We often treat the electrical systems of our homes as if they're invisible, reliably delivering power day and night. That is, right up until the moment they don't. Just like your car, electrical systems can develop a host of problems that are best fixed sooner rather than later.
Don't underestimate the complexity and importance of your electrical system. Your home's power grid involves hundreds, if not thousands, of connections. And that many parts creates numerous potential points of failure. The U.S. Fire Administration estimates electrical malfunctions caused 23,500 residential fires in 2016.
You can hire a licensed electrician for an inspection to check your home's safety. Prices vary based on location and the size of your house. But on average, be prepared to spend a few hundred dollars on this vital checkup. Your electrician should submit a detailed written report of their findings, including recommended solutions and priority for repair based on safety.
The most important element of an electrical inspection, of course, is safety. You want your inspector to focus on violations of the National Electrical Code, including the physical integrity of your main box. Loose installation, discoloration, burn marks and breaker switches that aren't tight are all signs of things going wrong. All junction boxes should be covered and all outlets correctly grounded.
An inspector should check the electric meter for defects such as insecure installation, broken seals and rust at the bottom of the box.
Outdoor wires should be inspected for fraying and other damage, and the inspector should keep an eye out for unprotected wires anywhere in the home, especially attics, basements and crawl spaces.
CHECK FOR THE CORRECT OUTLETS
Any outlet in rooms located near water, such as kitchens and bathrooms, should be equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). This cuts the power to the circuit as soon as it detects a spike and provides a vital safety mechanism in the event water creates a short.
Incidentally, you should check your GFCI outlets every month (which is recommended on the plate of your GFCI outlet, if you look closely.) Plug something small, such as a night light, into the GFCI outlet, then push the "test" button. If the light instantly turns off, the outlet is working properly and you can press the "reset" button. If the light stays on or you can't trip the button, you need to hire an electrician to check and probably replace the outlet. Newer GFCIs installed since 2015 have a self-testing mechanism, but it's still wise to do so yourself as well.
If you have an older home that hasn't had an electrical upgrade in decades, you may not have GFCI outlets at all, and an electrician can advise you about your upgrade options.
MAKE SURE WIRES MATCH THEIR PURPOSE
That Christmas-tree-like collection of brightly colored wires blossoming from your circuit breaker looks like that for a reason. Different colors represent ground wires, power carriers, secondary live wires and neutral lines. Your electrician should ensure that circuit breakers, wires and outlets all match up to the correct kinds of amperage for that circuit.
Even in newer homes, this can sometimes be a problem. Veteran electricians report that they frequently find incorrect wire sizes in new construction where contractors were cutting corners.
Paul F.P. Pogue is a reporter for Angie's List, a trusted provider of local consumer reviews and an online marketplace of services from top-rated providers. Visit AngiesList.com.
(c)2018 Ask Angie’s List
Visit Ask Angie’s List at www.angieslist.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.