Background: How Things Go Wrong

Why Home Do Home Electrical Systems Malfunction?

Why should a system which has few moving parts be subject to failures of various kinds? Realize that every technology designs its systems with economy in mind. Even the best available wire connector, for instance, could have been made from even better materials that would have made problems with it even less likely.

Also, there is such a thing as wear and tear on electrical components. Current flowing through wires and connections creates heat and other stresses that affect the quality of insulating materials and the conductivity of metal surfaces. Add to this the effect of repeated use -- where plugging and unplugging appliances at a receptacle gradually loosens its hold on the prongs being plugged into it -- and you begin to see what can happen.

Besides these there is the matter of workmanship. The reliability of the system depends on the care taken to set it up, from the engineers designing a switch to the person installing it. How tight should a screw be that holds a wire in place? This is something ultimately learned by experience, even though a manufacturer may specify what torque should be applied.

And finally, any time your system is reworked even slightly, there is room for error -- from ignorance or unintentionally.

So both the human and the material worlds contribute to the malfunctions this website is trying to pick up after. The need for home electrical troubleshooting is built in.

What are the kinds of things that could possibly go wrong in your electrical system? Let's consider two ends of the spectrum. At one end, you are familiar with a light bulb burning out. On the other end, you have experienced times when neighborhood power to your home has been interrupted -- briefly or for a number hours. Between these, there are quite a variety of other ways.

The range of causes behind various electrical malfunctions will be described, and a strategy for finding what is causing your problem will be given, at the Troubleshooting Strategy page. Go there if you have first checked your understanding of your electrical system at the main Background page.

"Thanks for creating such a great and free resource for homeowners like me. Your experience really shines through your advice. Keep up the great work. I may be needing your help because I have a breaker that won't stay on. I have spent 5 hours already, ripping open every junction box on that circuit. Cheers," -Chris

"I thought we were going to have to dip into the Disneyland vacation fund to have an electrician come out and fix two circuits, but I did it myself with the simple instructions on your website. Thank you!!" -Scott, CA

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