Electrical troubleshooting is some of the most difficult work electricians have to do. Kuhlman Electrical Services trains its employees on all aspects of troubleshooting, so when we come to your house we are ready to get to work and solve your issue. Below are a number of troubleshooting specialties we offer –
Arc Fault Circuit Breaker Tripping Troubleshooting
Let’s start here as this one of the most common troubleshooting issue we deal with on a regular basis.
First off, what is an Arc Fault circuit breaker? Arc Faults were first used in our National Electrical Code Book (NEC) in 1999 requiring them to be used for bedroom receptacles. Our current code (2017) requires them in all areas of homes other than bathrooms, unfinished basements, unfinished attics, garages and outside wiring. An Arc Fault circuit breaker can detect “arcs”. The best way to explain this is to imagine two wires loosely spliced together. The electricity is now “arcing” between the wires. This arcing creates heat, which can create a fire. The arc fault circuit breaker detects that arc and trips the circuit breaker before a problem occurs.
Arc-faults also measure the amperage flowing out of it and returning to it (similar to a GFCI outlet), if the amperage is not the same (within 7 Milliamps for most brands) returning, it trips. Besides those two conditions resulting it arc-fault breakers tripping, they also trip just like standard circuit breakers due to overload (Your circuit breaker is rated at 15 amp and the circuit is trying to draw more) or a short circuit (hot wire touches the neutral or ground).
The picture above shows a standard circuit breaker (Left) and an arc-fault circuit breaker (Right). Notice the arc fault breaker has a button on it, that is used to test the breaker. The above are Murray brands, there are a number of other circuit breaker brands out there but all arc-faults have buttons for testing on them.
You may be wondering, how in the world is the circuit breaker able to detect an arc? An arc is neither an overload nor short circuit, so how does that work? It’s a great question!
Electricity creates a sine-wave; the arc-fault circuit breaker is looking for disruptions in this sine-wave. Arc’s cause a disruption and that is what the arc-fault circuit breaker can see. Pretty cool stuff right! Well it’s not all roses.
Unfortunately arc fault circuit breakers can be TRICKED into thinking there is an arc, when in fact there is not. All electric motors can under certain circumstances create an arc which fools the circuit breaker. Think of window A/C units, older microwaves, and vacuums. These are the most common cause of nuisance tripping. I would rank vacuums as the #1 culprit. We have received this call many times after completing work at a house- “My cleaners were here and they used the new outlets you installed and the breaker tripped!” Since I have been running KES, we have received this exact call/email at least 50 times. The best way to quickly diagnose that the issue is with the cleaners vacuum is to take your own vacuum and plug it in to the same outlet. If the breaker DOES NOT trip, but trips with the cleaners vacuum you know for sure it’s the cleaners vacuum. Other things we have found to “fool” the arc fault circuit breakers into tripping –
- Faulty transformers (typically under cabinet lighting)
- Connection issues upstream at main electrical service connections (YES arc-faults can see sine-wave disruption UPSTREAM from them, pretty amazing and frustrating!
- Bad neutral connections at main service
- Voltage fluctuations
- And as stated above, motors. Especially vacuums!
Troubleshooting arc-fault breakers that are tripping are some of the hardest issues to resolve. If your arc-fault breaker is tripping consistently that is usually not too hard to fix, but if it’s tripping randomly it becomes much trickier. We have had many service calls where the customer states their arc fault breaker is tripping on occasion and when we arrive to the home the breaker is NOT tripped or tripping. Meaning there is very little we could do. Fortunately Siemens came out with arc-fault troubleshooting device to aid in these situations. This device connects in series with the circuit in question and using a handheld the electrician can walk around the house using items on the circuit watching the handheld readings. The handheld will tell the electrician the likelihood of an arc-fault using a rating from green to red. This is VERY useful, as it can help to pinpoint where the issue is while it is not currently tripping the breaker.
Above is the Siemens arc fault diagnostic tool. We have been using this product for a few years now and it has become a game changer. We have solved a number of tricky arc-fault issues with its’ help! I will say though, that this device alone will not solve all issues, the electrician needs to have a solid knowledge of how arc-faults circuit breakers work and how to troubleshoot.
One of my favorite arc fault troubleshooting experiences happened a couple years back. A customer recently purchased a new condo in Boston and from the beginning had an arc-fault circuit breaker that tripped randomly. They had a couple electricians come out and no one could figure out what was causing the tripping. This was one of those situations where when you were there trying to fix it, the breaker would NOT trip, which made it really tough to solve!
We responded to the customers call with our arc-fault diagnostic tool in hand. After we connected it the circuit breaker in question, we went around the house turning lights on and off, plugging in lamps, basically using the circuit as would the owner. When we turned on one particular under-cabinet light, our diagnostic tool meter spiked to the red. We repeated this a few times. At this point we were pretty certain this under cabinet-light (Halogen unit with a transformer in it) was the issue. There were 5 under cabinet lights total but only this one was causing the spike. We then disconnected that ONE light and asked the owner to live with it like that for a week or so and see if the breaker trips again. Sure enough the customer reached out 2 weeks later and the breaker had NOT tripped! Problem solved! This is a situation where solving this issue without a diagnostic device would have been nearly impossible.
Additional Electrical Troubleshooting
KES specialize in various other electrical troubleshooting issues. Below is a list of other situations we are accustom to dealing with –
- Standard circuit breaker tripping constantly or randomly
- Flickering lights, one light, or entire home
- Line Voltage smoke detector false alarms
- Outlets, lights, switches not working
- LED lighting issues
- Outside lighting issues
- Doorbells not working
- And many others!
So How Much Does it Cost?
Great question! As you can probably imagine, troubleshooting can be quite simple at times, and sometimes quite complex. There is no way to know beforehand if your particular situation can be solved quickly or not. We do ALL our electrical troubleshooting hourly, as stated it’s impossible to give an upfront price on something you do not know how long it will take.
Having said that, most issues can be resolved within 1-2 hours. If they cannot be solved in that time, this usually means there is a larger issue that needs to be fixed. If that is the case we can give an estimate for that repair at that point.
Call us today!
If you have any kind of electrical troubleshooting issue call us today! We have been troubleshooting these issues for years and would love to help solve your issue.
We had a customer in Lynn call us for flickering light through the house issue. The entire house lights would flicker at times when certain heavier electrical loads were used (Toaster, microwave, washing machine etc). When we arrived we assumed there was a bad connection somewhere in the main electrical service. The electrical panel checked out, everything was tight and in good shape, until we pulled the cover off the meter socket and saw the neutral connection was never tightened down!
The service was installed over 20 years ago and took all this time to finally break down to the point it was causing the flickering lights. The meter socket now needed to be replaced because the connections where destroyed.
This is a good example where we troubleshot the issue to find a larger issue that needed to be repaired. In this case we gave the customer an estimate to replace the meter socket.
Residential Electrical Troubleshooting
Jesse Kuhlman started this guide with the original intention to be used for his employees. Education of KES employees is taken very seriously by Jesse. Being an effective troubleshooter, is one of the more difficult things to teach an employee. As the guide was developed, Jesse thought why limit it to just employees and made it to be used by anyone who is interested.
The potential audience includes everyone ranging from homeowners who are interested in electrical problems to field electricians looking to improve their skills. This guide covers troubleshooting situations that can be found in residential homes including:
- Arc-Fault circuit breakers
- Electric Heat
- Electrical Panels
- Basic HVAC systems
- Low voltage doorbell, cable, Cat6 wiring
- Troubleshooting steps depending on situation
- And much more!!