Common Power Problems
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- Short Circuits
- GFI Receptacles
- Circuit Breaker Tripped Off
- Receptacles Controlled by Switches
- No Power At All
A short circuit is the result of two electrical wires coming into contact with one another, causing the associated circuit breaker to trip off.
The best way to fix a blown circuit breaker is to figure out what changed right before the power stopped. If something was turned on or was plugged in immediately prior to the breaker flipping, this might have caused the problem.
For example, if you just plugged in a new microwave, try unplugging it and resetting the breaker. If this fixes the problem, you may need to replace the microwave.
If this does not fix the problem, you will need to have a certified electrician come out to troubleshoot the problem.
GFI outlets are used in areas where water may be present. This includes kitchens, garages, outdoors and bathrooms. These outlets, which include heightened safety features, are designed to cut the flow of power whenever any electrical problems are encountered.
If you have lost power in one of the areas listed above, the first thing you should do is check to see if the outlet is a GFI outlet. If so, try resetting the receptacle by pressing the “TEST” button, followed by the “RESET” button. This should reset the power. If the test does not work, or if the outlet frequently turns the power off, you should have an electrician come make sure the outlet is not damaged or broken.
Many outlets in kitchens, bathrooms, and other areas that are frequently wet may not appear to be GFI outlets. In order to maintain safety, however, these outlets are protected by nearby GFIs. Keep this in mind if you lose power. Check all of the GFI outlets in an area to determine whether or not the outlet in question is protected by another GFI outlet.
More GFI Information:
GFI outlets are built to be sensitive enough to detect changes in electrical currents as small as 3ma. When any problems are sensed, such as more power coming in the hot side than is going out the neutral side, a GFI outlet will shut off. The electricity must either go out the neutral end or into the ground to protect you from a potentially deadly electrical shock.
If you have GFI outlets, you should check them on a monthly basis. This is easy, and only requires you to press the “TEST” button. If the “RESET” button pops out, just push it back in and you’re done. If it does not pop out, you will need to call an electrician to make sure the outlet is still working properly.
By following the steps below, when you experience an outage you can actually solve nearly 25% of all electrical problems. One thing to remember is that an outlet can appear to be on (it is still in the on position), even if it has tripped off internally.
Follow these 5 steps whenever you experience a power outage:
- Start by turning off any computers or other electrical items that could be affected by turning off the power.
- Flip the first breaker in your panel to the off position, and then turn it back on.
- Do this with all of the breakers in your breaker panel, one at a time.
- Return to where you had lost power to see if you have power or not.
- If everything is working properly, then the problem should be resolved. If you still have no power in this area, you should consult an electrician.
More About Circuit Breakers
Circuit breakers typically provide two different types of protection: thermal and magnetic. A magnetic coil is used to measure any changes in the electrical current so that it can cut power if it rises above a certain level. Thermal protection employs a thermal strip that detects any built up heat when a circuit is overloaded. When temperatures get too high, it will flip the breaker. In older systems, it was common for only one of these methods to be used. In newer circuit breakers, however, both are typically used to increase safety.
There are three places that a circuit breaker will typically begin to wear out. The first and most noticeable is the on/off switch at the top. This can become loose, or even break off. If this happens, it is our recommendation that you replace this breaker. The second is the load lug. If you notice that the load lug appears burnt, discolored or damaged, you should have it replaced. The most common place a circuit breaker deteriorates is at the breaker stab. The stab is where the breaker connects with the panel bussing (the bussing distributes power to the electrical panel). The stab is particularly subject to wear because it connects via friction and spring tension alone. As time goes on, this tension can deteriorate, and lead to arcing or burning. If any of your breaker stabs are loose, burnt or discolored, it is strongly recommended that you have them replaced. This is also a good time to have your bussing panel checked out.
NOTE: In some cases, a breaker may outwardly appear to be in perfect condition, although it provides intermittent or poor electrical current. This can also hold true for damaged looking breakers that work perfectly. Because of this, you should never rely on appearance alone to dictate whether or not a breaker is still operating properly. As a rule, consult with an electrician whenever you have any questions about your breaker panel, or the individual circuits within.
Many homes and offices use switches to control specific outlets in certain rooms. This is particularly useful for controlling lamps and other items that are frequently turned on and off.
If you have no power going to a device that is plugged into a wall outlet, first try turning all of the switches in the room on and off. If this turns your device on, then you will know which switch controls that outlet.
In some cases, a switch will control only one of the two outlets found in your standard receptacle. It is possible for the other to remain permanently energized, and is referred to as a “half-hot” receptacle.
If you have experienced an outage to your entire building, it is the result of one of the following:
- Something has either flipped off or broken your main circuit breaker. Try resetting the main circuit breaker.
- Something is causing the electricity not to reach your own electrical panel. Time to call your utility company.
- Nobody in your area is receiving power from the utility company. Call them and wait for them to restore power to your area.
- Your circuit breakers have been tripped off for one reason or another. Try resetting them all.
- If none of the above have caused your power outage, you will need to call an electrician.