Overloaded Circuit Signs You Need to Know – And How to Avoid Them
Electric circuit overloads are a major cause of house fires so it’s crucial to be alert to the warning signs and know how to manage your home’s power consumption.
One clear sign of an overload is a circuit breaker that continually trips. If you keep resetting the breaker, at some point it will stop doing its job, potentially resulting in an electrical overload that will overheat wiring insulation and spark a fire.
What Is an Electrical Circuit Overload?
Electrical circuits include:
A breaker (or fuse in old wiring systems).
Anything plugged into an outlet, like appliances, whose power consumption increases the overall load on the circuit.
Circuits can only cope with a limited amount of electricity. Overload happens when you draw more electricity than a circuit can safely handle – by having too many things running on one circuit.
What Causes an Overloaded Circuit?
Home electrical systems are based on average household usage but problems can arise if you plug in too many appliances on the same circuit. Another issue is piggybacking extra appliances on wall outlets or extension cords.
Exceeding the rated load for the circuit wiring will trip the breaker, closing down the entire circuit. Without a breaker, an overload would overheat the circuit wiring, which could melt the insulation and cause a fire.
However, the wrong type of breaker or fuse can make this safety feature useless, so it’s highly advisable to put safety first to prevent overloads in the first place.
What Are the Warning Signs of an Overloaded Electrical Circuit?
An obvious indication of an overloaded circuit is a breaker that keeps tripping and shutting off your power.
Other signs of a circuit overload include:
Lights that flicker or dim, especially when you switch on appliances or more lights.
Buzzing noises from outlets or switches.
Outlet or switch covers that become warm to the touch.
Smell of burning from outlets or switches.
Scorched plugs or outlets.
Lack of power in appliances.
Tingling sensation or mild shock when you touch outlets, switches, or appliances.
How Can You Avoid Overloading a Circuit?
To avoid a circuit overload, you need to be aware of the amperage of your breakers or fuses.
Electrical Code safety regulations say you can load a circuit up to 80 percent of its amperage rating. For instance, a 20-amp breaker will trip if it draws 16 amps of power. Keeping below the 80 percent figure will avoid overloads when you plug-in appliances like a vacuum cleaner.
General awareness of how much power your appliances use can also help you avoid circuit overload. Take care of how you use appliances with a high draw of 1,000 or more watts. These appliances typically include:
Avoid plugging these appliances into the same outlet or circuit, and make sure you know which outlets are connected to the same circuit.
You can find out exactly how much power your appliances use by referring to the manufacturer’s manual.
Other steps you can take to prevent overloading a circuit include:
Checking the cords of anything plugged into your outlets – make sure there are no cracks in the insulation and no exposed wires.
Avoiding permanent use of extension cords – they’re designed for short-term use only and should never be fastened into place as permanent wiring.
Never using extension cords for appliances.
Plugging no more one heat-producing appliance into an outlet at a time.
Positioning kitchen appliances like toasters and coffee machines so they don’t all run off one outlet.
How Do You Fix an Overloaded Circuit?
The short-term solution to a circuit overload is easy – move some devices from the overloaded circuit to another general-purpose circuit. Then you can just flip the circuit breaker back on or replace the fuse.
However, it can be much more complicated to find an effective long-term solution. For instance, if the load exceeds the limit allowed by the Electrical Code, you need to redistribute it to other general-purpose circuits or run new dedicated circuits to the largest loads.
Do You Need a Professional Electrician to Fix Your Overloaded Circuit?
Electrical problems in the home can be dangerous to the extent of being life-threatening. If your circuit breakers are repeatedly tripping, it’s a warning that a major safety issue may develop.
Fixing any part of your home’s electrical system – including a permanent solution to circuit overloads – calls for extreme caution and is best left to a professional electrician.
If you rely on heavy use of extension cords, for instance, it suggests you don’t have enough outlets for your needs. A qualified electrician can inspect your home and add new outlets.
Some signs of a circuit overload – such as flickering lights and discolouration of outlets and switches – are similar to those of other electrical safety issues like a short circuit that may mean your house needs an upgraded electrical panel or rewiring.