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5 Common Electrical Warning Signs

1. Burning Odor or Sparks

When you’re running an appliance, especially one that features a high load such as a washing machine or portable heater, you should be on the lookout for strange sights and smells. If an electrical device gives off a urine-like smell or smells like burnt plastic, you see smoke, or you see any kind of large electrical sparking, it’s time to shut down the appliance and the circuit and call a professional immediately. Electrical shorts and sparks can all lead to house fires and should be dealt with immediately, not put off until later.

2. Broken, Loose, or Hot Outlets

An outlet or switch that isn’t working can be as simple as a disconnected circuit or a tripped breaker. Deeper electrical issues should be diagnosed by an electrician, but a non-functional outlet is also one that isn’t working properly. If a socket is too loose to hold a plug in place, then it should be replaced as well.

Likewise, if an outlet faceplate is warm, burns, or shocks you when a device is plugged into it, then you need to get the outlet inspected or replaced. Faulty wiring could be to blame for heating issues but there may also be a problem with the appliance you’re using that’s causing the outlet to overheat.

3. Electrical Shocks

It doesn’t matter what the source if, if anything in your home delivers an electrical shock when you touch it, then it needs to be repaired or replaced immediately. Any work done will need the circuit to be shut off anyway, so you should go ahead and turn off that electrical circuit, typically by tripping the breaker.

4. Faulty Breakers

By design, breakers trip when there’s a problem on the circuit. When you place too high of a load on your breaker or a sudden spike in load occurs, the breaker can trip. Changing high loads to other circuits will fix this problem. If it doesn’t, there may be a problem with either the breaker or the circuit itself. The best case scenario for a breaker problem is that it continues to trip, shutting down devices. Occasionally, your breaker will fail to trip when it should. In cases such as this, keep an ear out for loud electrical humming or buzzing from the breaker box. Excessive heat from the box or wires in the home are also a strong sign of a breaker box issue.

5. Flickering Lights and Faulty Switches

Flickering lights, not just dimming when you turn on the microwave, can be a symptom of bad electrical wiring or dirty AC power coming through the line. Check the fixture itself to make sure that there isn’t an issue with connection points from your house wiring. If you can’t find the issue at the wall switch or the fan, then it could be due to damage wires in between or a loose connection where you can’t reach. At this point, you should call a licensed electrician.

Then again, if you’re using a dimmer switch, you can find all sorts of flickering, buzzing, and humming issues with your lighting. Always double check to make sure that your dimmer is compatible with any CFLs or LEDs that you’re using in the associated fixtures. Also, you should avoid mixing incandescent and LED light bulbs on the same dimming circuit or fixture.