St. George Utah Electrician | Southern Utah Electrical Company

Common Electrical Failures in the Home

Electrical problems are one of the most common causes of residential fires. Many house fires could be prevented if homeowners were better informed about how to recognize and repair common electrical hazards before they lead to a fire. Listed below are some of the more common electrical issues that arise in North American homes, and how you might be able to recognize any concerns before they become big problems.

1. Dead (or half dead) Outlets

If an outlet or set of outlets suddenly stops working, check your breakers first. Have any been tripped or reset? Is there a GFCI switch (or button in the middle of an outlet) that has been reset? If those things aren’t the problem, there is likely a poor connection in the circuit somewhere. Your best bet is to call an electrician.

If half of an outlet is working and the other half is dead or only works some of the time, you may not realize that the “dead” half is connected to a wall switch that must be on to get power there. Surprisingly, many people don’t realize they have outlets like this, even after living in their home for years. If there is no switch, the problem may be as simple as an outlet that has, over time, lost its ability to hold onto a plug properly. Replacing the outlet or squeezing the prongs of the plug together before plugging it in can help maintain that connection.

If your outlets in a kitchen, bathroom, or outdoors have stopped working, check the GFCI (ground fault interrupter) switches. Since the 1980s, electrical codes have required these outlets to have a GFCI switch, which trips the outlet off if there is a problem. The problem could either be in the circuit somewhere, or with the tool or appliance you have been using when it “trips.” If you reset the switch and can use different tools there there with no problem, the tool is probably to blame. If you reset the GFCI and it continues to shut off, chances are you have a more complicated problem and should call an electrician.

2. Bulbs and Light Fixtures

If the lights in your home blink or flicker, it’s usually the result of a poor connection in the circuit for that fixture. If the flickering occurs throughout a bigger portion of your house, there could be trouble with your main wire connection. This is a problem for an electrician.

If one of your recessed or “canned” lights turns itself off but seems to work fine later, this is a sign that your built-in safety shut-off feature is engaging, keeping the light from getting too hot. Check your bulb against the recommended wattage to make sure it isn’t too high. If it isn’t, verify that your ceiling insulation hasn’t fallen down too close to the fixture. This could also cause the light to overheat and turn itself off.

3. Breakers Tripping

Can’t use your microwave and toaster at the same time without tripping something? Chances are that circuit is overloaded. Try limiting what you use there, or plug your toaster in on the other side of the kitchen where it could be on a different circuit. You might consider having an electrician form a separate circuit for heavy-load items such as the microwave. If breakers trip and won’t reset, you likely have another condition on the circuit and should call a professional to check it out.

 4. Switch Issues

A switch that gets very warm (this is normal for dimmers), likely has a weak connection that needs immediate repair. If you have a switch that doesn’t seem to do anything at all, it could simply be disconnected. Perhaps the previous homeowner didn’t connect things properly, or simply put in a new switch somewhere else, disconnecting the old one.

SAFETY FIRST. Whether your problem is simple or complex, please remember to FIRST turn off the power before opening any switch, outlet, or attempting any electrical repair. If there is any question on your ability to fix the problem, call a certified electrician for help.


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