We've all been there - a light starts flickering, an outlet stops working properly, or some other odd electrical quirk pops up that drives you crazy. Tracking down the root cause of electrical issues can be a pain, but this guide will walk you through how to troubleshoot even the most annoying and mysterious electrical problems in your home.
Check the Basics First
Before you dive into testing wires and junction boxes, check for some quick and easy fixes:
Check if the circuit breaker has tripped
Flip the breaker off and then back on again to see if that resolves the issue. Breakers trip when too much current flows through the circuit, which causes them to flip and cut power.
Replace any burnt out light bulbs
Burnt out bulbs can cause flickering or outlets to not work in that room. Swap in new bulbs to see if it fixes the problem.
Test outlets and switches
Plug a lamp into the outlet to make sure it's getting power. Switch light switches on and off to ensure they operate properly. Faulty outlets or switches cause electrical issues down the line.
Check for loose wiring
Inspect visible wires, sockets, and connections to make sure nothing has come loose, which can interrupt circuits. Tighten any loose screws or wires.
Look for tripped GFCIs
If an outlet has stopped working, check nearby outlets to see if they have GFCI protection. Hit the "reset" button on any tripped GFCI outlet, which may restore power.
Trace the Electrical Wiring Circuit
If the basics check out, you'll need to trace down where the problem lies along an electrical circuit. Here are some steps to take:
Turn off power at the main circuit breaker
Switching off all power ensures safety while you test connections. Never work on live electrical wiring!
Locate the circuit breaker controlling the problem area
Check which breaker controls the afflicted lights or outlets by flipping each one off and on to see what shuts down.
Follow the circuit wiring from the panel throughout the house
With the circuit breaker off, follow the hot wire leading out of the breaker into the wall, attic, etc. Verify all connections are intact.
Check junction boxes for issues
Junction boxes distribute power to multiple lines. Check for any loose wire connections, corrosion, or shorts.
Test sections of wiring along the way
Use a multimeter or non-contact voltage tester to confirm power flows properly through the hot wire along its path. Faulty sections will show no voltage.
Inspect individual outlets and lights
At each box, check for loose wires or degraded insulation. Problem spots will reveal themselves through your circuit tracing.
Troubleshoot Specific Electrical Problems
With a basic inspection complete, focus troubleshooting on the type of electrical issue:
- Check for loose lightbulb connections
- Faulty switch or neutral connections
- Failing bulb about to burn out
- Wiring insulation damaged or stripped
- Hot or neutral wire connection broken or touching
- Downstream GFCI tripped
- Backstab wire push-in connection failed
- Junction box or wire damage
Circuit breaker tripping
- Short circuit due to crossed/exposed wires
- Overloaded circuit with too many appliances
- Appliance drawing too much current
- Breaker needs replacing after overheating
Buzzing/crackling from outlets
- Loose or corroded connections
- Copper wires touching each other
- Faulty electronic device plugged in
- Outlet ground connection is bad
- Bad neutral or ground wire connection
- Utility voltage fluctuations
- Junction box or switch problem
When to Call an Electrician
Some electrical issues require a professional to handle safely:
- Master breaker panel problems
- Whole home or room without power
- Signs of arcing/melting wires
- Main utility service line damage
- Exposed/cut wires in junction boxes
- Ground-fault and short-circuit issues
Don't take chances with live wires! Hire a licensed electrician for major repairs.
For minor problems, reference this guide to track down even the most annoying electrical gremlins in your home. With persistence and by checking each component, you can solve the mysterious electrical puzzle. Safe and successful DIY troubleshooting will save you headaches and money down the road.