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Old 07-01-2020, 06:21 PM   #1
Senior Member
Brand: Thor Motor Coach
State: Georgia
Posts: 2,585
THOR #4735
Exclamation 'strange' electrical outlet 'crack/pop'!


just wanted to give everyone an update and resolution on something that happened just this morning...

my son is at college, off campus, on his own private lot, with his 2014 Gulfstream camper. We set him up there this year, to settle in to studies at UAH for Aerospace Engineering. While we were there beside him in our motorhome for a while, he's there on his own now.
He has a 30amp shore cord to a 30amp outlet 'box', and to the power pole on the property, where it is attached to the 30amp breaker in the Main Panel(an outside 'combo' Meter/200amp Main Panel). His 30amp connection is the only draw from the panel.

This morning he texted me that he was hearing a pop and crackle sound from his bedside outlet. He even facetimed me so i could hear it. Hmmmm, not good, so I told him to look under the fridge and trip OFF the 30amp Main Breaker. He did. It kept making sounds and popping and cracking, and even just then, started to 'smoke'...
I QUICKLY told him that it was not 'normal' for any 120v electrical outlet to continue having an electrical issue when the Main Breaker to the camper has been tripped OFF, but never-the-less to RUN outside and pull his shore power cord!

He did. No more cracking, popping, or smoking, though now there was residual melting and black soot around the lower outlet. There was nothing plugged into the outlet at the time, and the only thing plugged in to it normally was a small desk fan, not even run or used during the overnight hours. This 'sounds' awakened him this morning, and he unplugged the fan thinking that it was the culprit, and then texted me when it kept 'making noises'.

SO.... what to do now, right? Now that we have 'no power' to the camper, and no 'way' for the outlet to still have ANY type of electrical power, I asked him to carefully, still, pull off the outlet COVER, and then pull OUT the outlet itself.
I imagined that this was one of the 'stab outlet' type where the factory doesn't have to cut back wire covers on each wire, but simply 'stabs' or pushing them down FIRMLY into a 'teeth' type contact point.
Yes, that's exactly what type of outlet it was, and the lower NEUTRAL white wire was plainly BLACK with soot and burn marks. Now, this was ALSO a daisy-chained outlet, meaning that there were INCOMING wires, from the power source, and OUTGOING wires to go to the next outlet, which was his computer, monitors, modem, and where he sits ALL DAY, while 'working' : ) (I think!)

So, we decided, remotely, to do some tests:
First, undo ALL of the 6 wires(2 black, 2 white, 2 bare ground) and keep them separated. Trip OFF all the breakers. Go out and plug IN the shore cord. Come back in and flip ON the 30amp Main Breaker. Good. Now flip ON the 15amp circuit breaker and 'see' if anything is still cracking/popping/smoking from those wires. No, nothing. Good.

Second, test: plug something into each outlet near the bed - the right side outlet still 'worked'. The wall 'TV outlet' worked. The computer/desk area did NOT work. Now we know that the 'daisy-chained' outlet is 'upstream' of the computer outlet, and we need to try to handle getting power back to this 'primary' outlet.

Third, flip OFF all the breakers again. Go out and UNPLUG the shore power again. Come back in and twist together each set of wires(ground first, then Neutral, then black) making good contact for each set, but keeping them 'separate' from each other, for the time being. Also, remove the CAT to the restroom while you do this : )

Fourth, go back out and plug IN the shore power. Come back in and see if anything is amiss with the 'new' wiring. Nothing. Good. No voltmeter available, by the way. Flip ON the main breaker. Still nothing, Good. Flip ON the 15amp circuit breaker. Nothing, very good, although just then his MONITORS powered up and starting working again, nice! Now we know we have completed the 'circuit' and there is power restored everywhere, except the aforementioned 'bad outlet', which was removed.

Congrats, but now: FIFTH...
Turn OFF the circuit breaker. Run to the hardware store for TAN wire nuts, and electrical tape(and get a few 'tools' while you're at it!).
Return, twist the TAN wire nuts well onto the ends of each 'pair' of wires. Tug to make sure they are well attached. Add electrical tape around each 'pair', from 1" below the wire nut, to and over the wire nut. Add tape now around the three pairs, making a 'single' bundle. Carefully push this bundle in the wall cavity where they came from. Go back and turn ON the circuit breaker. Make sure the computer area is working. 'IF' you have room, put the outlet back in the same hole it came from, add the cover plate, and you are now 'good to go', with only a 'dead' outlet to speak of. Oh well. It works, none-the-less.

Here's my take on this high-pressure situation, especially when you 19 year old, with no electrical experience, and 200 miles away from 'home', has a sudden 'fire hazard' issue next to where they are sleeping:

I believe there are two things at work here: A not-so-great outlet electrical 'connection' with it's wires, and a possible 'ground leak' thru the Shore Power/Outside Main Panel at the power pole. Without knowing for sure, I believe that even though this outlet had some suspect wiring from the factory, the 'ground leakage', which would not have required the camper's main breaker to be engaged, created a situation where it's 'leakage'(a small amperage) was somehow interfering with the Neutral wire, or otherwise they were so close together, or maybe even touching with the outlet, and the 'power' was then able to 'cross over' within the outlet, making it 'live', or seemingly so, even with the camper's Main Breaker(and circuit breaker, both) turned OFF!
Neutrals have a way of creating bad days, when they are either loose and not always making a good connection, or when any 'arcing' is created across it's wire when things are as tight as they should be.

Maybe I'm close, maybe not, but either way, the situation is somewhat resolved, and he's able to go back to his normal functions, while now being cognizant of this occurring in another outlet if the 'ground leakage' condition continues. He had a lot of rain recently, which I'm sure may only add to the equation. Until I can get over and diagnose the outside power pole Main Panel and it's connections, especially the 'ground' in the ground, I won't really know.

Happy Days are here again! : ) (I'd love to upload a photo, or video, of some of this, but we were so in the weeds for a while we didn't think of that right at the moment!)

the Turners...
two Campers, two Electric cars
former diesel pusher traveler
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Old 07-01-2020, 06:43 PM   #2
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THOR #14543

To me, the only things that should go "snap, crackle and pop" are my breakfast cereal, or my tired old body after a strenuous workout.

As to the troubleshooting and temporary solution, sounds to me like "you done good" !
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Old 07-01-2020, 06:46 PM   #3
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Brand: Thor Motor Coach
State: Georgia
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THOR #4735
thanks, and while I'm very familiar with 'electrical' on my own, having to 'walk thru' a face time chat with my 19 year old while this 'issue' was presenting itself was slightly nerve racking, but in the end, we got thru it, technology and all! (and, yes, the 'old tired body snap, crackle, and pop', as well!)
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Old 07-01-2020, 07:24 PM   #4
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THOR #8860
Your description of the problem-solving process was excellent!
Glad that this never got any worse than it did...
"What: me worry?"
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Old 07-01-2020, 07:33 PM   #5
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THOR #1150
Yes well done.

Remember: only change one thing at a time between "tests".

I can only imagine walking our, very soon to be 18 yo, son through this (he is off to college this fall).
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Old 07-01-2020, 07:49 PM   #6
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Brand: Thor Motor Coach
State: Georgia
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THOR #4735
right, if you 'miss' a critical step, by advancing the 'test' too rapidly, you might 'see' something that's not really there - missing a 'part' of the step - meaning individual steps.

It's critical to formulate a plan of attack, understanding the 'flow' of the electricity, where it starts, the many points it touches along the way, and where it 'ends'.

Part of that 'issue' was the revelation that turning OFF the camper's MAIN BREAKER did nothing to change the 'sounds'... now, THAT was a new one on mE!

Yes, I think my son now understands the critical steps involved in making sure that you're not 'forgetting' to switch something OFF, especially. Even when we were close to having the problem solved, and had tested the final wire bundle, he still wanted to go out and actually/physically UNPLUG the camper - I don't blame him, and for safety sake, certainly go for it!
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Old 07-01-2020, 09:52 PM   #7
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State: Missouri
Posts: 2,164
THOR #6903
Great write up and interesting

Is the 200 amp main on a dedicated or shared transformer?

Having worked with and around electricity since the mid 60's (primarily 3 phase and mc) this is one of the few times I have heard of and or experienced neautral or ground issues back feeding

I think there is a ground fault somewhere close that hasn't blown a main fuse or breaker, yet

Glad you got it resolved and no fire happened

Sounds great about the Son, best of luck
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Old 07-01-2020, 10:03 PM   #8
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Brand: Thor Motor Coach
State: Georgia
Posts: 2,585
THOR #4735
thanks, and yes, the power pole, with our combo meter/main outdoor panel, is shared with two neighbors, both across the street, from the main transformer pole there.

and yes, I believe that a 'ground' issue is part of the situation, maybe the ground is not well enough 'into' the earth, or maybe not making a great connection somewhere along the pathway, maybe... it is only attached within the Main Panel at the pole, but not up to the main lines/neutral, which is how another local utility requires it.
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