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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?

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    @ruskes not in a rental Sep 4, 2023 at 23:18
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    What sort of rental is this? Out in the country and basically unregulated? Nevada desert community of 15 people? In an inner city? A garage apartment in a small city? Where is this? Sep 5, 2023 at 1:23
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    Rental => complain to landlord is basically the only thing to do.
    – pjc50
    Sep 5, 2023 at 8:22
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    Can you upload a picture showing the panel with the 60A breaker you found? At a minimum that will help determine whether this is a Rule of 6 panel or not. Sep 5, 2023 at 14:28
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    Why would you try to do anything, particularly something electrically hazardous, for a house you don't even own? A house that you could be accused of burning down by the landlord if the worst happens?
    – Ian Kemp
    Sep 5, 2023 at 17:53

6 Answers 6

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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).
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    Or the old "neophyte interprets a double-30 as a 60" issue, but the rule of 6 (or subpanel) sounds most likely.
    – Ecnerwal
    Sep 5, 2023 at 1:09
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    Re, "60A controls a subpanel..." Hey! That's my house! The sub-panel is hidden behind a picture hanging on the wall near the top of the stairs. Sep 5, 2023 at 15:38
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    If this receptacle is properly protected by a 15A breaker (option 2 or 3) what might have caused it to catch fire? Bad receptacle?
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 5, 2023 at 15:45
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    @JimmyJames Bad receptacle - e.g., socket contacts loose from repeated use/abuse. Loose backstab wires. Possibly other things. It happens. I had a nasty smell in my kitchen ~ 30 years ago. Took a while to figure out it was a failing receptacle - burning up bit by bit. Fortunately figured out before it became a serious danger. But these things definitely happen. Sep 5, 2023 at 15:51
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    @JimmyJames, repeatedly unplugging a space heater at full load. Doesn't actually cause a fire, but 15-amp sparks cause very fire-looking damage to the outlet.
    – Mark
    Sep 6, 2023 at 3:04
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No.

Neither you or your landlord can touch it. Except to turn off the breaker.

Your landlord must get a licensed electrician in.

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    Is a lisenced electrician required just to change a receptacle in a rental unit? Technically, in many jurisdictions in the US, yes. In reality, I would expect that an awful lot of small apartment complexes and individual rental houses have a handyman go in and handle basic electrical (along with basic plumbing, change locks and do other simple repairs). A smart landlord/management company will know what they can reasonably do and what they really shouldn't do. In this particular case it may turn out to be much more than a simple receptacle replacement. Sep 5, 2023 at 2:14
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    How do you know what's allowed, when there's no location information in the question? Sep 5, 2023 at 6:50
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    @TobySpeight The law/regulations do depend on location. I think one country when upgrading their regulations draft it would have needed an electrician to change change light bulbs in their own homes, other countries are who cares. For multi-family buildings it is common sense to need experts to keep it safe, if not the law.
    – crip659
    Sep 5, 2023 at 9:38
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    @JimStewart Even if we assume a non-electrician can replace damaged components, much more is needed here. A 60A breaker is for #4 wire. 60A is also four times the current rating of the outlet. Capping it off may reduce the immediate danger, but you are leaving in the wall a length of energized severely-undersized wire. This wire may still be powering other things or could be disturbed in the future.
    – David42
    Sep 5, 2023 at 12:41
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact: A typical kitchen does not provide any means of reliably operating three appliances that consume 12A each, but a kitchen with three receptacles fed by 15A breakers fed by a 40A cable could do so with ease.
    – supercat
    Sep 5, 2023 at 16:59
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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.

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    The classic example I've given elsewhere is that a 15A receptacle can pull 12A continuous - e.g., a space heater. Plug in two of those and now you've got 24A going continuous. Do that on a freezing day when your regular HVAC quit and it can run for hours that way. If it is actually a 20A circuit with 12 AWG wire then you're 20% over and depending on the trip curve it could for a long time but probably be OK. If it is on a 15A circuit with 14 AWG wire it should trip in a few minutes. And if it is on a 20A circuit miswired with 14 AWG because "that rule won't matter, I have 14 AWG wire handy Sep 5, 2023 at 16:00
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    and all I am going to use it for is phone chargers and stuff" and then the next owner (or tenant) uses it with those 2 heaters on a cold day, FIRE!. So matching breaker to wire matters a lot and matching receptacle to circuit matters a lot. (15A receptacles are really 20A rated, it gets complicated, but 15A receptacles on 20A circuit is legal and not a problem. 15A receptacles on 60A circuit...not so much). Extension cords, as you noted, add another level of problem because some wimpy (but legal) extension cords could be used with that same pair of heaters... Sep 5, 2023 at 16:01
  • "Extension cords, as you noted, add another level of problem because some wimpy (but legal) extension cords could be used with that same pair of heaters" Right and those wimpy extension cords usually have three outlets that three more wimpy extension cords with three outlets. I'm pretty sure that's a big reason why code requires so many more outlets now than in the past.
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 5, 2023 at 16:07
  • The other extension cord problem, which I have heard more often stated as a reason, is that extension cords are inevitably trip hazards, because most people don't bother to figure out how to run an extension cord so that it is out of the way of people walking through the room. Sep 5, 2023 at 16:10
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    @manassehkatz-Moving2Codidact I meant there are more outlets so people won't need extension cords at all but, yes, extension cords are bad as a long-term solution. Even if you don't fall, you can easily expose conductors when they are moved.
    – JimmyJames
    Sep 5, 2023 at 16:28
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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.

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    How can you support your first sentence? Are you the OP's roommate, so your nose has been in the house and near the receptacle in question? That's what that word "literally" implies...
    – FreeMan
    Sep 6, 2023 at 17:36
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Yikes.

At minimum, an electrician will need to assess what is the thinnest wire on that circuit.

If it's 14 AWG then they will install a 15 amp breaker.


What can I do?

Not much, you're renting.

Physically? Turn off the breaker.

Helpfully? Wait for an electrician.

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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.

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