Regardless of the age of your home, with the use of so many utilities during the summer, many electrical problems begin to pop up. These problems are a warning sign of serious issues if left unchecked. Fortunately, regardless if you are dealing with the main service panels in your home, or simply a subpanel for your shed, garage, or barn, there seems to be a few common problems that are relatively quick to resolve.
Electrical Terminology - Voltage, Amps and Watts
To be able to properly troubleshoot electrical panel problems, you need to be aware of the basic terminology involved. This includes the following terms:
- Voltage: The force of electricity flowing through the wires
- Amps: The amount of electricity flowing through the wires
- Watts: Total power used by an appliance
Safety Precautions – Use Working Voltage Detection Device and Rubber Gloves
Identifying problems with the electricity in your home requires you to first remove the outer enclosure covers. Be careful to always use a working voltage detection device to check for electricity running through the panel BEFORE touching it. If no voltage is detected, be sure to put on rubber gloves and use insulated tools to limit the conductivity going to your body.
It is important to note that you should always contact a professional for help with these home-wide electrical issues, especially if you’ve never attempted electrical repairs before.
Replace Federal Pacific Electric Company (FPE) Circuit Breaker Panels
If you have a home built in between the 1950s and 1980s, you likely have an electrical panel installed by the Federal Pacific Electric Company (FPE). Since 1983, FPE circuit breaker panels have been linked to unfortunate issues, which the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) addressed that year. The issues stem from not complying with Underwriters Laboratories (UL) requirements and have been linked to situations involving hazardous fires.
While there has been no recall on these circuit breakers, if you have one installed in your home it’s time to replace it.
Rid Electrical Panels of Moisture, Water and Humidity to Avoid Corrosion
Common sense tells you that water and electricity do not mix well. If you notice your electrical panel has moisture inside of or around it, do not attempt to work with the panel and call a professional for help.
If you see rust stains or corrosion on the panel or wiring, you likely have a moisture problem that needs addressing. It’s actually quite common and requires attention. Any source of water, whether it’s humidity, a dripping faucet or water entering a frayed main service wire, can do serious damage to an electrical panel and to avoid corrosion within the panel itself, all sources of moisture must be removed.
Replace Missing Breaker Knock-Outs and Clamps
In order to allow the installer to create an access point for wires and breakers, panels contain multiple wire or breaker ‘knock-outs’ or ‘twist-outs.’ When these are removed without being replaced, the gaps can be dangerous and allow electricity to run freely into the enclosure.
Similarly, wires that were cut or installed often are missing clamps that keep them from moving around and getting damaged. Make sure to add these and replace the missing knock-outs in order to reduce the safety hazard and relieve strain on the panel.
Installing wiring to your circuit breaker correctly is of the utmost importance to avoid many problems down the road. If you notice faulty installation on your panel, make sure to have a professional address it right away.
One of the most common issues of improper wiring is over-fusing, meaning the breaker is oversized or too large for the wires. In this situation, electricity cannot be safely carried to the larger load and won’t trip the circuit breaker when overloaded. This causes the wire to overheat and melt the outer wire jacket, possibly leading to a fire.
Single-Pole, Double-Pole Breakers and Crisscrossed Wires
Another common wiring issue happens when:
- A single-pole breaker (a code violation in itself yet commonly employed to save space) contains two circuits.
- Two single circuits are supplied by double-pole breakers.
- Wires crisscross each other through the center of the panel.
While mostly easy to fix, these issues are important to get fixed right away as they pose serious risk.
Do Not Under-Power or Overcrowd Electric Control Panels
Make sure your electric panel contains the right amount of breaker and amp space – do not under-power or overcrowd it in order to maintain a healthy safety level.
200-amp panels are recommended for modern homes, while 60-amp panels are often found in older buildings. A standard breaker panel holds around 100 amps.
A good practice is to go ahead and upgrade your panel to a larger model if you will require new circuits. This will save you from having to upgrade later when more power or space is needed.
Avoid Using Improper Hardware
The screws, lugs, wires, breakers, and other components of the panel commonly create less serious problems. Each panel manufacturer is different and can itemize the components of their panel including compatible breakers to the lugs and screws that hold the panel together. Using the wrong types of screws (should be flat not pointed-tipped) or improper breakers are easy fixes and simply require identification and replacement.
Contact a Professional Electrician
Whether you are looking to upgrade your panel or simply get an assessment on the moisture danger, it is important to contact an electrician. Providing high quality services in the Denver area since 2000, Allstar’s licensed, tenured, bonded and ensured master electricians provide the expertise and professionalism needed to ensure the safety and sanctity of any home electrical project. For a free estimate on your panel project, contact us at 303-399-7420 or email email@example.com.