Avoid These Common Electrical Problems
If your lights are dim or flickering, there are weird smells or sparks coming from your outlets, your outlets are hot, or you hear strange buzzing behind the walls (that’s not caused by insects), you could have some serious electrical problems.
If you’re past due for an inspection, the issue could be even worse. Find the date of your last electrical inspection on your breaker box or fuse box. Very few people remember when their next electrical inspection is. You’re likely past due, even if you’re not experiencing any of these signs of electrical issues.
The worst-case scenario of leaving electrical problems unfixed is an electrical fire. Electrical fires happen in more than 500,000 homes a year, and most of them are preventable. You should get your home checked every 10 years to make sure your house isn’t one of those 500,000.
We have listed some of the most common electrical problems below. If any of them sound familiar, be sure to have the issues fixed.
8 Common Electrical Problems You Can Prevent
1. Using the Wrong Light Bulbs
This is also known as over-lamping. If you use a bulb that has a higher wattage than the fixture it’s in, the socket will overheat. At best, you’ll ruin the socket, and at worst, you’ll start a fire in your house.
Make sure you’re using the right bulbs in your light fixtures. If you need brighter lights but your fixtures don’t allow it, you’ll need to install new fixtures. Don’t risk putting brighter bulbs in incompatible fixtures.
New fixtures will either say NM or NMB on them. If your fixtures are NMB fixtures, then they can handle the maximum operating temperature (194 degrees Fahrenheit). Older NM fixtures can only handle 140 degrees Fahrenheit, but they might not be labeled properly. If you don’t know how much your fixture can handle, play it safe with a lower power bulb or replace the fixture.
2. Power Surges aka Transients
Power surges burst high levels of energy into the system very briefly. Lightning can cause surges, but internal problems can also cause them. Heating and air conditioning systems are common culprits as well as copiers and printers.
Internal sources of surges can do damage over time rather than doing massive damage – like a lightning strike does. However, many modern electrical devices can be damaged by even a few hundred volts more than they can handle.
Make sure you keep sensitive electrical devices plugged into surge protectors. Your smartphone is especially at risk because of the small components in it. An entire microprocessor can be ruined by a power surge.
3. Tripping Circuit Breaker
You have electrical problems if your circuit breaker keeps tripping. Its job is to shut down problematic circuits. Don’t keep trying to flip the switch on your main electric panel. There is likely a serious issue you need to fix.
However, if you flip the switch once and the problem is solved, then you’re probably good to go. It’s common for the breaker to trip every so often. It’s a problem if it trips more than once on the same line.
4. Running Through Many Bulbs
If it seems like you’re changing your light bulbs way too often, there could be problems with the fixture. It’s probably not the bulb’s fault. The fixture could be sending too much voltage, the bulb could be too tight, or there could be bad air circulation.
Check to see if your fixture is loose or the bulb is too tight. If nothing seems wrong and you keep running through bulbs, you should reach out to a professional electrician. You will likely need to replace the fixture.
5. Peeking Wires from Outlets
It’s clearly not good if wires are coming out of your outlets. This usually happens in old houses with faulty wiring. You can unscrew the outlet and tape the wires in place with electrical tape, but tape won’t last forever.
You also run the risk of tape catching on fire. It’s better to just rewire the whole outlet to be on the safe side. Do not staple wires to the wall! You could end up damaging the wire and causing another fire hazard. There are special staples for wires if you really want to go that route.
6. Exposed Wires
This is an immediate threat. Exposed wires are an electrocution hazard and a fire hazard. Cut off power to them as soon as possible and replace them.
You can tape them with electrical tape, but again, this is only a temporary fix. Make sure you replace the wires entirely very soon.
7. Missing Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs)
These devices protect you from electric shocks by detecting human contact with electricity and shutting down the power. Without this device, you significantly raise your chances of being electrocuted.
It should be able to detect faulty electrical equipment as soon as you plug in the device. If it doesn’t, you will feel an electric shock, and the power will shut off before you can be fully electrocuted.
If you do not have these installed, you should include them in every outlet in your home. It’s better to be safe than sorry, and they are inexpensive. They also come for other types of electrical equipment, including power strips and cords you can attach to devices.
8. Aluminum Wiring
This type of wiring is no longer in use. If you have an older house that still has aluminum wiring, you’ll need to replace it with copper wiring.
Aluminum wiring can ignite wood, plastic, and other materials, causing electrical fires. Don’t ignore aluminum wires just because nothing has happened in the past. The possibility exists, and it’s in your best interest to replace them.
Unless the problem is caused by using the wrong light bulb, you should contact a professional electrician to help you with these issues. Electrical wiring is dangerous and needs to be handled with care and by someone who knows exactly what they’re doing.
If there is even a sliver of doubt in your mind that you can’t do something, get a professional’s help. It could save your life.
Jennifer Bell is a freelance writer, blogger, dog-enthusiast and avid beachgoer operating out of Southern New Jersey.