New technology in residential electrical boxes and breakers has made homes safer, but these products have created some unintended problems for homeowners according to Kelly Lenhart, owner of Lenhart Electric Company in Wildwood.
Lenhart said he tries to troubleshoot electrical service problems over the phone to prevent an unnecessary service call expense to a homeowner. He believes homeowners could save money by knowing three simple tips before calling an electrician.
Electrical breakers in the main service panel in newly constructed homes are designed to trip when overloaded, arcing or not properly grounding. Lenhart says many of the new breakers that trip are harder to detect.
“In some cases, you actually have to run your hand down the trip handles of the breaker to detect one that is out of line,” said Lenhart. He went on to say that a common mistake homeowners make is that they do not “push the breaker trip lever hard enough” to reset it, and they end up calling an electrician believing they have a more serious issue. Tip No. 1 -- thoroughly check the breakers to ensure none of them are tripped, and, if resetting a breaker, apply force when pushing the lever.
Arc-fault breakers are a new requirement for residential construction. However, Lenhart points out that most homes in the area do not have these breakers, nor should homeowners rush out to replace their old ones. Arc-fault breakers are set to trip when detecting an unintended electrical arc in the line.
Electrical arcs are one of the leading causes of house fires in America. Lenhart pointed out that an errant connection staple into an electrical wire during construction can cause an electric arc, which is like a spark. Over time, this arcing can dry and char wood to a point of creating a fire.
Arc-fault breakers are programmed to detect unrecognizable arcs, causing the breaker to automatically trip. The problem usually occurs when a new home with arc-fault breakers meets an old washing machine, vacuum cleaner or power tool. Arcing in motors of old appliances is common and not dangerous; however, the arc-fault breaker many not be programmed to detect it. As a result, the old vacuum cleaner that worked in the old home may trip the breaker every time it starts up in a newly constructed home.
Lenhart indicated that not much can be done for arcing caused by older appliances and, “By law, I cannot remove the arc-fault breaker.” Tip No. 2 -- if your arc-fault breaker trips every time you turn on the toaster, then it is probably time to get a new toaster.
Ground fault interrupter (GFI) receptacles and breakers are designed to trip when the flow of the electrical current is interrupted by grounding. These products are designed to stop electricity immediately if someone or something grounds the wire. This prevents people from getting shocked by electricity traveling through unintended methods.
GFI breakers and receptacles have saved many lives and prevented many injuries due to electrical shock. The problem is that electrical surges, lightning storms and defective appliances can trip GFI receptacles, which are required in most wet or weather-exposed areas. Unfortunately, a GFI receptacle in the garage can trip and knock out power in a larger area of the home if it is on the same circuit.
Lenhart says his company receives calls daily wherein receptacles in a bedroom are not working only to find a GFI receptacle in a bathroom has tripped. Tip No. 3 -- identify and know where all GFI receptacles and breakers are located in your home. Before calling an electrician for an electrical outage in part of your home, check your GFIs.
Needless to say, if you are uncomfortable following these three tips, call a licensed electrician such as Kelly Lenhart of Lenhart Electric Company immediately. Otherwise, these tips could save you real money.
Don Magruder is the CEO of Ro-Mac Lumber & Supply, Inc., and he is also the host of the “Around the House” Radio Show heard every Monday at noon on My790AM WLBE in Leesburg.