Skip to main content

Common Home Electrical Issues

Home » Common Home Electrical Issues
Electrical Problems

Home Electrical Issues

Being ‘tuned into’ your home depends heavily on two key variables: a fundamental understanding of the basics, and good ‘situational awareness’. But these are not always easy to obtain. More than any other home topic, this holds true for your home’s electrical system and its health, including some of the more common signs of electrical issues and potential fires

Below, is our list of recommendations on how to care for your electrical system to prevent or minimize common damage…

Changing Bulb

Flickering Lights

A light can slightly dim or get brighter when your air conditioning system or other major appliances turns on or off, respectively. A slight change like this is relatively normal. In some cases, a light might flicker due to incompatibility between a dimmer switch and the type of lighting fixture. These are fairly common and are normally not cause for concern.

In contrast, where you really need to pay attention is if your lights flicker randomly, or even turn off and on intermittently. Assuming you’ve already checked to make sure the bulb or bulbs are secured correctly in their respective socket, this symptom is usually a sign of an issue somewhere within your home’s electrical system, such as a faulty or loose breaker in the main electrical panel.

In reality, it may not be lights that you notice, but maybe a TV or other device that behaves erratically, either on its own or when other loads are incurred on your electrical system (such as turning on lights in the next room).

Electrical Breaker Tripping

Excessive Breaker Tripping

If you have a breaker that seems to trip often, it may be a sign that there is a problem. An overloaded circuit or a problematic ground fault can cause a breaker to trip.

Separately, if you are in a newer home that might have a few arc fault breakers installed, these often trip despite no arc hazards being present. Well-known examples of appliances that can cause these to trip include vacuum cleaners and blenders. These breakers are designed to trip when a sizable arc fault occurs, the challenge here is that many of us will just attempt to reset the breaker. Regardless of the suspected cause, any breaker that keeps tripping, or that won’t reset at all, indicates a problem.

Broken Bulb

Noise

Cracking, popping, or buzzing at any point in your electrical system can be caused by several things. For instance, sometimes, a dimmer switch, or the lights connected to it, can create a ‘humming’ or buzzing noise when the lights are heavily dimmed. Also, an infrequent ‘crackle’ or small pop can sometimes be heard when using a wall switch. These are both common and normally not cause for concern.

In fact, a small electrical arc occurs whenever you use a rocker or dimmer switch to control lights, fans, and other devices.

Discolored Light Bulb

Warmth, Vibration, or Discoloration

As well, an outlet or switch (or the wall space around it) that is very warm to the touch, and/or which is vibrating, can be a sign of an issue. Safety first! Be sure not to touch any wires or touch near an actual socket.

Note however that a dimmer switch can feel slightly warm to the touch in the on position. This is perfectly normal, assuming:

  1. The switch is compatible with the bulb you are controlling,
  2. The switch is ‘rated’ above the aggregate maximum power requirements of the lights being controlled, and
  3. The switch was properly installed.

Finally, outlets or switches can show signs of discoloration or ‘burn marks’, often signs that wiring or connection is damaged and is arcing and releasing heat.

Light Bulb Odor

Odor

A burnt / odd odor might point to overheating and melting of insulator materials. These smells could mean that damage from overheating may have already begun and, if that’s the case, it is crucial to have it addressed by a professional electrician as soon as possible.

Naturally, if the smell does not subside or gets worse, it could be a developing fire in a hidden space. If you’re just not sure, it is better to be safe than sorry, dial 911 and get everyone out of the home.