Circuit breakers are the modern day version of the fuse. Circuit breakers automatically turn off the flow of electricity at the electrical panel when too much current is drawn through them. Circuit breakers operate either by reacting to excessive heat build-up (via a bimetal strip) or by electromagnets that sense a dramatic surge in power that could cause a short circuit. In either case, once the electrical fault is corrected, the breaker can be reset and power restored.
You should be familiar with the electrical panel and know which breaker controls each electrical area of your home. Most electrical panels feature a chart for the electrician who installed the system to record where each breaker has been assigned (e.g. Breaker #1 – Kitchen). Keep a flashlight near the electrical panel, so you can read this chart during a power failure.
Usually, electrical problems are the fault of an electrical appliance, and your home’s electrical system is simply responding to a potential circuit overload by shutting off the electrical power. Frequent tripping of the circuit breakers may indicate the circuit’s overloaded or a breaker is faulty. Some appliances have special power requirements and may draw more electricity than the average appliance. If the power outage is the result of a short circuit, as opposed to an appliance overload, the panel should be repaired by an electrician.
Many fires occur each year from misuse of electrical equipment. Contact an electrician or a recognized appliance service agent to make these repairs.
Traditional circuit breakers are designed to protect just the wires behind the walls and the switches and outlets they are connected to. Circuit breakers will trip when a massive amount of electricity passes through the circuit and causes heat to build-up within the breaker.
Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCI) are designed to detect electrical arcs caused by broken or cut wires. Arcs occur in electrical cords when the insulation becomes brittle or cracks. Loose wire connections on switches and outlets and wires that have been nicked by nails or pinched by fasteners can also cause arcs.
Bedrooms are more susceptible to these types of electrical problems because of the common use of extension cords and inconsistent power demand (use lots of power in the morning when you’re getting ready and then require little power during the day). To address this, the Alberta Electrical Code mandates the use of AFCI’s in bedroom circuits. These breakers will replace the normal circuit breakers in your electrical panel. If the AFCI breaker trips, first check any extension cords for breakage and confirm they’re plugged in and then consult your builder and/or an electrician before resetting the AFCI breaker.
A Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFI) protects people from electric shock. You can recognize a GFI outlet by the ‘Test’ and ‘Reset’ buttons located between the plug receptacles of the outlet. One GFI can be wired to protect several electrical outlets on the same circuit.
GFI’s are installed wherever there is the potential for contact between a person, an electrical appliance and water. For example, GFIs would be located on outlets placed near swimming pools, kitchen sinks, bathrooms or exterior plugs.
A GFI-protection circuit can also be integrated into a breaker at the main electrical panel. A GFI breaker will have a separate ground wire connection. A reset button sets it apart from regular circuit breakers. A GFI breaker serves a dual purpose. Not only will this breaker shut off electricity in the event of a ‘ground-fault’ but it will also trip when a short circuit or an overload occurs, protecting anything downstream (outlets, lamps, heaters, etc.) connected to the GFI breaker.
A GFI should be tested once a month. To test, plug a light into the outlet with the light on and push the ‘Test’ button. The power should cut immediately and the ‘Reset’ button should pop out. To reset the circuit, simply push the ‘Reset’ button. Power should be immediately restored.
Why does my GFI Trip? What should I do when it trips?
A GFI circuit senses the difference between electrical current entering an appliance and electrical current exiting an appliance. If the current exiting the appliance is different from the current that entered the appliance, the GFI will identify the change in current as a power ‘leak’ from the appliance—a leak that is probably going through a person’s body. The GFI will shut down the flow of electrical current in a fraction of a second.
If you have lost power at a regular-looking outlet, it may be due to a tripped GFI outlet further up the circuit line. To confirm this, check if the cord plugged into the outlet works if plugged into another outlet in the home. If they do, then check the GFI outlet in the ensuite bathroom to see if it has tripped. If it hasn’t tripped, check the breaker itself on the electrical panel. You can also check that electrical appliances plugged into a GFI outlet, or appliances on a circuit protected by a GFI circuit breaker, are working.
If you have reoccurring problems, contact the electrical contractor who wired the home.
Before you move in, your builder should ensure all appliances included with the home are in working order. Electrical appliances come with manuals and warranty papers. Review these documents carefully, particularly the operating/maintenance instructions. You should also file warranty cards with the appliance manufacturers, so you are informed of any recalls. Local service technicians can help if you encounter any operational problems or have questions regarding an appliance.
Placing all your manuals in a binder is a great way to keep information together and will be a great resource for a buyer should you ever sell your home.