All homes have occasional electrical problems; circuits could trip, or an outlet may stop working. But there are some issues that shouldn't be ignored because they either won't fix themselves or could quickly become a fire hazard. Here are the top four electrical issues that warrant a call to an electrician.
Normal Outlet in a Not-So-Normal Place
Okay, so maybe the bathroom and kitchen aren't abnormal places in your home, but these two rooms absolutely must have special outlets called GFCIs. That stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, and they are installed in rooms that are likely to come in contact with water, like your kitchen and your bathrooms. But you should also see them in laundry areas and anywhere else appliances could be used around water, such as a garage or workshop. They are easily identified because they have several small buttons between the plugs, typically marked "test" and "reset."
Why are they important? If they sense that someone is getting shocked, they shut off the electrical output immediately, protecting the person from any further injury.
Take a small tour around your home and make sure all these rooms have GFCI outlets. If not, call an electrician and have this fixed pronto.
It's pretty normal to notice your lights flicker during a storm, especially right before the power goes out. This can also happen if a bulb is on the brink of burning out, or if it has become loose in the fixture. But if this is an ongoing problem, you should begin some troubleshooting to determine the cause.
Begin by turning off the light switch and checking that the bulb is seated snugly in the fixture or replacing the light bulb altogether. If the problem continues, it could be an electrical issue with the fixture like a loose connection. Or the light could be connected to the same circuit as a major appliance that's drawing a large amount of power.
For example, if your lights dim or flicker while the dishwasher or dryer—two appliances that use a lot of energy while they're in use—is running, this is often a sure sign. An electrician can re-wire the circuits so this doesn't continue to happen.
One thing to pay particular attention to when troubleshooting flickering lights is whether or not the light fixture is especially hot. Some heat is normal, but if you're using a bulb with a higher wattage than the fixture supports, you should know that this is actually one of the leading causes of fires. So be sure to never exceed this number.
Burning Smell from the Outlet
New appliances, like ovens and stoves, can emit a weird smell when you first use them, and this is perfectly normal. But if you smell something burning, and you can tell it's coming from your outlet, the smell might be originating from an exposed or damaged wire, a circuit overload, or a foreign object within the outlet itself. Other signs that can accompany these issues are discolored outlet covers, tingling sensations when plugging something in, a sizzling, crackling, or popping sound coming from the outlet, or covers that are hot to the touch.
These outlet issues are the leading cause of fires, so you should flip the circuit off right away and call an electrician for an immediate repair.
Breaker Constantly Tripping
If you have too many things plugged into one outlet, the circuit may trip. This is actually a good thing because it helps prevent fires. But say you have a vacuum that suddenly keeps tripping the breaker. You want to identify whether or not the problem is with the outlet or with the appliance.
This is pretty easy. Just plug the vacuum into different outlets around the house. If the circuit trips in each spot, the problem is either an electrical problem with the vacuum or due to the vacuum overheating. But if the breaker trips every time the same outlet is in use, the issue could be one of the following:
- Short Circuit. Happens when two black wires touch or a black wire comes in contact with a white one.
- Ground Fault. Occurs when a black wire inadvertently touches a ground wire.
Both of these problems are dangerous fire and shock hazards and should be addressed by a qualified electrician who can perform electrical repairs as soon as possible.