30 Aug Tips to Avoid & Address Common Electrical Problems(Last Updated On: August 30, 2018)
Every homeowner understands issues occur. For some home-related issues, such as a clogged toilet, DIY options exist. However, for other issues, such as electrical problems, generally professional technicians need to address issues.
Why do electrical problems require more professional assistance? The simple answer is danger. After all, any electrical work deals with electricity that can seriously injury a novice. For example, industry experts explain how a wiring project can go wrong without the required experience.
“A faulty wiring system in a home is a fire that is waiting to happen. For this reason, it is important that you hire a highly qualified and experienced electrician. Wiring is a vast and interdependent network and needs to be done with precision. Even circuits that appear safe, but poorly designed cause damage to electric equipment and appliance motors. This is due to the fact that they can deliver the wrong amount of amperage. These electrical problems may sometimes affect your lighting in your home. The decision to hire a qualified and experienced electrician can possibly save you from these problems while avoiding safety hazards as well.”
Yet, homeowners still need to understand common electrical problems because everyone should know what they can tackle and what requires professional help. As a result, the following outlines many common electrical problems and projects. As always, when working on any home project, but in particular, electrical work, please contact a professional (SolvIt or another trusted company) when help is needed.
Lighting Repair & General Electrical Problems
Burned out light bulbs remains one of the most common home electrical problems. And this remains one of the easiest DIY projects. However, for other lighting repairs, such as a new lighting installation, professional assistance remains necessary.
For example, many home improvement projects revolve around additional lighting. In order to avoid electrical problems in the future, the following projects require professional installation:
- Adding Dimmers, Switches, Plugs and/or Outlets
- Wiring a Ceiling Fan
- Adding Recessed, Outdoor and/or Security Lights
- Wiring an additional Lighting Fixture
- Installing a Home Theater
If any homeowner decides to tackle an electrical project, then consider hiring an experienced electrician to review your work through wiring inspections.
Along those lines, another common electrical problem occurs when too much power usage pulls from the electrical panel. For example, if additional outlets are added to your home (or even appliances or devices that require more electricity), then watch out for a blown fuse.
Avoid a Blown Fuse
Most likely, everyone has experienced a blown fuse. For example, if you flip on a light switch and the light doesn’t turn on, it’s likely a blown fuse.
“Frequently, a blown fuse means bits of melted metal inside the fuse or discoloring in the glass window at the top of the fuse. If you’re still unsure if you’ve blown a fuse, you can try replacing the suspected damaged fuse with one you know is working correctly and if power is restored, then your problem is solved. Another way to test for a blown fuse is to use a tool called a multimeter, and connect the fuse to the multimeter to check for resistance. If there is resistance showing on the reader, the fuse is blown, and if no resistance registers then the fuse should still be good.”
To fix your issue, replace the fuse.
The first step in replacing a blown fuse requires you to check the amperage rating of the fuse you need to replace. After ensuring that the device that may have tripped the fuse is unplugged or turned off, you’ll next need to unscrew the blown fuse (or pull out the cartridge), removing it from the fuse box. Take the new fuse out of the package and screw or slide it into the empty hole. That’s it. Your power should now be restored. Be sure to dispose of your blown fuse according to local bylaws.
However, if the fuse continues to blow, then you will likely need to reduce the load or check for shorts on that particular circuit in order to fix the issue. This requires the skill and expertise of a qualified electrical professional and is not something homeowners should undertake themselves.
Electrical Panel Upgrade
Increasingly, we add more and more electrical devices into our homes. As a result, as homeowners, we must continuously adapt our systems. If not, then electrical problems result because our electrical panels do not contain the capacity to support all of our powered devices.
Safety remains a primary reason for upgrading your electrical service. For example, many homes in New England contain fuse boxes and electrical panels that are 50 years old or older. As a result, the age of these electrical panels creates a safety issues because many old circuit breakers fail to trip when required. Therefore, these homes create a potential fire hazard as heat builds up possibly breaking down components of your wiring, which could lead to a home fire.
Avoid Federal Pacific Electrical Panels or Breaker Boxes
Federal Pacific Electrical panels are a type of electrical panel made by the Federal Pacific Electrical Company. Other names for a Federal Pacific Electrical panel include Federal Pacific Electrical breaker box or FPE Stab-Lok breaker. Between the 1950s and 1980s, home installed millions of these panels.
The problem with FPE panels is that after decades of being installed in people’s homes, it was eventually discovered that FPE falsified their testing data for Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) certifications. So, these panels did not meet the rigid National Electrical Code safety requirements. This means that unsafe breakers were (and still are) in many American homes. The UL eventually delisted nearly every FPE breaker for a period of time as a result.
Obvious signs that you have a defective Federal Pacific Electrical panel are:
- scorch marks on the box.
- loose breaker switches.
- burn marks.
“In addition, the Consumer Product Safety Commission tested many FPE breaker boxes and found unacceptably high failure rates. Nearly every breaker tested exhibited some sort of defect. In fact, nearly one third had some sort of potentially dangerous breaker defect. The defects mean that when a surge or other power issue, (such as a short circuit) occurs, the breaker does not properly trip. The breaker may become jammed, or may appear to have tripped, but the contacts remain closed, completing the circuit. This results in wires overheating, creating a dangerous fire hazard.”
If you know for certain or believe that you have a Federal Pacific Electrical panel installed in your home, do not hesitate to contact a trusted, qualified electrician in your area for an evaluation and remediation.
GFCI Won’t Reset
Since their incorporation into the National Electrical Code in 1971, GFCIs have saved thousands of lives and reduced home electrocutions by 50%!
Ground fault circuit interrupters (or GFCI) are electrical safety devices that trip electrical circuits when they detect ground faults or leakage currents. Essentially, GFCIs protect people from severe or fatal electric shocks by constantly monitoring the current flowing through a circuit by measuring the current flowing into the circuit compared to the returning current.
The manufacturer’s instructions provides the best GFCI testing method. However, the general testing follows:
- Plug a lamp into the outlet and turn the lamp on.
- Press the GFCI’s test button.
Did the light go out? If not, the GFCI is not working or has not been correctly installed and you should contact a qualified electrician to correct the wiring and/or replace the defective GFCI.
If the light went out, press the reset button.
Did the light come back on? If not, replace the GFCI. If the light came back on, then the GFCI is working appropriately.
Do you have any questions? SolvIt is ready to answer any questions or help install any GFCIs, so please feel free to contact SolvIt today.
Rewiring a House
Fortunately, there is some good news because there there are some warning signs that help homeowners avoid faulty wiring, which creates additional electrical problems. Plus, by detecting faulty wiring early, homeowners help avoid devastating fires and avoid the nuisance of flickering lights and inconsistent electrical performance. Warning signs include:
- Dimming or flickering lights.
- Frequently blown circuit breakers or fuses.
- Charred or darkened outlets and/or switches.
- Hot ceiling fixtures.
- Light switches and/or outlets that emit shocks.
- Burning smells.
For certain issues, we, as homeowners, contribute towards these electrical problems. For example, multiple extension cords connected together create problems. Additionally, overloading electrical outlets are man-made problems that can be rectified. Homeowners should note a few notable wiring issues, such as:
- Too few outlets, relying on multiple extension cords and power strips.
- No GFCIs (particularly in areas such as the kitchen and bathroom).
- Frayed wiring.
- Damaged or bent electrical plugs.
- Ungrounded receptacles.
- Uncovered junction boxes.
Homeowners without electrical experience should never attempt to replace their home’s wiring on their own. There are many building codes, industry standards, and safety considerations. Qualified electricians follow these standards when working with electrical wiring and electrical panels. However, it is possible to remedy these potential electrical problems.
“For example, lightening the load on individual receptacles, repairing or replacing frayed wiring address basic concerns. Plus, cover all receptacles and junction boxes, along with installing GFCIs where applicable. Once you’ve addressed these issues, you should follow safe electrical practices. Additionally, ensure your family members understand the dangers of risky behaviors.”
3 Way Switch Wiring
More often than not, homes contain the standard 2 way switch. However, for certain hallways or staircases, a 3 way switch makes the most sense. As the Family Handyman notes, 3 way switch wiring is more complicated, but pays off in convenience.
“With a pair of 3-way switches, either switch can make or break the connection that completes the circuit to the light. The whole wiring a light switch project can be completed in a few hours if you don’t have to do any drywall removal and repair.”
For experienced DIY homeowners, the following overview provides the basic process. However, as always, contact a professional for any work out of your expertise.
- Turn off the correct circuit at your electrical panel.
- Add an electrical box for the second 3 way switch.
- Feed a length of 14-3 type NM cable (or 12-3, if you’re connecting to 12-gauge wire) between the two boxes. The 14-3 cable has three insulated conductors: white, black and red (plus a bare ground wire).
- Connect the wires to the new 3 way switches with ground screws.
- Wrap black electrical tape around the ends of all white wires that act as travelers between the 3 way switches.
Light Switch Wiring
If any light switch fails to work properly, it requires replacement. To replace a single-pole light switch, the experts at dummies.com provides an overview.
First, identify if the switch possesses an “on” and “off” on its body. Is this the only switch that controls lights or receptacle? If so, it is a single-pole switch. Next, follow these basic instructions:
- Turn off power to switch at main circuit breaker or fuse panel.
- Unscrew and remove the switch plate.
- Use a voltage tester and ensure no power goes to the circuit.
- Unscrew the switch from the electrical box.
- Pull out the electrical box with the wires attached.
Two or three wires will be attached to the switch: an incoming hot wire, which is black; a return wire, which carries the load to the fixture and may be black, red, or any other color except green; and sometimes a grounding wire, which is green or bare copper.
Although other wires may be in the box, focus on the wires directly connected to the switch. Plus, some boxes contain a white wire with black tape on it connected to the switch. The tape indicates that the white wire is being used as a black or colored wire in the switch leg, which means it is not neutral.
- Compare the new switch with the old switch.
- Attach the first wire you unscrew to the same-colored screw on the new switch as it was on the old; do the same with the second.
- Connect the wire to a terminal by stripping off about 1/2 inch of insulation (use a wire stripper).
- Twist the end into a clockwise loop with long-nose pliers.
- The loop must wrap at least two-thirds but no more than three-quarters of the way around the terminal screw.
- Hook the wire clockwise around the screw.
- Gently push the new, wired switch back into the electrical box and screw it in place.
- Screw on the switch plate and turn on the power.
Please remember, if the process becomes confusing or you are unsure of the next step, always contact a professional.
There are a few signs that an electrical outlet (or receptacle) requires replacement. For example, if the outlet shows any of the following signs, it needs replacing.
- Cracked and/or Broken
- Slots Don’t Grip Plug
- Outlet Doesn’t Work
Although replacing an electrical outlet is a possible DIY activity, if you’re not comfortable working with electricity, hire an electrician.
- Turn off the power to the outlet at the circuit breaker or fuse box.
- Remove the cover plate.
- Test the power supply and ensure the power is off.
- Disconnect and separate the wires.
- Prepare wire ends by bending them into a hook shape.
- Connect the wires.
“Connect the power-supply wires to the terminals marked “line” and the load wires to the terminals marked “load.” Connect the white wires to the silver screws and the black wires to the brass or gold screws. Make sure the wire wraps clockwise around the terminal screw so the wire pulls tighter as the screw tightens. The outlet may also indicate appropriate color connections.”
Next, ground the outlet by twisting the two bare copper ground wires together with a short length of bare copper wire (approximately 10″).
“Cap the twisted together wires with a wire nut. Connect the short length of bare ground wire to the green screw on the GFCI outlet. If the receptacle box is metal and the old outlet was grounded to the box with a single short length of copper wire or wire with green insulation, simply re-attach this grounding wire to the GFCI outlet.”
Finally, install and test the outlet.
“Gently tuck the wires into the outlet box and push the GFCI outlet into the box, screw it into place, and attach the cover plate. Turn the power back on at the circuit-breaker box.”
SolvIt Helps Resolve Electrical Problems
At SolvIt, we tend to think we provide excellent electrical services and peace of mind for our customers that the job will be done right. We stand behind our techs and work, but understand we might not be the best fit for everyone.
However, it is always best to hire an electrical contractor to help you perform a safety check in your home. Hiring a professional trained on the electrical safety equipment provides reassurances for protecting your family.
We think it’s SolvIt because we employ Connecticut’s best electricians and provide professional electrical installations and repairs along with our excellent customer service. SolvIt is here to fulfill your emergency electric needs 24/7. For any questions or electrical needs, contact us today!