Are lights in your home dimming? Are the outlets buzzing? You may have an overloaded circuit. This can happen when too much current passes through your home’s electrical wires.
In this article, we’ll break down what causes an electric overload to occur, its warning signs, how to fix and prevent an overload, and when to call in the experts for help.
Common Causes of a Circuit Overload
Let’s review a few basic reasons why your circuit is getting overloaded.
- Too many electrical devices plugged into one circuit
- A 1500 watt space heater is plugged into a 15 amp circuit
- A new microwave is plugged into a range hood outlet
- One or two blow dryers, or curling irons, are used simultaneously
- An oversized or even a normal-sized window air conditioner is turned on
- Breaker or fuse is faulty
- Faulty appliance or light fixture pulling too much power
- One or two circuits are controlling most of the home (typical in older houses)
- The insulation that protects your wire is deteriorating
What Is a Circuit Overload?
Have you ever cranked up the space heater on a cold Minnesota night, only to have the lights and heater shut off? At that very moment, you created a circuit overload. The same can happen on a hot summer day, when you crank up the window AC unit. Overloads happen when you demand more electricity from a circuit than that particular circuit is designed to handle.
That being said, circuits themselves may have different sizes or types of breakers, fuses, wires and outlets or connections. Remember wiring in a circuit is only as good as its weakest point.
Is Overloading My Circuit Dangerous?
In addition to causing you and your family frustration, overloads can be dangerous, too. They can heat up wires until they melt, which may lead to a fire. According to the National Fire Protection Association, nearly 50,000 home fires in the United States are caused by electrical malfunctions each year.
These fires result in property damage, injury, and even death. Therefore, it’s crucial that you understand the warning signs of an overloaded circuit, so you can ensure it doesn’t result in property damage or injury to your loved ones.
Warning Signs of An Overloaded Circuit
- Dimming Lights: Flickering, blinking, and dimming lights are telltale signs of an overloaded circuit.
- Frequently Tripped Circuit Breakers: A circuit breaker trip occurs when power surging from your electrical panel to wherever there is a draw on the power—like when you turn on a light or start up your vacuum cleaner—is greater than the circuit can bear. This can also occur from blown fuses in older homes.
- Warm or Discolored Wall Plates. Wall plates and cords that are warm to the touch are a sign of an overloaded circuit.
- Cracking Receptacles: Listen for sizzling, buzzing, or cracking receptacles.
- Burning Odor: Receptacles or wall stitches will produce a burning smell when overloaded.
- Mild Shock from Appliances: If you have overloaded circuits, you may get a mild shock or tingle from appliances, receptacles, or switches.
How Do I Fix an Electrical Overload?
For the most part, circuit breakers do a good job of preventing house fires, even during an overload, but the safest option is doing your best to prevent overloads from happening in the first place.
If you want to try to fix an electrical overload on your own, follow these five steps below:
Step 1: Start by checking the breaker box to see which switch turned off.
Step 2: Unplug everything plugged into that circuit
Step 3: Turn off the lights
Step 4: Turn the circuit switch back on
Step 5: Start plugging things back in.
- Remember, electricity is dangerous! The panel is the brains of the home, and you should take safety precautions. Do not touch wires in the panel or a circuit unless the system is off and you have determined the power is off with a voltmeter.
- You can shut off all your electricity to your home at the panel, or you can shut off the breaker in question, typically, by pushing it to off. If you have fuses, you will not be able to shut off the circuit; do not remove a fuse unless the entire panel is off.
Okay, Now Back to Our List
After step 5 on our list, you should be able to determine whether there’s one particular appliance that’s tripping the breaker. If that’s the case, there may be an issue with the appliance and not the circuit. To know for sure, try plugging that appliance into a different circuit to see if it trips that circuit, too. If it does, you’ll need a professional electrician to repair the faulty appliance, or you’ll need to replace it altogether.
If you’ve plugged everything back in without the breaker blowing, however, then you have a potential circuit overload. But remember, just because everything is plugged in doesn’t mean it’s all drawing power at the same time. Check how many amps each appliance draws when it’s in use, add all the numbers up, and see if the total is more than the value of the breaker.
If the total is more than the value of the breaker, then lucky you! This particular solution is simple.
All you need to do is move an appliance or two from the overloaded circuit onto another circuit that can handle it. If that’s not the case, then it’s time to get in touch with a certified electrician. Though we commend your DIY attitude, you don’t want to risk damaging your circuit any further.
How Do I Prevent Overloading Circuits?
Skip the repair costs and stress by preventing a circuit from overloading in the first place. To prevent an overload, you should:
Plug Appliances Directly into an Outlet
Don’t use extension cords or multi-outlet converters for appliances. Plug all major appliances directly into a wall receptacle outlet. Remember: power strips only add additional outlets; they do not change the amount of power being received from that outlet.
Only Plug One Heat-Producing Appliance in a Receptacle.
Have An Electrician Add Outlets in Your Home
If you have a heavy appliance on extension cords, then you probably don’t have enough outlets. Have an electrician add more outlets in your home.
Check Your “Wires”
Check the cords of whatever you have plugged into an electrical outlet. The copper on the very inside is the actual wire, whereas the outside is called the insulator. Ensure there are no cracks in the insulator and that no wire is exposed.
Declutter Your Outlets
Do you have a coffee pot, microwave, toaster, and espresso machine all on one outlet in your kitchen? Rearrange your kitchen appliances, so they’re not running off of one outlet. If you really need to leave them next to each other, unplug them when they’re not in use.
Dealing with Overloaded Circuits?
Need help with repairing an overloaded circuit? Get in touch with the trusted team at EarlyBird! We’re confident we can solve your toughest repair challenges. We’re available for all of your electrical needs, 24/7!