500,000 house fires each year are caused by faulty wiring and electronic malfunctions, causing millions of dollars of damage and thousands of injuries. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to tell you have a problem before it’s too late, as the warning signs may literally be hidden behind your walls. The most modern households often boast smart home hubs, which keep track of energy consumption and report any malfunctions. Such systems can monitor the energy usage of each area of the house, helping you to evenly distribute your power usage and even lessen your carbon footprint. In older homes, however, these 11 simple warning signs could indicate you have electrical faults in your home.
1. Regular Inspections
Generally, inspections are only required when renovating or making an addition to a household. However, experts recommend an inspection every 10 years. Check the date on your fuse box if you do not know when the last inspection was performed. Make sure to call in the experts at Rytec Electric to check that your wiring is in good shape!
While you should address any loose wires or exposed live wires without delay, issues with your wiring may not be immediately visible. f you have had any rodent issues in the past, rats love to chew on electrical wires and may have left exposed ends you are not aware of. A recent natural disaster, such as a flood or earthquake, may also be a good reason to have an electrician check your wiring.
2. Frequent Breaker Trips
It’s normal for your circuit breaker to trip occasionally, as it is designed to protect your house from power surges and short circuits. Surges can be caused by lightning strikes or damage to power lines, but happening regularly, it is likely that you have a recurring electrical problem which you are not aware of.
The electrical requirements of newer devices are often greater than what older houses can provide and may overwhelm faulty wiring. If a certain appliance causes the breaker to trip whenever or wherever it is plugged in, the issue is with the appliance. Cheap or counterfeit electrical products can often cause such issues.
You may consider limiting power usage when a device with high wattage requirements is plugged in. If your breaker trips regardless of the devices you have plugged in, the issue is in your house’s wiring. Frequent surges can overwhelm even properly designed wiring, degrading your house’s electrical components and shortening their lifespan.
3. Hot Outlets or Switches
If your wiring properly conducts electricity, it should emit minimal or no heat. Heat in electrical components is a sign that the electrical current is facing too much resistance. This could also be a sign that it is receiving a dangerous amount of excess electricity. Dimmer switches may be warm to the touch because of they are designed to dissipate some of the flow of power but should never be hot.
If you notice heat from an outlet or a switch, unplug the device or turn off the switch right away. Similarly, any burning or discoloration on outlet cover plates could mean that frayed wires are producing sparks behind the outlet, which could lead to an electrical fire.
Lighting fixtures can also overheat if not properly wired or insulated and may cause lightbulbs to wear out too soon—or in extreme cases, even explode! If your lightbulbs continue to produce too much heat for your liking, consider switching from incandescent bulbs to more environmentally friendly compact fluorescent lights or LEDs.
4. Buzzing Fixtures
Perfectly functioning electrical fixtures should be silent. Buzzing happens when currents jump a disruption, like frayed wire, loose prongs or outlets, and is a clear sign that something is wrong.
Also, fixtures are designed to keep you safe from shocks. Some devices, if improperly plugged in or grounded, may cause electrical shocks. If you ever receive an electrical shock from a switch or an outlet, turn off the flow of electricity to it and get an electrician to investigate it.
5. Dim or Flickering Lights
Lights may flicker from time to time, depending upon inclement weather and the availability of power in your area. But if your lightbulbs and fixtures are securely installed, this should not be a common issue. If you notice your lights flickering regularly, it probably means that electricity that should be flowing into the light fixture is getting lost somewhere along the way, or that you have too many devices running off of the same circuit. Check for any loose connections in your wiring. Flickering throughout the house could mean either a serious haunting issue or a problem with your breaker box.
Dim lights could signify a similar problem. Check to make sure your bulbs are of the same wattage, otherwise they may provide different levels of light. If the bulbs are not the problem, it’s most likely your neutral connection.
6. Smoke or Odd Odors
You know what they say, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.” If you notice any odd smells coming from outlets or from areas where wires are running, it is possible faulty or worn wires are producing extra heat or sparks, both of which pose a serious fire hazard. There may also be a point of resistance that is causing heat to build up, potentially even melting away the plastic casing of the wire.
Smoke is an even clearer warning sign, and if any of your fixtures are producing smoke, turn off the flow of power to them immediately. You don’t want a fire starting behind your walls, so make sure to address any smoke or discoloration right away.
7. Extension Cords
Using a lot of extension cords is less of a warning sign than a risk; the wiring in your house is expertly designed to minimize potential for electrical issues, but running extension cords creates additional points where wires can get pinched or short out and endanger the entire system. Daisy chaining them can also pose a risk, as it forces the power from your house to run much further than it is designed to.
Extension cords are best used sparingly and temporarily, such as during the holidays. If you do not have enough outlets for your daily needs, you should have an electrician install extra.
8. Unsafe or Outdated Outlets
Older houses typically sport two-pronged outlets. These are insufficient for newer devices, which have greater power needs and require grounding to be charged safely. Even if your house seems to have three-pronged outlets, it is important to use a tester to ensure that a previous owner did not simply install three-pronged plates on top of two-pronged fixtures. An ungrounded electrical system can lead to shocks from your outlets.
Similarly, certain rooms require special outlets. Bathrooms and kitchens in particular, because of the presences of water, should be outfitted with ground fault circuit interrupters. These ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) are shock-resistant outlets that typically have two buttons at the center to help you identify them. They help prevent electrocution by stopping the flow of electricity to the socket in case of human contact. Consider replacing normal outlets in these rooms for extra safety. Loose outlets are also a relatively easy fix and should be addressed when noticed.
9. Faulty Switches
One sure sign of poor electrical workmanship is light switches and dimmers that do not work properly. Similarly, switches that don’t work at all either do not connect to the circuit or signify that some aspect of the circuit is not working.
10. Outdated Wiring
If you have any of the above issues, it may be the result of outdated wiring. A copper shortage in the late 60s and early 70s led to many houses being built with aluminum wiring. Although aluminum wiring has been grandfathered into more recent electrical codes, it is more susceptible to oxidization than copper. This increases the heat that your wires generate while conducting electricity, causing homes with aluminum wiring to be 55 percent more at risk of fire than homes with copper wiring. If you know your house was built when aluminum wiring was commonplace, it may be wise to call an electrician.
11. High Electricity Bills
A sure sign of an electrical fault is an electricity bill that is higher than expected. Faulty wiring can result in a lot of wasted energy. To lower your bill, make sure any damaged of faulty wiring is repaired and address any leaks in your hot water system. Addressing your faulty wiring issues keeps you safe, but it also saves you money—and helps the planet, too.
Your Safety is the Bottom Line!
A small electrical fault can quickly become a much bigger hazard. You need to be careful and keep an eye on faulty wires. Similarly, don’t overtax your house’s electrical capabilities. Unplug devices that aren’t in use, avoid unnecessary extension cords, and distribute your electrical needs between different outlets. If you keep track of these key signs, you can be sure that your house’s electricity is running efficiently and safely!