As a homeowner, I know how frustrating and dangerous electrical faults can be. From flickering lights to tripping breakers, these issues need to be addressed quickly and correctly. However, most electricians seem to make the solutions more complicated and expensive than they need to be.
After doing some research and self-troubleshooting, I've discovered some little-known tricks that have helped me solve many electrical faults in my home. Keep reading to learn the secrets professional electricians would rather I didn't know.
Identifying the Source of the Problem
The first step in any electrical repair is identifying where the fault originates. Here are some of the best ways I've found to pinpoint the problematic circuit or device:
Check the Breaker Box
The breaker box is the central hub of your home's electrical system. Flipped breakers or warm breakers often indicate a short or overloaded circuit. By identifying which breaker is affected, you can narrow down the location of the fault.
- Question: Which breakers in your box are flipped or warm to the touch? This reveals the affected circuits.
Turn Off Devices Selectively
If the breaker isn't tripped, methodically turn off devices, lights, and outlets room by room. When the issue resolves, you've likely isolated the source.
- For example, I once had flickering lights in my dining room. I turned off outlets and lights in other rooms until the flickering stopped, indicating a faulty dining room outlet.
Use Outlet Testers
Outlet testers are inexpensive devices that plug into outlets to detect common wiring faults. I keep several on hand to quickly diagnose:
- Open ground - Dangerous because appliances may electrify metal enclosures
- Faulty GFCI - Risk of shock due to lack of ground fault protection
- Incorrect wiring - Can damage appliances or cause fires
Thermal Imaging Cameras
For tricky electrical gremlins, a thermal imaging camera can detect hot spots that point to problem junction boxes, wires, or devices. I was able to borrow one to diagnose an issue that stumped even the electrician.
Simple Fixes for Common Faults
In many cases, I've been able to fix electrical issues around my home without calling an electrician. Here are some of the most common solutions:
Resetting Tripped GFCI Outlets
GFCI outlets protect against shock by monitoring electricity flow. They trip easily, cutting power. Before replacing, try:
- Press the reset button on the outlet to restore power
- Ensure nothing is plugged into the outlet while resetting
- Avoid using high-draw appliances like hair dryers or vacuums on GFCI circuits
Replacing Faulty Outlets and Switches
Outlets and light switches eventually wear out and need replacement. Warning signs include:
- Frequent tripping of the breaker
- Flickering lights when turning on switches
- Warm or melted spots around outlets
- Buzzing from outlets or switches
Replacing defective switches and outlets is a basic DIY project. Just be sure to:
- Turn off the breaker before working
- Take photos of wire connections to recreate them properly
- Only connect one wire to each terminal
Fixing Loose Wire Connections
Electricity flows through wires connected to outlets, switches, and appliances. Over time, vibrations can loosen the connections resulting in shorts. Here's how to fix this:
- Turn off breaker and remove cover plate to access wires
- Gently twist and pull wires to detect loose ones
- Re-strip insulation, re-twist tightly, and reconnect any problem wires
- Wrap connections with electrical tape to help secure them
Balancing Overloaded Circuits
If you're tripping breakers or blowing fuses when too many devices are running, you likely have an overloaded circuit. Solutions include:
- Plug high-draw appliances like vacuums into different circuits
- Install additional circuits if necessary
- Upgrade to a higher amperage breaker if wires safely permit
When to Call an Electrician
While many electrical issues can be DIY repairs, some situations do require a professional electrician:
Major Rewiring or Panel Upgrades
Any changes to the home's wiring or breaker panel require permits and professional work for safety.
If you can't determine the source of the electrical problem after troubleshooting, it's best to call an electrician rather than continuing to guess.
No Power to the Entire Home
A complete loss of power usually indicates a problem with the main service panel or meter box outside. Only the power company or an electrician can safely investigate.
Signs of Damage
Burn marks or melted wires point to serious underlying issues an electrician should handle.
By learning some basic electrical troubleshooting techniques, I've been able to fix many problems in my home without electrician house calls. However, safety should always be the top priority - call a professional when in doubt. Understand your limits, turn off power before attempting any DIY repairs, and ask an electrician when necessary. Follow these guidelines, and you'll master residential electrical fault-finding in no time!