Common electrical problems

Updated March 23, 2017

Electrical problems as a group can vary, but some are more common than others. Before you even attempt any form of detection and apply any troubleshooting, you must know what some of the most common electrical problems are. Doing so will prevent unnecessary time and effort being spent on fixing a problem that never existed. Some of the most common of electrical problems that can plague a house are as follows.

No Power in an Electrical Socket

No power to a receptacle (wall socket) or receptacles in a room is indicative of one of many different things. However, in many homes it is usually a circuit breaker that might have tripped, a circuit in the breaker that has turned off or a fuse that has gone out. Another cause could be a loose wire behind the receptacle. Find the problem by first checking to see if the circuit breaker tripped, turned off or if there's a blown fuse in the breaker. If this doesn't work, test the socket and power tester or voltage meter. Low or no power means that the wiring behind the receptacle is the problem and needs further inspection.

Lights Out in Half of the House

When only half of the house has power, a circuit breaker problem is usually at fault. This happens when the breaker suddenly trips due to a power surge or is turned off. In addition, a fuse might have gone outl. There could also be a loose wire or short somewhere. Again, the first course of action should be an inspection of the circuit breaker. If the circuits are on and operational, then you must start checking the home for a short. Either call an electrician (recommended) or take your voltage meter or power tester and check all of the receptacles and wiring throughout the house until you find the one that is loose or damaged.

Something Smells Fishy

A weird fish smell coming from a switch and/or wall receptacle is also a common electrical problem. The cause is an electrical device that is arcing. When an electrical device's connection to the circuit is damaged, the electricity jumps through the air to complete the circuit. It can zap anything along the way and could cause a fire. Arcing is also an indication that serious damage has already been done to both the electrical device and/or the socket it is attached to. Unplug the device and take it in for repairs. Inspect the socket and replace it if it isn't getting the proper amount of voltage or power.

Fickering Lights

Problems with light bulbs and lighting fixtures can be linked to a dozen different reasons. Flickering lights or those that do not turn on and off as the switches are flipped are symptoms of a larger problem, as is a buzzing sound that occurs when the lights are on. Causes can include the wrong wattage for a light bulb in a certain lighting fixture. In addition, there could be a bad connection between the switch and the bulb. Most cases of electrical problems involving light bulbs are remedied by replacing the current bulb with the proper one.

Hot Switch

Wall switches that get warm to the touch usually occur in dimming switches. They do this normally if they are running bulbs that total 600 watts or less. You can fix this situation by adding the proper amount of bulbs to achieve the wattage required to properly run the dimmers. If warmth is felt at a receptacle, however, use a voltage meter to start looking for irregularities, such as high increases and decreases in voltage.


Before repairing any electrical problem, other than changing bulbs, turn off the power at the breaker to prevent electrocution. Also, do not attempt any electrical repair without research, training or an electrician on standby.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Jonita Davis is freelance writer and marketing consultant. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including "The LaPorte County Herald Argus" and Davis also authored the book, "Michigan City Marinas," which covers the history of the Michigan City Port Authority. Davis holds a bachelor's degree in English from Purdue University.