Electrical Supply: A Beginner’s Guide
A few years ago I was working at a local electronics store and I had to buy some tools. At the time I didn’t have much money so I went with cheap ones, but after buying them they wouldn’t turn on. They were just useless! So when my dad came home from work one day he told me that he wanted to sell me some tools because he couldn’t afford to pay for them anymore.
I asked him what kind of tools and he replied “Oh, those.” And then he showed me how to use them. I used them for a while, but they just weren’t good enough for my needs. Then one day I saw a TV commercial for something called an electrician’s tool kit. It looked like it would do everything that the cheap ones did, except better!
So I bought it and tried out all the different things in it…and they worked great!
So I thought, why not share my experience? Why shouldn’t others learn from my mistakes?
That’s why I’m writing this guide. If you’re thinking about getting an electrician to fix your problems, read on. You’ll probably save yourself a lot of money and headaches!
The Basics Of Electricians’ Tool Kits
An electrician’s tool kit consists of several items which are sold separately or as part of a complete tool set. These items are all used to work with electrical currents. Depending on where you live, certain tools may be required by law while others are just recommended.
Also, some of these tools can be dangerous if you don’t know how to use them properly. So before you throw a screwdriver into an electrical socket just to see what will happen, read this entire article! I’ll warn you now that it’s pretty technical. But the manufacturers of these tools know what they’re doing, so read their instructions.
Let’s start at the beginning…
The most important tool for any electrician is a good voltage sensor. This is a special tool that can detect if an item has too much or too little electrical charge running through it. You might think that it’s pretty obvious if something is “on” or “off” but just think about the last time you used a hair dryer.
Is it really “off” when you set it down after using it? Does it still have enough electricity to burn your house down if a child turned it on or plugged it into an outlet?
You can use a voltage sensor to detect this. They can also tell you how much “oomph” is running through the line.
Another important tool is a clamp-on ammeter. It looks like a clamp, but it has a needle on it that moves around a dial when you measure the amount of current going through an item. Just like the voltage sensor, it can tell if an item is “on” or “off”, and more accurately tell if it is actually dead or still contains a charge.
Then there are the line testers. These can tell if your line is “dead” (no current), “live” (has current), or “hot” (has a lot of current). These come in many varieties but are very handy. For instance, if there’s a short in your wiring then your whole house could be “live”. If you don’t have a line tester then you’ll need to turn off all of the power to your house before you begin working on the problem.
Not only can a line tester save you time, but also save you from getting fried!
The last major tool is the multi meter. This device can measure the amount of current, but it can also perform other measurements such as resistance or check to see if your item has a pulse (if you’re working on a heart defibrillator, for example).
These are the major tools that an electrician will use. These and a good head for solving problems. Heh, I always say that but it’s very true!
The next section is going to cover some of the more common electrical problems that you may encounter. It goes without saying, maybe, that any time you are working with electricity, you need to make sure that the power is off! Again, you don’t want to get zapped!
But once the power is off, it’s time to figure out what’s wrong. I don’t want to get too technical here but the major things you’re going to be looking for are 1) tripped breakers or blown fuses; 2) loose wiring or faulty wiring; 3) damaged wires and 4) short circuits.
Let’s go through each one of these problems…
The most common problem is a tripped breaker or blown fuse. This can be for a multitude of reasons.
Are you using lots of power in that particular circuit?
For instance, if you have a garbage disposal, microwave, toaster, coffee maker, water heater and furnace all hooked up to the same circuit then a single appliance can trip the breaker (the fuse is a bit more durable). So your first step is to turn everything “off” and then turn on each item one at a time until you find the offender. (If you have a meter, you can do a quick resistance check to see if the item is drawing any current. Just set the dial to the OHMS measure and touch the two probes to the prongs of the plug. If it’s “live”, then you’ll get a number. The higher the number, the more current is being used by that item. If it’s 0, then there’s no current flow. This only works for items that are on a separate circuit. If an item is on a GFCI protected circuit, then you’ll get a “L” which means Less Than 1 ohm.)
If the problem continues to be elusive or you’re just plain tired of turning things on and off, then you can cut out the fuse or trip the breaker completely. Just remember where it was!
The second most common problem is loose wiring or faulty wiring. With all of the power surges that your electrical system sees on a daily basis, it’s inevitable that some of the wires or the connections are going to fail. Most often this will happen inside wall plates or in the attic. So your first step here is to re-check all of your wiring against the existing markings inside the panel (if you didn’t permanently labels them when you installed them, then shame on you!) and retighten any connections that look suspicious.
If that doesn’t work, then you’ll need to start checking for new problems. Use your meter to check the lines and make sure that there aren’t any loose wires or short circuits.
If all else fails and you still have a problem, then you should probably call an electrician.
The third most common problem is damaged wiring or a short circuit. This is a little more dangerous since damaged wiring can potentially cause a fire. It’s also harder to track down. Again, you’re going to want to start by retightening any connections and making sure everything is secure. It’s also a good idea to go back and check the wiring against the markings in the panel (even though you did that before).
If you still have problems, then you’re probably looking at damaged wires or a short. This is dangerous so you really need to be extra careful. Start by isolating the section of the house that’s having the problem. Disconnect any appliances that are on the same circuit and move them to a different one. Then take one fixture at a time and swap it with another one (that’s on a different circuit) then turn the power back on to see if the problem follows the fixture or not.
You can also use your MAPP gas line or other “approved” non-combustible gases to test for gas leaks (following the manufacturers recommendations obviously).
If the problem seems to follow a specific circuit, then you’ll need to start checking the wiring. You can do this by cutting the wires close to where they enter the panel and swapping them with wires from another circuit that aren’t having problems. If the problem follows the cut wire, then you’ll need to either replace or re-wire that section of the house. If the problem stays with the other wire, then you know the issue wasn’t there. You can keep doing this process until you find the section of the house that’s having problems.
If you’re still lost, then it’s time to call an electrician. This is getting dangerous and you don’t want to risk any more damage.
Good luck and be safe!
Troubleshooting outside of the house:
In this case, there are a few slightly different things that can go wrong. The first of which is pretty obvious: a tree has fallen on the power lines. This will probably be along the lines in the first section above since trees don’t generally fall onto power lines that are already on your property.
Another thing that can happen is animals (or people) can get into your equipment and cause problems. This is more likely to happen if you have equipment exposed on the outside of your house–though it still can happen inside as well.
A power surge (very unlikely but possible) or other outside influence can also damage the equipment.
In any case, when troubleshooting, you’re going to want to follow a similar process of elimination.
Check the breakers. If it’s not that, then the next most common thing is that there’s a problem with your grid connection. This is usually caused by something on the other side of the meter and out of your control. The fix for this is for you to get a new meter (and possibly a new pole and wiring) which is no small task so you’ll definitely want to call an electrician in for this if it happens.
If you’re on well water, there’s also the chance that your pump could be failing. This isn’t as common but can cause similar symptoms if there’s a partial or complete loss of power to the pump. If you’re unlucky, this could actually damage your well in a serious way causing you to need a new well (not likely–but possible).
Finally, there’s always the possibility that your equipment is failing and needs replacement. This is always a possibility no matter what the situation and should always be checked.
Troubleshooting inside your house:
If you’re having trouble with an outlet inside your house, then you’ve got a couple of major things that can go wrong in addition to the smaller possibilities listed above.
The first possibility is a fire. Since you live in an older house, it was wired at one time for 110 volts. Over time, the wiring tends to weaken and overheat which can cause fires. If you have any damaged or noticeably warm outlets, you need to immediately unplug everything from that outlet and, if possible, cut the power at the breaker box.
You then need to start pulling everything apart and checking whether the wires are sagging, warm, or even burned. If so, you need to either fix the damage or replace the cords altogether.
The second possibility is that a foreign object has fallen into the outlet and become stuck in such a way that it’s touching both terminals on the back of the outlet–which can be a serious shock hazard. You’ll need to use something like a pencil and carefully feed it up into the outlet from the bottom if this happens to you (taking care not to get zapped or poke your eyes out).
If the outlet is overloaded, then you can either add more outlets or just replace the one that’s causing problems. If it’s the wiring, then you’ll need to re-wire the entire room.
Finally, there’s always the possibility of a short in the outlet itself. I’ve never had this happen to me personally (knock on wood), but I know it can happen and it would likely cause a fire as well. If you’re handy, you can replace the outlet yourself. Otherwise you’ll need an electrician.
I hope this helps get you started in fixing your own house. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can help with.
Sources & references used in this article:
- Quality-the customer’s voice (MS Thompson – Production Engineer, 1962 – ieeexplore.ieee.org)
- The buying brain: Secrets for selling to the subconscious mind (AK Pradeep – 2010 – books.google.com)
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- The effect of life values and materialism on buying counterfeit products (S Dowling – 2014 – esource.dbs.ie)
- Path Analysis to Study Impacts of Country of Origin and Brand Equity towards Buying Intention in Thai Boxing Equipment (A Furnham, H Valgeirsson – The Journal of Socio-Economics, 2007 – Elsevier)
- Pro-environmental purchase behaviour: The role of consumers’ biospheric values (S Piriyapada – WMS Journal of Management, 2020 – so06.tci-thaijo.org)
- Compulsive buying: prevalence, irrational beliefs and purchasing (TN Nguyen, A Lobo, S Greenland – Journal of Retailing and Consumer …, 2016 – Elsevier)