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How to prevent electrical overloads

WHEN YOU JUST CAN’T FIND ENOUGH OUTLETS for your home, is your first instinct to use an extension cord or is it to call your local electrician to add another outlet? One is the right answer; the other could cause an electrical overload. 

This is a big deal from a safety standpoint. An overload occurs when the home draws more electricity than a circuit can safely handle. An electrical circuit is designed to handle a limited amount of electricity. When it receives too much, it causes the circuit breaker to trip, shutting off the power to the entire circuit. If there were no breaker in the circuit, an overload would cause the wires to overheat and start a fire. 

Warning signs 

Here are some ways to spot an overloaded circuit: 

  • Flickering, blinking or dimming lights. 
  • Outlet switch covers that are warm to the touch. 
  • Burning odors from outlets or switches.
  • Frequently tripped circuit breakers. 
  • Crackling, sizzling or buzzing receptacles. 
  • Mild shock or tingle from appliances, receptacles or switches. 
  • Power tools, appliances or electronics that seem to lack adequate power. 

If you spot an overload, locate your circuit panel, usually found in the basement or a garage in most homes, and check to see if any of the switches in the panel have been tripped or partially tripped. Then turn them off and back on again. If this reoccurs or happens when an extension cord is not plugged in, call a licensed electrician for help. 

It’s a good idea to map your home’s circuits to ensure you are not loading too much on one circuit. Start by checking each breaker against what it is supposed to power and keep notes. Knowing what is on each circuit could help you navigate an overload in the future. 

Don’t overextend 

Preventing an overload is simple—don’t overuse extension cords when powering your home. Relying too heavily on extension cords may mean that your home doesn’t have enough outlets. Instead of using an extension cord for a temporary solution, call a licensed electrician who can install more outlets. Extension cords should be used as a short-term option, not a longtime fix. 

There are some concrete steps to take to prevent overloads. Start with the plug-in appliances: move these to a circuit that is less used with the help of your home circuit map. Make sure major appliances, like refrigerators, are plugged directly into a wall outlet. Never use extension cords or multioutlet converters for these larger appliances. 

Do not turn on too many things at once. For example, turn off the TV while you vacuum (you can’t hear it anyway). 

Replace incandescent or halogen lightbulbs with energy-efficient LED bulbs to reduce lighting loads. 

Power strips are not a solution: they only add additional outlets, but don’t change the amount of power being received from the outlet. 

Have a licensed electrician inspect your home. A heavy reliance on extension cords could indicate that you have too few outlets.

DEWAYNE THOMAS is Safety & Training Coordinator at Salt River Electric. 

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