Troubleshooting Simple Electrical Problems

by Pati Wilson
Trouble Shooting Simple Electrical Problems photo

Having an electrical problem? An electrician shares six simple issues that you probably can troubleshoot and correct on your own that will keep more of your money in your own pocket instead of his.

Electrical work is one home repair usually best left to professionals, but that can be expensive. While a licensed electrician should do installing or major repairs, there are simple and obvious do-it-yourself fixes.

Joe Perry, Oklahoma licensed electrical contractor/owner of Phoenix Electric in Tulsa, offers a few money- and time-saving steps a home owner can take before paying for a service call.

6 simple electrical problems to troubleshoot before calling an electrician:

Some of these may seem obvious, but electricians get called out to address these issues quite often.

1. Try more than one bulb.

Perry says, “If the homeowner changed the bulb but it still doesn’t work, they can move a working bulb to the problem fixture to test it. There can be bad bulbs and bad boxes of bulbs.”

2. Check all the switches to the problem light.

When a light controlled by a wall switch with two or three switches from different directions turning on that light (known as a three-way) has one in the middle position (didn’t quite get turned on or off), the light won’t come on. “This happens a lot when a light has switches at the top and bottom of a stairwell,” he says.

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3. If all the power goes off in your house, check your neighbors’ homes.

If other neighbors are also out, call the electric company. If it’s just your house or part of your house, go to your electrical box and, one at a time, turn the breakers off and then on or replace the fuses. Make sure you use the correct fuses.

4. If an appliance stops working, reset the GFCI outlet.

Perry explains, “Since 1987, bathrooms and kitchens are required to have GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters). This means the GFCI will trip (not work) if there is something wrong with the device plugged in, so you don’t get shocked. The outlet has two buttons labeled ‘test’ and ‘reset.’ Push the ‘reset’ and try the device.”

5. If the reset doesn’t fix it, unplug the appliances.

There may be more power being drawn than the circuit can supply. Once you unplug the appliances, reset the breaker in your breaker box and plug in what you need.

You can calculate how many watts appliances use by looking at the name plates and adding them up. If your breaker or fuse is 15 amps, you can use 1350 watts, and 20 amps will handle 1800 watts on that circuit. More than that and it will trip.

6. Save time and money by numbering your outlets and breakers or fuses.

All number ones go to breaker or fuse number one. Have a friend help with this. Several outlets, even in different rooms, may be on one circuit. This will save you time identifying what needs to be reset or replaced if you know what each one controls. It will save you money if you need an electrician because they won’t have to check each breaker until they find the faulty one.

Perry warns, “Consumers need to forget the old wives’ tale of putting a penny behind a fuse or using bigger fuses or breakers to stop a circuit from tripping. It trips to keep you from having a fire or explosion. It’s always about safety first!”

You might not plan on installing a fixture no matter how easy it looks on a YouTube video, but it’s nice to know common electrical problems that can easily be fixed without so much as a screwdriver.

Reviewed September 2020

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