Electrical Wiring Mystery- Where to Start

July 10, 2019

I have been dealing with some electrical current running through metal on my back deck, window and door frames, etc. It all started a few weeks ago when I was standing on the back deck with wet shoes and I electrocuted myself touching a nail on my window frame. It was strong enough to emit a smell of burnt skin! Had a qualified electrician from a very reputable company but in a new GFI on the deck since the electrician felt there was a problem between the outdoor outlet and the line inside the house running from the bathroom. Right after the electrician left I was again shocked by 110v running through the metal window frame. I called my energy company and they found voltage running through all the nails, frames, etc and determined it was from poor siding installation (Previous owner was a notorious cheapskate who never paid for professional contractors). The power company identified a couple circuits that had been hit by nails(probably). They said I need to pull off all the nails from under the siding and put it back together!

I cannot turn my kitchen power back on until it’s fixed and I cannot find contractors who have free time to help me with this during the summer. Where do I begin? How do I remove siding and identify the broken wires? My husband and I are DIY novices so we are way out of our comfort zone.

Comments (18)

  • branson4020

    What kind of siding? How did the power company identify the circuits?

  • sandk

    I’d start with getting an electrician back. They can advise you on the best way to fix your issue and make things safe. Just pulling nails out of siding (and wires) won’t be enough to make it safe. You’ll still have holes in the wire sheathing. Hopefully the previous owner didn’t do the wiring also.
    This could get expensive :/ If new wire needs to be run, they need access to the wall cavity from some direction.
    Good luck.

  • Ron Natalie

    I can almost bet that some non-GFCI protected circuit (or part thereof) is in contact with the metal structure. This happens all too often when installers are ignorant of what they are doing. As pointed out, a COMPETENT electrician can figure out where the leakage is occuring. Installing a GFCI is like putting a bucket under the roof leak. Yeah, it mitigates things but doesn't fix the underlying problem.

  • CJ

    Thank you for your responses!

    It is vinyl siding. There’s also soffits between 1st and 2nd story I need to look in. How do I take it off?

    The electrician was the one who told me to figure out where the broken wires are and then call him when we have found all the spots and taken out the nails. He said he can put in a junction (I don’t really trust him because of the fact that he left my house without checking his work and I got shocked again!)

    The power Company was awesome and sent 5 electricians with voltage meters (a probe type thing) and they did trial and error and isolated the issue to 3 areas at the back of my house.

  • sandk

    Check out Youtube for videos on repairing vinyl siding so you can see the process. You need to separate the pieces horizontally to access the nails. I question the electrician expecting you to find all the damaged spots. Even with the siding out of the way, you can't visually inspect the wiring. A second opinion is never a bad idea, especially since the first guy didn't inspire confidence.

  • toxcrusadr

    There can't be all that many nails hitting wires. Hopefully just one or two in each 'area'. You know the current can't go through the vinyl siding or wood sheathing, so if a window or door frame is hot, it has to be nails going through the metal of the frame (the flange around the outside of a window frame that provides the water seal, for example). So pull off the siding pieces butting up to the hot window frame, remove nails one or two at a time and check with a voltmeter to see if you got the offending nail. Then mark the spot. If you get the bad nails out and find the spots you can at least turn your power back on temporarily, IMO.

    Siding is not that hard to remove. Start at the top, each piece wraps around the ridge at the top of the piece below it (or the starter trip, at the very bottom of the wall). Find a vertical joint where the siding ends and use a putty knife to pry it out the bottom. That exposes the nails holding the next piece below. Once you have found all those and marked them with spray paint, an electrician can fix them.

    Do watch some YouTube videos, I'm an amateur and am probably missing something here.

  • CJ

    Thanks! That’s great advice. I’m going to try starting at the window frames!

  • DavidR

    Good grief, how long are the nails they used to apply the siding? By code, cables run through bored holes in studs aren't supposed be closer than 1-1/2 inches from the edges of the studs. Then the sheathing adds further spacing.

    It would be unusual for a nail to penetrate cable except where it passes through a bored hole in a stud - usually the cable just moves out of the way - but I suppose it's a possibility if the cable were stretched really taut.

    BTW, not to be too pedantic, but what you experienced was a shock. If you had electrocuted yourself, you wouldn't be posting this. The term "electrocute" normally means to kill by electricity, though it can also mean to suffer severe, debilitating injury by electrical shock.

  • mtvhike

    Aren't there supposed to be steel covers protecting NM cable at every stud it goes through? One reason I prefer metallic cable!

  • Ron Natalie

    Only required if it gets within 1.25" of the face. If you drill dead center of a 2x4 you can avoid the plate.

  • Izzy Mn

    Do you have foiled backed sheathing under your vinyl siding? Could foiled sheathing conduct electricity?

  • Ron Natalie

    Even in commercial buildings I've found things that were electrified that shouldn't be. I remember coming across a fire house where all the window frames were hot. Turns out the building had metal studs and no bushings were used.

  • CJ

    There is a foil-like paper under the vinyl ( I pulled up a piece of the vinyl successfully). That seems like a good explanation for how the current is running across a 30 foot wall. Since the voltage is higher is some areas (one window frame is 110v while the door 5 feet away is only 57v), is it likely that the highest voltage area is where the problem is?

  • Ron Natalie

    Most likely. The foil is probably not a tremendously low resistance conductor. This is probably the only thing that's keeping it from heating up enough to catch on fire (or at least damage the siding).

  • toxcrusadr


  • Izzy Mn

    My BIL built his house with all foam board sandwiched with that foil stuff, under vinyl siding. The cordless phones and baby monitors wouldn't get reception outside of house. I used to tease him that he doesn't need his tinfoil hat anymore to keep the government radio waves from penetrating his brain any longer since the whole house is foil wrapped. I had always wondered what other effect the foil stuff could have.

  • Ron Natalie

    It doesn't take much of a hole (a window, sliding door) to let RF leak at the VHF/UHF frequencies.

  • toxcrusadr

    My mom lives in a stucco house, which of course is totally wrapped in chicken wire. So the TV reception is terrible even though the antennas are 5000 ft. high on a mountain within line of sight. Well, except for the neighbor's trees, which wreak havoc with DTV reception even with an outdoor antenna.

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