How to Safely Diagnose Electrical Issues at Home

Safely diagnosing electrical issues in your own home can be narrowed down to the age and condition of your home’s internal wiring systems as well as examining your own methods of getting around the limitations with which you may find yourself challenged. Older homes that may not be up to current building code requirements have most likely been “grandfathered,” which means the existing electrical infrastructure does not violate code. However, if you are in an older home, you are very familiar with the apparent lack of outlets needed these days to resource all the devices we now use. If you have resorted to using a power strip on nearly every outlet, you could be dealing with some of the electrical issues outlined here.

Electrical - How to Safely Diagnose Electrical Issues at Home

Outlets and GFCIs

In a newer home, you will find a power receptacle within 4-feet of a doorway and every 12-feet following on. They will also be grounded connections, meaning they are able to receive the third prong on the plug. The best practice when using 2-prong outlets in older homes is to avoid using adapters to accommodate a 3-prong plug. The purpose of the grounding wire is to safely conduct stray current that would otherwise escape the confines of the wires. Bypassing this protection presents a danger of damaging your devices plus the risk of electrocution. Only replace old 2-prong outlets with properly grounded 3-prong outlets if your home’s wiring allows.

You can test your 3-prong receptacles with a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) circuit tester to ensure they are grounded. Any that are not should be rewired. Code requires GFCI outlets be installed within 4-feet of sinks in kitchens and baths, in the garage, basement and on all outdoor receptacles. They are designed to protect against electrocution in wet areas by shutting down circuits before the current causes deadly shock. GFCIs cost about $12 a piece and are a simple DIY project.

Note: If you are using extension cords and power strips to overcome too few outlets, just be sure they are at least 14-guage or thicker. Cords of 16-guage or smaller are susceptible to overheating and igniting a fire if the demands on the current are too high. Adding more outlets means cutting holes in the walls and ceilings to snake or pull the wiring through. You should leave this chore to your electrician to perform. If you have any receptacles where the plug falls out, these should also be replaced as the contacts are worn out. Loose contacts present a high risk of arcing, which can cause fire just from the dust or dry wood. If you find any of your connection are made using backstabbing, where the wires are simply pushed into the back sides of switches or receptacles, bother to anchor them in the screw terminals. Backstabbed wires tend to come out of their connections. These are easy DIY chores.

Avoid Overpowering Your Home’s Electrical System

Whether your home has older wiring, or you are in a new home, recognizing the capacity of your electrical system is crucial. This is the reason you should avoid overlamping, which means installing a light bulb with a higher wattage demand than the light fixture was designed for. Similarly, when you install a fuse inside your breaker panel with a higher amperage than the wires were intended to handle safely, you run the risk of overheating your wiring system. When the wires are taxed this way, you run the risk of undermining the protective insulation, which increases the risk of fire. Once the damage is done, the danger persists. The proper fix is to rewire.

Wiring issues can go beyond mere inconvenience and pose electrocution and fire hazards. A best practice is to have your wiring inspected by a licensed electrician if you find your power demands seem to exceed that which your home provides. An electrician can identify the signs of fraying or dried out wires, the appearance of corrosion pinpointed at the service panel and any indications of whether the previous owner might have done anything that would be considered unsafe. Although some issues of code violations could be identified in this type of inspection, it does not necessarily mean the wiring was incorrectly installed. You generally only need to update wiring when gut-renovations are performed.

Your Air Conditioner Frequently Breaks Down or Is Inefficient

Troubleshooting your HVAC system could still leave you wondering why your house is not comfortable or why your system breaks down frequently. To begin with, air conditioners that are more than 10 years old are missing out on a lot of technological advancements that both improve performance and save you money on your utility bill. In addition, the government is phasing out Freon as a means of conserving more energy. AC units that use Freon will need to be replaced in order to switch over to the new R410A refrigerant. Further, frequent breakdowns amount to expensive repairs that can override the price of a new unit.

If you are experiencing such challenges, you could use an expert inspection and advice on whether it is time for air conditioning replacement. When your unit does not provide a comfortable indoor climate or has a hard time keeping your home cool, your unit could be aging or incorrectly sized for your house and number of occupants. If your existing system has a low SEER rating below 13, you could find a more efficient unit with a higher rating will cut back on your energy costs. The only way to be sure is to have a licensed professional evaluate your system. While the electrician is there to inspect your AC, you could also have your house wiring checked for the other issues already mentioned.

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