Thursday, November 10, 2011

Enough Excitement For This Week

The other night my darling wife had gone to bed as I sat next to her to catch up on e-mail. After about 5 minutes, out of the blue, she said "That's a pretty bad. Do you smell it?" A moment later the hair on the back of my neck raised as the acrid smell of burning electronics reached my nose. I raced downstairs headed to the basement, my first thought being I'd left the soldering iron on two nights before and it'd finally had too much. But almost as soon as I thought it, I remembered specifically turning it off and triple checking it.

I reached the bottom of the stairs, turned to head to the basement and flipped on the lights in the kitchen to illumine the way. I didn't make it any further: the kitchen was full of smoke. I quickly scanned everything and didn't see anything obviously pouring out smoke. Next scan was to check if anything was on: nothing. I felt everything that was plugged in. Nothing was hot. Just to be on the safe side, I unplugged each item when I got to it.

Since everything seemed to be in order, I headed to the basement to make sure it wasn't coming up from there. There wasn't any smoke in the stairs and by the time I got to the bottom, the air was clear and odorless. All clear there.

Heading back upstairs I could tell it was definitely strongest in the kitchen. But I could also tell it was already dissipating; undoubtedly the smoke was less than when I first came down. A bit relieved, but still concerned, I started a slower, more methodical check of all the built-in appliances. The dishwasher. The garbage disposal. The stove. The refrigerator. I felt the walls for hot spots. Everything seemed in order.

As I scratched my head trying to figure out where the smell had come from, Diane opened the windows and started the fans. Of course, it was about 30F outside. I turned off the furnace. I realized that of the things plugged in, the only things with automatic switches that could have been on were the furnace and refrigerator. Since the furnace is under the kitchen and has a cold air return right next to it, I thought perhaps it had burned up and vented through the ducts. I went to the basement and found it to be in order.

Next I pulled the refrigerator out from the wall and unplugged it. I grabbed a nut driver and removed the cardboard dust cover on the back. I didn't see anything obviously wrong, but I couldn't see much either. Smelling the dust cover however immediately told me this was the source. It reeked of the magic smoke that makes electronics work.

Now, confident we'd found the source, it was now cold and the house wasn't going to burn down, Diane headed back to bed and I to my e-mail with the windows still open and fans still running to vent the obnoxious odors. When it was too cold to stand anymore, I closed everything up, turned the heater back on and went to bed.

Next day the appliance repair man came out. As he walked through the door, he said, "Ah, I smell a burned out relay."

Twenty minutes later he was done, the fridge was cooling again and we had this souvenir. (Click images for larger view.)

Smoked relay 1

Smoked relay 2

That was enough excitement for this week, and many more too.