Electrical SafetyElectricity 101

Common Electrical Problems with Lamps and Lighting Fixtures

Everyone has had electrical problems with lamps and lighting fixtures. Your favorite lamp may be flickering off and on. You’ve changed the bulb and that doesn’t fix the problem. Now what do you do? The answer can be as simple as replacing worn out light fixture wiring or it may be more complex than that.

Flickering lights and frequent burning out

  • Flickering lights occur due to loose connections or loose parts in the lighting fixtures as well as worn out contacts inside the fixture. Loose connections will affect a few lights on the circuit, while loose connections at the main wire will affect all the lights in the house.
  • Poor quality lights or bulbs will flicker and provide poor and inconsistent lighting
  • Lights may flicker because of heavy loads, such as pumps that are unstable or overloading the circuits.
  • A high rate of bulbs going faulty or burning up could be due to loose connections, worn out contacts, poor quality bulbs or faulty lighting fixtures.

The hot lighting fixtures

Electrical ProblemsPoor quality components and loose connections

The lighting fixtures become hot due to loose connections between the bulb and the fixture contacts, or from the excessive heat generated by some types of bulbs. Poor quality fixtures or bulbs use inferior contact material which wears out with use and arcing, causing electrical problems.

Over lamping

This is a situation where the bulb in a lighting fixture has a high wattage that is beyond the fixture’s rating. This may lead to overheating of the lighting fixture as well as putting a strain on the wiring, especially if in old buildings where the cables are likely to be smaller. Ensure you use the rated or lower rated bulb or switch or even energy saving LED or CFL bulbs, which do not produce a lot of heat.

Tripping circuit breaker or fuse opening frequently

The main circuit breaker or that for a particular circuit may trip due to overcurrent conditions either from overloading or a short circuit.

Check for short circuits of overloading

Electrical ProblemsTo identify the problem, turn off all the equipment, including lights, and unplug the appliances before resetting the breaker. Turn on the breaker with no load. If it trips again, the problem is the electrical wiring; if it doesn’t trip, the problem is with one of the appliances. Turn on each piece of equipment one by one and note the appliance that trips the breaker again.

Fuses on the electrical cord or appliance plug may blow up when connected to the electrical outlet. This is an indication of a problem with either the cord, which could be shorted conductors or faulty equipment. You can identify the appliance by unplugging all from the electrical cord and then plug them in one by one until you identify the culprit.

Whether the problem is with the wiring or an appliance, stop using it, and ask a qualified person to check and repair before using them.

Miscellaneous electrical problems

Confirm that you are not overloading the circuit. If one particular piece of equipment keeps on tripping the breaker, consider moving it to a less loaded circuit or add a separate, properly rated circuit for the heavy load.

The circuit breaker may trip when one or more heavy loads are powered on. For example, it may trip when a heater, a microwave or both are turned on at the same time. This is easy to determine and resolve: simply power these heavier loads at different times. However, you may consider installing a separate high powered circuit with larger conductors and a bigger circuit breaker.

Faulty Circuit Breaker devices

A faulty circuit breaker keeps on tripping without any fault in the installation. Others will not trip when they should, hence they pose a safety hazard since a fault may persist and cause a fire. Ask an electrician to replace the faulty circuit breaker and repair all electrical problems.

Electrical Shocks from equipment

Electric shocks occur due to faulty wiring or equipment, missing or ineffective grounding, degraded insulation, or short circuits. Other causes include wet conditions. Exposed live surfaces or wet surfaces will cause electric shocks to anyone who touches them.

To minimize the electric shocks, ensure proper grounding and use of technologies such as the GFCIs, which usually trip and disconnect the electricity whenever there are leakage currents to the ground. The GFCIs responds very fast before the person gets an electric shock.

Too many extension cords

While modern homes are likely to have many electrical outlets to accommodate today’s increased appliances, older homes, with very few outlets, may have to rely on extension cords. Connecting too many power extension cords to one outlet can lead to overloading and messy cables lying around.

When this becomes an issue, you should hire an electrician to add extra sockets and probably replace the wiring to accommodate the extra load. This will also require an upgrade of the electrical panel if the total load exceeds the installed capacity.

Burning smell from electrical outlets, switches or appliances

Electrical ProblemsStrange smells are signs of heating up of insulation due to over current, loose connections or overloading. Insulation or short circuit problems can occur within connected load or the wiring. If you detect any strange smell, switch off the equipment and stop using that particular outlet. If the problem is the appliance, turn it off and remove from the electrical outlet. Do not use it until a qualified person has checked and rectified the problem.

Another source of burning odor is excessive arcing. The heat produced warms the parts, such as the plastics and cable insulation while also releasing a smell from the arcing contacts. These arcs are dangerous and those large enough and persisting for long periods can lead to fires.

Excessive electricity bills

Incorrect use of electricity, inefficient appliances and lighting may lead to high energy bills. In addition, the faulty state of your home insulation will lead to heat or cold air escaping when it should not. Other factors include water leakages in the washroom and kitchen sinks, leaking hot water pipes, etc. Any of these will require more energy to heat or cool the air, or pump water to compensate for the lost amounts.

An electrician can assess your entire home and make a recommendation to enable you to save energy and you may even be able to enjoy energy rebates from making upgrades to your lighting system. Address any electrical problems at this time.