Often on a service call we get a chance to educate the homeowner on some basic troubleshooting tips. Once you have an understanding of how some wiring in your house is supposed to work, you might find you can fix it yourself. Or you'll have a pretty solid diagnosis of the problem before the electrician shows up. If your electrician arrives with the right materials in hand, quite a bit of time can be saved.
What are some examples?
Maybe your outlets aren't working. Where are they? In the kitchen, look for a GFCI outlet. Same goes for garages, outdoors, or anywhere you would likely be plugging in an appliance. These outlets will be rectangular and have buttons on them. Maybe even a LED indicator light. If the light is out, or the buttons cannot be pressed for "test" and "reset," you could have a bad GFCI, a tripped GFCI, a bad breaker or a tripped breaker. That kind of thing. In any case, look first for an equipment reason as to why the outlets aren't working.
Press the buttons hard, the newer GFCI's have a lockout feature that is harder to press in than the old ones. And remember - multiple outlets may be protected with just one GFCI outlet. The rule is up to five. So, if you have three regular outlets and one GFCI not working on your kitchen countertop, start with the GFCI as the possible problem. Here's another one. The basement outlets were dead in a local townhouse. No power anywhere and all the breakers were "ON" in the panel. But in the garage, there was a GFCI. It was tripped. Once reset, voila, the basement outlets were now back on. Pretty cheesy, but welcome to condos. You can lord it over your neighbors when they have the same problem...
In bedrooms, there are some basics also. If your house was built (or remodeled) around 2000 or later, AFCI breakers were most likely used. These continue to be used in any "sleeping" area. Mostly installed as breakers, you will find them in your electrical panel or sub panel. Look for the breakers with white buttons on them and see if one is tripped. And many times the outlets in bedrooms are controlled by a switch. We saw a case where an outlet was not working in a bedroom, and noticed that a wall switch was taped up with painter's tape near a closet door. When we pulled the tape off and flipped the switch up, the outlet came right on. Homeowner said it had been like that for years. Bless their hearts!
Breakers can be a little obscure for the uninitiated. We have seen cases where a breaker was tripped and the homeowner had already scoured the panel for one but missed it. I showed up, looked in the panel, saw a breaker that was tripped and reset it. Believe me, I hated it too. If you are in doubt, physically switch the breaker off and then on. And if you do spot a tripped breaker that looks like it is between the OFF and ON position, be sure to push it to OFF before pushing it to ON. Some breaker trips are harder to spot. Make sure your panel is labelled properly. And don't mess with the Main Breaker. That's different, and if you turn them off they don't always want to come back on. I think I had an earlier rant about that one...
If you do find that an outlet is bad or a breaker is bad, and decide to call an electrician, take note of the brand or the color. For breaker panels, Square D makes two different kind of panels and it helps to know which one you have. Murray, Seimans, GE are pretty much interchangeable. Is it a mini breaker? Get the model number on those, they can be tricky. Take a picture and send it over with your smart phone.
We'd always rather you decide to stay safe, so don't hesitiate to call us with a problem, even if you suspect it may be an easy fix. And hey, it may provide us with another idea for a troubleshooting blog!