When it comes to home electrics, the safety of you and your family is most important. A licensed electrician is the first person you should call if you encounter an electrical hazard in your home.
However, in some cases, an electrical hazard can escalate before home owners can seek professional help. Therefore, it is crucial to equip yourself with some basic knowledge about troubleshooting home electrical problems. This knowledge helps you know when you have a problem and what to do next.
Here is our guide to troubleshooting home electrical problems:
1. Tripping safety switch
If all the lights or power points in one section of your house suddenly go out, go to your switchboard and check your safety switches. Safety switches are fantastic safety devices that cut the power to a circuit if something on that circuit has become an electrical hazard.
If a safety switch is down, see what circuit it relates it (it should be written on the safety switch) and then go into your home and switch off and pull out every appliance and electrical device on that circuit (dishwashers, fridges, toasters, kettles, computers, in-sinkerators).
Once you have unplugged them all, turn the safety switch back on and by a process of elimination, one-by-one plug them back in until you can identify which appliance is tripping the switch and therefore needs to be investigated.
A problem with cabling behind the walls can also cause safety switches to trip, so if you are in any doubt about what is the cause or you don’t feel confident in carrying out the appliance troubleshooting, call a licensed electrician immediately and get them to investigate it for you.
2. Sticking power point switches
Switches on powerpoints that are hard to turn on and off or suddenly seem to become “sticky’’ can be an indication that the fixture or the cabling behind it has become compromised and needs investigation.
We’ve been called to clients homes for this reason and on many occasions when we’ve pulled the powerpoint plate off, the device and the cabling behind it has smouldered due to overheating. This is a serious fire risk and needs to be rectified immediately.
3. Reduced output on solar panels
If your solar panels are not performing like they used to, there are a number of possible culprits.
Nesting animals such as possums can build nests on or around the panels which can compromise their output. Dust and grime also tend to build up on the panels over time which reduces their effectiveness.
If cleaning the panels doesn’t fix the problem, you might have a fault in your inverter. Call your solar installer to investigate it for you. They can also test if all other components are operating as they should be.
4. Air-conditioner not heating or cooling effectively
If your air-conditioner appears sluggish or is taking too long to cool or warm a room, it can simply be in need of a good clean.
Dust, lint and foreign particles build up and prevent air flowing through the system, which affects its capacity to heat and cool efficiently. When a unit is clogged with foreign particles, the compressor motor has to work a lot harder, leading to increased running costs and long-term damage to the unit.
A thorough, detailed clean inside the machine improves the efficiency of all moving parts: the motors, compressors, evaporator fan and condenser fan.
5. Reducing fire hazards in the roof
Old style halogen downlights are very common in older homes and can be a fire hazard as they generate a significant amount of heat.
We’ve been to houses where nesting possums in the roof have dragged leaves onto the top of halogen light fittings for warmth, causing everything to melt.
Modern-style LED light fittings generate significantly less heat and are the safest option in your roof space. LEDs also cost significantly less to run.
6. A tingling sensation when you touch a tap or appliance
Sometimes the first warning sign of an electrical fault in your home is a tingling sensation when you touch a tap or appliance. If this ever happens, don’t touch anything else and call your electrician immediately to investigate it for you.
This scenario is one that happens from time to time and is very dangerous. It can be due to factors outside of the homeowners’ knowledge or control, such as fatigued electrical cabling from the street or changes to plumbing piping.
7. Overloading of circuits
In busy homes with lots of electrical equipment operating, it is possible to unknowingly overload the home’s electrical circuits. Existing circuits and cabling can only handle a certain amount of load, so think about how many items you have running at once.
If you are adding large appliances to your home, such as an air-conditioner, ensure the installer checks the capacity of your existing switchboard. Big air-conditioning units typically need their own circuit. Limiting breakers can also be installed on your switchboard by a licensed electrician to monitor the electrical load in your house.
8. Chirping smoke alarm
If your smoke alarm is chirping, it is most probably a battery operated unit and the battery needs replacing.
The Queensland Government has introduced new legislation which requires all households to upgrade to photoelectric, interconnected smoke alarms. You can read more about the requirements and the timeline to comply here.
9. Reducing electricity costs
Swapping old light fittings for modern, energy efficient lights is the first place to start if you want to slash your electricity bill. If you have a pool pump, hot water unit or dryer, it’s also worth considering getting a tariff control which ensures these heavy power users only run at off-peak times.
10. Fixing faulty appliances
If your washing machine, dishwasher or fridge has stopped working, it’s worth considering how old the unit is before rushing to get it fixed.
Unfortunately, due to the manufacturing quality of appliances and problems sourcing parts for older machines, machines that are ten years or older can sometimes not be worth the time or money it takes to repair them. Replacing them with a modern, more energy-efficient version can be a smarter financial decision.