Common electrical problems: Do it yourself or call a pro?

Authored By Ashley Hopkins

There are certain problems homeowners grow accustomed to seeing over the years: leaky faucets, squeaky doors, loose gutters. And with repeat problems, a little do-it-yourself (DIY) attitude and know-how come in handy. No one wants to pay for a service call to fix the same problem over and over if you’ve watched the handyman do it enough times to know precisely how to fix it.

The advances in technology have helped speed this along. You don’t even have to go to a hardware store to buy a book about how to fix a problem anymore, though that option is there; the Internet is filled with articles and DIY videos about tackling common household mishaps (caution: make sure the source you are utilizing for such information is reliable).

Though this DIY determination is applauded, remember to exercise caution around projects that can be dangerous, such as those involving electricity.

“Everyone should know their limits,” said Wendell Boring, EPB assistant vice president of operations. “Attempting an electrical project can lead to injury and property damage. Employ this mantra: If you don’t know, call a pro.”

Common problems
Some of the most common electrical issues seen by homeowners include tripped breakers, blown bulbs, burning smells and new installations, Boring said.

-Tripped breakers: These can usually be identified by an orange stripe right below the breaker or if the breaker is between the on and off positions. It will also feel kind of “spongy.” If only one or two lights/appliances/outlets in your home aren’t working, this is most likely the problem. Surges and lightning strikes can cause breakers to trip.

“The average homeowner can definitely reset the breaker without calling a pro by turning the breaker to the off position and then back,” Boring said. “But if the breaker trips again, you will need to call a qualified electrician to see why the breaker keeps tripping.”

A constantly tripping breaker could indicate a potentially hazardous problem with a wire or receptacle.

-Blown light bulbs: “Of course I can change my own light bulbs,” you are probably thinking to yourself. And no, you certainly don’t need to call an electrician to have a light bulb changed-but you do need to be familiar with light bulb terminology and know what the socket you’re putting a bulb into is designed for.

“Be cautious never to install a bulb that has a higher wattage than the light fixture can safely handle,” Boring said. “A sticker on the inside of the fixture will have that information.” 

-Burning smells: Call an electrician!

“The average homeowner should never attempt to identify and remedy this situation,” Boring said. “Turn off the main breaker panel (the large single switch at the top of your breaker panel) and call a pro immediately.”

-Installations: Most devices-light fixtures, ceiling fans, etc.-can be safely installed by the average homeowner, Boring said. But before tackling any such installations, make sure the power supply is off.

Boring said: 

After the power is safely cut off, make sure all connections are done exactly as the directions indicate. Make sure the black wire is tightly connected to the black wire, the white wire to the white wire and the bare wire (or green wire) to the ground source. You have to draw the line when you get past the point where you don’t understand or don’t know what to do. Do not guess and do trial and error; this can be dangerous and you can burn your house down if you hook up items incorrectly.

If you find yourself confused during an installation, there’s no shame in calling a pro.

Safety tips
If you’ve found the line between what you think you can handle and what you should leave to the pros, there are a few basic safety tips that you should follow for safe electrical work.

-It’s dangerous: It only takes 120 volts to kill you in the right application. Don’t take chances.

-Verify by using a voltmeter that the wires you are working with are dead. Turn off and unplug devices you are working on; if working on a receptacle, switch it off at the breaker panel.

-Wear proper equipment. Safety glasses and leather gloves should always be worn when working with a wire in the event it becomes energized for whatever reason. A metal box or grounded wire can explode and splatter molten cooper in your eyes or on your skin.

Keep in mind …
-Calling a pro will cost, but if it saves your eyesight, life or home from fire, we can all agree that whatever the cost is, it’s a small one to pay.

-You can tear up more than you fix. That nice appliance you just purchased or state-of-the-art TV you just got can burn your house down if you don’t know what you’re doing when you install or work on them.

-You can absolutely injure yourself. From shocks to burns to even death, always be aware that working with electricity is a risk, and the second the project starts to make you a hair uncomfortable or uncertain, a pro should be called in. 

John Pless is the public relations coordinator at EPB.

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