Preventing Melted, Burned GFCIs
Our infrared space heater was plugged into a surge-protector power strip in our kitchen when I smelled plastic burning. We unplugged the strip and tripped the circuit breaker, but we couldn't figure out what created the smell until we discovered the burned, melted GFCI. It has been replaced, and no issues so far, thank goodness. But what should I do to prevent this from happening again? — Jennifer Bink, Kiel, Wis.
Just to make sure everyone is on the same page, a GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) is a specialized receptacle that stops the flow of electricity before it can cause a deadly shock. It's required in wet areas like kitchens and bathrooms.
Okay, now to your scary event. I suspect from your photo that there was probably a loose wire at the GFCI, which would have hindered the flow of electricity. Faulty connections generate heat, and in this case the screw terminal got hot enough to melt the surrounding plastic. Hopefully, all the wires on your new GFCI are securely attached.
Also, I don't think it's a good idea to plug big-draw devices like space heaters and window air conditioners into power strips. These strips can only handle relatively small electrical loads, like lamps or computers. That's why you should always plug heaters and air conditioners directly into wall receptacles.
—Scott Caron, a licensed master electrician and the owner of Caron Electric in Lexington, Mass., appears regularly on TV episodes of Ask This Old House.