Are you a homeowner who likes to know a little about a lot when it comes to home projects?
Are you a business owner trying to find the cause of an electrical problem to help save on expenses?
Then this simple electrical troubleshooting guide is just for you!
As a homeowner, you probably try to tackle as many home projects yourself because you either enjoy it or, like most of us, want to save as much money as possible.
As a business owner, sometimes it’s just easier to decipher the problem yourself so you can move on to bigger and better things while saving on parts and labor.
Whatever the case we think it is important to empower you with the knowledge to be able to troubleshoot some of the most common electrical problems you may come across.
This simple guide will help you to decipher if you should use the expert help of a professional electrician to repair your electrical problem.
Common Business and Home Electrical Problems
You may have experienced this before — you are going about your day with the lights on, the computer and other electronic devices powered up, the refrigerator humming, the copier making copies when, unexpectedly, you are left in silent darkness.
You say to yourself, “What just happened?” You peer out the window and see that everything looks normal down the street.
With only your building without power, you come to the conclusion that the cause is a tripped circuit breaker or you forgot to pay the electric bill.
Assuming the latter is taken care of, let’s see what could have caused the circuit breaker to trip.
The most common causes for tripped circuit breakers are either a short in the circuit or having overloaded circuits.
What happens when a circuit is shorted?
A circuit is a system of traveling electrical currents to which are activated when an electric device is powered on. A live wire brings electricity to the device and a neutral wire provides the return path.
If the live wire crosses paths with the neutral wire it can create sparks resulting in a fire where the two wires connect.
A similar effect can occur when a live wire comes in contact with an electrical system or a grounded electrical box. This is known as a ground fault.
Live wires can wreak havoc if not maintained properly.
The most likely cause for a short circuit is improper insulation during the original installation or insulation that has eroded and has exposed the wires.
This event also poses a high risk of fire.
Equipment, appliances and electrical outlets are also subject to experience short circuits if wiring is defective.
The good news
Due to the risk of fire that can result from a short circuit, homes and businesses all have circuit breakers installed. Its purpose is to stop the flow of the electrical current when it senses that too much power is being generated.
It may be tempting to just go back to the breaker box to flip the tripped switch back on, but we advise against it until you are certain there is no risk of fire.
Whenever you are in doubt of electrical safety, call a professional electrician to perform an inspection.
Could there be an overload on your circuits?
Referring back to your electric panel, you will see there are various switches that are designated to provide power to different areas of your home or commercial building.
Likewise, the power outlets in each room are connected to one designated circuit breaker. Each circuit breaker allows only a certain amperage of power to be released to those outlets.
If there is a higher demand for power being drawn from the circuit breaker, the breaker will be triggered to switch off as a safety precaution. At this point, your light switches and electric outlets will stop working.
An example of the high demand for power is usually caused by too much electrical equipment, appliances, or devices plugged in at once drawing too much power from the one breaker.
Other signs that too much power is being demanded:
- Flickering lights
- Buzzing or humming noises from electrical outlets and switches
- A smell of burning
- Appliances not working properly
If the circuit does not trip yet appliances are still running and drawing out too much electricity, this can also lead to a shorted circuit.
The excessive electrical current will produce heat in the wires causing erosion of the insulation. This can make the wires more vulnerable to interfere with each other.
Here is your simple electrical troubleshooting guide for these common problems:
If you experience a loss of power in a specific area of your building, start by turning off the power supply to each appliance and every light switch. Doing so will decrease the amount of electricity being required from the electrical panel.
Next, locate your electrical panel to see which breaker has been tripped.
- This can look like a switch that is out of alignment with the other switches that are in the ‘on’ position, it may not be in the ‘off’ position fully.
With the tripped circuit identified:
- First, flip the switch to the ‘off’ position. This will reset the breaker.
- Then, flip the switch back to the ‘on’ position.
- Wait, see if the breaker trips again.
If the breaker gives resistance when you try to turn it back on DO NOT PROCEED ANY FURTHER. This could be signifying that it is not safe for electricity to be flowing through this circuit.
Call a licensed residential, commercial, or industrial electrician (based on your needs) to check the wiring system
An Overloaded Circuit
If your appliances have diminished output, lights are flickering, and/or there is a burning smell, turn off the power supply to the appliances and equipment in the area where this is occurring.
As you turn off the power to each appliance and the electrical symptoms cease, your electrical problem could be caused by a defective appliance or an overloaded circuit breaker.
- If you find that with fewer appliances plugged into one outlet stops the electrical problem, call an electrician to install another circuit.
This will allow for more outlets to handle the electric output you need.
- Avoid using extension cords to bring in power from other areas of the building on different circuits.
Extension cords are not meant to be a permanent fixture or solution and could result in the risk of fire.
Always Use Caution!
DO NOT IGNORE nor try troubleshooting an increased burning smell or if smoke is present.
If you experience either, call 911 right away to ensure you and your family are not at risk of a fire.
Call a licensed electrician to check your electric panel, systems, and equipment to fix any present problems.
You may have a faulty outlet
Check all the outlets by plugging in a device with an indicator light to see if it turns on. If it fails to turn on with an electrical outlet, that outlet may need to be replaced.
You suspect a blown fuse in older buildings
Older buildings that do not have an upgraded electric panel most likely have a fuse box.
If you believe a fuse has been blown call a commercial or home electrical technician to assess the situation.
Older electric panels are more prone to the risk of fire and need an electrical expert to repair or replace.
Safety First, Call the Pros to Diagnose Your Electrical Problem
It is always advised to call your local electrician to check your electrical systems and equipment to provide the most thorough and accurate troubleshooting and diagnosis.