What’s that smell?

I came down to the kitchen yesterday morning to find an odd smell in the air, it was a chemical type mess not unlick TCP or Dettol. The smell was coming from our under stairs cupboards which houses or electrical meter, fuse board/consumer unit, our gas meter and some random rubbish that does not have another home.

The Story

It wasn’t a gas smell, so I ruled out the gas meter. In case it was related to something being stored in the cupboard I cleaned everything out and aired out the space for a couple hours. But the smell remained.

After a lot of Googling myself and my wife came to the assumption it must be something electrical, some people also describe it as a fishy sort of smell. Our consumer unit / fuse box was fairly new, we had that upgraded and replaced four years ago. But the electric meter and another Bakelite box that the main wire coming into the house feeds into. They where original to the house, we live in the UK in a 1950’s property so a good 70 years old.

Mains incoming wire => Bakelite box => Electric meter => Consumer unit

In the UK the main feed into the house and anything before you consumer unit/fuse box is owned by the UK Power Networks. You can dial them on 105 from a UK landline or mobile.

So I gave 105 a call and the call centre agent seemed to have herd this story many times before. She advised us to reduce our electrical usage immediately and especially not use any high demand appliances such as the oven and showed. She arranged for an engineer to come out to us that evening, this was at around 5pm. My son was not best pleased that I tuned off the internet and the PlayStation was out of bounds.

Come 7pm the engineer arrived and immediately said that is an electrical fault smell and went to work.

What was the cause?

The Bakelite box contained the main fuse (didn’t know that was thing) and more wire than was actually required.

The wires in this Bakelite box had started to melt and two or then were actually now stuck together with just the smallest amount of insulation between them now remaining. The terminals inside this box were also all melted. A potential house fire event averted!

So the engineer made everything safe, but we couldn’t go back to normal yet. Two hours later a couple more vans from UK Power turned up and these engineers cut out the old Bakelite box and replaced it with the 21st century equivariant.

So if you electricals are ever giving off a chemical smell such as TCP, Dettol or a fishy smell get them checked immediately! And it should go without saying but make sure you have smoke detectors and they are tested regularly

I don’t know why now, maybe it was just age or maybe just not up to 21st century living.


We had always noticed that when switching on the shower the light in the master bedroom would momentarily dim, it doesn’t anymore. It had done this this we moved in over 12 years ago.

For the last two weeks we had a couple of lights flicker a little, I thought the bulbs we on the way out. But a little odd for two at the same time. Both seem fine now.

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