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Ground Fault Interrupters (GFI)

According to the National Electrical Code, in all kitchens, bathrooms, garages, unfinished basements, outdoors, or any area in which water may be present, instead of regular receptacles (outlets), GFI receptacles should be used. These are for your safety.

The idea of a GFI receptacle is that if there is the slightest electrical problem, the GFI immediately shuts off the power. This is an important safety feature.

When you lose power to a receptacle in a kitchen, bathroom, garage, or outdoor area, check to see if it’s a GFI receptacle. If it is, press the “TEST” button, then press the “RESET” button. If the GFI shuts off power repeatedly, plug in a different appliance to test whether the problem is the first appliance or the GFI itself. If the GFI is defective, call a good electrician.

Hint: You may have a receptacle that has lost power in a kitchen, bathroom, garage, or outdoor area but it’s not a GFI. It may be “protected” by a GFI that has tripped off somewhere else or a GFCI circuit breaker. You can check for this situation by making sure that all the GFIs in your kitchen, bathroom, garage, and outdoor areas are working properly.

More Technical Data About GFCI

A GFI receptacle (also called a GFCI receptacle) can measure differences in power as small as 3 or 5ma (which is a very small amount). When it detects more power coming in from the “hot” side than going out from the neutral side, it will shut off. This is a good thing because that extra electricity has to go somewhere, and it’s important to protect you and your family from it.

All GFI receptacles should be tested monthly. This is done by pressing the “TEST” button. If pressing the “TEST” button does not make the button labeled “RESET” pop out, then call an electrician. If the “RESET” button does pop out, the outlet is OK. Press the “RESET” button back in to reset the outlet.

Refrigerator Power

If the power goes out to your refrigerator or freezer, you need to fix it fast! Here are two tips to help you quickly restore power:

1. If your refrigerator is plugged into a GFI receptacle (a receptacle is an outlet), you can re-set the GFI and see if you now have power. If this works, that’s great! If not, proceed to #2.

2. If you can’t restore power to the receptacle that your refrigerator is plugged into, you should call an electrician who is good at troubleshooting to locate and fix the problem. But while you’re waiting for the electrician to arrive, you can plug the refrigerator into a heavy-duty extension cord and plug it in to a receptacle that has power.

This will keep your food cold and safe until your electrician arrives.

Lighting Problems

Lights Not Turning On

Lights don’t turn on for six basic reasons:

1. The bulb is bad. This is more common than one might think. Try replacing a questionable light bulb with a new one. If that doesn’t work, before giving up, try using a bulb from another light fixture that you KNOW is working.

2. The switch to the light is bad. The switch will need to be replaced.

3. The light fixture is broken. Usually it is easiest and least expensive to simply replace the fixture. However, many light fixtures can be repaired if it is desired.

4. No power. Please go to the Power Problems section.

5. The time clock for the light is not set for the correct time or is broken. Re-set the time or replace the broken time clock.

6. If the light fixture is activated by a photo-cell and/or motion sensor, the photo-cell and/or motion sensor is out of adjustment or broken. Adjust or replace the photo-cell and/or motion sensor.

7. Fluorescent, Mercury-Vapor, or High-Pressure-Sodium Lights. These kinds of light fixtures all use an electrical ballast to energize their special light bulbs. If the light is humming loudly or has an “electrical odor,” or if the light just doesn’t turn on, the ballast may need to be replaced.

Lights Not Turning Off

1. The switch to the light fixture is broken. Replace the switch.

2. The time clock for the light is broken or out of adjustment. Set the time clock to the right time. If it won’t stay adjusted, replace the time clock.

3. If the light fixture is activated by a photo-cell and/or motion sensor, the photo-cell and/or motion sensor is either out of adjustment or broken. Adjust or replace the photo-cell and/or motion sensor.

Lights Blinking On And Off

There are two main reasons for lights blinking on and off:

1. A photo-cell and/or motion sensor is out of adjustment. Adjust the photo-cell and/or motion sensor.

2. Some light fixtures that are recessed into the ceiling have a built-in thermal protector that automatically shuts off the light when the fixture gets too hot. Use a lower wattage bulb for a lower temperature.

Flickering Fluorescent Lights

There are three reasons fluorescent lights flicker:

1. For a few moments when they first turn on, the bulbs will flicker until they warm up. You will notice this more on colder days. Just wait a few moments for the bulbs to warm up.

2. The fluorescent bulbs are old. Replace them.

3. The fluorescent ballast is old. Replace it.

Bulbs Burning Out Too Quickly

Here are four reasons bulbs burn out quickly:

1. The wattage of the bulb is too high. This is very common. Most light fixtures with glass covers have a maximum rating of 60 watts per bulb. It is very common for people to put in 75 watt or even 100 watt bulbs. The result is bulbs burning out much too quickly. Use the correct wattage bulbs in all your light fixtures.

2. Poor-quality lights bulbs. Use only major-brand light bulbs.

3. Mysterious light fixture problems. It’s mysterious because the light fixture LOOKS perfectly fine, and even electricians can’t find anything wrong with it. Nevertheless, after checking #1 and #2 above, if the bulbs keep burning out…replace the light fixture.

4. Purchase light bulbs with a voltage rating of 130 volts.

Humming Lights

Humming lights can be caused by:

1. A bad ballast or bad transformer. Replace the ballast or transformer.

2. A conflict between a low-voltage dimmer and the low-voltage light fixture it controls. This is a tough one, but sometimes experimenting with different dimmers will lead you to one that doesn’t make the low-voltage light transformer hum.

Lights Dimming

Lights will sometimes dim for a few seconds and then come back to complete brightness again. This can happen when a light is connected to the same wires that provide power to an appliance that takes a lot of power, like a refrigerator, a microwave oven, or an air conditioner. The reason the light dims for a few seconds is that the appliance is using a lot of power when it first starts up. After the appliance is running for a few seconds, it will use less power, and the light will return to normal again. If you have central air-conditioning, the lights may dim each time the air conditioning comes on.

You will usually notice this dimming more at night (for obvious reasons!), but you might also notice it in the daytime. If this dimming bothers you, you can handle the problem by having an electrician add another circuit specifically for the appliance that is causing the dimming problem.

NOTE: If you haven’t changed anything electrical in your home or office, and you suddenly start to have dimming problems or power fluctuations, then you probably have a loose wire somewhere. You should contact an electrician skilled in troubleshooting to find and correct this problem.

Lights Overly Bright

If you experience a situation where the lighting in your house is overly bright, or brightens then returns to normal, this is a situation of great concern. Contact your electrician for immediate emergency service.

Resetting Circuit Breakers

The first thing to understand is that a circuit breaker can have tripped off even when it looks like it’s in the “ON” position. This is because a circuit breaker will sometimes trip off internally, without the “ON/OFF” handle flipping to the “OFF” position.

This is what to do when you have a loss of power that you suspect may be caused by a tripped circuit breaker.

  1. Shut down any computer equipment that may be affected by a loss of power.
  2. Go to your circuit breaker panel and firmly flip the first breaker OFF and then back ON again.
  3. Do the same thing with each circuit breaker until you have flipped all of the circuit breakers OFF and then back ON again.
  4. Now check and see whether the device that didn’t have power is now back on again.
  5. If your power has been restored… you’re done! If your power is still out, it’s time to call an electrician.

Note: About 25% of all electrical power problems can be solved using the above technique. Good Luck!

More Technical Stuff About Circuit Breakers

Inside most circuit breakers there are two types of protection: One is thermal. The other is magnetic. The thermal strip measures heat build-up caused by overloading. When it reaches a certain temperature, it will shut off the breaker. The magnetic coil measures sudden increases in current (such as a short). At a predetermined limit it will shut the breaker off. Older breakers sometimes have only one of these features. For maximum protection, a breaker with both types of protection is recommended.

There are usually three spots on the outside of a breaker that show wear. If the “ON/OFF” switch (located at the top) has broken off or is loose, we recommend the breaker be replaced. Next is the load lug. If it is burnt or abnormally loose, we recommend the breaker be replaced. Last, and most common, is the stab. The breaker stab is what makes contact with the bussing in the panel (the bussing carries the power throughout the panel). The stab connects to the bussing through friction and spring tension. The spring tension, over time, may break down. If so, arcing or burning may result. If the stab has become burnt, discolored, or is abnormally loose, we recommend that the breaker be replaced and that the bussing in the panel be checked.

NOTE: It is possible for a breaker to appear OK in regard to it’s outward appearance and its capacity to carry continuity, but still be questionable, bad, or intermittent. The opposite may be true as well. A breaker with a poor outward appearance may be perfectly safe and structurally sound. Therefore a decision to replace a breaker should not be based solely on appearance, continuity, age, etc. A good electrician can recommend the proper course of action based on taking into account all the relevant factors.

Fuses

When a fuse detects too much power running through a wire, a tiny piece of metal inside the fuse will break, thereby stopping the power from continuing to run through the wire.

When the top of the fuse is made of glass, many people think that they can look at the metal piece inside and see if it is broken. THIS IS NOT ALWAYS TRUE.

The best way to handle a suspected blown fuse is to simply replace it. If the power comes back on, great! If it doesn’t, then you should call an electrician who is good at troubleshooting.

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