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Common Electrical Problems That May Require Troubleshooting

Sep 12, 2020

Electricity is a serious business. When something goes wrong with one’s home electric service, some homeowners may feel tempted to save themselves a few dollars and attempt to fix the issues themselves, but that could be a costly and dangerous mistake.

Even the most uncomplicated electrical problem may represent a bigger, more intricate electrical mess that the most dedicated weekend warriors can’t fix all by themselves. More to the point, novices that work with wiring expose themselves to the chance of accidents that can seriously injure, or even kill them, or their families.

Common problems that need pro electrical troubleshooting

Electrical problems that look like an easy fix from a distance may be far more complicated than they seem. Some of the most common electrical issues that only a professional electrician should handle include:

  • Lighting issues. If the lights throughout your home frequently fade or go off and on repeatedly and you’re sure they’re all screwed in tightly, there may be circuit overload issues, faulty wiring, or other complex issues that only a professional can take care of. Modern light bulbs are built to last much longer than ever before, especially if they’re LED or compact fluorescent lights. You should get upwards of 1,000 hours of usage from most household bulbs. If you’re finding yourself frequently changing burned-out lights, there may be a bigger electrical problem on your hands.
  • Malfunctioning or dead outlets. Outlets that don’t work properly, or that don’t work at all are more than just an inconvenience. They could pose a significant fire risk. When the power from your outlets is erratic or non-existent, it’s crucial to get a better look at the underlying problem from a qualified electrician.
  • Repeated circuit breaker trips. In appliance-heavy households, there’s always a risk of demanding too much in terms of power and performance. Overloaded circuits that go out often may need a significant upgrade or may have certain problems that need a more comprehensive solution than simply unplugging or restricting the use of power-hogging appliances.
  • Old or outdated wiring. There are still a lot of old houses with electrical systems that were designed to handle much less power than consumers use today. Even relatively newer homes may have wiring and electric designs that fall short of the requirements of constantly updating electrical codes and regulations. Rewiring a house is never something that an amateur should try to handle on their own.
  • Warm or hot switches or outlets. A high-temperature outlet or switch doesn’t always indicate signs of a pending fire hazard. But it probably involves something that’s happening behind the wall it’s on, which will require the expertise of a professional that knows how to get into the wall and put it back together.
  • Limited power. Widespread power outages that affect a large area are common and, if there are no adverse climate conditions present, usually something power companies repair fairly quickly. But if you’re the only home on your block that’s experiencing recurrent or long-running power shortages or outages, there’s something a professional electrician needs to check out.
  • Water issues. Moisture and electricity are two things that do not mix well. Power systems are specifically built and retrofitted to prevent any accumulation of water and to restrict even the most passive intake of liquid. Any problems you’re having with electricity-related to standing water or continued exposure of electrical elements to moisture need service from a professional electrician.

Warning signs that you may need electrical troubleshooting

Most residents, of course, don’t have backgrounds extensive enough to repair complex electrical issues, but they can tell when something’s wrong. Some of the most telling signs that your house needs electrical work include the following.

  • Power surges or dips. If your home or office power is inconsistent, it needs to be addressed. Common signs that you’ve experienced a power surge include flashing digits on items like clock radios or time-based electronics, tripped circuit breakers or safety switches, and frequent resets, failing, breaking, or “bricking” on common devices.
  • Warm or hot outlet plates or covers. If any surface around the area of a wall socket or power outlet feels unseasonably warm or hot, something is happening that only a professional can resolve.
  • Shocks. If you get shocks from contact with your home appliances or common metal surfaces, it may indicate the presence of bad wiring, outdated electrical systems, or moisture. The more you overlook or play down these little jolts, the bigger risk you take of developing a much bigger issue.
  • Burning smells. If acrid or sharp odors come from your outlet, they need to be addressed immediately. Unplug everything that’s connected to it and call a professional. In a sense, this is a lucky thing, since many electrical problems happen without any noticeable smells whatsoever. If you do smell something, that’s a sure sign that you need to address it quickly.
  • Sparking outlets, circuit breakers, or fuse boxes. If sparks are emitting from a power outlet where an appliance is plugged in, unplug it immediately. The fault may rest in the appliance itself rather than a bigger electrical problem, but if it’s happening with multiple appliances it’s a more widespread electrical issue. Your circuit breakers and fuse boxes should never spark at all — if they do, you need to call in a professional.
  • Flickering or dimming lights. Most of the time a single flickering or inconsistent light probably indicates that it just needs to be changed. But if multiple lights are flickering, or if a new light flickers in the spot it just replaced, it may mean that there is a more serious problem.
  • Frequent bulb burnouts or changes. If you find yourself replacing a lot of light bulbs far more often than you should, the problem may not simply be overusing your lights. It could be a socket that’s not tight enough or some construction flaw that’s causing certain lights to overheat and automatically shut off. 
  • Strange sounds coming from circuit breakers. Electricity is supposed to be relatively quiet. If you occasionally hear a gentle hum, it might not be anything to worry about. But if the buzzing or humming gets louder or more frequent, the situation most likely requires professional attention.

Things to do before and during the electrician works on your power

  • Unplug all devices in the affected area. Chances are you’ve already done this if you’ve encountered a smoking, sparking, or bad-smelling outlet. For additional safety, clear out all the appliances from nearby outlets along the same wall or in the same room as your malfunctioning outlet.
  • Clear all objects out of the way. The electrician needs quick and easy access to the outlets or circuit breakers they’ll be repairing. Shift furniture or equipment around so they’ll be able to get to the area they’ll be working on.
  • Be prepared to answer the electrician’s questions. Get ready to explain all the symptoms and issues that you’ve been having with your electrical equipment. Try to remember as much as you can — even the most seemingly insignificant detail could give the electrician a vital clue as to what the underlying problem is.
  • Warn the electrician about possible risks. Especially with moisture or water-related issues with your electricity, make sure you’ve informed the repairperson of possible hazards so they can take appropriate precautions before they start working.
  • Ask for suggestions and advice. Even if your electrician has found the source of the problem and successfully repaired it, there might be some things you can do to extend the life of your electric appliances after they’ve left – whether it’s changing usage habits, investing in more efficient lighting, or some other course of action. They should be more than happy to help you find ways to reduce the chances of unnecessary visits in the future.

Top electrical problems and their most common resolutions

Electrical surges. Power surges happen when electric flow suddenly stops and restarts. They can also happen when a device resends electric power back through the circuit. Most of the time surges happen inside the home, usually during the process of turning something on or off, as power needs to be redirected to another appliance.

Heavy items like air conditioners or refrigerators frequently cause surges, but sometimes smaller items do as well – how many times have you seen the bathroom light dim quickly after you’ve turned on the hairdryer? But the cause can also be outside the home, such as when a tree branch comes into contact with power lines, or lightning strikes a local transformer. Power surges also happen often when power is restored after an outage.

Many times, the problem lies in ancient or outdated wiring or a faulty circuit breaker. An electrician needs to take care of those issues since power surges can cause harm to your appliances.

Power dips, sags, or swells. Voltage dips happen when an outlet reduces its power load by 10% or more. Like power surges, they frequently occur when an appliance is turned on or off. Common surges and swells may be caused by wiring systems that have degraded, need to be updated, or have loose connections.

Overloaded circuits. Heavy use of extension cords or multi-outlet power strips can put an excess of power on your circuit breaker or fuses that it won’t be able to handle. This results in circuit breaker tripping or fuses being burned out or rendered inoperable. It can also cause your extension cords to overheat. Other problems can happen if a user tries to replace a blown fuse with a  higher-amp fuse, which is an extremely dangerous thing to do. If you still have a fuse box, call and ask about upgrading today!

Uncovered junction box. A junction box holds all the wires that are spliced together, typically held into place with a heavy-duty plastic cover. When a junction box loses its cover, it can present a fire hazard. They are designed to contain fires from bad connections. You’ll need a new cover, and your electrician will know exactly what kind will fit the junction box, so it won’t pose a threat.

Inconsistent lights. Dimming or flickering lights could be a warning sign that your electrical connections aren’t tight enough. Unsecured connections can create more resistance, which causes overheating and raises the risk of fire damage. Your lighting may also flicker because of voltage fluctuations, especially when another major appliance gets plugged in and turned on. Again, the problem may rest with the structure or amperage capacity of your electrical system. An electrician can diagnose and resolve the problem.

Inconsistent recessed lighting. Recessed lights, which are lighting configurations that are installed into a ceiling opening, are directly wired into components housed on the other side of the ceiling, which means you can’t access them without a lot of effort. Many of these lights are safeguarded to turn off automatically if they get overheated. This can happen when insulation or other building material is touching the fixture behind the light, which prevents the apparatus from maintaining even temperature levels. It could also be a defective temperature sensor.

If you’re sure you’re using bulbs with the right wattage for your recessed light fixture, an electrician needs to come out and check the structure beneath the ceiling or look at the lighting fixture itself.

Tripping circuit breaker. When power shuts off in only one or two rooms in your home, the problem can be a tripped circuit breaker. This, again, happens with excessive power usage, which can exceed the maximum amperage capacity of the circuit breaker and cause circuits to trip. Oftentimes, this can be fixed quickly, but it might also indicate the presence of a short circuit or ground fault. Both of these situations can only be handled by a qualified electrician.

Not enough outlets. Lots of older homes were built during times when electric appliances weren’t nearly as common as they are today. They, therefore, don’t all have a sufficient number of electrical outlets to handle all your power needs, especially if they were built during the 1940s or earlier. If they do have outlets, many of these old homes may not have outlets that provide the third slot for the grounding plug that’s common on many appliances.

Using additional extension cords or power strips may solve this issue – but they can also lead to power overloads, circuit breaker malfunction, and possible fire hazards. If your house suffers from a lack of available outlets, hire an electrician to add more of them safely. They may need to change some of your internal wiring structure to accommodate the new power sources.,

Electric shocks. Minor shocks from electricity aren’t usually fatal – but if it happens in your home, it may indicate a growing threat that can result in more significant and deadly electrocution. The problem may be centered on faulty or ancient outlets, poor wiring, inadequate GFCI protection, or a submerged power source that comes into contact with moisture more frequently than electricity should, which is seldom. An electrician can root out the source and advise you what steps to take. If you are experiencing any issues with electrical shock, call an electrician ASAP.

Lack of a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters. A GFCI is a kind of sensor that stops an electrical circuit to help prevent shock-related injuries that occur when electricity passes through the human body down to the earth. The device is calibrated to respond to leaking currents that can cause electric shock. All bathroom outlets, kitchen counter outlets, outdoor outlets, or any other outlets within 6 ft of a sink or in an unfinished basement are required to have GFCI protection. It might not be obvious to tell whether or not you have proper GFCI protection. The GFCI protection may be located in your circuit breaker or in a GFCI outlet, so an electrician is the one to call for detection and installation if it’s required. They also have electronic circuits that can go bad over time and need to be checked by an electrician. Pressing the test button does not always indicate that they are functioning properly.

High electric bills. Of course, high electric bills are usually the result of your using an excessive amount of power. But if your utility charges take off suddenly without a significant change in your power profile, there may be mechanical problems that are making your electric system work harder than it should. There could even be a problem with the meter itself. If your meter is malfunctioning, it’s important to notify the power company that it’s broken. An electrician can check if the house is leaking power and correct the problem.

Aluminum wiring. Between about 1965 and 1973, many houses were constructed using aluminum as the material for wires instead of the now-standard copper. This poses a few significant safety risks, some of which have resulted in fires, acute injury, and death. The problem happens at connection points that overheat because more fragile aluminum causes more resistance and heat than much stronger copper wiring.

Aluminum wiring isn’t yet illegal, but if your house has it, you may be subject to higher insurance premiums. Your electrician can, if it’s feasible, replace the aluminum wiring with copper. If that’s not possible, they can install copper crimps with a special sleeve to prevent overheating. Only electricians have the tools necessary to do that successfully.

Call Aardvark Electric Inc. for expert electrical troubleshooting

Aardvark Electric Inc. helps take the worries off the shoulders of Atlanta area homeowners with professional and thorough electric servicing that’s effective, affordable, and safe. Contact us to learn how we can help.