November 30, 2018 5:05 PM   Subscribe

I tried to plug in my blender and MY POWER STRIP EXPLODED and everything flew in the air and now nothing that is plugged into it has power. There is no fire or smoke. The outlet still has power so the refridgerator is still running. I can't reach my landlord and have no idea how to work the fuse panel. What in the unholy hell do I do??

I was trying to make a smoothie with vegetables in it to be healthy and stuff so I went to plug in my blender to the powerstrip, which is in an (ungrounded) outlet in the kitchen. As soon as I started to push it in it made the MOST GOD AWFUL LOUD TERRIFYING NOISE I have ever heard and EVERYTHING FLEW IN THE AIR. It lasted for what felt like an enternity, during which I was absolutely, utterly, completely terrified, before it just... stopped. It was so powerful it blew some stuff on the floor and moved the toaster and coffee maker slightly, which are on the table next to it. I'm fine. There is no smoke. There is no fire. There are no alarms. Everything that was plugged into the power strip is now off.

So THAT WAS TERRIFYING. I called my family and panicked, and then I called my landlord. Here's the problem: I don't have his cell. I know, I know. He's not the best. I left a message but he probably won't get it until Monday.

Possibly pertinent information: the apartment still has the original fuse panel, which I have absolutely no idea how to work but I can probably figure it out. ALSO, weird twist: we have lights in the hallway of the building and someone has been turning them off. My landlord has been leaving notes and they've been ignoring it and turning them off anyway. In a fit of rage, my landlord took out the switches and replaced them with outlets so the culprit can't keep turning the lights off. I KNOW. So I'm guessing he did something goofy with the electric and it caused a power surge that fucking blew up my fucking apartment. Excuse my language. They've been doing some other kind of construction in the apartment and it may or may not involve electric. I'm guessing the outlet-replacing-light-switch (???) and potentially the other work caused this.

What the hell do I do? I called my friend and he's supposed to come over and help me figure it out. It's still plugged in. I am too afraid to touch it. What about the rest of the electric? Now I am too afraid to touch anything in the apartment. I'm guessing I'll need to turn it off. But then what? I have 100 dollars of food in there and I'm poor. What do I do?
posted by Amy93 to Home & Garden (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Call your local fire department and ask their advice.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:08 PM on November 30, 2018 [22 favorites]

Is there a tenants rights organization in your area you could call?
posted by oceanjesse at 5:14 PM on November 30, 2018

Can you post a picture of the strip and explosion area?

Also it sounds like the exploding strip is separate from your fridge, so I don't think you need to worry about the food in your fridge spoiling in the short term future, and even if the power in your apartment needs to be off for a short period of an hour or two the fridge should still keep everything in there cold enough not to spoil as long as you keep the door closed.

The biggest concern I'd have from your description is that the damaged strip might still be some kind of fire hazard. If the cord and plug into the wall socket are undamaged I'd consider trying to pull that to remove power from the damaged strip. If you have any heavy duty rubber gloves you might put those on to pull the plug, just to increase your insulation from any possible source of power.
posted by Reverend John at 5:16 PM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Also, if this all happened when you plugged in your blender I'd be more inclined to think that there was something wrong with your blender or possibly the socket in the power strip that you plugged into, rather than anything your landlord has done with the building's wiring.
posted by Reverend John at 5:22 PM on November 30, 2018 [27 favorites]

Also, on the flip side, if there is any damage to the cord or plug for the power strip, any exposed wire or components where you would need to grab to pull the plug, leave it alone and don't touch it, gloves or no.

Keep an eye on it for possible fire risks, and call the fire department for advice like Carol Anne said.
posted by Reverend John at 5:26 PM on November 30, 2018

Hey there, you're gonna be fine. Get yourself a dry towel and use it as a glove to unplug the power strip. That's all you have to do.

Have the landlord take a look in your electrical panel, when you can get ahold of him. It's almost certainly fine. I'm sure that the power strip itself was faulty. Maybe also there's something wrong with your building's electrical (in fact I'd count on it, if you're living in an apartment that someone is renting out and which still has two-prong outlets—that's a code violation in and of itself) but in my experience most buildings have electrical issues and they hardly ever actually catch fire because of them.

Don't plug so much stuff into that outlet in the future. Also, maybe take a look at your panel and just make sure that there isn't, like, smoke coming out of it. If there isn't, you can chillax.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:29 PM on November 30, 2018 [10 favorites]

Is it at all possible that the "on" button on the blender was already engaged when you went to plug it in? If the veggies were already in the blender, and the power button was on, then the whole thing would whir into action as soon as the plug was inserted. Without a person holding and stabilizing the blender, it would then spray food everywhere and fall over, knocking things about and scaring the bejeesus out of you.
posted by dum spiro spero at 5:34 PM on November 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

I mean, from the description of what's been going on in your apartment and the fact that you still have an actual fuse box instead of breakers, it sounds like your landlord is a slumlord and I'm sure there are all kinds of things wrong with your building. But that's normal, that's extremely common, and it hardly ever causes an actual fire. It sucks and I'm sure you know that and that you'll move somewhere better if and when you can.

If you want to post a well-lit, close-up photo of the outlet (after the power strip has been removed and the mess has been cleaned up) and of your fuse box (with the door open so that the fuses are visible) I can tell you if there's anything obviously insane that's visible at a glance. I can't tell you everything (or even very much, really) but maybe I can set your mind at ease a little bit.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:38 PM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

This kind of shit is like literally (part of) my job. What I'm recommending isn't ideal, but I'm trying to take into account your whole situation here. I want to get you to a place where you feel safe going to sleep tonight and can finish dealing with this later as a non-emergency, without having panic feelings clouding your mind.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:50 PM on November 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

I'm having trouble picturing exactly what happened but the description of terrifying noice and things flying is what would happen to me if I plug in the blender with dial turned on high, the lid off and the vegetable already inside.
I'm wondering, is the power elsewhere in the apartment OK? What if you plug something (like a lamp) into a different outlet nearby?
posted by metahawk at 5:53 PM on November 30, 2018

Or yeah, maybe you just had a blender accident and not an electrical accident. That would be lovely.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 5:54 PM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Does the outlet still work, if you plug the coffeemaker or something into it directly? It sounds like maybe the blender was on when you plugged it in, so it started up immediately, caused a mess, and drew more current than the power strip could handle, and the fuse in the strip blew, which is why nothing plugged into it will work anymore.

Blowing a fuse is ok -- this is what fuses are for! If you plug something in that's too much for the circuitry to handle safely, the fuse fails first, before anything else can.

If the outlet still works, you probably just need to replace the powerstrip. Otherwise, you may have blown a fuse in your apartment, in which case you or your landlord may need to swap in a new fuse.

If you replace a fuse, make sure you replace it with one that has an identical rating. (Sometimes people want to put in a fuse that allows more current, so it won't trip, but that defeats the safety purpose.)
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:39 PM on November 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh, and some power strips have a resettable circuit breaker built in instead of a fuse -- you might check for a "reset" button or something like that on the power strip.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 6:44 PM on November 30, 2018

now nothing that is plugged into it has power

How much did you have plugged in on the power strip? A lot of times people plug in as much as they can/want and I believe that can overload it. I’ve exploded a power strip before. I learned that it wasn’t just a free for all of plugging in as much as you want. From you mentioning that twice, I’m thinking it very well may be the strip. Also, if the strip has had some stress or bending, it can become dangerous. Agree that a picture can be good. And you will be just fine.
posted by MountainDaisy at 7:13 PM on November 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

By the way, if you bring the fire department out and they manage to find serious fire code violations (like missing or disconnected smoke detectors, or something obviously insane about the electrical system) they will call your landlord to the carpet, give him a lecture, and make him really uncomfortable. Possibly they'll issue a citation. It might force him to fix some problems in your building and make it safer. Of course, if he knows it was you that called the fire department he might retaliate, which would be illegal but such is the life of a slumlord.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:23 PM on November 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

Uh, if the power strip exploded, I'd unplug the power strip. Don't use it anymore. Don't touch any metal bits, and unplug the thing like you'd unplug anything else. If the outlet doesn't have scorch marks on it and the smoke/sound was from the power strip and not from the outlet/wall, it is probably fine. I'd test it with something that doesn't draw a ton of power, like a lamp with a CFL or LED bulb.

If it doesn't turn on, you will need to find the breaker panel and see about resetting the breaker. If the breaker has tripped, you can try resetting it. If it immediately trips again, or makes any weird noises, flip it all the way to "off" and leave it there until you can have an electrician look at things. If it doesn't trip, I would probably resume using the outlet, without the power strip, as normal.

You can call your local fire department but I highly doubt that they are going to tell you anything useful. As a member of a fire department, I can tell you the only advice I would be able to give someone would be "call a licensed electrician". We don't, as an organization, give home-repair advice, particularly about electrical stuff where it could come back to bite us in the ass if something goes wrong. They might, if it's a slow night, come out and flip the main breaker for you, but this will leave you without heat, so it's not what I would do.

I've had power strips zap themselves out of existence before. It's scary when it happens, but it happens. Usually it's an internal short inside the strip itself, and it's caught by the breaker or fuse (or fusible link, basically a one-time-use fuse) inside the strip. Sometimes it will actually trip the household breaker, which is the breaker's job. The breakers are supposed to trip before the wiring melts, and usually they're pretty good at it in my experience.

There are lots of good videos on Youtube explaining how breaker panels and circuit breakers work. Being able to find the circuit breaker box, determine if a breaker has tripped, reset it if so, and then see if the circuit is working, is an important thing to know how to do. You can totally do this.

Side note: Remember the smell! The smell electrical stuff (or electronics) makes as it exits the mortal plane is very... distinctive. Being able to recognize the smell is a good bit of experience and will come in handy. Sometimes you can detect an electrical problem (as opposed to a mechanical problem or something else) with something, because it will have that distinctive burned-insulation smell to it. It's not a good smell, but it's an important one...
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:27 PM on November 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

Following up on my last, here is a decently inoffensive video on how to reset a tripped breaker in a (typical US) breaker panel. And here is the same process for a modern UK one, which I believe is the most common type on the Continent as well (DIN rail).

US boxes tend to be much bigger and have more breakers in them, because of the lower voltage, although apartments and small townhomes (and some older single family homes) may have ones that are only about a foot tall. Modern SFHs tend to have much larger ones, 24" tall or so. Basements and utility spaces are the most common locations for them.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:37 PM on November 30, 2018

Asker says it's a fuse box, not an MBP.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:41 PM on November 30, 2018

The OP said, "the apartment still has the original fuse panel." Plenty of people say "fuse box" or some variant thereof when they really mean "circuit breaker panel." Similarly, I find it more common for someone to say that they "blew a fuse" than that they "tripped a circuit breaker."

Although we haven't heard back from the OP, this sounds an awful lot like something went wrong with the power strip and not with a circuit breaker(or fuse, as the case may be) in the apartment. This supposition is reinforced by the OP's statement that "the outlet still has power so the refridgerator is still running." It's unclear to me whether the refrigerator is connected to the power strip or not, but I'm guessing not. If a ton of stuff was connected to an ungrounded power strip (do they even make ungrounded power strips?), that certainly could have contributed to something going awry. And, as one commenter suggested, perhaps it was just a case of plugging in a blender that was already turned on. It'a hard to know any of these things without more information from the OP.
posted by slkinsey at 7:54 PM on November 30, 2018

That possibility did cross my mind, but for lack of better info I think we have to take the Asker at her word. I've seen plenty of extant fuse boxes, especially in low-end apartment buildings or SFHs owned by poor people. Anyway, I assume the Asker is either dealing with the fire department or sleeping, right now.

Asker, do please update if you can.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:02 PM on November 30, 2018

Fair point; I was sort of operating on the assumption that "fuse box" was being used generically, since so few of them are left. But here's a good video explaining how an "old school" (Edison screw-base) fuse box works, and also what it looks like. Here is another which shows a different variant, with a set of cartridge fuses. The screw-in fuses are pretty easy to deal with and replace, but unless there's a box of them sitting around I'd probably make the landlord deal with it. Cartridge fuses I'd definitely make them deal with; they are increasingly difficult to find.

It's also possible to have a fuse box, but with circuit breakers retrofitted into it. There are breakers that screw into the places where fuses are designed to go and have a little reset button right in the center of them. There's a picture on this page, which is a pretty good (non-video) reference..
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:04 PM on November 30, 2018

Another option might be to call an electrician yourself and deduct that from the rent. You could probably find someone to come out tomorrow for around $100 or maybe even less depending on how far they have to travel and how long it takes them to assess things. (Like, I've gotten an opinion and a really quick 10 minute repair for $40, but that was from our regular electrican when he happened to be right in the neighborhood anyway.) Of course, if they attribute the whole thing to user error (like "you overloaded a defective power strip and it exploded") then your landlord might feel pretty unhappy at you billing them for that visit.

Also you absolutely do need an emergency number for your landlord or a property manager who is deputized to make decisions. What if the hot water heater goes out? What if water starts pouring out of a broken pipe in the ceiling threatening to wreck all the flooring? You don't want to be taking cold showers over a long holiday weekend or making judgment calls about how he'd want you to handle emergencies.
posted by slidell at 8:23 PM on November 30, 2018

Deducting an electricians bill from your rent may not be permitted in your location. Do not do this unless you are absolutely sure it is legal and you have documentation that it is.

Keep the power strip unplugged from the outlet. Double check the blender dial/switches as a potential source of the fright (I think it’s unlikely but still possible that it’s the blender. Electricity from an outlet has the power to throw a person across a room (source: my father stuck a fork in an outlet as a kid. Threw him and his sister across a room.).

Take a comforting shower, have a glass of water, and go to sleep.

If a visit from the fire department would help you feel safe, call them. They are (supposed to be) 100% on board with extra caution and would (usually) rather visit a not actual problem in service of fire prevention. If you are ever EVER visited by emergency personnel who treat your concerns as a waste of time, let their boss know.
posted by bilabial at 8:48 PM on November 30, 2018

I know what a circuit breaker is. I grew up with one and i know how to use it. Its a fuse panel. It even says safe to fuse! With a picture of a smiling housewife inside! So it must be safe!

Everything is fine--the power strip works and the toaster, microwave, and coffee maker arent damaged. The blender, however, broke and literally blew glass everywhere on second look. Yikes. Now i have to call my landlord and say hey that was the blender exploding, NOT the powerstrip.

posted by Amy93 at 8:50 PM on November 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

It's vanishingly rare for an electrical fault like a short or an arc to throw stuff everywhere. Many people do not understand this, mainly because spitting sparking snaking power wires inexplicably possessed of cobra-strike properties are such a TV trope. But for future reference, if you plug in an electrical device and shit instantly gets thrown all over, think "unexpectedly activated motor" rather than "OMG escaped electricity I'm gonna die".
posted by flabdablet at 1:25 AM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, as you've now discovered, the by-design failure mode for tempered glass blender jugs is pretty spectacular. You might want to consider replacing your blender with something like a Blendtec, whose polycarbonate jug is damn near indestructible.
posted by flabdablet at 1:38 AM on December 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

Well, OK then. Glad you're safe.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 8:41 AM on December 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The: "I mean, from the description of what's been going on in your apartment and the fact that you still have an actual fuse box instead of breakers, it sounds like your landlord is a slumlord"

There is nothing wrong with fuses and in some ways they are superior to breakers. Fuse panels are generally old and indicate an old wiring installation but in the absence of other issues they aren't anything to worry about.
posted by Mitheral at 1:07 PM on December 1, 2018

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