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How to tackle the 5 most common electrical hazards at home

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When staying at home during a pandemic, you might be having more issues with your electricity. This can be a major problem in terms of home safety as well as an interrupted workday. (You can't be on a video conference call without electricity or Wi-Fi.) That's why our team pulled the following advice from our member-exclusive vipTIPs to help you tackle the most common electrical problems during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Take heed! When dealing with electricity, we suggest you err on the side of caution. Unplug a device and don't use it again until a professional electrician is able to service it. Be mindful of warning signs, such as buzzing noises, burning smells, and hot equipment. These can signal a fire or the beginnings of one. If you suspect a fire, get out, stay out, and call 9-1-1. 

​#1 – Tripping your circuit breakers

Locate your breaker box.

Almost every home has a breaker box, usually in the basement, garage, or utility closet. Inside, you'll find what appears to be switches or circuit breakers. When you use a certain level of electricity, the circuit breaker cuts the current to the problem area (hence "tripping a circuit breaker"), which prevents an overload and an electrical fire.

How to fix a tripped breaker – When a circuit breaker trips, head to your breaker box and look for the breakers that are in the middle of their switch (not pointed toward the center or away from the center). Flip the breakers that have been tripped "off" or away from the center before switching them toward the center of the panel. This should reset the breaker and turn the power back on. 

A tripped breaker can turn off power to part of your home.

If you notice a breaker looks damaged or appears to be burned – you might have an overloaded circuit. If that happens, turn off the main breaker (it's usually the biggest breaker at the top of the panel but it could be on the bottom or along the side). Then call an electrician.

What does it mean when a circuit breaker keeps tripping? It probably means you're using a lot of electricity – such a wall unit air-conditioner, a blow dryer, and microwave, all at the same time. Try using a lower setting on these items or alternating uses. Sometimes moisture from a shower, cooking, or even faulty wiring in an appliance can trip breakers. 

#2 – Flickering lights 

Beware of flickering lights.

What causes lights to flicker in a house? It could be a paranormal guest in your home, and he/she is trying to communicate with you – or you might have a real fire hazard. First, check to see that the bulb you are using is the correct wattage, and try using one with a lower wattage. If that doesn't work, you might have frayed or loose wiring. Turn off the light, and if possible, shut off that circuit breaker until a professional can come out to your home.

#3 – Electrical shocks 

Is the shock coming from the outlet or the appliance?

When you touch an appliance – your smart refrigerator, a toaster oven, a crock pot – and you feel a shock, that could be the appliance or faulty wiring. Check the appliance for frayed or damaged wiring, and keep it unplugged until a professional can service it. Also, observe the original outlet. If it's sparked before, the outlet probably has faulty wiring and needs to be repaired or replaced.

#4 – Wall switch or ceiling fixture is hot – too hot 

Trying using cooler bulbs, such as LEDs.

If you put your hand over a switch and it's warm, see if it's for a dimmer switch. Those can be warm as long as they aren't "too" hot and are running less than 600 watts of bulbs. If it's not a dimmer switch, shut the switch off immediately and – you guessed it! – don't use it again until a professional looks at it.

As for a warmer than average bulb – try a lower wattage bulb or switch to LED or CFL bulbs, which produce less heat (and last longer!). If neither of these options work, turn off the light and call a professional. 

#5 – A surging home electrical bill 

More time at home means higher utility bills.

Where your home used to be empty most of the day, save your dog and appliances – you might now have multiple computers running as you either work from home and/or your children take digital classes. Of course, your home energy bill is going to see an increase, but perhaps you can cut it down to size.

Try these quick tricks to lower your electric bill:

  • Switch to LED bulbs.
  • Locate and eliminate electrical "vampires," such as phone chargers, TVs, and other appliances that are plugged in when not in use.
  • Maintain heating and cooling systems and keep the air filters clean. (The vipHomeLink app can help with this!)
  • Turn down your hot water heater (if you know how).
  • Use your programmable thermostat and turn down the heat at specific times of the day.
  • Wash clothes in cold water and only run full loads of laundry. (Definitely use hot water to wash your clothes if you went food shopping. This helps to kill COVID-19.)

If you're searching for answers to the most common electrical questions (or even the least common ones), feel free to drop us a tweet or comment on our Facebook feed. Also, check out our additional vipTIPS, exclusive to our members. If you're not a member, not a problem! Get three months on us now!


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