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  • How Electrical Issues Are Diagnosed


  • June 2, 2022

    If you suspect an electrical issue at home or it is apparent that something is wrong, a series of diagnostic steps are necessary to get to the bottom of the problem. 

    The first thing you should do is figure out whether the issue is constrained to your home or it is a bigger problem affecting your area. In some cases, your electrical system or appliances may be at fault. It may also be caused by a line fault or service disruption. 

    Check to see if your neighbors have power issues. If everything seems normal, you can rule out problems with the utility company, in which case you will have to diagnose your home’s electrical system. 

    Checking your main electrical panel

    Some circuits may have GFCI outlets or circuit breakers, which are especially sensitive to overloads and short circuits. When this happens, one of the circuit breakers in the associated panel might flip off. 

    Check the panel to see if any of the circuit breaker switches are in the ‘off’ position or partway between ‘off’ and ‘on’. If so, slide it to fully ‘off’ before switching it back to the ‘on’ position. 

    Tracing short circuits

    Short circuits occur when hot wires come in contact with neutral or ground wires. Because of the additional current passing through the circuit, breakers may trip, or fuses may blow.

    It’s usually easy to determine when your circuits are overloaded or if there is a short. In these cases, your lights may flicker or go out completely when turning on an appliance. But figuring out where the problem has occurred isn’t as easy. 

    Telltale signs to look for include black smudges on the cover plates of switches or receptacles that don’t work. You should also check your appliances’ cords or plugs to see if they are frayed. Damaged components should be replaced before changing fuses for new ones or resetting the circuit breaker. 

    An overloaded circuit usually causes one or more appliances to shut down after being operated for a short period. If this happens, move the affected device to another circuit before replacing the fuse and resetting the breaker for the affected circuit.

    Tracing a non-working circuit 

    If you can’t tell which circuit is malfunctioning, you must trace each one at a time. Here’s how to do it: 

    1. Turn off all your wall switches.
    2. Unplug all appliances connected to the affected circuit. 
    3. Install a new fuse and reset the circuit breaker.

    If the circuit shuts down immediately after resetting, there may be an issue with a switch or receptacle. Here’s how to fix it: 

    1. Turn off the power to the affected circuit. 
    2. Remove the cover plates of outlets and switches you suspect to be causing the problem. 
    3. Check whether bare wires are touching other wires or the metal circuit box. 
    4. Check for charred wires and insulation. 
    5. Repair or replace damaged wiring.

    Testing outlets and switches

    Some situations require testing outlets and switches to see if they are ‘live’. You can do this with a non-contact voltage tester or a neon tester. 

    Non-contact voltage testers are quick and easy to use and are quite safe. All you have to do is insert the tip into a power outlet or a switch. This should tell you whether the device in question is receiving voltage. 

    A neon tester is better suited for experienced electricians. It has probes that you insert into the slots of an electrical outlet to determine if it has power. You can tell that there is power if the tester lights up. Be careful not to touch the probes while they are plugged into the outlet. If there is power flowing through, doing so can give you a nasty shock. 

    To test a switch, you first must remove the cover plate. If using a non-contact tester, hold the connector against both terminals. You’ll know there is power flowing when the tester registers a signal. Make sure not to touch the terminals or any bare wires while conducting the test! 

    If you are using a neon tester, you will have to touch one probe to the hot wire or terminal, again being careful not to touch them with your hands. Connect the other probe to the neutral wire or terminal and see if it lights up. Alternatively, you could touch the probe on the grounding conductor or grounded metal box. 

    J.A. Bertsch

    J.A. Bertsch Heating & Cooling offers professional residential air conditioning services throughout Kootenai County. Our licensed A/C technicians cover all of North Idaho and our neighboring cities. Experience superior, award-winning service 24/7. Call us at 208-635-5480 to schedule an appointment.