Common Electrical Problems, their Causes and Warning Signs
We all use electricity every day to power our lives, and tend to take it for granted until something goes wrong. Problems can arise with the supply of electricity and with the equipment used in homes and businesses.
Problems of supply
Spikes and surges of supply, which are short bursts of excess voltage, can cause damage to a wide range of electronic equipment including TVs, computers, answering machines, thermostats. Spikes and surges can be caused by external factors such as accidents or storms but can also occur when heavy use appliances such as power tools, air conditioners, or coffee makers are switched off. Using surge protectors protects against such damage but these protectors should be regularly checked as part of a program of maintenance to ensure they are functioning properly.
Sags, dips are the opposite type of problem, that is periods of low voltage. They can cause data loss in appliances and devices that use memory. Sags and dips can be caused when switching a device on which uses a lot of power.
Outages are periods with no power at all and are commonly caused by weather events, accidents or a short circuit within the home. There is little you can do about the former, but if outages are frequent in your area you may wish to consider investing in a standby generator for use in such circumstances. Short circuits can arise from overloading, loose connections, or faulty wiring: issues that need to be dealt with to keep you and your family safe from shocks and electrical fire as well as loss of power.
Before your electrics totally cease to function or before an electric fire starts, there are usually warning signs that you have an electrical problem. These include:
If bulbs repeatedly flicker or burn out quickly in a particular fixture, first check that you are using the correct bulb and that is fitted correctly. If it is not in tightly enough, it may fail to make a proper connection. Overheating and excess vibration can also cause a bulb to fail. If none of these causes applies and the problem continues, then there is likely a failure of the fixture.
Switches and outlets
Problems with switches and outlets include:
- not working at all
- emitting a crackling sound or a spark
- becoming hot to the touch
- the surrounding wall becoming discolored
Any of these situations should be thoroughly investigated. The cause could be a loose connection, worn or broken wiring, or overloading on a circuit.
Appliances and cords
Frayed or damaged cords create a shock hazard and should not be used. Running several appliances from the same outlet using an extension cord can overload a circuit and damage the appliance. Extension cords are designed for temporary use, not as a substitute for properly installed wiring.
When a circuit breaker trips, it is responding to a problem somewhere on the circuit and is protecting your home and your appliances. Repeated tripping is an indication of the circuit overloading. Sometimes a separate circuit is needed for high wattage appliances, such as microwaves or hair dryers, if they cause frequent tripping.
It is easy to forget how dangerous electricity can be. There are around 26,000 fires per year resulting from electrical problems. If you identify any of the warning signs above, you should have your electrical systems checked out by a professional electrician. In the right hands, an electrical problem can be solved, keeping us all safe.