“Troubleshooting Uncommon Electrical Problems in Commercial Buildings”

Troubleshooting Uncommon Electrical Problems in Commercial Buildings

I have been an electrician working on commercial buildings for over 20 years. In that time, I have encountered my fair share of unusual electrical issues that required some creative troubleshooting. Here are some of the more interesting cases I have worked on, along with how I went about diagnosing and resolving the problems.

Faulty Emergency Lighting Systems

Emergency lighting systems are critical safety components in any commercial building. They provide illumination during power outages so people can safely exit the building.

One uncommon issue I have seen a few times is an emergency lighting system that seems to randomly fail - some lights work while others do not. Troubleshooting steps I take:

With persistent issues, I dig deeper into the wiring itself, inspecting connections and junction points. The specific causes vary, but methodically working through these troubleshooting steps allows me to zero in on the root of the problem.

Power Surges in Select Circuits

Power surges or unexpected increases in voltage can damage equipment and disrupt operations. Isolating the source of these surges is important.

If elevated voltages affect only certain circuits, I inspect:

Paying close attention to which specific circuits are impacted helps narrow down the potential causes quickly. I also use multimeters to check voltages and current draws throughout the system to aid troubleshooting.

Intermittent Ground Faults

Ground faults occur when electricity leaks to the grounding system rather than following the normal circuit path. Intermittent faults that come and go are especially tricky.

To find the source, I:

Intermittent faults take patience and careful observation. I often have to spend significant time monitoring and taking measurements before the issue reveals itself. But systematically working through the circuit I can eventually isolate the problem.

Motor Operation Issues

Motors are used extensively in commercial buildings, driving air compressors, pumps, conveyors, chillers, and many other devices. When motors act up, production can grind to a halt.

Some common motor issues I troubleshoot include:

Good motor maintenance and monitoring are key. But when problems do arise, I take a methodical approach to troubleshoot based on symptom patterns and use parameters like current draw, voltage, resistance, and vibration. This allows reliable identification of the root cause.

Lighting Flickering Issues

Troubleshooting lighting problems seems straightforward but can have some nuances. Flickering lights are a common complaint in commercial buildings. Several key factors I inspect are:

Lighting issues seem simple but can persist if these less obvious factors are not considered. My detailed troubleshooting process allows reliable identification and repair of even tricky lighting problems.

Power Factor Correction Failures

Power factor (PF) measures electrical efficiency. Commercial buildings often use power factor correction (PFC) capacitors to maintain optimal PF and prevent penalties from the utility. Failures in PFC capacitors or systems cause headaches.

To troubleshoot, I:

Paying close attention to the PFC system design flaws, capacitor maintenance and timely replacement of aging components is key to avoiding power factor issues.


Years of experience troubleshooting electrical systems provides me insight for diagnosing tricky, uncommon issues that stump less seasoned technicians. While every case is unique, following a methodical process focused on parameters like voltages, loads, connections, etc allows reliable identification of the root causes. Understanding commercial building electrical systems at a deep level is critical for efficient troubleshooting. Proper prevention and maintenance also helps minimize these types of problems.