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Community and Q&A

Ice Build-Up on Electrical Outlet

jaytilley | Posted in General Questions on

I live in Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory, Canada.
Right now it is about -45 degrees celsius.
One of the outlets inside the house I rent–an outlet on a wall that connects to outside–has accumulated ice build up around it, on the inside of our house.
Nothing is plugged into it right now.  I noticed ice forming on it the other day (this has happened before), and it was where we had our Christmas tree plugged in but now I’m not using it at all due to fear of what could happen.
In addition to talking to my landlord about it, should I shut of the fuse to this socket and avoid using it until the weather changes?
What can happen from this situation, if anything?
Would the socket work right now with the ice on it, around it?

Thanks for any help you can offer.

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  1. Expert Member
    BILL WICHERS | | #1

    It’s probably unlikely to be a major safety risk, but I’d shut it off out of an abundance of caution, just to be safe. Ice itself isn’t a conductor, but it will eventually get metal ions in it from the connections and possibly box (if it’s a metal box), which will eventually build up enough to allow a small amount of current to flow (usually called “leakage current”). If this were a GFCI protected circuit, the GFCI would eventually trip.

    You probably have a pretty major air leak in that area of the wall, and the ice is forming as humidity from the indoor air condenses out on the cold surfaces around the exterior leak and eventually freezes. Over time, this will build up to the icing you see. You probably have an exterior side air leak and possibly also missing insulation around that outlet, but just air sealing the box and would probably help a lot.


    1. jaytilley | | #2

      Thanks Bill.
      That's very helpful and supportive news.
      Yes, the structure we live in has lots of issues with insulation and humidity/temperature.
      It's an army structure that was designed for Mexico and accidentally delivered to Whitehorse, back in the 60's, I believe, and they never got rid of them or redesigned them.
      Appreciate you taking the time to answer and I will pass on the information to the person that owns the building.

    2. DennisWood | | #3

      The ice is low risk, but when it melts, not so :-)

      The quick/easy fix is to first power off, warm the area thoroughly, and then inject closed cell spray foam around and behind that receptacle (but not in the receptacle!). If you have access to a FLIR device for an iphone or similar, you'll be able to visualise the problem pretty effectively.

      In any case, it's your landlord's issue to fix.

      1. Expert Member
        BILL WICHERS | | #4

        Pure water isn't a conductor, and condensate isn't a problem until it's had time to dissolve conductive stuff. That all just means this isn't an immediate safety concern, but it will be soon...

        BE SURE to power off BEFORE melting the ice.

        BTW, you don't really need full closed cell foam here, canned foam is fine. I do agree that getting the landlord to do the fix is the way to go, since injecting foam can sometimes cause problems if it oozes out in the wrong place (somewhere visible), so get the landlord to do the work and avoid any complaints.


  2. DennisWood | | #5

    I generally use "Great Stuff" low expansion when canned foam is needed...and they claim to be closed cell foam.

    Good point on the order of operations if you're warming ice on a powered receptacle Bill :-)

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