If you witness any of these warning signs, your home needs an electrical security check pronto!
Electricity is essential to modern life, but it can also be dangerous! Burns, shocks, and other hazards can occur, especially in older appliances and homes. That’s why it’s imperative to keep your home’s systems up to date, but unlike your plumbing system, which needs an annual inspection, electrical checkups are needed the moment an issue occurs.
Here are a few warning signs that tell you it’s time to call a licensed electrician!
Home tip! When dealing with electricity, err on the side of caution. Unplug a device and don't use it again until a professional electrician is able to service it. Be mindful of warning signs, such as buzzing noises, burning smells, and hot equipment. These can signal a fire or the beginnings of one.
#1 - Circuit breakers keep tripping?
Almost every home has a breaker box, usually in the basement, garage, or utility closet. Inside, you'll find what appears to be switches or circuit breakers. When you use a certain level of electricity, the circuit breaker cuts the current to the problem area (hence "tripping a breaker"), which prevents an overload and an electrical fire.
If you notice a breaker looks damaged or appears to be burned –
You might have an overloaded circuit. Turn off the main breaker. (It's usually the biggest breaker at the top of the panel, but it could be on the bottom or along the side.) Call a qualified electrician immediately.
What does it mean when a circuit breaker keeps tripping?
It probably means you're using a lot of electricity – such a wall unit air-conditioner, a blow dryer, and microwave, all at the same time. Try using a lower setting on these items or alternating uses. You should also contact a qualified electrician to investigate.
#2 – Your lights keep flickering
Flickering lights can be a real fire hazard, but before you call in an electrician, check that the bulb you are using is the correct wattage. Also, check for any frayed or loose wiring. If you find a wiring issue, stop using the appliance immediately. If the issue occurs in an area you can’t visually inspect, such as the wires of a fixture, shut off the corresponding circuit breaker until a professional can assess the situation.
#3 – You notice shocks in an outlet
If you see a spark or feel a shock when you’re plugging in a device, that means an appliance or outlet may have faulty wiring. If it's sparked before, the outlet probably needs to be repaired or replaced. If it hasn’t sparked before, check the appliance for frayed or damaged wiring, and keep it unplugged until a professional can service it.
#4 – Wall switch, ceiling fixture, or outlet is hot to the touch
If you put your hand over one of these devices and it's warm, this could be an indication of a problem. If the unit is a dimmer switch, it can be warm as long as they aren't "too" hot and are handling no more than 600 watts. If it's not a dimmer switch, shut the switch off the device immediately and don't use it again until a professional can assess the situation. (We’re seeing a pattern here.)
For a warmer-than-average bulb – try a lower wattage bulb or switch to LED bulbs, which produce less heat (and last longer). If neither of these options work, turn off the light and call a professional.
#5 – You don’t have GFCIs installed in your home
Ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) help prevent a dangerous situation from happening in your home. These outlets are required in the "wet" areas of your home – bathrooms, kitchen, and laundry room – and "trip" a breaker in the outlet or the panel when they detect an interruption in the power. (This can occur if an electrical device falls into water.)
If you live in an older home, you may not have had these outlets installed. Call a qualified electrician to inspect your home’s electrical system and assess if it can handle GFCI installation.
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