Ever plug one too many devices into a wall outlet, or turn on a hair dryer only have the power shut off? That’s due to a circuit overload, and if it happens often, an electrical panel upgrade may be necessary. Here are a few ways to identify if the need to boost a home’s amperage or add additional circuit breakers to the electrical panel.
In order to understand how things go wrong it helps to understand how they are supposed to go right. For electricity to correctly power a device, it has to make a short trip from a home’s external power meter to the device itself. Here’s what that journey looks like.
Electricity travels down public distribution lines and passes through transformers where the voltage is lowered to a level that is safe for use in the home. The electricity flows through a meter attached to the outside of the home which tracks the household’s electricity usage.
The electricity reaches the main electrical panel which divides the current into the individual circuit branches. Each branch has a breaker attached to it. These breakers are designed to fail or “trip” when the amount of power running through the circuit reaches a dangerous level.
The alternating current travels back and forth around the circuit and connects to an outlet. These outlets are what we use to connect and power electrical devices.
When a circuit is overloaded with devices it can cause a breaker to trip and cut off power flowing through that specific circuit. Breakers are designed to trip when a device or multiple devices are drawing more electricity than the circuit can safely handle. This helps prevent the wires from melting due to heat from the excess electrical current, which can cause a fire in the home.
A good way to tell if your circuits are overloaded is to watch for:
1. Lights that dim when using other devices connected to the same circuit
2. Buzzing outlets or switches
3. Scorched plugs or outlets
4. A lack of sufficient power coming from the outlet
If there are any signs of a circuit overload the best course of action is to call All American Electric. Our expert electricians can map the electrical circuits to determine if a new circuit is necessary. If the electrical panel cannot accommodate a new breaker for the additional circuit, our team may recommend upgrading the panel or adding a subpanel.
Various appliances/devices require various amounts of power. Using different receptacles for different purposes ensures that the device will receive adequate power, safely. As with any electrical work, it’s important to have a strong understanding of proper wiring techniques for various types of receptacles. Improper wiring can create safety hazards for both home occupants and risk damaging any devices connected to the circuit. It is always best to have a trained professional assist in any installation or repairs.
Three-prong receptacles are the most common form of receptacles. These connections have 3 slots—a neutral wire on the left, a hot wire on the right, and a ground wire on the bottom. The ground wire is what sets a 3-prong receptacle apart from a 2-prong receptacle. The ground wire helps protect devices from surges in electricity by directing the excess energy into the ground, away from the connected device.
Three-prong receptacles are available in 120 volt and 240 volt versions. A 120 volt outlet is designed to power typical household items such as electronic devices, lights, fans, and window A/C units. A 240 volt outlet is the highest powered receptacle found in most residential homes. These outlets are used to power large appliances such as Ovens/ranges/cooktops, dryers, water heaters, furnaces, air conditioners, and even electric cars.
A GFI is a special 3-prong outlet designed to protect occupants from an electric shock. If there is the slightest difference between the amount of electricity flowing through the neutral line vs the hot line (or visa versa), the receptacle will immediately shut off power. That’s because any difference in current could signal that there is a leak in electricity, potentially through the human body.
Because moisture greatly increases the chance of an electric shock, the National Electrical Code (NEC) requires a GFCI or GFI to be installed in areas where moisture levels may be high, such as bathrooms and kitchens.
Occupants can test their GFCI or GFI by plugging in a hair dryer or night light, turning the device on, and pressing the black “test” button. If the GFCI of GFI is working properly, the device should turn off. Press the reset button on the GFCI or GFI receptacle to reintroduce power to that outlet. If the device stays on after the “test” button has been pressed, the GFCI or GFI needs to be replaced.