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Electrical Tips

Lights that flicker or that trip the circuit breaker

Cause: Loose wiring splice or a light fixture that's worn out and needs to be replaced.


Solution: Cut power to the fixture and investigate the supply wiring and the fixture itself. Replace wire connectors with new professional-grade types. Replace the fixture if suspect.


Outlets with a faceplate that's warm to the touch

Cause: An overly large electrical load operating on that outlet, undersized wiring or a loose electrical splice. (Note: it's not unusual for dimmer switches, especially large ones, to be warm. Unless the switch face is actually too hot to touch, a warm dimmer is not a hazard in most cases)


Solution: Cut power and investigate. Look for a loose splice, melted connections, burned insulation. Repair as necessary. Also, evaluate wattage of device; it may be too large relative to supply wiring. Move device to another circuit, preferably one served by a 20-amp circuit breaker and 12-gauge wire. If condition persists, contact an electrician.


Extension cords wrapped in electrical tape or with loose ends

Cause: Wear and tear has taken its toll on the cord.

Solution: Cut off damaged sections of cords; replace loose or damaged male/female ends. Replace severely damaged cords.


Wobbly switches or outlet receptacles

Cause: Device is improperly mounted to the electrical box or the box itself has come loose from the stud.


Solution: Cut power. Remove faceplate and tighten mounting screws. Occasionally, overly long screws will not fully seat. Shorten screws with an electrician's multitool (a pair of pliers that strip wire, bend wire and cut screws ). Reinstall device. Otherwise, tighten connection of box to framing.


Ceiling fans that slowly wobble

Cause: Fan is out of balance or may be installed on a box that's not listed for supporting a fan.


Solution: Balance fan or cut power and reinstall fan, checking for loose, damaged or missing hardware. If necessary, replace box. Use a retrofit/old-work box rated for fan installation (note: These are not to be confused with old-work boxes or other electrical boxes not listed for fan installation. Specialized retrofit boxes rated for fans tend not to be common hardware-store or home-center items. Visit an electrical supply house or use a Web-based supplier. One version is the Steel One Box manufactured by Arlington Products. (


GFCI outlets that trip repeatedly

Cause: A ground fault or a worn-out GFCI outlet receptacle.


Solution: Move appliance or tool to another GFCI and test. If GFCI trips, appliance or tool is suspect. If GFCI does not trip, electrical problems are likely. Cut power and investigate for damaged wire insulation, a loose splice or a small length of exposed wire making contact with a metal electrical box. If you don't find wiring or splice problems, replace the GFCI. If condition persists, contact an electrician.


The beer fridge in the garage that occasionally gives you a small shock

Cause: Many an old refrigerator will have a tiny leakage current because of worn-out insulation on its internal wiring, especially if it has a defrost circuit. This phenomenon is well-known and can even be quite dangerous when the refrigerator is placed on an electrically conductive concrete floor, especially a floor that's damp with condensation.


Solution: Replace the refrigerator with a new energy-conserving model.



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