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Electrical Questions

Electrical questions are inevitable when you own a home or business. We’ve worked to provide you with answers to some of our most consistently fielded electrical questions in the Electrical FAQ below.

Of course, every wiring scenario is unique – so, if these answers don’t offer you a satisfactory solution, don’t hesitate to contact us for more specific guidance on your wiring and electrical questions.

Swiftec Inc. takes pride in our dedication to detail and focuses on continuing education for our employees, allowing us to provide you with customized service.

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Electrical FAQ

When is it time to call an electrician?

When you are resetting circuit breakers or changing fuses too often. When you turn on your air conditioner and the lights dim in the room. When your lights flicker or go on and off. When you can smell wiring burning. When you have six electronic devices going into one outlet in back of your electronics center. When you have receptacle outlets overburdened by multi-plug strips. When a three-prong plug needs a two-prong adapter. If you have to run extention cords to plug in electrical devices.

What size service do I install in my home?

Most states call for 100 amps minimum, but with all the new electronic devices, air conditioning and electric heat, I would suggest 200 amps especially in new homes. This also gives you some space for future additions. This is not a job for an unlicensed person to attempt. In most cases it involves replacing everything from the service loop (this is the wire that extends from the top of your meter to the utility tie in ) up to and including the main panel.

My smoke detector keeps chirping. What does this mean?

This could mean one of two things. 1. An intermittent chirp is probably an indication of a defective smoke detector. 2. A consistent chirp is probably an indication of a low battery condition and the smoke detector requires a new battery.

Why do the bulbs in my exterior fixture burn out so often?

This is usually caused by several factors.
  1. Use of non-brand named bulbs.
  2. Larger wattage bulbs, which cause excessive heat build-up shorting the life of the bulb.
  3. Power Surges.

How much should I attempt on my own?

At the present time most states allow you to do whatever you want in your own home. But doing electrical work yourself is a gamble. How much are you willing to risk to save money. There is a reason why it takes so much training to become an electrician. Do not make a mistake by taking electricity lightly, even the smallest job is a safety hazard. Why take a chance. Get a professional to do this work.

Although in some states the homeowner can pull his own Electrical permit for work in his single family home, what the homeowner does not know is that in case of damage or fire caused by his work, his homeowners insurance will not pay. They will only pay if the work is done by a licensed Electrical Contractor. You should check with your homeowners Insurance Co., and they should sign a document or something to this effect to acknowledge this when they pull a permit.

The most dangerous time is when you think that it is simple to change one or two wires.  Suddenly you are surrounded by a tangle of loose ends and cannot recall where they all go.  Then you need a professional to come and sort it all out for you.  This could end up costing you more than you thought you were saving when you began the project.

What is an AFCI?

Starting January 1, 2002, The National Electrical Code , Section 210-12, requires that all branch circuits supplying 125V, single phase, 15 and 20 ampere outlets installed in dwelling unit bedrooms be protected by an arc-fault Circuit interrupter. Eventually they will be in more areas but the NEC selected to require them on bedroom circuits first because a CPSC study showed many home fire deaths were related to bedroom circuits.

The AFCI (Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter) breaker, will shut off a circuit in a fraction of a second if arcing develops. The current inside of an arc is not always high enough to trip a regular breaker. You must have noticed a cut or worn piece of a cord or a loose connection in a junction box or receptacle arcing and burnt without tripping the regular breaker. As you can guess this is a major cause of fires in a dwelling.

There is a difference between AFCIs and GFCIs. AFCIs are intended to reduce the likelihood of fire caused by electrical arcing faults; whereas, GFCIs are personnel protection intended to reduce the likelihood of electric shock hazard. Don't misunderstand, GFCIs are still needed and save a lot of lives.

Combination devices that include both AFCI and GFCI protection in one unit will become available soon. AFCIs can be installed in any 15 or 20 ampere branch circuit in homes today and are currently available as circuit breakers with built-in AFCI features. In the near future, other types of devices with AFCI protection will be available.

If a GFCI receptacle is installed on the load side of an AFCI it is possible for both the AFCI and the GFCI to trip on a fault if the current exceeds the limit for both devices. It is also possible for the AFCI to trip and the GFCI to not trip since the two devices could race each other. However, in no case is safety compromised.

At first the cost for AFCI will be high. Expect to pay between $20 and $50 for each AFCI. The cost is expected to drop as much more are ordered.

How many convenience outlets in each room?

In every kitchen, family room, dining room, living room, parlor, library, den, bedroom, or similar room or area of dwelling units, receptacle outlets shall be installed so that no point along the floor line in any wall space there is more than six feet, from an outlet in that space. This is to prevent the use of extension cords. Outlets are usually placed about 18 inches above floor level. Switches usually go about 48 inches from floor level.  Air conditioners should be on a single dedicated circuit.

I have two telephone lines in my home. Why when I'm on the phone and the other phone line is in use, do I hear the other conversation in the background?

This is commonly called Bleed over and usually results from one of three conditions.

  1. Excessively long runs of wire within the home of non-twisted pairs.
  2. Loop wiring from phone station to phone station.
  3. A nick in the phone wire somewhere within your residence causing a weak interconnect between phone lines.

Phone wiring installation today should be done as a home run system, each phone station being a dedicated run back to a common terminal block.
Please remember if you have a problem with your phone wiring within your home, today it is the responsibility of the electrician rather than the phone company as in the past.

If I have problems with TV or telephone wiring within the house, whom should I call?

With deregulation of the utility companies in most areas of the country, the cable or telephone companies are no longer responsible for the equipment or wiring in your home. This responsibility has fallen to you and your electrical contractor. Therefore, when a problem arises, we recommend you us. Most TV and telephone utilities will still service within your home for a substantial fee. This service, as in the past, is no longer free.

Why does my recess can light cycle on and off since I put a larger wattage bulb in? Modern Recess Cans are rated for a maximum wattage bulb and are equipped with a thermal device that does not allow a bulb larger than that rating. If a larger wattage bulb is used, as the excess heat builds up, the thermal device will shut the can off until it cools. This is a safety device to protect your home against fire.

I have a 110 Volt Outlet on the Exterior of My Home. Can I Plug my Christmas Lights into It?

Yes. Within reason, if the quantity of lights creates a load greater than the capacity of the circuit breaker, the breaker will trip off. In this event, additional circuits may be required to accommodate your holiday display.

If I have surge/lightning protection on my main service should I use point-of-use surge plugins at my TV, stereo, computer, etc.?

Yes. Main line surge is no absolute guarantee and any additional surge protection down stream in the system offers a greater level of protection; though, nothing is absolute when it comes to the power of Mother Nature.

I have surge/lightning protection on my home. Am I totally safe from lightning strikes?

No. Surge/Lightning Protection only offers additional levels of protection. Nothing can guarantee completely against Mother Nature and where she chooses to strike.

When my air conditioner cycles on, I notice my lights blink. Is this normal?

Yes. This is a common occurrence when large motor/compressor loads start. These devices cause a minor momentary voltage drop, demonstrating itself as the blinking in your lights. This has no negative effect on the electrical equipment within your house.

Can I plug any 110-volt device I wish into my regular 110-volt outlets throughout my house?

Yes. Though, if the device exceeds the capacity of the circuit, the breaker will trip off.

Can I plug my coffee pot and toaster oven into the same kitchen counter outlet?

Yes. Though, if the two loads exceed 20amps, your breaker will sense overload, do its job, and trip off. Under this condition, you must plug one of the appliances into a different kitchen outlet on a different circuit, in order to balance the load.

I have a new home. Why does my refrigerator or freezer, located in my garage, keep going off?

Unless you made provisions with the builder for a dedicated circuit, the outlets in your garage are GFCI Protected per National Electrical Code. This device will not tolerate the additional resistance load created by refrigeration equipment. The GFCI senses there is a fault, and therefore trips off. The only cure to this problem is to provide a dedicated, non-GFCI circuit allowable by code.

Can I dim fluorescent lights?

Yes. Dimming fluorescent requires not only a special dimmer, but also special fixtures. You cannot place a typical incandescent dimmer on existing fluorescent.

Can I hang a ceiling fan where a light is?

Yes, but first you must make sure the electrical box is properly braced and rated for the weight and torque of the ceiling fan you are installing.

What does it mean when my fluorescent lights are flickering or cycling on and off?

Flickering may indicate impending bulb failure, minor power fluctuation, and/or improperly installed bulbs. Cycling on and off is usually a clear indication of ballast and/or bulb failure. It is recommended when replacing a ballast to replace bulbs as well.

How do I reset my breaker when it has tripped off?

First, disconnect any additional devices that may have caused the breaker to overload and trip. Breakers are mechanical devices and must be turned all the way off before turning back on. Remember this is a mechanical device, so this may require several attempts. If this fails to reset the breaker, there may be a more serious problem. Call Hucker Electric.

What should I do if my lights, switches and receptacles don't work?

Check to see if the outlet is on a switch. Check and reset GFCI outlets and circuit breaker. Check light bulbs and replace if necessary. If none of these are the problem, call Hucker Electric.

Why do I blow fuses or why does my circuit breaker trip?

Except in the case of ground fault interrupters, which are susceptible to moisture and/or weather conditions, fuses and circuit breakers should not trip. Check to see if some type of plugged in appliance is causing the problem.

What causes the lights in my house to flicker?

Central air conditioning and heat pump condensers may cause a noticeable slight dimming on start up. Lights may flicker or dim due to startup of some appliances or motor driven equipment. Check with the local utility company for possible defects in supply source or for the utility switching to other utilities for supply.

What is a GFCI device or breaker?

GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. In layman's terms this device protects you from electrical shock. When it senses the slightest increase in resistance resulting from ground fault, (i.e., the use of electrical devices in or near water), it turns off to protect you.

What is the difference between a breaker panel and my old fuse panel?

Both devices, either breaker or fuse, are designed to trip (turn off) in the event of an electrical overload, i.e. 20Amps of electrical load on a 15Amp circuit would cause a trip. The only difference is that a breaker is mechanical and may be reset. Whereas, a fuse is one time only and must be replaced. Please Note: Modern breakers are much more efficient and offer greater levels of protection.

What are the red and black buttons on my GFCI outlet?

The black button is a test button and when pressed, should deactivate the outlet and any other outlet fed from it - Indicating a properly functioning device. The red button is the re-set button that you depress to reactivate the outlet or outlets in the event of deactivation resulting from a fault.

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