Electricity 101: Introduction To Electricity In Your Home
Recently one of our daughters, Jamie, was in a state of panic when, with a head of wet hair, her electric blow dryer suddenly stopped working. With blow dryer in one hand, a damp towel in the other and wet hair in tow, she went running down the hall demanding to know why her hair dryer was no longer doing its thing.
We gave the dryer a “once over” visual examination and determined that the housing looked alright, the switch was operating properly and the electrical cord and plug appeared to be just fine. Confident that the dryer presented no imminent danger, we proceeded to plug it into a nearby outlet – not the one she was using in her bathroom. The device immediately began to produce that familiar “whine” along with an ample supply of hot air. Jamie appeared perplexed.
We unplugged the blow dryer, returned to her bathroom, plugged it into the outlet beside her sink; switched it on and – nothing. An inquisitive eleven year old, Jamie couldn’t understand why her blow dryer worked when plugged into an outlet across the house but not when plugged into the outlet in her bathroom.
Since the blow dryer apparently was not the culprit, we turned our attention to the outlet in her bathroom and tested it for power. We used an inexpensive two-pronged voltage tester that consists of two short lengths of insulated wire with exposed metal terminals at the ends and a small light bulb at the opposite end. The test is simple. The terminals are plugged into the outlet (one in each of the two slots) and when the bulb lights, power is present. No light, no power. Our test revealed that the outlet was indeed not “hot” – no power.
The plot thickened and, thus, led to a discussion about basic home electrical – Electricity 101, if you will. A home’s electrical system, we explained, is divided into circuits that branch out to bring electricity to various spaces throughout a home. A circuit can consist of a single outlet or several outlets that are joined together by wires concealed in walls and the attic. All electrical circuits, we continued, terminate at a subpanel – more commonly known as a “breaker box” or, as is the case with older homes, a fuse box. Depending upon the size and age of a home, more than one subpanel can exist. Still in other cases the subpanel and the main service (where the main power comes into the home and the meter is generally located) are one in the same. If it gets too complicated, we recommend that you hire an electrician instead. There are companies offering popular electrical repair in North Sioux City that you can contact.
In our case, the subpanel is located in our laundry room. Jamie still wasn’t clear about what this had to do with why her blow dryer wasn’t working. We assured her that we were working our way toward the answer. We opened the subpanel door to expose a neat arrangement of black switches called “circuit breakers.” We explained that each of the breakers in the panel controlled power to the various electrical circuits throughout our house. Among the group of neatly arranged black switches in the panel was one errant switch. We compared the number on the breaker with the corresponding number on the legend located on the inside face of the panel door and discovered that it was the breaker that controlled the power to the electrical outlet in her bathroom.
We moved the breaker all the way to the off position and then flipped it to the on position and returned to her bathroom to see if the blow dryer would work. And, as we expected and to Jamie’s delight, her blow dryer worked just fine. However, by this time Jamie’s hair was nearly dry and she was less concerned with the fact that the blow dryer was working than she was with her curiosity as to why the breaker had “tripped” in the first place.
We explained that breakers and their predecessors, fuses, are safety devices that prevent electrical wire from overheating which could ultimately result in an electrical fire. Although a breaker can trip for many reasons, it is usually caused either by a short or an overloaded circuit. According to experts like this electrician in Tenino, WA, a circuit becomes overloaded when the power draw is greater than the circuit is designed to supply. The breaker, the wire and the outlet are sized to meet the specific power demand of a given circuit. When this limit is exceeded, the breaker trips preventing the wire from overheating and resulting in a potential fire.
So, Jamie wanted to know what caused the breaker that supplies power to the outlet in her bathroom to trip. Just as we were preparing to further investigate, her older brother Chris arrived on the scene to report that his blow dryer stopped working about the same time. What we soon discovered was that Jamie and Chris outlets were on the same electrical circuit and that when they both powered up their respective blower dryers at the same time it drew more wattage than the circuit was rated to carry and, thus, the circuit breaker tripped. You can visit sites like xpertelectricllc.com/electrical/electrical-panel-services/ for additional guidance.
The mysterious problem was solved and Jamie learned a little about how a residential electrical system works.
If breakers are constantly tripping and you find yourself flipping breakers or replacing fuses often, chances are good that you are you are overloading a circuit and should consider splitting the load by plugging devices into different circuits. Recurring electrical problems should be investigated by a qualified electrician from a service like Electrical Synergies, LLC. If you need a full range of services and same-day service for your electrical emergencies, click here to continue.