Electrical problems in your home can be a frustrating and expensive experience. That’s why it’s important to have a solid understanding of common wiring issues and how to troubleshoot them effectively.
Often, the first step in solving electrical problems involves checking the wiring to ensure it is secure and free of loose connections. In some cases, this can be done by peering into the electrical box with a flashlight.
1. Check the Wiring
The wiring in your home is vital for running your appliances, lighting fixtures and other devices. It also helps keep your home safe from fires and other electrical hazards. By detecting problems in your electrical system early, you can avoid costly repairs and potential harm to your family.
Faulty wiring is one of the most common causes of fires in the United States. It can lead to dangerous arc faults and power surges, and can put you at risk of electric shock or electrocution.
A quick way to check the wiring in your home is with a multimeter. Before you start, though, make sure that you are familiar with using a multimeter and understand how to safely handle 230-volt electricity.
Typically, two wires enter an outlet’s electrical box: the black (hot) cable leads to the breaker or fuse box, while the white (neutral) cable carries power to other devices on the circuit. If you aren’t sure which of these cables is the hot wire, test it by placing caps on all but one black wire and touching a probe to either the ground wire or the outlet box. If you get a reading, it’s the hot wire.
It’s not uncommon for outlets to feel hot when they’re plugged in, but this can be an indication of faulty wiring. Unplug any appliances or devices that seem to be causing the heat, and call an electrician to troubleshoot the problem.
Frayed or tangled wires are another warning sign of faulty wiring. They can be a result of pests or poor wiring. It’s best to replace frayed or tangled wires before they cause fires or electric shocks.
If you notice chew marks on your home’s electrical wires, it is a signal that rodents are eating them. This is an extremely dangerous hazard that needs to be addressed immediately by a technician.
Similarly, if you hear buzzing and crackling sounds from your outlets or switches, it’s another sign that there are problems with the wiring. If the fuses in your breaker box blow often, this is a symptom of overloading and should be checked by an electrician.
2. Check the Outlets
One of the most important electrical troubleshooting tips for the home is to regularly check outlets and switch covers. This will prevent problems from arising down the line, and will help you avoid serious risks like fires or injury.
The most obvious way to check an outlet is to plug a light bulb into it, then turn off the circuit breaker at the breaker panel that supplies power to the outlet. If the light goes out, it is a sign that something is wrong with the outlet or its wiring.
You can also use a multimeter to test voltage. The meter should read between 110V and 120V, with any readings outside this range indicating that the outlet isn’t working properly.
Next, you can use the multimeter to check that the outlet is grounded properly. This involves placing the red probe into the hot outlet slot and the black probe into the neutral slot. If the multimeter reads the same, the outlet is grounded. If the multimeter doesn’t read that, it means the wires are reversed or there is no grounding at all.
Another important outlet safety tip is to make sure the outlets you have are GFCI (grounded-fault circuit interrupter) equipped. These types of outlets are designed to cut power when a ground fault occurs, which can happen when you touch conductive items such as a metal utensil or the casing of an appliance.
Additionally, you should be sure to always cover your outlets with a childproof cover. This will prevent young children from using them and keep them safe from water or other hazards.
If you notice that an electrical outlet has discolored or melted plastic, it is an indication that the outlet is faulty or damaged. This can be caused by improper wiring or a short-circuiting problem, and should be repaired by a professional as soon as possible.
3. Check the Switches
Switches are a vital component of electrical appliances. They allow current to flow through the wires and light up the bulbs, so it’s important that these switches work as they should.
There are several things you can do to check the switches in your home. First, use a multimeter to test them for continuity. If the multimeter shows no readings, then your switch is not functioning correctly.
Next, check for loose wire connections. If a wire is hanging loose from the switch, it can be dangerous to touch or could even break. If this is the case, you should have a professional electrician look at it to prevent further damage.
If you find loose wires, disconnect them from the switch and wrap them with a piece of electrical tape to keep them secure. This will prevent them from coming in contact with the wall, which can cause serious injury or property damage.
Another way to check your switches is by using a voltage tester. This tool allows you to push your multimeter into the switch and verify that it has completed a circuit, per Popular Mechanics.
To use your voltage tester, turn off the power to the switch at the circuit breaker or fuse box and remove the switch cover. Then, place the tester on one of the screws and the other on the long metal terminal.
You should hear a beep or a clicking noise as you do this. This is a sign that the switch is not working properly and should be replaced.
Once you have a new switch, test it to ensure that it has the correct amperage and voltage ratings for your home. This will save you time and money in the future by avoiding costly errors.
Finally, match the screw locations on the new switch to the old ones by comparing them with a diagram of the wiring. This will make it easier for you to reconnect the wires correctly.
Whether you have a single-pole switch or a three-way switch, test each wire connection with the meter to confirm that it’s still functioning correctly. If you have a three-way switch, probe each of the side terminals for a single pole or both for a two-pole switch. Once you’ve tested each wire, flip the switch on and the meter should return a reading of 1 ohm or less, indicating that the switch is functioning correctly.
4. Check the Circuit Breaker
The circuit breaker in your home is a safety device that protects all of your appliances from an electric malfunction. A faulty breaker can cause serious damage to your wiring and equipment, or it can even start an electric fire in the worst case scenarios.
You can check whether your breaker is working properly by using a multimeter to measure its voltage capacity. This will help you determine if your breaker needs to be replaced or not.
To do this, remove the breaker cover in your home. Depending on your home’s set-up, this may be held together by screws or a hand lock. Make sure to take utmost care when removing the panel, as you don’t want to drop it or break it.
Next, place the tip of your red wire on the screw that holds each individual breaker handle in turn, while you connect the tip of your black wire to the neutral bar of your breaker (the one marked with the horseshoe and the “V” sign). Your multimeter will read the current through this wire and compare it to the voltage requirement for the breaker’s type.
If you get a reading that is different from the requirement of your breaker’s type, it means that your breaker has a fault. It’s important to replace your breaker as soon as possible, so that it doesn’t cause any more damage and potentially harm the rest of your electrical system.
You should also check for other signs that indicate the breaker is not working as it should. For example, if it gets weaker after each trip or if you notice physical damages like burn marks on the body of your breaker, then it’s probably time to replace it.
You should also test the resistance of the breaker with your multimeter. Generally, a good breaker will have a resistance of 0.0001 ohms or less. If you get a reading that is higher than this, it means there is too much resistance within the breaker and it needs to be replaced.