Author Topic: Termites could burn your house down  (Read 1244 times)

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Online TerraHertz

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Termites could burn your house down
« on: October 11, 2019, 03:29:49 pm »
Here's an example of that almost happening.
Yesterday my (very) old mum phoned me and said a bathroom light had come on by itself for a while, then gone off, and doesn't work now.
Today I went round there to have a look.

It's a softwood timber frame house, and that bathroom has western red cedar wall paneling. I noticed a strong burning smell.
Flicked the light switch, and can feel there's something mechanically wrong with it, but the light does turn on and off.
Turned off the lights power at the meter board then pulled the switch out of the door framing.

Urrgh. There's a recent termite invasion, and they made a nest in the switch cavity. Their nest building material is apparently somewhat conductive. It resistively heated up with the 240VAC current, and started a slow burn-back of the wiring insulation. That had gone about 4 inches back up the wiring, through the woodwork. It was all still warm to the touch, and the timber is charred.

The fuse (old style wire, not circuit breaker) didn't blow. Would have been better if it had. An earth leakage breaker wouldn't have helped with this.

Quite a close call I think.

Edit to add: Speaking of termites, what's with the bug in the photo upload selections? The photo you specify first, appears as the last one in the page, though the others are all in correct order. To get them ordered right here, I had to specify 4473 twice, then delete the "first" one (appearing as the last one.)
« Last Edit: October 11, 2019, 03:48:11 pm by TerraHertz »
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Online Cubdriver

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #1 on: October 11, 2019, 05:49:32 pm »
  :wtf: :o :o :o :o :o

Holy crap!!!  That might not have ended will!  Good thing you caught it when you did!

Edit to add - I'm surprised to see that the switch appears to be set directly into the wood, with no box of any sort.

-Pat
« Last Edit: October 11, 2019, 05:52:08 pm by Cubdriver »
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Offline Zucca

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #2 on: October 11, 2019, 06:37:49 pm »
Your guardian Angel is strong.
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Offline blueskull

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #3 on: October 11, 2019, 06:57:43 pm »
At the first glance, I thought it was thermite could burn your house down -- damn it could.

Then I realized it was termite, and sure, it also could.

Maybe it's time for hiring some sort of extermination service?
 

Offline sokoloff

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #4 on: October 11, 2019, 07:02:18 pm »
Good find.

This is the type of thing that arc fault interrupter circuit breakers are meant to address.
 

Offline SeanB

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #5 on: October 11, 2019, 07:12:09 pm »
Probably a very old installation, and grandfathered into the modern regulations, as there pretty is nothing about having to upgrade all installations electrically as the regulations change, only that it must comply to the regulations applicable when built, and that anything that is done repair wise must be like for like, otherwise it is an "upgrade" and the upgrade must comply with current regulations.

Thus here you find a house that is a century old, and which has been in the same family for that time, and thus still has the original fuse box with wire fuses in it, fuse wire on a card for the replacement of them, and gutta percha wire though the house. Still complies, till you want to change a plug outlet, because 5A socket outlets are pretty rare, nothing easy to find plugs for, and the bakelite has disintegrated. Then you have to pull in new cabling to the distribution board (and find the @#$%^ sparkie cut cost, because he only pulled in a new red live wire instead of pulling in new line, neutral and an earth conductor), put in a new distribution board with mains isolator, earth leakage and 20A breaker, fed from the old board as a sub board, to get the installation to comply with the modern regulations. Then you find the bonding on the water pipes has failed, the grounding at the meter has rotted away, and the only ground the system has is the rather dodgy wire on the overhead 3 wire feeder that leads to the light pole outside, original to the house 90 years ago, and , as it falls on the boundary, is not checked by home owners, and ignored by the Metro electricians unless the wires have all fallen off.

Biggest shock on selling the house is the electrical compliance, as often you then have to replace everything to get it up to code, as the act of checking the wiring inside the sockets, switches and lights is often enough to cause the brittle insulation to turn to powder.
 
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Offline soldar

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #6 on: October 11, 2019, 07:17:50 pm »
This video shows how one homeowner dealt with roaches but it should work for termites too. After that you need not worry about the termites burning the house down.

https://youtu.be/ZFdu-HcyOx4?t=160
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Online Monkeh

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #7 on: October 11, 2019, 07:21:15 pm »
Good find.

This is the type of thing that arc fault interrupter circuit breakers are meant to address.

And I await proof that (the ones being pushed here, anyway) actually operate in any real-world condition instead of a carefully created arc between two contacts opened by micrometer.
 

Online Cubdriver

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #8 on: October 11, 2019, 07:47:47 pm »
Good find.

This is the type of thing that arc fault interrupter circuit breakers are meant to address.

And I await proof that (the ones being pushed here, anyway) actually operate in any real-world condition instead of a carefully created arc between two contacts opened by micrometer.

Well, I know the ones here in the US damned well trip consistently if you try to run motorized power tools on them!  I have to run an extension cord to a non-AFCI 'protected' receptacle if I need to use my miter saw in the house.   :rant: :rant: :rant:

-Pat
If it jams, force it.  If it breaks, you needed a new one anyway...
 

Offline Cyberdragon

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #9 on: October 11, 2019, 08:10:26 pm »
AFIs are all shit. The 120V ones false trip and the 240V ones don't do anything (see John Ward).
*BZZZZZZAAAAAP*
Voltamort strikes again!
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Offline KE5FX

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #10 on: October 11, 2019, 09:35:31 pm »
I'm very confused.  Where was the "arc" that an AFCI might have detected?  Looks like simple I2R heating was responsible for this near-disaster.
 

Offline tooki

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #11 on: October 11, 2019, 09:42:34 pm »
Edit to add: Speaking of termites, what's with the bug in the photo upload selections? The photo you specify first, appears as the last one in the page, though the others are all in correct order. To get them ordered right here, I had to specify 4473 twice, then delete the "first" one (appearing as the last one.)
It’s the new “improved” image upload plugins recently added to the forums on a whim. It’s possible each of the two plugins in question work fine in isolation, but at least in combination, it’s buggy as hell. In the thread about it, I characterized the behavior in detail, but the admins haven’t taken any action (or even acknowledged that it’s buggy).
 

Offline chickenHeadKnob

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #12 on: October 11, 2019, 10:00:51 pm »
I'm very confused.  Where was the "arc" that an AFCI might have detected?  Looks like simple I2R heating was responsible for this near-disaster.

Yup the AFCI would have been happy as a clam, saying to itself, Granma  just turned on her tea kettle, I will help her. Once a combustible nest of fluffy high surface area has been built by the critters it will take bugger all total energy to start runaway ignition. Just look on the Youboob for bush-crafters starting campfires with the most feeble embers imaginable. The kind you get from a fire drill where you rub one stick on the other.

In the southern parts of Canada we do get termites but more often this kind mischief is cause by squirrels or other rodents.
 

Offline Electro Detective

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #13 on: October 11, 2019, 11:16:25 pm »

Wow  :o seen a few of these but not this bad,

great pics btw  :clap:

fwiw after a clean up and rectify on old school jobs like this, assuming it's an isolated one off incident, and not an infestation to be sorted with a complete rewire/outlet job

a shot of insect crawling spray into a suss electrical cavity,
and rub some around the back of the switch or socket housing, be it new or old,
then let it dry and or soak up any excess before putting it back as it was, complying to the regulations applicable when built
as commented by SeanB above .

Use GLOVES when messing with this stuff and a low odour insect crawling spray if people are close by, or sensitive to the vile smell of the good stuff 

Rest assured termites and other crawlie groups will set up shop elsewhere next time..  :scared: :scared:
 
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Online TerraHertz

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #14 on: October 12, 2019, 12:50:02 am »
@SeanB actually the house is not that ancient. It was built around 1970, and the wiring is PVC insulated. The intact insulation isn't brittle at all. Those wires near the switch are bare because the 'hot spot' of conductive carbonizing worked it's way along the wire like a burning fuse cord. Then the resulting gunk fell off when I moved them.

A pest eradication is going to happen urgently. In the meantime I went and bought a couple of cans of surface spray, broke open all the termite tracks I could find, and gave the entire area in the wall cavities and under the house a good dose.

I found where their trail comes up from the ground. It's inside a brick double wall, under the bathroom concrete slab. Looks like a metal wall capping there may have rusted through, but I can't see the hole. Rust suspected due to an in-wall toilet cistern made of plastic, that developed a crack and leaked some years ago. I fixed that, but it hadn't been leaking long enough to rot the timbers so I had only needed to replace sodden wall plaster and some tiling.

Before hiring the eradicators, I'll hammer-drill some big holes in the internal wall of the double brick, for access to that space.

My mum is 90, and probably only has a few years left. After she passes that property will be sold and it's virtually certain a buyer would demolish the house and rebuild. So, minimal effort repairs.
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Online SiliconWizard

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #15 on: October 12, 2019, 01:27:56 am »
Note that thermite could do that as well.
 :P
 

Offline vk6zgo

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #16 on: October 12, 2019, 01:50:01 am »
  :wtf: :o :o :o :o :o

Holy crap!!!  That might not have ended will!  Good thing you caught it when you did!

Edit to add - I'm surprised to see that the switch appears to be set directly into the wood, with no box of any sort.

-Pat

Not a major drama, if, as is normal, there is enough clearance around the switch.

All but one of the light switches in my place are mounted into the trim around the door frame.
Most of the power outlets (GPOs in Ozspeak) are mounted into the skirting boards.
The other GPOs are set into the double brick wall, as is the light switch in the lounge room.

Termites absolutely love softwood.
I remember at my Mum's place, the electrician had used a bit of pine embedded into the brick wall to fit a light switch (the old round "surface mount" type).
The termites ate their way up the jarrah door frame (jarrah heartwood is not their favorite), & completely hollowed out the pine.

 

Offline Electro Detective

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #17 on: October 12, 2019, 02:20:29 am »

Watch out who you hire for 'pest control'

Some are smooth talking rats in human form that rid you of one problem, at not so cheap 'professional' prices,

and ensure they come back again for another future problem.. they planted whilst underneath or out of sight.

Shop around for good operators via referrals that know their job and get plenty of work,
not turkeys that resort to 'making work' to bleed unaware battlers out of their cash

Don't ask me how I know this$$$...   |O



 
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Offline vk6zgo

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #18 on: October 12, 2019, 02:23:45 am »
@SeanB actually the house is not that ancient. It was built around 1970, and the wiring is PVC insulated. The intact insulation isn't brittle at all. Those wires near the switch are bare because the 'hot spot' of conductive carbonizing worked it's way along the wire like a burning fuse cord. Then the resulting gunk fell off when I moved them.

A pest eradication is going to happen urgently. In the meantime I went and bought a couple of cans of surface spray, broke open all the termite tracks I could find, and gave the entire area in the wall cavities and under the house a good dose.

I found where their trail comes up from the ground. It's inside a brick double wall, under the bathroom concrete slab. Looks like a metal wall capping there may have rusted through, but I can't see the hole. Rust suspected due to an in-wall toilet cistern made of plastic, that developed a crack and leaked some years ago. I fixed that, but it hadn't been leaking long enough to rot the timbers so I had only needed to replace sodden wall plaster and some tiling.

Before hiring the eradicators, I'll hammer-drill some big holes in the internal wall of the double brick, for access to that space.

My mum is 90, and probably only has a few years left. After she passes that property will be sold and it's virtually certain a buyer would demolish the house and rebuild. So, minimal effort repairs.

Even really old houses in Oz are unlikely to have anything other than PVC insulation.

There was a bit of a paroxysm in the Electrical industry in the mid 1950s, with the widespread adoption of PVC for both cable insulation & power plugs -- the classic PVC Oz plug dates from about that era, with just a few mods having occurred over the years.

Certainly, in WA, even 100+ year old houses have been rewired with PVC over the many years since then.
I had occasion to climb around in the roof of a "Federation" era house, & came across some "tramline" type wiring.(bare copper wire supported by porcelain standoff insulators).

It had long ago been disconnected, & the wiring in use was all PVC.

An interesting sidelight ---someone in the past had put a TV antenna inside the roof, which does work OK with tiles, but not with a metal roof like this house had.

The antenna was resting across both sides of the old "tramline' wiring, so it's just as well it had been replaced.
 

Offline amyk

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #19 on: October 12, 2019, 03:10:49 am »
  :wtf: :o :o :o :o :o

Holy crap!!!  That might not have ended will!  Good thing you caught it when you did!

Edit to add - I'm surprised to see that the switch appears to be set directly into the wood, with no box of any sort.

-Pat

Not a major drama, if, as is normal, there is enough clearance around the switch.

All but one of the light switches in my place are mounted into the trim around the door frame.
Most of the power outlets (GPOs in Ozspeak) are mounted into the skirting boards.
The other GPOs are set into the double brick wall, as is the light switch in the lounge room.
Another example of the massive differences in regulations between countries. At least in North America, switches and outlets are required to be in junction boxes and that rule has been around for probably close to a century.
 

Online Cubdriver

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #20 on: October 12, 2019, 04:28:01 am »
Certainly, in WA, even 100+ year old houses have been rewired with PVC over the many years since then.
I had occasion to climb around in the roof of a "Federation" era house, & came across some "tramline" type wiring.(bare copper wire supported by porcelain standoff insulators).

It had long ago been disconnected, & the wiring in use was all PVC.

An interesting sidelight ---someone in the past had put a TV antenna inside the roof, which does work OK with tiles, but not with a metal roof like this house had.

The antenna was resting across both sides of the old "tramline' wiring, so it's just as well it had been replaced.

That sounds like what's known in the states as "knob and tube" wiring.  I've seen it in a few old houses (even still in use in a few lighting circuits at a friend's 1920s-ish house).  The knobs are porcelain insulators used to support the wire, and hold it where turns were made, and the tubes were porcelain sleeves with larger heads at one end the were fitted in a hole wherever the wiring passed through a rafter, joist or wall stud.  I'm happy that I can just pull a single cable with hot, neutral and ground all in one these days.  MUCH easier!

Another example of the massive differences in regulations between countries. At least in North America, switches and outlets are required to be in junction boxes and that rule has been around for probably close to a century.

Right?  It is amazing how much different the standards and methods for things like this are depending on where you are in the world!  I'm not sure when junction boxes became a requirement in the US, (don't have anything on wiring going back that far), but even the knob-and-tube I mentioned above at my friend's house came together into boxes at fixture and switch locations.

-Pat
If it jams, force it.  If it breaks, you needed a new one anyway...
 

Online Marco

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #21 on: October 12, 2019, 02:06:12 pm »
The fuse (old style wire, not circuit breaker) didn't blow. Would have been better if it had. An earth leakage breaker wouldn't have helped with this.

Depends how it's terminated, even with a twist on the nesting material would be still liable to touch it.
« Last Edit: October 12, 2019, 02:11:46 pm by Marco »
 

Online Monkeh

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #22 on: October 12, 2019, 02:11:19 pm »
The fuse (old style wire, not circuit breaker) didn't blow. Would have been better if it had. An earth leakage breaker wouldn't have helped with this.
Why not? If their nesting material touches the earth connector/wire as well why wouldn't some earth current start to flow? It's pretty much the same potential as neutral, so all else being equal would attract the same current.


... what earth?
 

Online Marco

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #23 on: October 12, 2019, 02:13:19 pm »
what earth?

Well I'm assuming with the talk of a theoretical earth leakage breaker he was also talking about theoretical earthed wiring.
 

Online Monkeh

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Re: Termites could burn your house down
« Reply #24 on: October 12, 2019, 02:14:37 pm »
what earth?

Well I'm assuming with the talk of a theoretical earth leakage breaker he was also talking about theoretical earthed wiring.

Earth wiring is not necessary for operation of an RCD.
 


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