Common Winter Electrical Problems . . . and what to do about them
Often accompanied by cold and abrupt weather, winter is a rough season for many homes in the Pittsburgh region. Powering various heaters, appliances, etc., a home’s electrical system must be properly equipped for winter.
Preparing for static electricity, tripped breakers, and a variety of other common electrical problems, a home’s electrical system might need upgrading or repair depending on its age and condition.
The good news is that while there is a list of common winter electrical issues, there are also a number of reliable solutions to ensure your home stays lit and safe this season.
To be better prepared as well as being safe, here are several common electrical issues that can pop up any time this winter and what you can do about them.
Breaker Trips/Power outages
Winter is the most demanding time for electricity. Heating systems, portable heaters, and other seasonal devices put a significant strain on a home’s electrical system. In addition, breaker trips and simple electrical issues, such as flickering lights, are common occurrences during the winter months.
A tripping breaker can be a sign of a serious problem that needs to be addressed right away. This means you are using too much power on that circuit. If you have tripping breakers, no matter what time of year, you need to have a safety check performed on your electrical system.
Fact is, the most common cause of a tripped breaker in the winter, however, is electrical space heaters in the home. When it happens, it’s a warning sign that you need to figure out why it’s happening and get to the root of the problem.
Usually, the unit is simply overheating the circuit by using more current than is available. The action of the breaker tripping is essentially a safety mechanism to avoid overheating and possibly a fire. As a prime example, your breaker might trip when operating an electrical space heater because too many appliances are on the same circuit. Then again, your circuit breaker might be old and in need of replacement. The point is that it’s not normal for a breaker to trip, no matter how you slice it.
Consider a heavy up
To avoid a re-occurrence of this irritating concern, you may want to consider a heavy up. This means that an electrician will increase the amperage coming into your home through the service panel. A heavy up will not only make your life easier by providing adequate energy to your home, but it’s also an important safety measure to keep overloaded wires from sparking and starting fires.
Sparking wires and damaged wiring
Speaking of sparking wires, plugging into an outlet can occasionally cause a few sparks to fly, but not all these sparks are harmless. A sparking outlet can be a sign of a bigger electrical problem.
When an outlet gets too hot, it can melt away the protective coating on the wires, causing electricity to jump through the bare wires. Therefore, an electrician should handle a sparking outlet without delay as it puts you at risk of an electrical fire. It’s also a concern if one or more outlets don’t work at all.
Many people have dead outlets in their homes that they don’t really think about. As minor as the problem may seem, any time you discover a dead outlet, you should make plans to have the electrical services in your home checked out by a professional.
If there is an electrical problem, you might also smell it or hear it before you actually see it. If you can detect a burning smell coming out of an outlet, call an electrician immediately. Outlets and appliances that operate normally will make little to no noise, but they can trigger a buzzing sound if there is an issue. Again, call an electrician if you hear a buzzing from any outlet.
One more thing — Be on the lookout for damaged, frayed, or exposed wires as they also put you at risk of electrical fires. Look for any patches of exposed wire, cuts, black or brown stains, or a nasty burning smell, as that usually is a sign of damaged wiring. Damaged wires need to be replaced immediately.
A suggestion: You might want to consider installing a multimeter that can check if an outlet is receiving sufficient power and check if the wires are properly connected.
Does your home have outdated circuits?
For homes more than 20 years old, you might have modern amenities powered by an out-of-date circuit. If you don’t know if your home has been rewired for modern usage, consider having an electrician inspect your home to find out. Circuit breakers are essential to preventing electrical fires, so if your circuits are unsuitable to your needs, that puts you at risk.
If you encounter any of these problems, contact the electrical experts at J&A South Park for a thorough inspection of your electrical system.
Old electrical devices and appliances
Outdated electrical equipment can jeopardize an electrical system during the winter season. For example, if your outdoor light fixtures are cracked or rusting, moisture can get inside and short out the fixture or trip the circuit. If your electrical panel is in the garage, it too can suffer from the cold and humidity. Rust can build up on the panel and create very hazardous conditions.
Another example– Dated space heaters, electric blankets, etc., are often incompatible with modern homes. With the potential of causing an electrical fire, any older equipment or appliances present in your home must be checked regularly. Often used as a general guideline, if a heating appliance is older than five years, it is outdated and may need to be replaced.
Old electrical appliances and gadgets are also at much bigger risk of malfunctioning and triggering blowouts during the colder months. During this time, you’ll depend on devices that have been in storage most of the year, such as electric blankets and space heaters. All these items are prone to getting damaged owing to minimal use or mediocre storage conditions.
This can become a critical issue, and statistics demonstrate that faulty electrical equipment, most especially space heaters, accounts for about 26,000 house fires every year in the United States alone. This is compared to around 400 fires instigated every year by holiday lighting decorations, including Christmas lighting.
Moreover, some of the fire-related deaths that take place are initiated by substandard electrical devices. Old and defective electoral appliances can put you and your loved ones and your valuables at risk. That said, they need to be carefully inspected when first taken from storage and prior to subjecting them to extended use.
Besides, many older appliances are not very energy efficient. They use more energy than they require and may even be energy vampires, meaning they continue to use energy even when they are turned off.
Problems with normal furnace operations
No doubt your furnace will probably get used quite a bit when it’s cold outside. As such, you may very well experience some furnace issues.
If your furnace keeps cycling on or the fan keeps blowing, you may have a concern with a switch or other electrical component. This is a problem you should leave to the professionals.
Also, if you have trouble getting your furnace to respond after using the thermostat, it may be time to have the connection between your furnace and thermostat restored with brand new wiring.
To keep these issues from affecting your home’s comfort during the winter, you should contact your local electricians at J&A South Park at your earliest convenience.
Winters can get really dry and cold, the perfect conditions for creating static electricity.
While static electricity may seem somewhat of a minor inconvenience, it can be a genuine headache if you and your family are constantly getting zapped. Moreover, static electricity can actually be quite hazardous in certain conditions. If a damaged or unmonitored electrical current or flammable substance is nearby, as a prime example, static electricity can result in a more powerful shock.
As we’ve noted, static electricity is more prevalent during winter when the air in your home is dry from running the heat. An easy and economical solution to reduce the risk of static shocks and improve overall air quality is to place a portable humidifier in the driest areas of your home or you may even want to contemplate the purchase of a whole-home humidifier for maximum protection and comfort.
Problems with your home’s lighting
Flickering lights: Considered one of the most common electrical issues, you might experience a few flickering lights, especially in the winter. Make sure the light bulb is tightly screwed in, and if that doesn’t work, replace it with a new one.
However, if replacing the bulb doesn’t work, the issue is most likely a bad connection. Fixing any wiring issues should be left to a licensed electrician, as they can safely repair your light fixture.
Burnt out bulbs: A light bulb that burns out too quickly is another sign of electrical issues. It’s most likely the issue is with the bulb itself. The problem, however, could also be that your power provider is delivering more power than your light bulb is designed to handle, shortening the lifespan. Replacing the bulbs in your home with one that can receive a higher voltage might solve the problem.
Failed water heater
Things often fail when we need them the most. A water heater is a perfect example. You wouldn’t be the first homeowner to get up bright and early, only to discover there’s no hot water when you want to take a shower.
If you have an electric water heater, you may want to have an electrician inspect it before the really cold air sets in. While many things can prevent your water tank from heating up, some of the causes can be spotted early on and corrected.
Storm damage and power outages
An electrical outage can happen due to any number of reasons. No matter how great our electrical system is, it can never be completely resilient, especially from storms bringing strong winds and heavy snow. We in the Pittsburgh region know all too well that winter may bring disastrous weather conditions resulting in iced over and downed power lines.
Thoroughly checking your home’s electrical system will help determine if it’s winter-ready. In addition, calling a trusted electrical company such as J&A South Park to inspect your home’s electrical system can help you prepare for and avoid preventable losses of power.
As a reliable provider of backup power, a generator may also be installed for use when a power outage is unavoidable. If you already own a generator, it would be wise to check the condition of the unit to ensure that it will be functioning during harsh winter weather.
At J&A South Park, we believe in safety first. If you suspect a problem with your electrical system, give us a call for a safety evaluation. A small investment can result in peace of mind knowing you and your family are safe and secure.
As they say, knowledge is power. When you’re armed with knowing what to look for, you can sleep a bit easier by addressing these common electrical issues. Contact us at (412) 357-6043 to begin learning today!