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Troubleshooting Home Electrical Problems

Advice on how to diagnose the cause of a power outage and what to do to remedy the situation

Nearly everyone has experienced a power failure. When this happens, the first thing to do is determine whether the problem lies in your house’s system or is a utility company outage. If the whole house is out and it looks like your neighbors have lost power too, call the utility company. If any of your home’s electrical power works—receptacles or lights in another room, for example—the problem is with your system.

Turn the circuit breaker all of the way off, then flip it back to "ON."©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Turn the circuit breaker all of the way off, then flip it back to “ON.”

The problem is generally caused by an overloaded circuit, a short circuit, or loose wiring. If the problem occurred when someone was using a hair dryer, electric heater, or some other device that draws a lot of current, it was probably caused by a simple overload. If the circuit is overloaded, a circuit breaker should have tripped or a fuse should have blown. If the non-working circuit has a GFCI receptacle or circuit breaker, you can often solve the problem by simply pushing the reset button. If not, check the subpanel or main panel that serves the circuit.

If your circuits are protected by fuses, remove and replace those that are blown.©HomeTips

If your circuits are protected by fuses, remove and replace those that are blown.

Turn off or unplug everything from the troubled circuit. Then reset the breaker or replace the fuse. If the circuit blows immediately, there is probably a charred wire or defective device in the circuit that will require replacement. If the circuit doesn’t blow, turn the lights back on and plug in appliances one by one to check for the overload or short circuit. (If one device that draws a lot of current seems to overload the circuit, you can turn off other devices when using it, but it is probably a better idea to have your electrical service upgraded.) If the lights or receptacles still don’t work, there is probably a loose wire somewhere. In the case of a charred or loose wire, you will need to call in an electrician.

Do not do your own electrical repair unless you are accomplished at and knowledgeable about electrical work. If you are, be sure to follow all safety precautions: Never work on live electrical wires. Always shut off the circuit first. And do not stand in water or on a damp floor, even when working on low-voltage wiring such as telephone wires.

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Join the Conversation

  • Patrick Hughes

    my 3 way light works perfect with standard bulbs. But have a faint glow with LED bulbs. What would cause this to happen?

    • Brian E

      Patrick, I’ve seen this when the light switches draw some power when ‘off’, e.g. ones that have built-in night lights, fancy electronics for tap/touch or remote control, or a slider dimmer that’s not completely switched off. These seem to count on being able to run some current through filament lights while they’re ‘off’ (without lighting them up), but the LED bulbs will often glow with even a small voltage/current available.

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