“Troubleshooting Obscure Electrical Gremlins in Commercial Buildings”

As an electrician who specializes in commercial buildings, I often encounter obscure and difficult to diagnose electrical issues that seem to arise randomly and disappear just as mysteriously. These types of problems are commonly referred to as "gremlins" in the electrical trade. In this article, I will share my knowledge and experience with tracking down and resolving these frustrating electrical gremlins.

Common Causes of Electrical Gremlins

There are a few common causes that can lead to electrical gremlins in commercial buildings:

Faulty or Damaged Wiring

One of the most frequent causes of electrical issues are problems with the wiring itself. Things like loose connections, damaged insulation, moisture ingress, corrosion, or wiring that was not properly installed can all cause intermittent faults. This is particularly common in older buildings where wiring may have degraded over time.

Overloaded Circuits

When circuits are consistently overloaded with more devices and appliances than they were designed for, it can lead to mysterious electrical problems. Symptoms like flickering lights, tripping breakers, devices randomly turning off, or fuses blowing for no apparent reason can indicate an overloaded circuit.

Faulty Devices and Appliances

Malfunctioning devices, such as light fixtures, motors, etc can also cause strange electrical issues that are difficult to trace. If a device has an internal fault it may work intermittently or exhibit other odd behavior that seems to randomly come and go.

Environmental and External Factors

Gremlins can sometimes be the result of environmental factors outside the electrical system itself. Things like power surges and dips, interference from nearby electrical equipment, damage from storms and floods, or pest infestations chewing through wires.


Just kidding! But in all seriousness, the cause is never actually paranormal despite some claims. There is always a rational electrical explanation for these types of problems.

Diagnosing the Issue

Tracking down the root cause of electrical gremlins takes some systematic troubleshooting and deductive reasoning. Here are my top tips for diagnosing these types of problems:

Interview Occupants

Speak with the occupants about what types of issues they are noticing and try to identify patterns. Important details to gather:

Inspect and Test Electrical Components

Thoroughly inspect the electrical system in areas where issues are reported:

Monitor and Log Electrical Data

Use datalogging equipment to monitor voltages, currents, and waveforms over time. Some key data to gather:

Analyze the logged data and see if any anomalies coincide with the reported problems. This can help narrow down the cause.

Thermographic Inspections

Use a thermal imager to check for hot spots that may indicate points of high resistance in wiring and connections. These are common failure points that can cause intermittent faults.

Safety First!

It's critical to take proper safety precautions when troubleshooting live electrical systems. De-energize circuits whenever possible and use appropriate PPE and insulated tools.

Key Places to Check for Gremlins

Based on experience, here are some of the common problem spots to thoroughly inspect when chasing down electrical gremlins:

Electrical Panel and Breakers

Loose or corroded connections in the main panel can cause all sorts of unpredictable issues. Check bus bars, breakers, and neutral connections for problems.

Junction and Pull Boxes

Inside junction boxes, especially near ceiling level, moisture ingress and vibration can take their toll over time. Check for any loose wires, damaged insulation or traces of moisture or corrosion.

Lighting Circuits and Fixtures

Flickering or blinking lights are a common symptom of gremlins. Check light fixtures for faulty ballasts or sockets. Loose wiring in the ceiling is also a frequent culprit.

Receptacles and Switches

Poor connections to outlets and switches, damaged contacts, or moisture seepage on walls can cause intermittent power drops. Wiggle devices to check for loose wiring.

Conduit Bodies

Where conduit transitions from underground to above ceiling, water can leak in over time. Conduit bodies near roof and wall penetrations are prone to moisture buildup.

Environmental Controls

HVAC equipment like heaters have lots of cycling compressors, motors, and contactors that can degrade over time and cause erratic operation or failure.

Persistence is Key

Resolving intermittent and transient electrical faults requires diligence and patience. Issues may come and go for quite awhile before the source is uncovered. Persist with thorough inspections and data logging until the gremlin reveals itself through patterns and eventually hard evidence. Celebrate each success, no matter how small!

In summary, tracking down obscure electrical problems requires in-depth troubleshooting, safety awareness, data gathering, and persistence. But with a systematic approach and deductive reasoning the gremlins cannot hide for long. Eventually the root cause will be discovered and the issue can be permanently resolved.