Common Electrical Problems
The Electrical Safety Foundation International reports each year in the U.S., more than 50,000 accidents happen each year due to poor electrical service and worn out systems in homes. Moreover, it is reported that electrical fires result in property damages that sum up to approximately 1.4 billion per year.
To prevent becoming part of these alarming statistics, homeowners need to ensure that they replace light switches and various electrical devices before they can cause harmful electrical problems. Although they may be able to do it themselves, hiring an electrician to do it properly is strongly recommended when addressing some of the common electrical problems that may arise in a home, including the following:
This happens when more amperage passes across a circuit of electrical wiring than it was designed to handle. If the electrical wire is rated at 15 amps and is protected by a 15 amp breaker, but one connects it to a 20 amp breaker, if the load demand exceeds 15 amps, the breaker may not trip and the wire will heat up and could start an electrical fire.
Intermittent Problems like Power Outages
When you experience intermittent power outages in sections of, or throughout the entire house, it could mean that there is a loose connection somewhere in the circuit or at the panel. The most common cause of flickering lights or power outages that magically come back on by themselves, is most often caused by a loose backstab connection at a switch or at a receptacle. Although legal, backstabbed connections are NOT recommended by professional electricians. Connect wires to the side screws on the devise. Do NOT stick them in the back stab holes! If there is more than one wire being attached, pigtail all wires together into one wire using a wire nut. It would be a good idea to replace all the switches and receptacles to ensure optimal electrical service in the home. Removing light fixtures and checking splices for melted wire nuts (plastic connectors) is also recommended to prevent or fix flickering lights and outages. Melted wire nuts may also cause an electrical fire without tripping the breaker. Breakers will only trip in an “overloaded” or a “dead short” situation.
When a circuit becomes overloaded, the breaker trips off because more current is running through the circuit than it was designed to carry. You will have to go to the electrical panel or switchboard and identify the tripped circuit breaker. (Note: it will be turned off or in-between on and off.) Simply turn it completely off and then turn it back on. If it trips off again, find the cause by locating the overload or short and turn the breaker on again. If it trips immediately, do not try to keep resetting it! Call an electrical service.
Breaker Won’t Reset
This can happen for several reasons, so you must first investigate the circuit breaker and make sure it is fine. Reasons why this could be happening include:
- You are not taking the right steps to reset the breaker. You have to first push the handle of the breaker completely into the off position, and then turn it back on, similar to a light switch. Some are up and down, most are from right to left or left to right.
- It is an overloaded circuit. When it trips off, it may not reset immediately, and you will have to wait a few minutes until it cools down. If it does reset, then it could mean that you have an overload and you need to check which outlets are affected and maybe move some appliances to a different circuit. This situation occurs in kitchens more often. OR, it could mean that your breaker is bad & needs replacing. Many breakers still in use today are obsolete and dangerous. Zinsco / Sylvania and Federal Pacific brand circuit breakers are considered to be dangerous. They have a high rate of failure when they are supposed to trip. Have your panel replaced.
- It might be a short circuit situation. You need to clear the short, locates somewhere in the wiring and reset the breaker. This usually requires a professional electrician to locate the short.
- The breaker is faulty. If everything else is working properly, it may mean there is a problem with the breaker and it needs replacement.
- My breaker does not move side to side.
Sometimes your panel may have a certain brand of breaker called a Push-A-Matic. These were made by the Bulldog company are obsolete. To reset the breaker, they have to be pushed back in several times. Have your panel replaced.
You may have an overload somewhere if your lights begin to dim and then brighten up again. Be sure to check the circuit to which your lights are connected and confirm that no other appliances are affected. Improper wiring and corroded or loose wires can also be a cause of dim lights. Alternatively, there might be a problem with the power grid because of bad weather – you will need to call an electrician for possible electrical service and repair to make sure the problem is not at your end. Wires from the utility where they connect to the building may be loose or worn as well.
Like dimming lights, flickering lights can also be due to corroding wires or poor light fittings. Your area could be experiencing fluctuating voltage. Call in a professional electrical service and repair company to help you detect the problem and replace fittings wherever the need arises. Check with your neighbors first and determine if they are experiencing the same issues. It could be a power company issue. An electrician will charge you for the call-out and tell you to call the power company.
No Power in the Entire House
If the MAIN breaker is faulty, it could prevent the power supply to the entire circuit panel. If this is the case, the main breaker would need replacement. When doing so, be sure that there is power supply coming in both before and after replacing it. You will need to inspect the bus bar to make sure it is in good condition. To do this, you will have to pull the electrical meter out. Only the power company is allowed to perform this task, but a licensed electrician can do it if it isn’t locked. If power doesn’t turn on after replacing the main breaker, then there is a problem with the meter box or supply lines. Call an electrician in to help you out.
No Power in a Section of house
If there is no power in just a section of the house, the cause could be a tripped breaker due or a loose stab lock situation. Locate the problem and retry by turning the breaker on. If power goes off again, there could be a problem with the breaker and it might need replacement. However, the number one cause of power loss in sections of the house, is a loose stab lock connection on a receptacle. That could be the case if the breaker is sending power into the house, but the lights are still off. It could also be a loose splice / melted wire nut in any light fixture outlet. Lighting outlets usually serve as a junction box for power in and power out to other outlets.
This can be a cause for alarm and needs immediate attention! Common causes of a buzzing or humming sound can be that the breaker is overloaded and failing to trip. Turn it off! You need to repair or replace the breaker to avoid overheating and an electric fire. Another cause can be sparking due to connection problems. Once you turn off the breaker the buzzing should stop. If it doesn’t stop, turn off the main breaker. You’ll need to call for help because the electrician will have to cut off power supply before working on your panel. It’s likely that the electrician will need to check the circuit’s wiring for heat related damage.
A burning smell is likely from any device connected to a circuit with an electrical overload problem. Otherwise, if you have checked everything and all is well, you need to check the main switchboard or circuit breakers. Sometimes, there may be no buzzing sound, but wires might be burning up. Call a professional to provide you with electrical service. Fluorescent lighting ballasts will also produce a burning smell when they go bad and will also leak a black, oily substance into the fixture. That’s what you smell. The lamps will usually have stopped working by this time. Switch to ballast free LED fluorescent replacement lamps and never have to replace a ballast or lamp again.
Sparks coming from outlet
When an outlet gets overloaded, it may spark. This may be visible and be accompanied with a burning smell. The cause of this could be an overload or a bad connection, and if the circuit breaker did not turn off on its own, you will need to shut it off. Check the panel and turn off the power supply to that outlet’s circuit. It might just be a problem with the devise itself, but it is advised that you call a local electrical service because it may be necessary to check & replace all devices throughout the house using the pigtail wiring method. Stab lock connections are the number one cause of this occurrence.
To avoid such electrical problems, inspect your electrical connections often, and have an electrical service upgrade your panel, breakers and other devices throughout the entire house. Be safe. Sleep well at night knowing you’ve done everything electrically possible to ensure your wiring, your home, and your family are completely safe!