Troubleshooting Home Electrical Issues: A Quick Guide


Whether you’re a new homeowner or you’ve been dealing with homeownership issues all your life, it’s helpful to know how to troubleshoot home electrical issues. In the course of your time owning a home, you’ll inevitably end up encountering a wide variety of issues related to the electricity flowing through your house. In order to help disseminate education on these topics, we’ve created a guide featuring some of the most common issues that homeowners run into with regard to electricity and their homes.

Flickering Lights
Troubleshooting home electrical issues involves knowing how to address a wide range of electrical problems in your household.
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Frayed Electrical Cords
Sometimes flickering lights can be a symptom of frayed electrical cords.
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Tripped Circuit Breakers
We've all done it — we trip a circuit breaker because we use too much electricity from a single outlet.
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Flickering Lights

Troubleshooting home electrical issues involves knowing how to address a wide range of electrical problems in your household. Flickering lights can indicate any number of things, but they most often result from a weakened connection between the lights and the source of electricity. These issues are important to take seriously, they can indicate the source of eventual arcing, potentially resulting in sparking, overheating, and fire. In many cases, your best bet will be to thoroughly inspect your electrical cords to ensure there are no loose or corroded connections causing the problem. In addition, be sure to check if there are any frayed electrical cords — sometimes these can be a determining factor in lighting that persists without flickering.

Frayed Electrical Cords

Sometimes flickering lights can be a symptom of frayed electrical cords. This is something that can be fixed in fairly short order, however it does require a bit of handy work to get right. If you notice frayed cords or exposed wires on any of your electrical appliances, this is a sign of unsafe wiring. Be sure to avoid using these items until they are fixed — but be on high alert, since fixing these wiring problems can also often be a highly dangerous activity. In most cases, you’re better off requesting the assistance of someone who has undergone the rigors of an electrical training program and the licensing requirements that such a profession entails (a topic we’ll return to later).


We’ve all done it — we trip a circuit breaker because we use too much electricity from a single outlet. Thankfully, this issue is as common as the fix is straightforward: Simply locate your circuit breaker and flip the switch that has been tripped due to overuse. Remember that circuit breakers are there for your safety! In order to prevent an electrical fire or disaster, breakers close (or “break” or “trip”) the fuse switch when a homeowner has exceeded the voltage that the breaker was designed to handle. In order to prevent this from happening in the future, you’ll need to identify exactly what ultimately led the circuit to fail. Sometimes, that can entail tracing a short circuit.

Tracing a Short Circuit

Tracing a short circuit is probably the most challenging home electrical issue to troubleshoot. Because the source of a short circuit could be any number of different things, this problem is a multistep process. First, turn off all the wall switches, and then unplug every appliance from the outlets stemming from the dead circuit. Then, reset the circuit breaker and the fuse. If the circuit still goes dead right away, that could indicate that the problem lies in a short circuit in a receptacle or switch.

After resetting the circuit breaker or resetting the fuse, check to see if the circuit trips. If the new fuse does not blow immediately, you’ve likely encountered the source of the problem. The result could be that there is a short circuit in a light fixture or a receptacle controlled by the switch — or it could be that there is a short circuit in the wiring of the switch. In such instances, you’ll need to replace or repair a faulty switch, fixture or wiring; this is a task oftentimes best suited to a professional.

Finally, if turning on a wall switch does not cause a problem, then the trouble is likely to be in the lamps or appliances. In order to test each one individually, try plugging these in one at a time. Then, move some of the devices to another circuit. If the circuit still goes dead after you simply plug in a device, then you have likely identified the problem. Be sure to check the cord first, however — and consider having an appliance repair person check the appliance’s switch and other electrical parts.


Although electrical shortages are not uncommon in the world of home ownership, there is no shortage of content online about troubleshooting home electrical issues. At the end of the day, one needs to know enough to get the job done — and that includes staying safe. Electrical trade programs such as those offered by Chicago’s Coyne College have grown in popularity in recent years, and there is scarcely a better way to ensure the solution of your electrical needs than by employing the services of a graduate of an electrical trade program.

Do You Need to Update Your Home’s Electrical Wiring?


A 2019 report by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) states faulty wiring was the second-leading cause of residential fires in the United States between 2012-2016. That’s alarming—especially since it is preventable. It also can run up your electricity bill. Could electrical updates save your home—and keep more money in your pocket? Here are some considerations to help you decide.

When do I need to update the wiring?

Not all unsafe wiring is old; it may just be damaged, worn, cracked, or corroded. Any of these may be signs you need to update the electrical wiring in your home to ward off the likelihood of an electrical accident or fire:

• Loose connections
• Frayed cords
• Pinched, pierced or cracked wire insulation
• Overheated wires or cords
• Damaged electrical appliances
• Wiring that rodents may have chewed

Everything seems to work, so why would I update my home electrical?

Is your home more than 40 years old? There are wiring risks in older homes that could signal a need for updates. Most homes built before the 1940s used knob and tube wiring that ran along and through the building’s frame: one black charged wire and one white neutral wire. Electrical tape placed around ungrounded soldered wires formed splices and wire connections. Insulation prior to 1960 was made of rubber that was known to crumble or flake. If the insulation became worn, was incorrectly installed, or was covered with regular building insulation material, it could be dangerous and not up to NEC—National Electrical Code—standards.

Although NEC was established in 1897, it is consistently upgraded and provides the latest regulations regarding electrical wiring, overcurrent protection, grounding, and installation of equipment. Following code doesn’t always require replacement of wiring—especially if you live in a historic home. If local code allows it and your wiring needs work, you can splice the old knob and tube wiring with a new NM (non-metallic) cable if you use a junction box, which protects wire connections. Even if your house was built as late as the early 1970s you could have a safety hazard if your wiring is aluminum, rather than the standard copper. Aluminum connections can loosen and cause fires.

How do I know if my wiring is ok?

If you have no idea when your wiring was inspected, it’s a good idea to have a professional electrician check it for wear and tear. This can be especially helpful if you’ve experienced any of the following:

• Frequently blown fuses or tripped breakers
• Flickering lights
• Tingling sensations when you touch an appliance
• A burning smell that persists from an appliance or room
• Warm, sparking or discolored electrical outlets
• Two-prong (rather than three-prong grounded) outlets throughout your house

How long does the electrical wire last?

The copper wire used for electrical wiring today can last 100 years. The problem is with the protective sheathing or insulation, which can wear down a lot sooner. It’s the type of sheathing that determines how long the wiring lasts, which is usually 50 to 70 years.

Are there any other clues that I should update the electrical wiring?

If you are keeping up with technology via computers, flat-screen TVs, air conditioners, and trendy gadgets, you might not be getting enough power to run them efficiently—or effectively. Standard household power used to run on 60 amps, but today’s devices need 200 amps of power. If you don’t have it, you could cause damage to expensive equipment. Power strips and additional outlets can help, but they may not be enough to protect your equipment and could create a safety hazard.

What do I need to do before selling my house?

If you plan to put your house on the market with outdated wiring, it might not pass inspection. You would be faced with costly repairs—and you might lose potential buyers. Updating your electrical may help you get the most money from your home sale. These updates could help get you a better offer:

• Solid copper wire and adequate grounding throughout your home
• 200-amp wiring rather than 60-amp
• Grounded outlets that all accept three-prong plugs
• Multiple outlets in each room
• A circuit breaker panel rather than a bulb-style panel
• GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupters) put in “wet” locations (bathroom, kitchen, garage, basement)

In addition, if you arrange for an electrical inspection before your house goes on the market, you may be able to prevent potential sales issues.

My home does have issues. How much will it cost me to update the wiring?

Where you live, the size of your home, and how much needs to be done could all impact the price of updating electrical wiring. It’s not cheap and could run into the thousands of dollars for total wiring replacement. The best time to do the updates, though, would be if you’re doing a remodeling project because contractors will be around knocking walls down or accessing the wiring anyway. If you’re lucky, you may just need to add circuits and repair damaged wires, switches or panels.

How can I become an electrician?

Coyne College Chicago can provide you with the hands-on electrical training and individualized instruction you need to prepare for an in-demand career as an electrician. Enroll in the Coyne College Electrical Construction & Maintenance program, and you’ll learn about residential and industrial wiring systems, troubleshooting, and power systems analysis. Choose from day or evening classes that accommodate your schedule.

Contact Coyne College to train for a career as an electrician—a career O*NETOnLine predicts will grow faster than average of other occupations through 2028. It pays well, too: median wages in Illinois in 2019 were $27.01 hourly and $56,180 annually.

Warning Signs of Faulty Electrical Wiring


Faulty wiring can be very dangerous. In the United States, wiring problems are responsible for tens of thousands of house fires every year. Fortunately, the majority of wiring-related accidents could be prevented by inspecting for faulty wiring and fixing it before a major issue emerges. The following faulty electrical wiring signs will help you find and address problems.

1) Visibly Damaged Wiring

It may seem obvious that any visible wire damage is a problem. However, many people overlook seemingly minor damage thinking that it won’t cause an issue. Even if the wire is mostly in good shape, it is better to fix it promptly than risk the potentially serious consequences.

Some issues to look out for include frayed wire ends. Another common problem is bite marks on the wiring. Bitten wires often look fine other than some cosmetic damage. However, sharp teeth can often sink a lot deeper than you may expect. If you find a home pest problem, consider checking the nearby wiring carefully for any damage.

2) Scorching or Discoloration

Look at outlet points around the property. Any strange colors, scorching or other evidence of burning indicate that there are some electrical problems.

Typically, this means that the wiring connected to the outlet is getting overly hot. You may also notice distortion of the faceplate of the outlet. Similarly, if you can feel heat coming from the outlet, that is a clear indication that it is heating up.

It probably comes as no surprise that hot electrical wiring is a bad thing. While it is normal for wiring to get slightly warm when used consistently, it should not be so hot that it is uncomfortable or that it causes any damage to the outlet plate. Stop using the outlet immediately and try to find the problem.

3) Frequent Blown Fuses/Breaker

If the fuse keeps blowing or the breaker keeps tripping on a circuit, that is a sign that something isn’t right. It could simply be an indication that you are overloading the circuit. However, good wiring should make this relatively difficult to do under normal operation. So, it could be a sign that there is a wiring problem.

In a well-wired property, using every outlet on a circuit should only be an issue if you are using an appliance or other item that has very high power demands. Typically, appliances such as dryers and HVAC are wired on special circuits to accommodate this demand.

Another reason you may be causing the breaker to trip is that there are too many multi-outlet extension cords on the same circuit. Again, this won’t usually be a problem unless you are egregiously overloading the circuit. If there are no obvious excess demands, there may be an issue with the circuit.

Damaged Wiring
Even if the wire is mostly in good shape, it is better to fix it promptly than risk the potentially serious consequences.
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Scorching or Discoloration
Look at outlet points around the property. Any strange colors, scorching or other evidence of burning indicate that there are some electrical problems.
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Frequent Blown Fuses/Breaker
If the fuse keeps blowing or the breaker keeps tripping on a circuit, that is a sign that something isn’t right.
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4) Excessively Messy Wiring

Electricians don’t need to make their wiring completely neat when they install it. There are no technical benefits to organized wiring nor drawbacks to messy wires. So, a little disorder isn’t necessarily anything to worry about.

However, the organization of the wires speaks somewhat to the quality of the work. Someone who is meticulous about keeping things orderly is more likely to be careful with the wiring. Conversely, an excessive mess may indicate a slapdash job. This is not a hard and fast rule, but it can be an indicator.

5) Unusual Sounds

Another one of the most important faulty electrical wiring signs is sound. In particular, buzzing is an indication that something is amiss. Normally, an electrical current should produce no noise that is audible to the human ear. However, when a wire is damaged, a prong is loose or some other issue exists, the current may jump and creating a buzzing noise.

You may also be able to hear your lights flickering even if you can’t see the problem. This indicates that the current isn’t quite flowing smoothly. Even minor issues can cause undue stress on the system and may result in a bigger problem down the road.

6) Burning or Other Unusual Odors

Similarly, strange smells are an indication that you may have electrical problems. The most common odor that you can expect is a burning smell. It is probably not a surprise that this should be investigated and resolved quickly. After all, the most common danger of wiring problems is electrical fires.

Any source of burning smell or smoke should be fixed quickly. However, if the problem is significant enough that there is clear burning on the sheathing, you should disconnect everything from the circuit and manually trip the breaker. The problem is severe enough that it could cause imminent danger.

Other odd smells should also be investigated. They could be the result of burning producing an unfamiliar smell. They could also have other causes. Regardless, it is best not to ignore anything that seems out of the ordinary.

7) Flickering or Dimming Lights

Light fixtures should only require a relatively small amount of power to run at full brightness. Therefore, if your lights are flickering or dim, it could be a sign that there is some faulty wiring.
The problem could also be that the lights are sharing an outlet with a major power consumer. Appliances that have heating or cooling elements tend to be the most electricity-hungry. Consider unplugging any appliances on the same circuit to see if that resolves the problem.

You could look into moving the lights to another circuit. Additionally, if removing the appliance from the light circuit does not fix the problem, try changing the bulbs and/or plugging in a different light fixture. If none of these changes resolve the issue, you may have a deeper problem.

Take the First Step Toward a Career as an Electrician

The above faulty electrical wiring signs will help you identify a problem with the wiring in your home or business. If you want to learn how to fix these problems yourself, consider getting an education to become an electrician. This could be your first step towards a reliable and rewarding career. Coyne College offers programs such as electrical construction and maintenance. Learn more and apply online today.

7 On-the-Job Safety Tips for Electricians


Working with electricity isn’t easy. It’s not safe, either. Electricians face a substantial amount of danger each day they go to work. Electricians install the electrical wires, circuitry and fixtures needed to provide electricity. They’re also tasked with maintaining these components once they’re in place. Any time you’re working with electricity, even if you consider yourself a savvy master DIYer because you’ve seen a couple home improvement shows, there is a significant degree of danger involved.

Burns, collapsed lungs from arc blasts and involuntary muscle contractions are all threats that are posed by electricity and give electricians, not to mention civilians, reason to be careful when working with electricity and electrical components. 

As an increasing number of people are going to require electricity and new alternative energy equipment needs to be installed, there will be an increased need for electricians. The number of electrician jobs is projected to climb by nine percent through 2026, according to the BLS. This makes safety all the more paramount, given more people will be risking their corporal beings to provide us with electricity.

There are a number of small actions that professional electricians take to help mitigate the potential for perilous accidents and minimize the damage when they do occur. Below is a list of seven things electricians can do to maintain safety in the workplace:

Know your rights

As an electrical worker, or any kind of worker, you have the right to a safe workplace. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) exists to protect that right, and laws are in place to protect you. OSHA’s website is full of helpful information to help you bone up on your rights as a worker or learn them if you didn’t know them already. Knowledge is power and will go a long way in keeping you safe on the job.

Be ready for anything

Minimizing a potentially dangerous mishap is all about preparation. When working on an electrical job, it’s important to take into account what kind of project you’re working on and consider what could potentially go wrong. Is there a slight chance such-and-such a situation might come to fruition? Better bring something to handle it if it does. Taking the time to thoroughly conceive of different scenarios that might spring up and planning accordingly will allow you to handle the unexpected when it inevitably happens.

Equip yourself with adequate gear

This goes along with the previous step of preparedness. Wearing sufficient and reliable safety gear is one of the most important parts of staying safe in the workplace. Insulated gloves can help protect your hands from electrical currents. Hard hats help reduce injuries caused by falling debris, such as in a construction setting, as well as from dangling electrical wires. Ocular protection is important as well.

Flame-retardant equipment is another vital aspect of an electrician’s workplace attire, as fires and sparks resulting in fires are not uncommon during everyday labor. OSHA has specific guidelines for what constitutes sufficient personal protective equipment when working with electricity if you’re unsure whether or not yours measures up to par for the industry. Personal protective equipment is your ultimate line of bodily protection in the event that something goes awry.

Test before you touch

The only way to know if a circuit, or any other electrical component, is safe for you to touch is by testing it before you do so. The easiest way to test a component for the strength of the current is by using a device called a multimeter. These are essential devices that can be found in any electrician’s toolbox.

Multimeters produce a reading, typically in volts, of how strong the current flowing through the electrical component is and whether it is weak enough for you to touch or not. Additionally, readings from a multimeter can give you an idea of what the potential issue you’re dealing with is when troubleshooting.

Only use equipment for its intended purpose

Tools exist to perform a certain function or set of functions. Manufacturers craft tools to be used in specific ways and for specific techniques. Misuse can lead to broken equipment or bodily injury. A screwdriver does not perform particularly well as a makeshift multimeter.

Follow proper procedures

Speaking of techniques, one of the reasons electricians employ certain techniques is to maintain their own safety while getting the job done. Electricians enroll in training programs to learn the job and learn it the right way. Mistakes still happen in any job, and as an entry-level electrician you might take some physical lumps, but pain has a way of helping you not make the same mistake twice.

Make sure you’re trained for the job

This final tip builds on the last point. Be confident in your ability to complete the job. If you don’t feel confident enough in your abilities or don’t feel ready to take on a certain task, let your supervisor know and they can help you learn the task in question. An electrician training program can’t prepare you for everything you’ll encounter in real-world experience, but that’s why you’ll receive on-the-job training when you enter the workforce.

These are all ways in which electricians can ensure workplace safety. Has learning about these safety tips piqued your interest in joining the ranks of more than 628,000 electricians in the United States? If so, all you need to do is find a training program that fits your needs.

Plug Yourself into Your New Career

Coyne College is one of Chicago’s top skilled-trade education institutions and is proud to offer two programs for aspiring electrical workers: electrical construction and planning and electrical construction and maintenance.

Coyne College offers both programs during days and nights to help accommodate the busy schedules of its students. Both programs are offered at the Coyne College campus, located in the Chicago Loop at the intersection of State and Madison Streets.

The electrical construction and planning program’s curriculum is more extensive than that of the electrical construction maintenance program and can be completed in as few as 78 weeks. The electrical construction and maintenance program, on the other hand, also prepares you to enter the field but can be finished in 42 to 56 weeks, depending on whether you take day or night classes.

As a student in either of Coyne College’s electrical programs, you will be submerged in classes such as:

  • Electrical and Electronic Principles
  • Electrical Test and Equipment Safety
  • Electrical Construction – Residential
  • Electrical Theory and Applications
  • And more!

You will learn the ins and outs of the electrician trade in a setting that focuses on your individual success and be taught by Coyne’s highly knowledgeable instructors who have years of real-world experience under their belts.

Following the completion of your associate’s degree or diploma program, you will be ready to enter the electrical workers’ field as an apprentice. As mentioned previously, apprenticeships usually last between four and five years.

Coyne College’s career services department can help students with job placement, including apprenticeships. Coyne College has more than 110 years of experience in helping transform students with dreams into qualified, skilled-trade professionals.

Spark your new career and discovery with everything Coyne College can offer you by visiting.