How to recognize the most common electrical problems?

21 October 2021

Electricity remains a matter best left in the hands of professionals. Untrained individuals shouldn’t be launching into major work that can lead to serious problems down the line, such as injury, or worse, a fire. But there’s nothing stopping you from recognizing you have an electrical problem and consulting a professional electrician. Here are some of the most common problems.

Ever-increasing needs

There’s nothing more annoying when you buy a condo or house that’s several decades old than realizing there aren’t enough electrical outlets. Today’s needs are manifold: home offices, more computers and tablets, chargers, air conditioners, and more. So it’s only natural to imagine you can add power sources by adding multi-outlet extension cords, right? This is a mistake because the main circuit was not designed for this purpose. Your fuses (yes, they still exist) or circuit breakers (newer ones) may not be able to handle the increased demand. To give you a rough idea, until recently it was not uncommon to find homes with 60-amp boxes. Then the 100-amp box came along. Today, the standard is 200 amps, a minimum for today’s needs, especially if you add a heat pump and a pool. And this doesn’t include the new charging stations for electric cars.

Signs of age

Two important points to check when buying property: the presence of aluminum wiring or electrical wires wrapped in fabric. In the 1970s after copper prices took off, electricians began installing aluminum wiring. But it’s easy to overload, so many fires ensued. Often, it was the combination of copper and aluminum wires that presented a problem. There are still homes today with aluminum wiring. It’s not necessary to redo everything, but insurance companies may require inspection by a qualified electrician. In the case of wires wrapped in fabric, this clearly indicates that the wiring is from another era and no longer complies with standards. The house will have to be completely rewired. These wires can be found in very old apartments or houses.

Avoid overloading

No matter how recent your electrical work is, be sure not to overload the circuits. There are many signs: a smell of melted plastic, wires that give off heat, circuit breakers that trip, or worse, short circuits. These are all signs of overloading. Small animals can also be the cause, as they may nibble on wires inside the walls. At best, there will be no power, or it will be intermittent. You will need to replace the damaged wiring quickly, as a short circuit could occur at any time and produce sparks.

Look before you leap

Renovations of all kinds have been a favourite pastime of Quebecers since the beginning of the pandemic, and hardware stores have been making a killing. But be careful: before you start tearing down or moving walls, make absolutely sure you locate any electrical wires under the plasterboard. A poorly planned cut with an electric saw could spell disaster. You must also be careful when working outside. Wires to a shed, a light fixture or a pool may be buried in the lawn. Previous owners may also have left unidentified wires behind. Once again, do your best to identify all such installations beforehand. And above all, be careful and make sure you know what you’re doing. Plus remember that water is electricity’s worst enemy. Here’s some advice from Hydro-Quebec on avoiding electricity-related injuries.