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FAQ's

At Pacific Star Electric, we have the expertise to solve all of your electrical problems and concerns. Call us today for a free assessment of your electrical needs.

My circuit breakers keep tripping. What does this mean?

faq1Generally one of two things: Breaker fatigue, internal weakening of the circuit breaker causing it to trip before maximum load or, the breaker is simply doing what it was designed to do, interrupt the flow of current before it reaches a dangerous level.

A 15 amp circuit is designed to allow a maximum continuous load of 1440 watts. If you have a 1600 watt hair dryer or a 5 HP (peak rating of 3730 watts) shop-vac connected you can see the potential for overloads and tripping circuits. You may also have a "short circuit". If the breaker trips immediately or if a flash or sparks are visible at the panel when you attempt to reset the breaker then this is the case. Try unplugging all devices and turning off the light fixtures in the affected circuit. If the problem persists then the issue is with the electrical circuit itself.

I have some outlets that don’t work. What can I do about this?

Check that all your circuits are ON. Before making a call to an electrician or electrical contractor, systematically go through your electrical panel and turn all circuits completely off then back on again. Even though a circuit is tripped it is not always obvious that it is not in the ON position.  Some outlets are controlled by a switch. Either the entire outlet or just the top or bottom. Make sure all switches are turned on.

Our bedroom doesn’t have a ceiling light only a switched plug. Can we put in a ceiling light?

There are a number of options. You can install a wall light above your existing switch. If there is attic access above the bedroom ceiling then a ceiling outlet can be installed with minimal drywall damage. If there is no access above the ceiling you can still install lighting but there will most likely have to be drywall and paint repairs to the ceiling.

I just want to install a new light. It’s not really that dangerous is it?

You will read something like this in the installation manual that comes with the new light "this fixture must be installed by a licensed electrician in compliance with all national and local electrical codes and regulations". This is because there are many potential hazards involved in something as seemingly simple as installing a light fixture including an electrical shock or a fire caused by improper installation.

I want to install a hot-tub but there is no more room in my panel. What do I need to do?

Hot tubs need either 2 or 4 circuit spaces in your electrical panel. Existing breakers can sometimes be replaced with a narrower type to free up the required space or a sub-panel may need to be installed.   Also, for all new hot tub installations the electrical code now requires a disconnect switch within sight of the hot tub.  See PSE Blog: http://www.pacificstarelectric.ca/index.php/item/should-i-install-a-sub-panel.html

Some of my dimmers get hot. Is this something I should be concerned about?

It is normal for a dimmer to be warm to the touch. They should never be hot. Count the total wattage of the bulbs the dimmer is controlling (i.e. 9 bulbs at 65 watts each is 585 watts) to confirm that the dimmers' rating is not being exceeded. The most common rating for a dimmer is 600 watts. We recommend using a 1000 watt dimmer if you are exceeding 500 watts. If dimmers are grouped together in one switch box their wattage ratings must be reduced as well. Dimmers have some great features such as reduced energy consumption; also, a bulb dimmed to 90% will last twice as long. Do not use a dimmer with compact fluorescent bulbs unless they have a dimmable ballast and a compatible dimmer.

My light-bulbs burn out too often. How can I prevent this from happening?

Make sure there is no damage to the light fixture, use long life bulbs (6000hr 125V or 130V rating) or use compact fluorescent bulbs. Having loose wiring, either at the switch or at the light fixture can also cause bulbs to burn out quickly. Low voltage on the circuit will also reduce bulb life.

When I turn more than one appliance on, the circuit trips. What causes this?

Not having adequate circuits in your kitchen. Going back 20 or more years ago electrical appliances were not as commonplace as they are today. The electrical codes of the time did not require the amount of circuits that are required in homes today.

You can try moving your appliance plug from the top half of the outlet to the bottom half. Many kitchen outlets have one circuit for the top half of the outlet and another circuit for the bottom half (split circuit plug). This may solve the problem. The issue could also be "breaker fatigue" and the circuit breaker will need to be replaced.



I have an old electrical panel. Should I replace it?

electricalIf your electrical panel has the old style screw in fuses you should replace it. If you have a Square D XO style electrical panel it should also be replaced as it has been recalled by its manufacturer.  If you have water or oxidation damage in your electrical panel it should be inspected and replaced if necessary.  Generally, if your panel has circuit breakers and was installed by a licensed electrician or electrical contractor and is properly maintained, it will generally outlive the other systems in your home.  See PSE Blog article: http://www.pacificstarelectric.ca/index.php/item/electrical-service-upgrade.html

What is an arc-fault breaker?

Arc-fault breakers are designed to prevent fires by detecting non-load related electrical arcs. Arcs happen frequently in appliance electrical cords where insulation has become brittle or is cracked. Hidden wires behind walls nicked by nails or pinched by fasteners can also be sources of arcing. Loose connections where wires are attached to switches and outlets are often arc hot spots. The circuit breaker disconnects power before the arc starts a fire (electrical arcs can reach temperatures of 5,000 C). Generally speaking, arc fault breakers protect against fire and GFI devices protect against electric shock. Arc fault protection is required in all sleeping areas of new homes as of April 2004 in Canada.

My house has aluminum wiring. Should I be concerned?

aluminumThe use of aluminum branch circuit wiring was widespread from the mid 1960's until the early to mid 1970's. Problems began to occur because aluminum is prone to breakage due to improper stripping of the wires, over-tightening of splices, cold forming etc. Aluminum is also prone to oxidation when exposed to the air which causes poor conductivity and heat build-up. Because of this, there is a risk of an electrical fire with aluminum wiring and it was subsequently banned for use in branch circuit wiring (i.e. the wires going to plugs, switches and lights).

Some symptoms of immediate problems with aluminum wiring are lights flickering or plugs that will not work even with all the circuits turned on. Almost all insurance providers will require that a home with aluminum wiring be inspected and certified by a licensed electrician. This involves physically inspecting all of the connections, installing approved connectors, using approved aluminum devices or copper pigtail wiring and using an anti-oxidant compound. If your original installation was done to the highest standards or if the wiring has been inspected and certified then the aluminum wiring system will outlast the other systems in your home.

Aluminum is still in widespread use today for distribution wiring. It is an excellent conductor, lightweight, strong and much more cost effective than copper. The BC Hydro supply lines that come to your home are aluminum, as is almost the entire power grid. Aluminum is used within apartment buildings, condominiums and townhouses to bring power from the main service to the individual units. It is also used within houses to bring power from the main electrical panel to sub-panels, stoves or other large loads.  See PSE Blog: http://www.pacificstarelectric.ca/index.php/item/aluminum-wiring.html

Should I put in a surge protector?

A surge protector is a very good idea. They protect against voltage spikes caused by lightning, short circuits, damage to power grids etc. You can install surge protected power bars to protect specific equipment or install a whole house surge protector which is installed in the main electrical panel and requires 2 available circuit spaces. In addition, whole house surge protectors can come with a $10,000 - $50,000 warranty relating to electronics replacement.

When I plug an item into my outlet, sparks come out. What causes this and is it dangerous?

This is caused by a heavy electrical load such as a toaster, kettle, vacuum etc. being turned on when the cord is plugged in. Remember to plug the item in and then turn it on. It is not dangerous unless the spark is quite large or the outlet or cord ends are visibly damaged or loose. It can also be happen when poor quality electronic transformers (i.e. for laptops or cell phones) are plugged in or if the outlet itself is loose or damaged.

When I flip my light switch on it makes a crackling sound. Is this dangerous?

Yes, the crackling sound is the electricity arcing due to loose wiring or between the damaged contacts inside the switch. These miniature fireworks create sparks and temperatures that approach 5,000 C. This intense heat can rapidly ignite plastic insulation, wood, carpeting or any other combustible material in the vicinity of the arcing wires. Loose connections where wires are attached to switches and outlets are often arc hot spots. See blog article on arc fault circuit breakers.

I have a GFI that keeps tripping. What causes this?

gfiA GFI (ground fault interrupt) checks for an imbalance in the electrical current between the “hot” and the “neutral” wire. If there is a difference that means that electrical current is going to ground, a potentially deadly situation.  The GFI can sense imbalances as small as 5 milliamps and will trip the circuit as fast as 1/30th of a second. A GFI will also trip if the plug or breaker is faulty.  Any faulty or damaged electrical devices should be replaced.