Monday, February 27, 2006

How to Troubleshoot Common Electrical Problems

We never find out just how dependent we are on electricity until the power goes out. For many of us, losing electricity means no cooking, no heat, no shower and of course no TV. When the electrical devices in our homes fail us, it can create a major inconvenience, and it is important for every homeowner to know how to troubleshoot minor electrical problems. It is also important for that homeowner to know which problems are beyond his or her skills, and when to call a certified electrician.

Resetting a circuit breaker
Let’s start with perhaps the most common of all electrical problems, resetting a circuit breaker. Few homeowners have not experienced the need to reset a circuit breaker, and those who have not will someday. In order to reset a circuit breaker, take the following steps:

1. When the circuit breaker is tripped, it will move about halfway between the full on and full off position, and it should move back and forth a bit when it is wiggled.

2. To reset the circuit breaker, push it back to the full off position (this will be the opposite of all the other circuit breakers in the column). Then push it back to the full on position and immediately let it go. If it trips again, push it to the full off position and secure it with a piece of electrical tape until you can figure out what is causing it to trip.

Testing a live receptacle
In order to properly and safety test a live receptacle, follow these steps:

1. Plug the probes of a continuity tester into the vertical slots of the receptacle. The continuity tester will glow if there is power to the receptacle. If there is more than one outlet on the receptacle, be sure to test both. In some cases the two halves will be on different circuits.

2. You can also use a neon tester to test the receptacle. The neon tester will analyze the wiring, and it will light up to indicate a problem.
Testing an open outlet box for power

In order to test an open outlet box for power:

1. Shut off the power going to the circuit from the service panel. Make sure the circuit is in the full off position.

2. Remove the cover from the outlet and remove the device. You can also bend out any connected wired, keeping the ends apart.

3. Test a device by probing the terminal screw with a lead from the neon tester while probing the metal outlet box or grounding wire with the second lead.

4. Test the connected wires by removing the nut just enough to expose the wire, then probe the wire with either a bare grounding wire or the metal outlet box.

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