My Wall Caught On Fire!---A Classic *Mangia*

For the second time in a year, I’ve caught my room on fire.

Let me rephrase. Though this may not be the most appropriate place for discussion of this sort, ChiefDelphi is home to some of the most resourceful people I’ve ever encountered, and this as good a place as any for a thinktank. Here’s my situation:

My house has aluminum wiring. Back in the day, it was the hottest thing out in the 60s and 70s and everyone wanted to try it, not unlike certain other things, albeit less illegal. Turns out it wasn’t such a good idea. From what I gather, the wire overheats with extended or profound use, causing the fittings to become loose, building up carbon. In other words, fire.

This only happens when I’m running both of my computers at the same time and leave them on in excess of 36 hours or so. The logical thing would be not to run both computers at once, and not to leave them on for so long, but there’s just something about leaving both my XP and Fedora system on 24 hours that I find appealing.

And everytime I try it, my wall catches on fire. Luckily, 2 out of 2 times the metal electrical box has burned the fire out, but nonetheless, it’s not a risk I’d like to take. I would run the computers on two different outlets, but my question is, will that help? Thing is, the smoke and heat comes out of a different outlet than the one I’m using. And the amperage of the breaker should be plenty for what I want to do.

How can I handle this problem in a slightly more circumspect manner than hoping that metal box keeps those fires under control?

Yours Truly,
Burning in North Brunswick :smiley:

One major problem with aluminum is it corrodes when in contact with copper. Outlets in most rooms in a house are on one circuit. The outlets are “daisy chained together” for lack of a better term. The problem is the wire has corroded at the outlet(s) since you said you have aluminum wiring and contacts on the outlets are copper or brass. There is a bad contact with the wiring at that other outlet. Running two computers definitely shouldn’t cause heat and smoke. You have a MAJOR problem that needs to be fixed ASAP. The fact is the wiring and/or outlets are already damaged and continueing to use that circuit is like playing with matches. You have been lucky so far that it has cooled down and no actual fire has broke out yet. The other thing to make sure is if the correct amperage fuse or breaker is on that line.

They’re standard 20 Amps. Is there a way to fix this problem without calling up an electrician?

I was thinking of making a power map of my room and nearby rooms and seeing if any outlet in my room was on a different breaker or perhaps running an extension cord to an outlet on another breaker, assuming that distance isn’t terribly far.

Can a 20 amp breaker handle 2 PC’s, 2 Monitors, an Alarm Clock, a Cable Box, a stereo, any combination of a PS2/Gamecube/X-Box/DVD Player/VCR with a 36" TV, and two chargers for portable devices at once? Or is that a bit much?

Unless someone in your family is comfortable doing electrical work I don’t see any other answer. I would say atleast that one room will need to be rewired. The problem is even if the outlets are replaced you don’t know the condition of the wiring in the walls. You mentioned it got hot enough to create heat and smoke which means you don’t know if any of the insulation has burned off or melted on the wiring concealed with in the walls, floor, or cieling. Even looking at the outside of the wire won’t be good enough. You have to worry about the insulation inside seperating the conductors. Putting new outlets on possibly damaged wiring isn’t a good or safe fix. Atleast have an electrician inspect the outlets and what wiring is visible. They should be able to make a better call on it seeing it first hand.
Spending a few hundred for an electrician is cheaper and better than spending thousands rebuilding a house (insurance doesn’t cover everything) and possible loss of life.


Unfortunately this doesn’t fix the underlying problem. Simple fact is since there’s been heat and smoke chances are good that something has suffered damage.

Look at the back of the individual devices and they should mention how much amperage they draw. If all those devices are on the same line add them up.

Call a certified electrician immediately, and get your house inspected and the wiring validated. Do not pass “GO.” Do not collect $200. Do not do ANYTHING else before you do this! You DO NOT want to wait around on this.

If the wiring in the house is heating up to the point of ignition, particularly if the breaker is not tripping, is a SERIOUS hazard, and not to be trifled with. This is a dangerous situation, and must be corrected immediately - for your own safety and that of everyone else in the house.

Just trying to “map out” the outlets and breakers in the room WILL NOT take care of the problem. You have specific evidence that a moderate load on at least one outlet will cause ignition. Even if you move your power loads to a different outlet, how will you certify that no one else will EVER use the suspect outlet? If someone else were to load up the outlet, and it caught fire, which then resulted in damage, injury or worse, are you willing to accept responsibility? Since you know the wiring is problematic, if you do nothing to correct it you risk liability for any damage or harm that may result from a future incident.


I have to go with dave on this one. Electricity in the amounts you’re dealing with is not something that you want to have an accident with. Call an electrician, but remember to check to make sure they aren’t charging a lot because they know you have a huge problem on your hands. Even if you did feel up to re-wiring it yourself, in some states (PA at least) its technically illegal to install or rewire any electrical circuits unless you hold a state certification.

Yeah, I agree with Dave on this one. Since your house is older you might have fuses and not circuit breakers. Either way, the point of a fuse or circuit breaker is to cut power berfore the amperage gets so high that insulation and then the wire will burn. If your fuses/circuit breaker isn’t doing that there’s something seriously wrong.

Think of it as a FIRST robot. You don’t rely on the Drill’s blue wiring to burn before you know there’s a problem. You want the 40 amp breaker to pop first.

Let’s assume that both your computers have 400 watt power supplies installed. A 400 watt power supply draws about 10 amps at 115 VAC. Therefore, your 2 computers will draw 20 amps. If 20 amps is causing fires you have a serious problem.

Your problems:
1.) Your have fires with moderate amounts of current (20 amps)
2.) Your fuse/circuit breaker doesn’t trip before a fire starts.
3.) You’re living in a house that might kill you and your familly

Your best bet is to call up an electrician before something very bad happens.

Hm. ::calls an electrician:: Thanks for your help everyone.

So I limited the outlet to one computer and tried my best to reduce strain on the wiring until the problem is dealt with. Furthermore, I wrote a summary of the problem and solution for my father to read. That should prompt him to take action.



**On April, 28, 1974, two persons died in a home fire in Hampton Bays, New York. Fire officials determined that the fire was caused by a faulty aluminum wire connection at an outlet. **

The Problem:
During the 1970’s, aluminum (instead of copper) wiring became quite popular and was extensively used. Since that time, aluminum wiring has been implicated in a number of house fires, and most jurisdictions no longer permit it in new installations. The main problem with aluminum wiring is a phenomenon known as “cold creep”. When aluminum wiring warms up, it expands. When it cools down, it contracts. Unlike copper, when aluminum goes through a number of warm/cool cycles it loses a bit of tightness each time. To make the problem worse, aluminum oxidizes, or corrodes when in contact with certain types of metal, so the resistance of the connection goes up. Which causes it to heat up and corrode/oxidize still more. Eventually the wire may start getting very hot, melt the insulation or fixture it’s attached to, and possibly even cause a fire due to carbon buildup. Research sponsored by the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) shows that homes wired with aluminum wire manufactured before 1972 are 55 times more likely to have one or more connections reach “Fire Hazard Conditions” than are homes wired with copper.

The Solution:**
Fortunately, there are two options available for dealing with this impending problem. We can have the aluminum wire rewired entirely, the best, permanent, safe solution that is recommended by most professionals. A cheaper alternative would be to have each wire “pigtailed”, which essentially moves the aluminum connection from the receptacle or switch terminal to a more reliable splice. Pigtailing should remove most of the hazard, but is not a 100% guarantee.**[font=Verdana]

My Input:[/font]**
I’ve had two problems in my room alone with the aluminum wiring already, and twice a small fire has started in our walls, only to be burned out. How much longer can we tempt this hazard? I don’t want to be responsible for any damage, injury, or god forbid death. I told mom about this, but she shrugged it off, accusing me of trying to waste money. If anything happens, it’s all on you and her, because you’ve been warned. I strongly urge you to have this dealt with by a professional immediately, and every person I’ve talked to about the problem through the course of my research has given me that same exact advice. It may be costly to rewire the house, but I’m sure it’s less costly than rebuilding our house from the pile of ashes in the dirt. Insurance may give you some money, but you know as well as I do that it won’t be near enough to cover everything. At this point you have two choices:[font=Verdana][/font] [font=Verdana][font=Verdana]1.[font=&quot] [/font][/font][font=Verdana]Shrug this off and wait for an accident, endangering your family and your possessions.[/font][/font] [font=Verdana]2.[font=&quot] [/font]Take action and deal with the issue NOW before it becomes a problem.[/font] [font=Verdana]Questions, comments, queries, need a picture of a fire inside a wall? ASK![/font]

Hey Aignam, I was just looking through the Chit-Chat and found this thread. Just wondered how this was coming along. Get it fixed or looked at? if not Then I’ve got a comment, coming from an electrician ( apprentice with enough hours to really be near master but not enough written down) One major part I can tell you is that having a 20 amp fuse or breaker on a circuit for a bedroom or anything besides your laundry room or kitchen or bathroom receptacles is risk of fire because that wire is normally only good for max 15 amp. Calculating the computer power supplies at 400 watts and drawing 10 amps each is incorrect, the wattage listed is on the secondary, your computers will probably only really draw about 2 amps each if running with the monitor. I did a load test on my system with many other things on the same powerstrip, my amp meter only showed about 2 amp. You could easily run all the items you listed on the circuit and it wouldn’t over load it. I run more in my room with no trouble at-all. As everyone else said you MUST get this checked out. It wouldn’t take a good electrician much time to rewire this problem. Many electricians will give you a free estimate. You don’t necessarily need a “certified” electrician, actually they’re called Licensed and thats the only way you can be called an electrician, is if you’re licensed, but thats just terminology.

Aluminum wiring is still used today for wiring, It is often used in the main power wires coming into your house. Aluminum does expand and contract but the devices made for use with aluminum wire are designed to compensate and are designed NOT to easily corrode and there is also a DE-OX compound used to prevent corrosion/oxidation.

Pending local codes you could fairly easily rewire the whole room with new boxes, wire and devices (receptacles and switched) for fairly low cost and some little time and effort. Also there is now a device called an Arc-Fault breaker required in many states, if you have breakers installed you can install one of these in place of the breaker feeding your room and if it detects arcing it will shut off before causing trouble.

Didn’t mean to be long winded but we fix these problems or problems very similar literally daily.