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How to avoid common winter electrical problems

With holiday lights twinkling, heat pumping out of all the vents, and an electric blanket warming your bed at night, home electrical systems have a heavy load during winter. Here are the most common electrical problems during wintertime and what you can do to solve them.

Problem #1: Not Enough Power

After the temperature drops, your heating system works every day to keep your home warm and your pipes intact. Holiday decorations and portable heaters add more strain to the electrical system. Signs that your electrical circuit is overburdened include flickering lights and regularly tripping the breaker.

If you find your system is overloaded, you have a couple of options:

Evaluate power consumption and adjust

Washer, dryer, kitchen appliances — once these machines hit ten years old, you are well due for replacements. Old appliances can draw a lot of power, even if they aren’t on. Most of the year you might not notice this, but choosing energy efficient replacements will make the holidays go smoother and reduce your bills during the rest of the year.

Heavy Up

If your home needs more power to keep up with usage, consider upgrading your electrical system with a “heavy up.” Heavy up is industry jargon for having an electrician increase the amperage coming into your home through the service panel.

For homes more than 20 years old, you might have modern amenities powered by an out of date circuit. If you don’t know if your home has been rewired for modern usage, consider having an electrician inspect your home to find out. Circuit breakers are essential to preventing electrical fires, so if your circuits are mismatched to your needs, that puts you at risk.

winter electrical problems

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Problem #2: Old Space Heaters & Electric Blankets

If you regularly use an electric space heater in your home, proper use and safety are essential. Many people use a small portable heater to keep a room cozy without spiking the gas bill. However, most space heaters are big electricity consumers!

When you haul out the space heater and electric blanket, inspect the cords and blanket edges for fraying, tears and signs of wear. As a rule of thumb, it is best to replace these items every five years due to wear and tear and also to match modern energy consumption.

Why is my house cold even with the heat turned on?

Practice good space heater safety

Extension cords pose a major fire risk when used with space heaters because it is harder to trip the circuit breaker when they overheat. Prevent electrical fires caused by space heaters by following these easy rules:

  • Always plug space heaters directly into a wall outlet; never use with an extension cord or power strip.
  • Always unplug the space heater when it is not in use and when you leave the room.
  • Make sure your heater has an automatic shutoff feature for if it falls over.
  • Regularly inspect cord for fraying or wear. Replace your heater if you find damage.
  • Consider having a new outlet installed if your cord doesn’t reach where you need it.
  • Do not attempt to heat more than one room with a space heater.

winter electrical problems

Problem #3: Risks for electrical fires

Improving home safety is an ongoing battle for most homeowners. Here are a few red flag areas to monitor for electrical problems during winter.

The top 5 causes of electrical fires

Extension cords

Because they can’t reliably trip a circuit breaker, extension cords pose a fire risk and should never be part of a permanent installation in your home. Circuit breakers are your best protection against electrical fires, and if they don’t detect overheating of an appliance powered by extension cord, power cords can overheat, melt, arc and spark a fire. Your best protection to avoid this scenario is to have a licensed electrician install more power outlets where you need them.

Damaged holiday lights

Whenever you unpack holiday decor, take time to look for damage and signs of wear and age to your holiday lights. If you discover damage, it is best to replace these items and not risk a failed DIY repair job. Read the warning tags to know how many strings of light can be safely strung together.

winter electrical problems

Keep Christmas trees away from heat

The U.S. Fire Administration recommends keeping your Christmas tree (both artificial and fresh) at least 3 feet away from all heat sources, including fireplaces and space heaters. If you buy a real tree for Christmas, plan to discard it the day after Christmas or when it becomes dry. Dried out trees present a huge electrical fire risk in December and January.

Reduce static shocks with a humidifier

Running the heat dries out your already low humidity winter air. Very dry air is a good conductor of static electricity, increasing the likelihood of electrical fires caused by electrical shock. An easy, economical solution to reduce risk and improve air quality is to place a humidifier in the driest areas of your home or purchase a whole home humidifier for maximum comfort.

How home humidity can soothe a fussy baby

Work with a qualified electrician

Whether you are a new homeowner, prospective buyer or simply a person interested in improving the efficiency and safety of their home, turn to the professional electricians you can trust. If you have doubts about your electrical system, call the licensed electricians at John C. Flood for an assessment before the cold weather kicks into high gear.