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Power Problems

Table of Contents


Switch-Controlled Receptacles
In many homes and other buildings, there are outlets where the flow of power is controlled by a switch somewhere in the room. This gives you the ability to turn the receptacle on and off, which is especially handy for using lamps.

If you come across an electrical device that is plugged in but has no power, first turn on all switches in your room. If this solves the problem, then you know that a switch controls the outlet.

TIP: Most outlets have two places to plug things in. Some of them will have one that is controlled by a switch, while the other is always powered on. This type of outlet is called “half-hot”.

GFI Outlets
In areas where an outlet could be exposed to moisture (outside, kitchens, bathrooms, garages), specially designed receptacles are installed. This type of outlet, called a GFI, will turn itself off if it detects any electrical problems. This is an important safety feature that is mandated in these areas.

If you have lost power in an outlet that is outside, in a kitchen, bathroom or garage, check first to see if it is a GFI outlet. Click here if you would like to learn more about GFIs. If the outlet is a GFI outlet, simply press the test button and then press the reset button. If you have a GFI outlet that powers off frequently, test it with a different appliance. If the fault is with the outlet, not the appliance, call an electrician.

Tip: Although not all of the outlets in the areas described above are GFI outlets, many of them are protected by nearby GFIs. Always check to see if nearby GFI outlets have been tripped to see if this restores your power.

Additional GFI Information
GFI outlets are engineered to accurately detect power differences as small as 3ma. When more electricity is detected coming in the hot end than is going out the neutral, it will shut off power. Because the electricity must go somewhere, this is a very good feature when it comes to protecting your family.

To ensure maximum safety, test all GFI outlets each month. To do this, press the TEST button. This should cause the RESET button to pop out. If this does not happen, call your local electrician. If it does happen, then everything is working properly. Just press in the RESET button to finish resetting the outlet.

Tripped Circuit Breakers
Even when a circuit breaker appears that it is in the on position, it is possible for it to have tripped off. In some cases, a breaker will trip internally without flipping the breaker all the way over to the off position.

Follow these steps if you believe that you have a tripped circuit breaker:

  1. Shut off all connected computer equipment.
  2. Flip the first breaker in your breaker panel off and then back on.
  3. Do this with all of your breakers.
  4. Go back and check to see if power has returned.
  5. If the power is back, then your work is done. If not, call an electrician.

Believe it or not, this one simple check fixes nearly 25% of all electrical problems.

Technical Circuit Breaker Information
Circuit breakers function using two different types of protection: thermal and magnetic. In thermally protected breakers, a thermal strip measures heat build up. Whenever too much heat builds up, it will trip the circuit breaker. Similarly, magnetically protected breakers use an electrical coil to measure increases in current. When current rises above a certain level, the power is shut off. While older breakers typically only employ one or the other, most modern breakers use both to ensure the maximum safety.

Whenever you open your breaker panel, you should check your breakers for wear in three different places. The first is the switch. If the switch is broken or seems loose, you should replace the breaker. The next is the load lug. If this appears loose or burnt, replace the breaker. The most commonly damaged component of your breaker is the stab. This component connects to the bussing (the bussing lets power flow throughout your panel) using friction and spring tension, making it particularly susceptible to wear. When this happens, arcing or burning can occur. If you notice that the stab is burnt, loose or discolored, have your bussing checked and the breaker replaced.

NOTE: Although all of your breakers may appear to be in good working order, it is possible for a good-looking breaker to be structurally unsound. Conversely, a breaker that appears as if it shouldn’t be working can be in perfect working order. If you have any questions regarding the integrity of your breakers, you should always call an electrician to troubleshoot your panel and make a professional recommendation.

Short Circuits
When two wires accidentally touch each other, a short circuit occurs. This will cause the affected circuit breaker to trip, or a fuse to blow.

The best way to fix a short circuit is to think about what happened just before it occurred. Many times, a short will occur when you plug something new in.

If you just plugged in your hair dryer, for example, unplug the dryer and reset your breaker. If this fixes the problem, your electrical system is ok. You should probably get a new hair dryer, though.

If there is no appliance that is causing the appliance, be safe by calling an electrician to properly troubleshoot the problem.

No Power At All
If your entire building is out of power:

  1. There may be an issue with the power from the utility company reaching your electrical panel. Call your utility company.
  2. Power from your utility company may not be reaching anyone in your area’s electrical panels. Call the company and be patient while they restore power.
  3. Try resetting your main circuit breaker. It could be shut off or broken.
  4. All circuit breakers have been flipped all. Try resetting all of the breakers in your electrical panel.
  5. If it is none of the above, call an electrician.

Power Problems in San Diego
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