Troubleshooting Home Electrical Problems

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What You'll Need
Light bulb

Troubleshooting home electrical problems can be a serious headache. Between outlets that suddenly stop working to flickering lights, many homeowners do not know where to start when facing electrical issues. Luckily, the majority of electrical problems in the home are fairly easy to fix. Here is a quick guide on how to troubleshoot common home electrical problems and get your system up and running in no time.

Outlet Stops Working

There are quite a few reasons why an outlet might stop working. The first thing to check is if there is a surge protector on the outlet itself. If that isn’t tripped, then the next place to look is the breaker box. If there's no breaker tripped in the box, then it’s possible one of the wires to the outlet has come loose. Before investigating any further, switch OFF the circuit breaker to that outlet to prevent any accident or arm from the electrical wires. Wires that are pushed into the back of receptacles and switches can work themselves out over time. To fix this, remove the cover plate and outlet from the wall. If you notice any loose wires, pull them out and attach them to the terminals on the side of the receptacle. The terminal screws will hold the wires tighter and prevent them from loosening.

Overlamping

A woman replacing a light bulb in a lamp.

Overlamping happens when a high wattage bulb is used in a low wattage light fixture. Not only is this is a code violation, but it’s also a very dangerous situation. The heat from the bulb can melt the wires in the fixture, which could lead to an arc and fire. To fix this, use only bulbs that are rated for the fixture. If the fixture was made prior to 1985, stick with 60-watt or lower bulbs.

Flickering Lights

If your indoor lights flicker whenever it's windy outside, then you probably have frayed wires in the outdoor fitting, also referred to as the weatherhead. Gusts of wind move and shift the worn wires, which results in an unstable connection and arcing. Flickering lights can be pretty annoying, but they also present a potential fire hazard. Replacing the weatherhead will fix this issue, and some utility companies will do it for little to no charge.

Not Enough Outlets

A lot of cords plugged into an outlet and a power strip.

Not having enough outlets is a common problem in older homes. Houses older than 10 to 15 years were not built to handle modern power needs. Many homeowners get around this problem by using too many power strips and extension cords. The use of heavy-duty cords may help, but only if the circuit is wired with 12AWG wire right from the electrical panel. Another safer solution is to install more outlets. For DIYers, you can save a lot of money by cutting the holes for the extra outlets and running wire.

Circuit Overloads

A man checking out a circuit breaker.

There are a few reasons why your circuit breaker might trip. Plugging in too many high wattage devices is an easy way to trip a breaker, as is overloading the power boards. A lot of homes, regardless of when they were built, are not equipped to handle large amounts of power in one location. This is problematic if you need to, for instance, plug in a large entertainment center with multiple power cables. Apart from adding more power points to your breaker, one solution is to unplug any electrical devices that are not used on a regular basis. You should also avoid daisy-chaining power cords or worst yet, power bars, and avoid to plug in everything at one outlet.

Bulbs Burning Out Quickly

There are few things more annoying than having to replace light bulbs faster than you can buy them. Fortunately, getting to the bottom of why your lights are not lasting as long as they should is a fairly straightforward process. For starters, light bulbs that are handled roughly, jarred or shaken, and especially worst so if it happens while they're turned on, will get damaged at the filaments inside, which will start burning brighter than their rated lumens it will soon burn right out. Turning on the light frequently will also affect the life span of the light bulb, because every time the voltage is applied to the filament, it causes a sudden surge on the delicate filament and causes more wear and tear every time it goes on. Loose wires within the circuit which would make the connection intermittent would also have the same effect in the end. If that doesn't solve the problem, try using a better brand light bulb before blaming faulty wiring in the fixture or the circuit.