How to Troubleshoot Home Electrical Problems

Written by max stout
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Households use electrical energy to operate appliances such as hot water heaters, stoves, washing machines, furnaces, air conditioning units and various types of lighting fixtures. When one or more of these home accessories suddenly stops working, there are specific electrical troubleshooting techniques that can be implemented to investigate and determine the cause of the particular problem. The do-it-yourself homeowner with a basic knowledge of household electricity can perform the necessary tasks in varying amounts of time with the appropriate tools.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • 120/240 AC voltage tester
  • Flat-tip screwdriver
  • Phillips head screwdriver

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Check cord plugs and light bulbs when a lamp won't light up. Placing the bulb in another lamp known to operate demonstrates immediately the condition of the bulb. Inspect the lamp plug-in cord to ensure it is secure in the electrical socket.

  2. 2

    Check voltage at electrical sockets that provide power for lamps and other devices with a 120/240 volt tester. Insert each of the tester prongs into the slots of the electrical socket.

  3. 3

    Check the fuse or circuit breaker at the main electrical panel that supplies power to the suspect outlet or circuit. Blown fuses appear dark and circuit breaker toggles relax in the centre position after tripping.

  4. 4

    Check electrical circuits in the main panel wiring that supply power to large appliances or furnace blower motors. When the thermostats that control these devices activate the circuits, the load may be too much for the circuit to bear. Fading lights and blips on a television screen can be an indicator of a high load demand in a commonly shared circuit.

  5. 5

    Inspect the wiring inside the main panel for loose connections when the home is experiencing flickering lights or device interruptions. Turn the main panel circuit breaker off and remove the panel cover with an appropriate tip screwdriver. Make certain all the hot wire connections to the breaker are secure and all the neutral and bare copper grounds are firmly attached.

  6. 6

    Check the reset button on a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) receptacle. If the GFCI has tripped, any receptacles that are wired to the "load" side of the GFCI will also shut off. Press the "Reset" button in to reset the GFCI receptacle.

  7. 7

    Check the switch that operates wall or ceiling-mounted lighting fixtures by removing the switch cover plate using a screwdriver and inspecting the switch wiring for loose connections. Also check for charred wire insulation and wires that may come in contact with a metal switchbox. If the bulbs are known to be good, the wiring checks out, and the fuse or circuit breaker are in good condition, the switch will need to be replaced.

Tips and warnings

  • Replace blown fuses with those of correct amperage for the circuit in which they are used.
  • The correct fuse or breaker to use in an electrical circuit is determined by the gauge or size of the wiring. Lighting will be wired with 14-gauge wire served by a 15-amp fuse or breaker. A microwave oven will be wired with 12-gauge wire and a 20-amp breaker. Electric clothes dryers will be wired with 10-gauge wire and a 30-amp fuse or breaker.
  • Never work with a live circuit. Test circuits with a voltage tester to verify that the power has been shut off to the area where work is to be done. Notify others in the household as well.
  • Never use a higher than rated fuse or circuit breaker in an electrical circuit.
  • Avoid using extension cords to add more devices to a circuit.
  • For any electrical problem beyond the scope of the homeowner's knowledge or ability, contact a qualified electrician to perform the necessary electrical work.
  • Contact the local municipality before beginning electrical work to ensure compliance with state and local codes.

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