had a similar set up with a house from the early '60s with a small 100 amp panel including a double-30 running with old asbestos service cable to a switch/fuse box that switched off the 30 amp receptacle. Personally, I don't see that such a circuit is that much more dangerous than a standard 15A live circuit. Both will absolutely kill you dead if you let them, so if you are handy with a multimeter and find switching out 15A receptacles trivial, then I don't see why you couldn't. That being said, if there's signs of arcing/fire at the receptacle, AND you have a landlord who is responsible, it's best just to outsource. There are times and places for ignoring code, but with electricity and gas, it's potentially a life/death liability issue. Even connecting a neutral on a standard 15A circuit can set up potentially lethal situations.
I vote you make the landlord earn his rent and get an electrician in.