Uncovering Electrical Problems in your home
Faulty electrical installations are a common cause of fires in residential areas, and homebuyers should be extremely careful when inspecting their future home. According to recent studies, over 15% of all fires which occurred in Canada’s residential districts in 2009-2013 period were traced back to electrical problems, which is a rather disturbing figure considering that such incidents are highly preventable. Before you buy your next piece of property, make sure you have carried out a thorough inspection of existing wiring and appliances – and here are some basic guidelines on how to spot telltale signs of faulty installations and pinpoint hidden power problems before they evolve into a life hazard.
1. Power outlets are hot or discolored
During the preliminary house viewing, check the shape of existing power outlets. Outlets that are discolored or feel hot to touch are a sign of faulty breakers or internal wiring defects. In case only one outlet is problematic, the reason may lie in loose internal contacts or wires, and this issue can be easily fixed. In case the breaker is causing the problem, however, you will need to unplug all devices connected to the circuit, shut off power supply, and have the unit replaced by a professional electrician for maximum safety and minimal risk of sparking or fires.
2. Lights buzz and/or flicker
Lights that often buzz, chatter, or flicker point to fraying wires or loose connections are an indicator of potential electrical problems. Replace the bulb: if flickering and buzzing persist, you should have a professional inspect the internal wiring on the property. Do not take these minor issues lightly, as they can be an indicator of large-scale hazards such as loose electrical panels, cyclic voltage dips, circuit overloading, power build-up, and faulty wiring which can cause extensive damage to household appliances.
3. Frequent breaker flips or blown fuses
Breakers tend to trip if too many devices are connected to a single circuit. A breaker that flips frequently even if only one outlet is used, however, is a sign of underlying circuit problems. For this reason, you should contact a professional and have them inspect the wiring for ground faults, short circuits, connection defects, and other potential causes of power failure.
4. Wiring is outdated
The lifespan of most electrical systems ranges from 30 to 40 years. Unfortunately, many homeowners decide to replace the wiring only after a fire or power failure occurs. Because of this, wiring should receive special attention in house flipping projects as new installations can substantially increase the property value and its marketability. In case circuit breakers trip often, or fuses blow out every once in a while, your property may be suffering from chronic electricity glitches caused by the system’s old age and/or outdated knob and tube wiring.
5. Wiring is made from aluminum
Old homes usually have aluminum wiring, so if your crib-to-be has over 40 years under its belt, you may want to reconsider your investment as a comprehensive electrical overhaul may be required soon. Aluminum wiring tends to oxidize and corrode faster than its copper counterpart, and it is also more likely to cause splice and terminal overheating. Installing copper connectors (a.k.a. pigtails) at breakers and receptacles can prevent large-scale power issues, but the process is time-consuming and does not provide a lifelong solution to the main problem. In Winnipeg, certain neighbourhoods built between 1960-1976 may feature aluminum wiring.
6. Faulty arcs
An arc fault occurs when the current swerves from its designated path, and it is the number one cause of electrical fires. Arc defects are caused by internal wiring faults (e.g. pierced wires), damaged cords, pinched or overheated wires/cords, and loose outlet connections, and issues stemming from them are highly preventable granted timely detection. In case a professional electrician discovers an arc fault, they will usually install an arc-fault circuit interrupter, a device that identifies wiring abnormalities and shuts down the current before it overheats.
7. Low-end or counterfeit electrical products
Counterfeit circuit breakers, extension cords, and power strips often melt, blow off, and spark, which is why they are another common cause of electrical fires. If possible, avoid buying cheap flea market products as the initially low price can quite literally set your wallet on fire; instead, opt for sockets and extension cords that bear holograms or logos of recognized manufacturers as these are the best guarantee of quality.
8. Electrical appliances cause tingling when touched
Appliances that give off a tingling sensation or minor shock when touched point to a problem beyond mere static electricity. Underground circuits, short circuits, and loose connections can be hiding behind the slight tingling, so if the device does not feel 100% safe to touch, unplug it and call a professional electrician to examine both the appliance and the wiring system.
9. Persistent smell of burning
Burning scents that trace back to appliances and wiring can point to the device/installation malfunctioning and/or overheating. If possible, locate the source of unpleasant smell, unplug the appliance, and have it checked, repaired, or replaced. In case outlets or wires are the source of the burning smell, turn off the circuit breaker and contact a qualified electrician immediately. It may be a wise idea to install a smoke and carbon dioxide alarm to stay on the safe side of the current: this way, you will be immediately notified should something go awry on your property power-wise.
10. Broken plugs/switches, octopus connections, and snaking extension cords
Broken outlets, plugs, and switches in your new home will need to be updated to prevent power problems, so see that they are replaced before you move in. Also, if you see too many extension cords snaking across the premises, it can be a sign of faulty electrical installations, and you will need to have them examined. An experienced electrician should inspect the fuse box or breaker panel for faulty labeling, broken components, or discoloration. Octopus connections and faulty appliances should be swapped for safe alternatives as they can do more harm than good to your household.
Together with faulty plumbing, wiring problems are one of the most common deal breakers for homebuyers looking for a place to settle down. Before you sign the contract and slap your name on the front door, make sure the home you are buying is truly hazard-free circuit-wise: after all, safety always comes before aesthetics, location, and home size.
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