Common Electrical Problems Around the Home
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Posted February 1, 2019
We’ve come a long way since the War of the Currents, a little over a century ago.
Look around you. Everything in your life runs on electricity. Even cars are now electric.
But with all the advancements — and there have been thousands — there are still some common electrical problems that everyone faces during their lifetime.
We’re not talking about your charger not working or your HVAC system acting funny. We mean electrical problems lurking within the walls of your home that cause recurring issues almost daily.
Do you need to hire an electrician for all of them? Maybe not.
We’re going over the 10 most common electrical problems around your home and what you can do to solve them.
1. Frequent Surges
Electrical surges result from a number of things. Summer storms and damaged power lines. Sometimes, even the power company is to blame.
A surge happens when there’s a massive jump in charge inside the power lines. This increases the potential electrical energy, which increases the current to your outlet.
Boom! Your TV’s off. Even if it’s just a second, frequent surges can damage your appliances and electronics.
Lighting is the most infamous troublemaker, but it’s not the number one reason for a power surge.
One lightning bolt can contain one billion volts of electricity. Ben Franklin’s lucky he made it out alive!
Around 200 cloud-to-ground strikes happen every second around the world. But the most common is sheet lighting, or “heat lightning.” That’s when you see flashes of lighting in the clouds.
It’s beautiful, but it’s also dangerous. When one of those bolts reaches the Earth, it sends out a tremendous amount of voltage. This causes the power lines to get an incredible surge.
But if you’re experiencing surges often that have nothing to do with lightning, you may have faulty wiring or an issue with your appliance.
Look throughout your home for cheap electronics. Maybe that DVD player you picked up from the flea market? Cheaper electronics use cheaper components.
Using a surge protector works most of the time. But, if you picked one up at Booth A19 for $2, it likely won’t do much.
In the case of a lightning strike, a surge protector can’t handle that so it’s best to unplug your laptop, console, TV, etc. during a storm.
If you do that and still experience surges, it’s definitely time to call an electrician.
2. Sags and Dips
No, this isn’t the latest viral dance craze. Sags and dips in power are closely related to surges.
Most of the time, it’s caused by a small appliance that, once again, should have stayed at Booth A19.
Power sags and dips are intermittent drops in voltage. They only last a second and is what’s otherwise known as “brown-outs.” This is when your lights dim and get bright again, without going off all the way.
Brown-outs also happen when you have too many large appliances running at the same time. They could be drawing too much from an outdated electric panel. Again, old or faulty wiring can also take some blame.
3. Overloaded Circuit
We’re not blaming the guy over at Booth A19 for this one. We won’t blame the weather or the wiring either.
You’re likely the reason for an overloaded circuit.
These occur when the amount of current flowing to an appliance or device exceeds what it can handle. Here’s how you could be causing this.
If your lamp is rated for a maximum 60watt bulb and you decide that’s not bright enough and put in a 100watt bulb, you’ve just overloaded the lamp.
Worst case scenario? The heat from the bulb melts the socket and insulation in the fixture wires. The wires spark and now you have an electrical fire.
If your lamp or fixture doesn’t list a max wattage, don’t go over 60. If you’re constantly resetting a tripped breaker, check to see what’s plugged into the circuit. If it’s a lamp, check the wattage and what bulb you’re using for it.
For the ladies — too many curling irons, flat irons, and hair dryers plugged in at once can also cause an overload. The biggest offender is probably your dryer, especially if it’s a high-output model. Trying using only one at a time and see if this helps the issue.
4. Uncovered Junction Boxes
An uncovered junction box is one of those hidden issues lurking inside your walls that you don’t think about. A junction box houses various wires and gets installed during construction. It can also get added with an electrical upgrade.
If you were to take apart a section of your wall, you’ll see a small plastic or metal box about 2″ x 3″. That’s your junction box, where a ROMEX wire runs from the main panel and joins up with other wires that then go to your fixtures.
This box should have a cover. If not, you could have some safety issues as a result.
The purpose of an enclosed box it to protect people from electrical shocks. It also prevents a fire from spreading that starts due to damaged wires.
5. Not Enough Outlets
You may not think having not enough outlets is an electrical issue. After all, that must mean that you can’t overload anything or have too much on a circuit, right?
Wrong. Here’s why.
When you move into a new house and notice the master bedroom only has one outlet, what do you do?
If you’re like most people, you get an outlet extender so you can plug in your TV, cable box, and lamp. Or, you go down to good ol’ booth A19 and buy a cheap extension cord.
The same thing goes for a dead outlet. You need power to that side of the room so you use an extension cord.
There’s a couple problems with this “fix.” The first is that most extension cords are for temporary use. You’re not supposed to use them as your No. 1 wiring option.
If using an extension cord is your permanent fix, you have to make sure you’re using at least a 14-gauge heavy-load extension cord or a UL-listed surge protector.
If you have every receptacle filled up or have a cheaper or even long extension cord, you’re at risk for an electrical fire. Not to mention, you could damage your devices.
Extension cord safety is no joke. Don’t daisy-chain two or more together or use them in an attic or crawl space. If you need more outlets, just call an electrician.
6. Overcircuited Panel
We went over how common overloaded circuits are and ways to avoid them. Let’s move on to another type of overloading: the panel.
An overloaded or over-circuited panel is very dangerous. It’s another fire hazard but it can also cause you harm, too.
Your electrical panel is set up to accommodate a set number of circuit breakers. These breakers fit into slots. You know how many yours holds by opening the panel door and looking (pretty simple, so far).
You determine the panel you need according to the maximum load capacity of your house. There was a time when a 60-amp service was enough. Today, it’s not.
For homes less than 3,000 square feet, a 100-amp service will work as long as you don’t have central AC or electric heat. If your house is at least 2,000 square feet and you do have central AC or electric heat, 200-amp is what you need.
Now, you can deduce that every slot holds a breaker. Except, sometimes people try and cheat the system and put a tandem breaker in a slot instead of two single-pole breakers.
There are also double-pole breakers. Here’s the difference: A single-pole looks like one switch. A double-pole looks like two together, or like a double switch.
You can open your panel right now and see which is which. But, if you see a tandem breaker? That’s a code violation.
A tandem breaker doesn’t take up two slots. It looks like two switches in the same cartridge.
This is how you over-circuit a panel. If you see this, call an electrician to add a sub-panel or replace the panel with one with a bigger load.
7. Breakers Tripping Often
We’ve mentioned it already, but your breaker tripping often is a clear indication of an electrical issue.
Appliances with a lot of wattage like microwaves and hairdryers trip breakers, right? Right. That’s because too many devices are drawing from the same source.
When your breaker trips, it’s actually a good thing. Just like in your bathroom and kitchen when your GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) needs to get reset. This means these things are doing their jobs.
One way to keep your breakers from tripping is to reduce the number of things drawing from the same source. Or, use lower settings.
If this doesn’t fix the problem, go ahead and call that electrician. There could be something with the panel itself or it could be faulty wiring.
8. Lights That Aren’t Right
Something as simple as your lights can let you know you have a bigger problem. As such, different lighting issues lead you to different culprits. We’ll go over the most common ones.
If some lights are brighter than others or some are dimmer than normal, you have one of two possible issues.
You could have different wattage. The fix? Make sure they’re all the same.
The other main issue is a bad neutral connection.
If you experience flickering lights, you could have frayed wiring. While this isn’t a code violation, it could start a fire.
If your lights flicker and it’s not a faulty light bulb or loose connection, call an electrician to check your wiring.
Lights Burning Out Often
There are several reasons your lights burn out before they should. If you replaced all light bulbs in a fixture at the same time, it’s logical that all three will burn out simultaneously.
But, it could be the light bulb batch. If you bought a multi-pack, all the bulbs could be faulty. But, there are few other culprits:
- The wattage is too high
- The insulation is close to the light source
- Bad wiring on the circuit or the mains
- Too much wattage on one dimmer switch
A poor connection on the circuit is another common issue. You can check this pretty easily.
If it’s a lamp, unplug it from the outlet and plug it into a receptacle on another circuit. If the light stays lit, you have a poor connection on the original circuit. If it goes out, you may have a problem with the fixture itself.
If the bulbs are going out in a stationary fixture, like in your kitchen or bathroom, you may need to test it with a multimeter. Or, call an electrician out to take a look.
9. Electrical Shocks
Electrical shocks are, unfortunately, common in homes with older electrical systems. One reason may be that you could have poor insulation. Another reason is that your wiring isn’t grounded.
Today’s electrical systems and codes are much safer than they were a few decades ago. If you have a home built in the last 20 years, you could still have wiring issues. But, it’s likely there’s something wrong with your appliance.
You can test the outlet with another small appliance. If you turn it on and get shocked, it’s the wiring. If you turn it on and you’re okay, it’s the appliance.
10. High Electric Bills
High electric bills are frustrating for everyone. You expect higher bills in the summer and winter for obvious reasons. Especially if you have electric, not gas, heat.
But, if you have unusually high bills during off-season, like spring or fall, there may be a sign there’s a bigger problem.
Use a digital or smart thermostat and program it to a higher temperature at night during the summer. Program it to start cooling down before everyone gets home. That way, you’re in a comfortable setting for enjoying family time.
In the winter, do the opposite. If no one’s home during the day, lower the temperature until an hour or so before everyone arrives.
If you suspect you have damaged circuits or wiring, go ahead and have an electrician take care of this. Not only is it potentially dangerous, but it’s costing you money.
Another way to lower your bill is to use surge protectors and GFCI outlets. These won’t allow too much electricity to get to your device, which not only saves you in electricity but it protects your appliance.
How Do You Solve These Common Electrical Problems?
The easiest way to solve these electrical problems is to call a licensed electrician. While some things you can do on your own — like making sure the light bulbs are the proper wattage — most things involving electricity should only get handled by a trained and licensed electrician.
If you have older wiring, like aluminum, the safest thing for you and your family is to have your system updated. Give us a call.
If you’d like some gift-giving ideas, check out our suggestions for the top 5 smart home gifts.