Thurs Pic: Why Backstabbers Should be Shot!

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Rick Christopherson

Senior Member
I am not an electrician and try not to pretend to be one, but I do sometimes get called for difficult troubleshooting. Yesterday my father asked me to help him troubleshoot a periodic failure of lights in a bathroom that he wasn't able to isolate. It's a fairly new house in an upscale ($$$$$) neighborhood, but it was already known that the EC had used backstabs for everything. And I mean EVERYTHING. I even discovered they used WAGO connectors in some of their boxes because a wirenut would obviously take too long to thread on the wires.

WAGO-773-166.jpg

The homeowner reported that the lights were progressively getting more and more unpredictable for turning on. My father had tighten some loose wire nuts in the 3-gang box and it appeared to fix the problem, but that was just a fluke. The next morning, the homeowner reported that it took at least a minute for the lights to finally come on, and that is when I got called out.

When we got there yesterday morning, the bathroom lights were dead with no voltage. The phantom voltage (I do hate that term) that vanished when the lamp switches were closed, told me it was an open circuit. Because it was an open circuit, we couldn't even trace which circuit they came from. So we started opening every junction box in all of the adjoining (and even non-adjoining) rooms to find it.

A half hour later, the lights suddenly snapped on, and we quickly traced which circuit they originated from.....they were supplied from the back sitting room, which was 2 rooms away from the bathroom. I wanted to check the circuit while it was still live, so I picked the closest receptacle and started to pull the cover plate.

As I stooped down to pop the cover, I noticed the reflection of an orange indicator light between the receptacle and cover plate. What the heck?!? It looked just like the orange indicators from old GFCI receptacles, except it was inside the junction box. That just didn't make any sense.

When I got the cover plate off, I was blown away with what I saw. It wasn't an indicator light. The side terminal on the receptacle was cherry-red (orange actually). I had to turn off the flash on my cell phone to capture this, so everything came out red, but you get the idea. You can see the bright glow from the lower backstab.

Glowing.jpg

After cutting the power, I carefully pulled the receptacle, but even the yoke was still hot to the touch. If this had gone just a little longer, they could have possibly lost the house. I am recommending to the homeowner that she bring someone in and redo every box in the house to eliminate all of the backstabs and WAGO clamps.

Oh by the way, we haven't figured out where that loose "hot" goes to because we can't find anything that is dead, but it was in the proximity of the screw lugs on the outlet and may have played a role in this. The associated neutral is backstabbed into the outlet, but this hot was never connected and both screw lugs are fully unscrewed. The EC used backstab for 2 wires, and then used the screw lugs if he needed more.

MeltedOutlet.jpg
 

Cow

Senior Member
Location
Eastern Oregon
Occupation
Electrician
If this had gone just a little longer, they could have possibly lost the house. I am recommending to the homeowner that she bring someone in and redo every box in the house to eliminate all of the backstabs and WAGO clamps.

Maybe others have seen it happen, but I've never seen it go farther than the recep and cover being damaged in the worst cases.
 

Rick Christopherson

Senior Member
Maybe others have seen it happen, but I've never seen it go farther than the recep and cover being damaged in the worst cases.
I understand that. I wish I had my normal digital camera, because the cell phone picture doesn't really show just how significant this was. It was actually a lot bigger than what the picture reveals. In just the few minutes that we left this circuit active while I grabbed my phone, it was enough to make the yoke too hot to touch.
 

dhalleron

Senior Member
Location
Louisville, KY
I'm sure this post will bring many arguments pro back stabbing because it is a listed method. I won?t do it and I try to ?fix? them when I take a receptacle apart for any reason. I actually left one backstabbed yesterday and felt bad after I got home. I did give them a price on replacing some receptacles to GFCI and will fix it if I go back because I will be in the same box then.
 

George Stolz

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Windsor, CO NEC: 2017
Occupation
Service Manager
I found a great use for Wagos the other day. I happened to have a couple in my bags (I need to clean out my bags) and discovered they stand in for 6/32 nuts when you're in a pinch!

5c8629b0.jpg


Other than that... ;)

I must confess to backstabbing when the circumstances warrant. When push comes to shove, it's quicker and some people want the Yugo, what can you say.
 

pete m.

Senior Member
Location
Ohio
I guess it also depends who you work for. My son worked for a shop that "back-stabbed" the devices. Whenever he and I work together back-stabbing is a NG. I know the devices are listed for it but the fire department has called me out on too many instances where a back-stabbed device was the culprit.

Pete
 

hurk27

Senior Member

I'm seeing something in this photo that is leading me to believe that there was an instigator into what started this receptacle to fail, If you look at the bottom outlet opening on the hot side you will notice that the hot opening is burned from the outside, I have seen my fair share of receptacle failures and this one resembles a high wattage appliance was in use (space heater or such) and the plug on the end of the cord was most likely worn down or had corrosion on the blade that heated up and cause the outside of the hot side to be scorched, this also transfered the heat into the receptacle causing the brass snake teeth contact to loose their spring grip of the conductor causing a increasing high resistance arc to start and to cause connection problems with any load down stream of this receptacle, I have seen this before and notice that when the connection loss is started in the receptacle I have never seen the front outside burn like that only when it is caused by a load that was plugged in to that part of the receptacle.

One reason for this assumption is simply heat rises, and in the other photo you will notice the burn pattern on the side of the receptacle was up and away from the front and bottom of the receptacle,

While I don't back stab receptacles unless I know the load will never be over a few amps, I have used back stabs on switches where it is a fixed load of 300 watts or less such as a closet light or a single bedroom light, I also tail out my receptacles so that the only one to fail is the one that failed, I have had receptacles fail because of above even using the screws, but as above the failure started between the connection of the blade of the cord end and the contact in the receptacle, many appliances that have been in used a few years that are of the type that get plugged in and out often such as space heaters and vacuum cleaners Etc... tend to have worn cord plugs with thinning blades that tend to not make good connection, and when these appliances are of a high wattage type you will see problems like the above.
 
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Rick Christopherson

Senior Member
... If you look at the bottom outlet opening on the hot side you will notice that the hot opening is burned from the outside....
Yes, that was of course the first thing I noticed. However, the device plugged in to that outlet on the receptacle was a CO monitor.

The discoloration is due to a contact burn from the metal components transmitting the heat to the surface. I am confident in that conclusion. The only unknown to this evaluation is what the unknown Hot wire was feeding and whether it played a role. It showed no-load when I tested it, but that was only cursory.
 

hurk27

Senior Member
Yes, that was of course the first thing I noticed. However, the device plugged in to that outlet on the receptacle was a CO monitor.
The discoloration is due to a contact burn from the metal components transmitting the heat to the surface. I am confident in that conclusion.

True as hot as it got.

The only unknown to this evaluation is what the unknown Hot wire was feeding and whether it played a role. It showed no-load when I tested it, but that was only cursory.

This is why I invested in a good (but expensive) wire circuit tracer that will do energized or dead conductors, it's my eyes in the walls, and I have yet to have to open other box's to find a lost circuit, it hits it everytime.
I love it when I go into a house and plug it in to the dead side of the circuit and follow the wire around the room till I get to a receptacle where I loose my signal and pull out the bad receptacle within a few minutes and many times it is one that was still working, then have the homeowner state that the last guy charged her 4 hours after pulling our almost every receptacle and took down lights and fans only to tell her he will have to run a new circuit, lucky she got a second opinion:thumbsup:
 

Rick Christopherson

Senior Member
This is why I invested in a good (but expensive) wire circuit tracer that will do energized or dead conductors, it's my eyes in the walls, and I have yet to have to open other box's to find a lost circuit, it hits it everytime.
I agree, but you have to remember that I'm just a dumb engineer, and to us, 9/16, 5/8, what's the difference? A vise Grips fits 'em all.
:lol::lol:


Yes, I was wishing I had one, but no, I didn't.


Umm, no, I wasn't serious about the vice grips comment.
 

mivey

Senior Member
"Shoot the back stabbers"
Well what do you know Rick, we can agree on something. :thumbsup:
 

kwired

Electron manager
Location
NE Nebraska
Back stabbers should be stabbed in the back

Back stabbers should be stabbed in the back

Sounds more logical than being shot:happyyes:


One trick to tracing an open circuit is to connect an external lead to tracer and the neutral of the open circuit, assuming the hot conductor is all that is open, or vice versa if the neutral is open. If properly installed, you should at least be able to narrow it down to one raceway or cable to look at.
 

PEDRO ESCOVILLA

Senior Member
Location
south texas
Wago's sT#NK IMHO. used them on alarge cooleg dorm project, CG PM ordered them. I hate them. you can't use them with stranded wire, they will slip, they will not always hold up. it's a "quick and dirty" for those who choose to work that way. BIG YUCKO. i flat refuse to backstab any work. I've held to "homeowners and people who don't know what they are doing work like that, a licensed electricians should know" better. i've pulled devices out of boxes that were backstabbed buy someone else, and had the wires pull out as the device came out :rant: good to get that off my chest. it just gives you a cr@ppy job
 

Little Bill

Moderator
Staff member
Location
Tennessee NEC:2017
Occupation
Electrician
We've had this discussion before. IMO, a WAGO or Ideal (their version) isn't the same as a back stabbed connection as far as working loose. I have never had to change or redo a connection made by a WAGO type connection. It's very easy to check the connection by pulling on the wire and you can even see the wire inside the connector. So if properly installed, a WAGO type connection will hold. I've used this type connector for years, going back before WAGOs were made. I used them on French made machines, didn't have an official name for them then. I don't however use them on stranded (I have, after tinning the wires on low voltage). Most of the problems with back stabbed receptacles occurs from plugging/unplugging cords, causing them to move and overtime can work loose. I still say that most were not properly inserted to begin with. I don't back stab receptacles but I might a switch under certain conditions.
I'm mainly defending the WAGOs, but will state that they aren't for every connection. They sure are a life saver when dealing with wires too short to use a wire nut on.
 
I guess I'm just blessed.

I've backstabbed everything I can for 30+ years, used wago's for at least 10 years, and haven't had a failure that I'm aware of yet (when the wago or backstab device was properly installed)

I've had a few wirenuts fail (probably not installed properly), seen backstabs by others fail, seen purple nurples catch fire, seen tons of crimp connections fail, but never a problem with properly installed wagos or back stabs.
 
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