Electricity has become an inevitable part of modern life. Almost all of us depend on it — whether it’s for lighting, operating appliances and devices, or heating and cooling.
The last thing we want is for our home’s electrical system to have issues. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Power can go out in a storm, breakers could trip, and light switches can malfunction. That’s why it’s important to get familiarized with the common electrical problems around the house, as well as know the appropriate solution to each issue.
Note that when it comes to electricity, safety is paramount. Never attempt to do any electrical work on your own. The tips here are for troubleshooting only, and you should call a licensed electrician near you to solve the root of the issue.
10 Common Electrical Problems Around the House
1. Frequent Power Surges
A power surge happens when an occurrence forces too much current through an electrical system causing a quick, about a millisecond, service interruption. This can be caused either by internal surges (e.g. when an AC is turned on, or when tripped circuit breakers create an increase in the electrical current) and external surges (e.g. lightning strikes or damaged powerlines).
Although power surges only last for a thousand of a second, experiencing it frequently can damage the electrical components in your home, cause a plugged-in appliance to overheat and dramatically reduce its lifespan, or wost, start an electrical fire.
If you do experience recurring power surges, the first thing you can do is to unplug any cheap devices or electrical cords from your outlets and see if this puts a stop to the surges. If the problem continues, make sure to schedule a visit from your local electrician to prevent dangerous power surges from damaging your home.
As a prevention, you can also use surge protection devices (SPD), which you can plug into outlets around your house, or ask a qualified electrician to install an SPD into your electrical panel so your whole home is protected.
2. Dips in Power
Also called voltage sags, this occurrence is opposite to power surges. Dips happen when there is a sudden drop in voltage (around less than 10% or more) below the normal electric supply. In a home, voltage sags occur when appliances like refrigerators or heating and cooling systems are switched on.
Like the power surge, what you can do about this is to add a voltage protector to your sockets or have a professional install the device into your breaker panel. This will help protect your appliances and other electronic devices from being damaged by sudden changes in power.
3. Tripping Circuit Breakers
When a circuit breakers trips, it means that it is doing its job to cut off the current flow when it detects an electrical fault that could damage the electrical circuit. Using multiple high-wattage appliances, like washing machines, dishwashers, hairdryers, at the same time can cause the breaker to trip.
If this does happen to you, go to your circuit breaker box and identify the tripped breaker. You will know which one when you see that the switch is positioned to OFF or somewhere between ON and OFF. Turn off the lights and unplug the electronics that are connected to the circuit. Push the switch back to ON and try to turn on the lights and appliances connected to the circuit one at a time.
If the circuit trips again, it’s a clear red flag that you have a more serious issue. Leave the circuit breaker to OFF and consult a trusted electrician immediately to identify and solve the problem.
4. Overloaded Circuit
One reason why a circuit breaker frequently trips is overloading a circuit. Unfortunately, homes do not have enough electrical outlets to meet our growing dependency on electricity.
To prevent overloading, make sure that you don’t use too many electronics and appliances at a time. Remove any devices that you are not using, like phone chargers (yes, they continue to draw electricity even if they’re not connected to your device), and never plugin too many items in a single circuit. Also, it’s a bad idea to chain extension cords together and connect multiple devices to them.
You can use a heavy-duty extension cord properly as a temporary solution to having few electrical outlets. The safest solution to this is to contact a qualified electrician to install new outlets for you.
5. Loose Outlets
Another common electrical problem around the house is loose outlets. This is an issue that should be addressed immediately before the wires inside the electrical box become loose and cause a huge disaster, such as electric shocks or fires.
To fix the problem, make sure that you turn off the breaker that supplies electricity to the outlet, or a better option is to switch off the main breaker instead so that there’s no electricity flowing around the house (make sure to prepare a flashlight). Double-check to make sure there’s no power. You can plug an appliance to check or use a voltmeter. Never proceed unless you’re a hundred percent sure. Unscrew the outlet and place outlet shims onto the outlet screws to make up for any space between the box and the screws. You can add more shims until the outlet is secure.
Again, if you’re unsure how to do this or you don’t have the tools to take on this fix, it would be safer to have a professional electrician do the troubleshooting for you.
6. Warm Outlets or Light Switches
If you feel that your outlets or switches are warm, it means that you should start paying attention to your home’s electrical system. A warm outlet or light switch could be caused by a couple of things: 1. there are too many plugs in an outlet, 2. a part of a switch or outlet is broken, 3. there is damage in the wiring, or 4. a high amount of current is flowing to an outlet.
Solving this issue is tricky because often, the problem that needs to be addressed is behind your walls, which only trained electricians could identify and solve.
7. Electrical Shocks
While electrical shocks are often mild, it’s not something that you do not want to experience. However, if it does happen when you turn on or off a device, it only means two things: it’s either the appliance is faulty or there could be a problem with the wiring.
To do an inspection, try plugging the appliance in a different outlet to check whether the issue is in the outlet or device, but you will be risking yourself of another electrical shock. To be on the safer side, it’s smart to call an electrician to resolve the problem.
8. Lights Are Too Dim or Bright
If you notice that some lights around your home are either too bright or too dim, it could mean that you are using an incorrect wattage.
Electricians call using a higher wattage light bulb “overlamping”, which means the light bulb has a wattage higher than the light fixture can handle. Using the wrong light bulb can cause overheating or damage to your light fixture.
To solve or prevent this issue, make sure that you check what the light fixture manufacturer recommends for the wattage and use the appropriate bulbs.
Flickering lights are also annoying and are a different issue altogether. If you experience this in your home, try to check first if the bulb is only loose. Otherwise, it could be a warning sign that you have issues with wiring that needs the attention of an expert.
9. Light Bulb Burn Often
Does your light bulb burn only after a few weeks? It could mean different things. It’s either you’re simply using a bad batch of lights, you tightened the blub to the fixture too much, the bulb is exposed to vibration, there’s an issue with the wiring on the circuit, or you’re using the wrong kind of bulb (again, overlamping).
You can try to investigate and see what’s causing your light bulbs to burn often, or a more convenient approach is to reach out to an electrician to get to the bottom of the problem.
10. Increased Electrical Bill
There are a couple of reasons why there is an inexplicable rise in your electric bill. Make sure to watch out for these things below:
- Faulty appliances – malfunctioning appliances will consume more energy than normal
- Leaking ductwork on heating and cooling system – this makes the unit run more often than usual
- Poor insulation/ Home is too drafty – causing the heater to work double to keep the temperature in your home cozy
- Appliances on stand by – devices that are plugged in and on standby mode still draw power and will reflect only our electric bill
- Damaged wiring – this is a serious issue that should be inspected by an electrician ASAP
- Old wiring – if you live in a home that’s over a decade old, chances are your wiring could not handle the demands of modern appliances. This calls for a visit from an electrician for an electrical inspection and upgrade.
We hope that our tips could help you troubleshoot or prevent these common home electrical issues. Again, remember that if you are unsure or you’re not confident to do these things, the smartest thing to do is to contact a licensed electrician to check and fix the problem for you. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry.