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Common Electrical Problems in a Home

Below are some of the most common electrical problems that happen in the wiring system of homes in the U.S. and Canada. After each of the electrical problems I give an explanation or a resource from this or another website. For other problems or a more complete treatment of these, browse my main Trade Secrets page.


Problems With Light Bulbs and Fixtures

Light bulbs are burning out at a high rate. There can be various reasons for this, depending especially on how widespread the problem is in your home and whether the bulbs you buy are ideal for your situation. See Light bulbs.

Some lights are flickering or blinking. This represents a Poor connection somewhere along the circuit. If the blink happens through much of the home, a Main wire connection could be the one having the trouble.

A recessed light (flush to the ceiling) goes off sometimes and later works again. This is probably its built-in safety "cutout" keeping the light from overheating. It is telling you that the wrong style or wattage of bulb is being used or that ceiling-space insulation is too close around the light.

Some lights get extra bright while others run dim. Bulbs may even be popping, and an electronic appliance or two may have died recently. This is a condition that will continue to be destructive to equipment in you home. It is from a Bad main neutral connection (or a bad neutral that is shared by just Two circuits).


Dead Outlet Problems

A set of outlets or lights simply went dead. If you have reset any breakers or GFCIs (do you know How to?), you are probably left with a poor connection somewhere along a circuit. So find the Location of this "open."

Half of an outlet works, but the other half doesn't always work. Even after years in your home, you may not be aware that one half may be energized by a wall switch. The other common cause is that use over time has loosened the hold that one half has on the cords you plug into it.

Outlets have gone dead in bathrooms, garage, kitchen, or outdoors. The outlets in these particular areas have been required since the '70s or '80s to go dead by means of a Ground-fault interrupter ("GFI" or "GFCI"), when it senses a problem that might shock you. That one of these devices has tripped off is the most common reason those outlets go dead.


Tripping-Breaker Problems

A circuit breaker or outlet has tripped off and won't reset. Don't be tempted too easily to blame the breaker or GFI. It is probably responding to a condition elsewhere on the circuit it is protecting. To find what that is, see my Diagnostic tree.

A circuit breaker often trips when the microwave or a hair dryer is used. If the tripping is not immediate, these high-wattage items (when running along with a few lights for awhile) are probably too much for the circuit. If these "overloads" can't be avoided by limiting the use of other things on the circuit, a new separate circuit for the heavy item is the only solution. See Microwave ovens. Many hair dryers, however, have a lower-watt setting on them; using that might help.


Common Electrical Problems With Switches

A wall switch gets rather warm. Dimming switches do this -- it is normal for them when running 600 watts worth of bulbs (or less). Heat at a receptacle is another matter; a connection there needs immediate improvement.

Two switches are supposed to control one set of lights but don't always work right. Occasionally a switch goes bad. More often this problem comes from someone having Replaced a switch wrongly.

A switch does not seem to control anything at all. If you are not the first owner of this home or if you replaced receptacles recently, switched receptacles may have been disabled by how they were replaced. This applies mainly to bedrooms and living rooms. See Switched outlets.


Other Home Electrical Problems

Our new clothes dryer won't heat up -- just like the old one wouldn't. Most likely there is a poor connection at the dryer's receptacle or at its circuit breaker. If you have a fusebox instead, one of the dryer's two fuses may be blown.

Our electric bill seems to be quite a bit higher than normal. One culprit I have seen is a hot water pipe leaking. Even one drip at a time, significant money is leaking out of your wallet, assuming your water heater is electric. But there are many other possibilities. See Michael Bluejay's page on Electric usage.

Most other common electrical problems, and uncommon as well, are dealt with at my main Trade Secrets page.

© 2008 Larry Dimock

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