When to Call an Electrician Part 1
Can’t I just fix this myself? Should I or shouldn't I? We've all been down that road, asking ourselves when or when not to make that call to the electrician. To help clarify when you should place that call, we sat down with master electrician, Phil Davis of Texas Electrical to discuss general concerns dealing with circuit breaker tripping, overloads, and a few repairs you can actually make yourself.
Circuit Breaker Overload
For the 15th time this week, the electrical breaker has tripped. Fumbling around, you do what you’ve been doing for years, go outside to mess around with the breaker box until the air conditioning, televisions and computers come on again. After a few seconds of flipping the breaker switches between the on and off positions, everything eventually comes back on, and you return to your previous activities.
While some may not find an issue with this scenario, circuit tripping can be a sign of major problems, especially when you know for a fact that you are not overloading your circuits According to Davis, “Repeatedly resetting a breaker is defeating the purpose of having a circuit breaker.” Not addressing underlying issues dealing with the breaker can result in property damage and electrical injuries. Circuit breakers that are constantly reset can actually fail more frequently due to mishandling or excess wear on the breaker. Eventually, an abused breaker may actually stop resetting or fail to trip when needed. You should not reset a breaker more than once. If you are experiencing frequent circuit tripping then it’s best you call an electrician so that he or she can properly deal with the issue.
Another reason the breaker could be tripping is circuit overload. As we've discussed in a previous post, circuit overload happens when power consumption exceeds the amount of amperage allotted for a particular socket. Appliances in the United States are labeled with their power requirements. “Most residential circuits are 20 amps and some are 15 amps. Circuit breakers cannot be loaded over 80% of their rating with a continuous load. That being said 16 amps would be a full load on a 20 amp circuit breaker,” Davis explains. This means that, on a 20 amp circuit, the maximum rated wattage load should never be greater than 1,920 watts.
So how can you avoid placing that call due to circuit overload? One way is by distributing the load more evenly throughout your home. For example, separate low-power loads between different circuits by connecting them to separate outlets. Higher loads, such as microwaves, dryers, space heaters, and other kitchen appliances, should be on their own circuits if at all possible. If not, unplug or turn off other devices before using the higher-power appliances.
You’re in the middle of preparing your world famous linguini with clam sauce and suddenly while adding a dash of salt the lights in your kitchen begin to flicker. Do you A, continue stirring your world famous sauce or B, put the sauce on hold and give your electrician a ring. Go ahead and put the stirring spoon down and start dialing. Flickering, lamp start hesitation, or even sudden brightness in lights, TVs or other appliances is a rather serious issue according to Davis. “This usually indicates a problem with the neutral or grounded conductor used throughout the power system of your home or business. This will be indicated by flickering or low or high voltage on the branch circuit. Any of these issues can cause damage or destroy equipment utilizing this power source,” Davis explains. Another reason electrical flickering occurs is due to loose or broken connections. These faulty connections can easily start a fire so they should be repaired immediately by an electrician.
Faulty wiring covers many different issues, including outdated wires, rodent infestation and overloaded circuits and should always be handled quickly. Though faulty wiring is a broad area it should be noted that it is a major issue. In homes built during the latter portion of the 1960’s and early 70’s, contractors often used aluminum wiring. Because of issues in installation and mismatched conductive materials, the contact points or terminals would overheat creating fire and major property damage. To check to see whether your home has aluminum or copper wiring, turn the power off to the circuit and simply unscrew a light switch. If the wiring is more of a grayish silver color, it is aluminum. If the wiring is the color of a penny, it’s copper.
If your home was built before the 60’s it may consist of knob and tube wiring. Knob and tube electrical wiring is an electrical system where the connection terminals for wires are secured by using ceramic insulation knobs. This type of wiring may have been covered in cloth. Over time, the insulation of the wiring begins to decay, becoming quite hazardous to the safety of the home. Rodents can also attribute to faulty wiring. Often getting in different joists of the home, squirrels, rats and other rodents tend to gnaw on wire insulation which can make for incredibly expensive repairs. To check for this damage, electricians must inspect both the attic and under the floor.
What Can I Actually Repair?
No matter what safety should always come first when dealing with electricity; however there are some repairs that can easily be made at home. For example, light switches and outlets can be replaced once circuits have been tested and the power is shut off. You can remove the switch or outlet using a screw driver and carefully follow the installation instructions which are typically included with electrical devices. Another thing that can be repaired or replaced without an electrician are light fixtures. Again, before tackling any electrical issues, including light fixture replacements, be sure that the power is off and that you follow any directions provided with the packaging. Of course, if all else fails, the electrician is just a phone call away.
The bottom line is, electricity is no tiny matter, and in fact it is quite shocking. Remember, when dealing with electrical outlets and devices always take the necessary safety precautions. But if you’re ever in doubt, remember this sparkling rule: If you don’t know, don’t touch it. Be sure to stay tuned for parts 2 and 3 of our series on When to Call An Electrician. Just a reminder, when you're in the DFW area searching for an electrician, please check out Texas Electrical. Have any questions or comments? Feel free to write your comments or questions below and as always, you can drop us a line on Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Instagram!