In my last few articles, I’ve been talking about the importance of safety, and how best to keep your home safe. But I know you don’t typically call an electrician just to make sure that your home electrical system is safe (although it’s an EXCELLENT reason to do so). Generally, you call an electrician because something’s going wrong with your electrical system. With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some of the electrical troubleshooting that my electricians and I do on a daily basis, to help you avoid some of the most common problems we see on the job.
I’ve found throughout my years in this industry that a lot of the most common problems are caused by something that’s easily avoidable with a little planning and forethought, power overloads. A power overload is exactly what it sounds like, when an outlet or wire fails because there are too many devices being used at one time. Think of it like adding more and more weight to the end of a tree branch; there’s only so much weight (load) it can handle before it breaks.
Although ultimately one overloaded circuit is more or less the same as another, overloads have a number of different causes, and can even have different symptoms depending on where in your home they occur. No matter how or where they happen, though, overloads are serious fire hazards. Overloaded wires melt, causing electrical shorts and conducting heat to potentially flammable materials like the wood in your walls. Repairing the damage from these overloads often requires the electrician making the repair to simply pull the wires out and rewire the circuit, which can be expensive. It’s in your best interest to know how to avoid overloading your electrical system in the first place but also be aware that an overload has occurred.
The most common sign of an overload I run across tends to go something like this, half of the room will be getting no power, while the other half is receiving power as normal. Even more out of the ordinary, the breakers that connect the room to the electrical panel haven’t been tripped. So, what’s causing the issue? If this happens in your living or media room, it’s surprisingly easy to diagnose: 60 to 70% of the time, the problem is the outlet behind your entertainment center melting down (in some cases, literally melting down) from being overloaded. When your entertainment center was installed, you might not have even considered that you were in danger of overloading the outlet. The combination of your TV, DVD player, video game systems, stereo system, huge speakers, and cable or satellite receivers can quickly overwhelm any outlet, and they add up quickly. This is why a top Richardson electrician will always suggest that your entertainment center be set up on a dedicated circuit with a separate power source from the rest of the room; it’s the best way to ensure you’re not overloading your circuit.
Other overloads occur because of the changing weather. I’ve seen plenty of people who’ve overloaded a wall outlet just by plugging a window air conditioning unit into it. These window AC units draw a ton of power; in fact, they can typically max out the circuit just by themselves, meaning anything else you have plugged into that circuit is overloading it! Similarly, most space heaters require 1800 watts to operate. This is exactly how much power a typical 15A electrical circuit breaker should allow. Even plugging in something as simple as a light bulb alongside it overloads the circuit. Window air conditioners and space heaters should always be placed on dedicated circuits to avoid this problem.
Another all-too-common overload occurs quite often in older homes. A family getting ready for the day suddenly discovers that they no longer have any power in any of the bathrooms in the house! This is the result of an overload, too, even worse, it’s a hard overload to detect unless you know a bit about how homes used to be wired. You see, years ago when homes were being wired up, they tended to wire all the receptacles in all the bathrooms on the same circuit. This means that they’re all typically running on the same 15A electrical circuit. This leads to one of the most notorious causes of overloads. Remember how I mentioned that a space heater typically needs 1800 watts to run? Well, most hair dryers typically require 1850 watts, meaning that if your wife or daughter are drying their hair at the same time as someone else is using power in the other bathroom, the circuit is overloaded. And if your wife and daughter are BOTH using their hair dryers at the same time, it won’t take long for the whole circuit to fail or shut off. Thankfully, electricians wiring newer homes always put multiple bathrooms on separate circuits to help minimize this problem.
Again, I want to stress that events like these are completely avoidable, as long as you take the time to think about how much you’re plugging into one circuit. With a little thought, and the helping hand of a caring electrician if you’re unsure, you can save yourself a lot of pain in the long run.
For more information and other tips Electric Man to the rescue. We’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so don’t ever hesitate to give us a call! Visit our website to learn more or connect with our online community on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.