After a long day, you come home ready to relax. When you flip the switch the light comes on, but it’s dim. Thinking there must be something wrong with the bulb, you shrug it off. But when you go to turn on the next lamp it’s also dim. Making your way through the house flipping switches, you realize all your lights are dim. You might not be an electrician, but you can surely tell that something is amiss.
The good news is, it probably isn’t you.
When you’re getting power to the house, but it seems inadequate, that’s usually a problem with the service coming into the house — which you are not responsible for unless you generate your own electricity.
Some potential causes for this particular electrical problem include a damaged or downed power line. If your lines are hanging outside, take a look out the window to see if any are laying on the ground. They may or may not be throwing off sparks. If you see a downed power line contact your local police department immediately, so they can section off the area and prevent anyone from getting hurt. Next, contact your electricity provider. And don’t stress about fees, because power lines outside the home are the responsibility of the electric company.
If your lines are buried and you can’t figure out what the problem is, contact your electric company. It is possible that the underground line has been damaged. If you have recently had plumbing work or other underground work done they may have hit the power line in such a way as to expose wire, without getting shocked themselves. If this is the case, and there are fees associated with fixing the power line, the party that did the work may be responsible for them. The electric company is responsible for maintaining its own lines, but if the damage was caused by something you or your contractor did they may seek compensation.
Now the lines outside your home have been repaired and all lights are putting out their normal brightness. You’re prepared to move on with your day, so you start a load of laundry, turn the TV on and go to heat up dinner in the microwave. Suddenly, the house goes dark and everything is quiet.
Head to the breaker box, which should always be easily accessible with an appropriate metal cover and door. You open the door and notice that one of the breakers is off. You turn it back on and you hear the washer start up again.
This may seem like a minor annoyance, but it’s really a form of protection. Breakers are each only meant to carry limited loads, the sum of which cannot exceed the total power coming to your house. In some cases, older houses simply weren’t designed to handle the electrical load we put on them using today’s modern conveniences. To prevent this problem you can upgrade your breaker box and electrical service, or you can simply avoid running too many items at the same time on the same breaker.
Another potential issue is a short. This could be in an item you have plugged in, or in the wiring itself. Follow the steps below to find out.
- Unplug all items and shut off all switches.
- Reset the breaker. Note that you may have to repeatedly reset the breaker during this process. Do not EVER manually hold the breaker in the “on” position.
- Turn on the switch furthest from the breaker.
- If the breaker stays on, you may have a short in one of the things you shut off or disconnected. If the breaker trips, you may have a short in the item you turned on, or in the wiring itself.
- If the breaker stayed on, turn off the item you had on; then, one by one, plug in or turn on individual items or switches. When the breaker trips with just one item on, that item has a short.
- If the breaker tripped no matter what you had on or plugged into it, there is most likely a short in the line. Keep reading to find it.
- Plug in or turn on an item about halfway along the line of the breaker that’s tripping. If the breaker trips, repeat the process with each switch or outlet moving closer to the breaker. If it didn’t trip, repeat the process in the other direction until it does.
- Once the breaker trips, you know the short is in the line between the previous item you turned on and the one you now have on.
- Repair or replace the line or item that is causing the short.
Finally, you can sit down and relax after reheating dinner on the stove instead of in the microwave. You reach to turn on the light, but when you flip the switch, you notice smoke coming out of the switch. After recently inspecting the interior wiring of the house you haven’t put the cover plate back on your light switch yet, so it’s easy to see the smoke coming from the switch inside.
You’ve already found the problem, but just don’t realize it yet. Cover plates are for more than just decor. They prevent dust and debris from settling on the lines and switch inside. Because these things are now exposed, the dust and debris heated up and possibly even caught fire when the electrical current ran through them. It didn’t happen sooner because the circuit wasn’t complete until you flipped the switch.
If you aren’t familiar with electrical work, it’s always best to hire a professional. If you’d rather do it yourself, do it with safety at the forefront. Turn off the breaker leading to the switch. Remove the switch. Clean off the wires and trim them so that there is only enough bare wire exposed to connect the new switch. Connect the new switch and replace the cover plate.
Narrowing the Issues
Because electricity can be so dangerous, it pays to understand how you can narrow down the issue without putting yourself at risk.
- Whole House: If the entire house is experiencing one general electrical problem, the issue is either the lines coming into your house or the main breaker. If the problem is the main breaker, it’s more likely to trip and shut off power to the entire house. So, if you have power, but are having problems with it throughout the house, check with your electric company.
- Select Area: If a select area of the house is experiencing electrical problems, the issue is either something plugged in or turned, a breaker or one of the main lines.
- One Item, Outlet or Switch: If the problem is centered around one item, outlet or switch, you only need to replace or repair that item, outlet or switch.
Don’t take unnecessary risks. Electrical issues can lead to much more expensive problems than what it costs to hire someone to repair the issue for you.
~To Your Survival!
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