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Frequently Asked Electrical Questions

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Frequently Asked Electrical Questions


Do I need to worry if the dimmer on the light in my dining room is hot to the touch? 

Don’t worry about it unless it’s uncomfortably hot or you hear a buzzing sound. Smelling plastic burning or noticing your lights flickering should also be an indicator that you want to have a specialist take a look. 


Do I need to worry about outlets that don’t work?

It sounds overly simple, but a lot of us overlook wall switches—particularly if we’ve just moved into a home. Try a little test. Plug a small lamp into a working outlet and unplug it with the switch still on. Then plug it into the outlet that isn’t working. Look for wall switches in the room (there may be more than one). Try turning the wall switch on.  You may find the answer to your problem (and don’t be embarrassed—we’ve all done this!). If there are no wall switches try all the other outlets in the room and if there’s no tripped circuit in your breaker box, you may need to have an electrician check to see if there’s a short somewhere in the system. 


I have light switches in my house that don’t appear to do anything.

In most occasions the switch does do something, it just isn’t obvious. Many light switches that do not appear to control anything control what is called a “switched outlet”. Switched outlets are sockets in a room in your house that are controlled by a wall switch. These sockets are designed so that a floor lamp can be plugged in and controlled by a wall switch. Most new homes are built with switched outlets as the lighting source because they are less expensive for the builder to install than an actual ceiling fixture.


A dimmer in my house is very hot to the touch. Should I be concerned?

A dimmer is nothing more than a small transformer that causes the light bulbs to dim by decreasing the voltage applied to them. As the dimmer decreases the amount of voltage going to the light bulbs, excess heat is generated and radiates from the switch via the switch plate. The heat that you feel is nothing to be concerned about unless you can smell plastic burning or notice the lights flickering.


I found a tripped circuit breaker in my electrical panel, but I cannot turn it back on.

There are a few possibilities here. The first is that the circuit breaker has simply tripped, and needs to be reset. To reset a circuit breaker, the switch must be set completely to the “off” position until you feel a “click”; once the switch has been set to off, set the switch back to the “on” position. If it returns to the “on” position without tripping again, the circuit breaker has been successfully reset. If the circuit breaker will not reset and trips when the switch is set to the “on” position, there may be a short circuit or overload on that circuit. If the circuit breaker cannot be reset, please be sure to call a licensed electrician to evaluate the problem.


Why do my lights dim when I switch on a vacuum cleaner?

Like your refrigerator, dishwasher, or washing machine, your vacuum cleaner features an electric motor. While running, an electric motor consumes a steady amount of electrical current. However, when starting, an electric motor consumes approximately seven times the current that it would normally consume while running steadily. Take for example a vacuum cleaner that consumes five amps while the vacuum is running steadily. When you switch the vacuum “on”, that electric motor will consume approximately thirty-five amps of electricity until the motor has reached its operating speed. This creates a tremendous load on the circuit that the vacuum is plugged into, thus causing the lights to dim while the vacuum motor is accelerating to its operating speed. Once the operating speed is reached, the vacuum consumes less energy and does not cause the lights to dim.


What makes LEDs better than bulbs?

One of the biggest differences between LEDs and halogen light bulbs is their lifespan. LEDs can last up to 80,000 hours. Halogen light bulbs only last between 2,000 and 6,000 hours. Halogen bulbs also suffer what is termed as ‘catastrophic; failure, which essentially means they work until they don’t! And when the die they pop! LEDs on the other hand very slowly lose their light output, so even at 80,000 hours there will still be another 80,000 hours of light but just at a lower level. LED life spans are usually referenced as the L70% life. As the human eye can only detect light loss above 30%, LEDs are rated to this level; there is still plenty of light left but at ever diminishing level.

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