Noticing and Troubleshooting Common Electrical Problems

Whether you are looking at a home you might want to buy or are simply struggling to deal with some electrical bugs in your own, troubleshooting some basic electrical problems can help save you time and money. While more complicated problems will always require a skilled electrician, there are some basic things that anyone can do safely which can help to fix some electrical problems. Here is a list of a few problems you might experience, as well as advice on how to fix it. Understanding what you can do yourself, as well as what you should never attempt without proper training is the best way to keep yourself safe. 

  1. The most obvious problem many homeowners face is a faulty outlet or light switch. You plug something in or flip the switch, and nothing happens. There are dozens of reasons why this might be happening, so lets look at the ones you can do something about. First, it is possible that the appliance you are plugging in has a fault. Try plugging in something else, and make sure that the problem is with the outlet and not the electrical device. Similarly, try replacing a light bulb in case it has burned out or broken. Once you are certain that the problem is not the output device, check other things on the same circuit, or check your circuit breakers. If a breaker has tripped, reset it and try again. However, if this does not solve the problem, you probably need professional assistance. Electrical wiring can be very dangerous, and a small mistake can kill you.  
  1. A problem similar to the first is when you see a circuit breaker tripping frequently, or you frequently get electrical surges in your home. If the surges or trips are happening on a single circuit, then figure out what is plugged in to that circuit. A common cause of electrical surges on a circuit is the malfunction of a plugged in electrical device. Experiment with disconnecting different things on the circuit and see if you can isolate the problem. NEVER replace a circuit breaker with something rated for higher power consumption. Circuit breaker power ratings are designed based on what the system can handle and allowing more power to flow into the system will drastically increase your risk of experiencing an electrical fire or other disaster. Try to spread your electrical power consumption across circuits to minimize the amount of drain on any one circuit. If you cannot isolate the problem to a specific electrical device in the home, it is time to call a professional.  
  1. An expensive yet common problem we see in many modern homes is that many homeowners feel that their electrical bill is much higher than it ought to be. This is something you can tackle yourself for the most part. Electrical energy is very similar to other utilities, such as water. A certain amount of electricity will be consumed by different devices based on how long they are turned on, and how hard they are working. You can look at all of the lighting in your house and determine how much electricity each bulb consumes per hour. Then, multiply this by the amount of time each bulb is on. By comparing this to the cost of electricity for you, you can determine how much you spend on lighting your home per billing period and can make predictions about how changing your behavior would reduce or increase your bill. Frequently, there will be more efficient bulbs available. LED lighting in particular can come with a higher initial cost, but often more than pays for itself over its lifetime, as its electrical drain and expected lifespan both are far better than many conventional alternatives. Unfortunately, while lighting is a start, the truth is that most homeowners only spend a fraction of their electrical power on lighting. Much more power will be consumed by things like refrigerators/freezers, HVAC, and other electronic devices. While estimating power consumption from these devices can be more difficult, it is not impossible. If you really want to be precise, you can have meters installed on each of these which measure power consumption. Alternatively, you can often find estimates of their average power consumption and use this to estimate cost. Either way, you can use this information to better understand exactly where your electrical power is going, and whether investing in a solution is worth your time and money. Sometimes, particularly for greedy systems like your HVAC, it can make financial sense to buy a newer, much more efficient model, as the electrical savings will pay off the cost of the new system over time. If you really feel that there is something wrong with your system, an electrician may be able to come and give your electrical system an inspection.  
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