Overlamping is when a light fixture has a bulb with a higher wattage than the fixture is designed for
What it means: A light fixture has a bulb with a higher wattage than the fixture is designed for.
Danger level: High. The bulb’s intense heat can scorch or melt the socket and insulation on the fixture’s wires, which increases the risk of arcing — sparks that jump through the air from one wire to another — a chief cause of electrical fires. The damage to socket and wires remains even after the bulb has been removed.
Solution: Stay within the wattage limit listed on all light fixtures made since 1985. For older, unmarked fixtures, use only 60-watt bulbs or smaller.
2. Uncovered Junction Box
Uncovered junction boxes increase the risk of wire damage and shock
What it means: Because a junction box houses the splices where wires are connected to one another, a person could inadvertently damage the wires or get a shock.
Danger level: Minimal, as long as wires aren’t within reach.
Solution: Spend a few cents to buy a new cover and install it with the screws provided.
3. Lights Flicker When It’s Windy
Lights flicker when it’s windy because frayed wiring causes a short whenever the cables move
What it means: Frayed wiring in the Weatherhead (the outdoor fitting where overhead cables from the power line coming into the house) is causing a short whenever the cables move.
Danger level: High. Aside from the annoyance, the frayed wiring can arc and start a fire.
Solution: Contact the electric utility, which may replace the Weatherhead at no charge.
4. Too Few Outlets
Not enough outlets mean you’re likely to rely on extension cords and power strips
What it means: Heavy reliance on extension cords and power strips.
Danger level: Minimal, as long as you use heavy-duty extension cords, 14-gauge or thicker. (The thicker the wire, the lower the gauge number.) Undersize extension cords (16-gauge or smaller) can overheat and ignite a fire if loads are too heavy.
Solution: Add more outlets. Expect to pay an electrician per first-floor outlet and double that for second-floor work. (There will likely be a minimum charge.) This work requires cutting holes in walls and ceilings to snake the wires. Some electricians will patch the holes; others leave the patching to you.
5. Overwired Panel
Overwired panels contain more circuits than they are rated to handle
What it means: The panel contains more circuits than it’s rated to handle, because too many single-pole breakers (one circuit) have been replaced with tandem breakers (two circuits) in one slot. (Tandem breakers aren’t the same as high-amp double-pole breakers, which take up two slots with one circuit.) A label on each panel specifies how many circuits the panel can accommodate.
Danger level: Minimal. It may become an issue when the house is being sold and an inspector looks inside the panel.
Solution: Add a subpanel with a few extra slots, or, if you’re planning major home improvements, replace the existing panel with a larger model.
6. Aluminum Wiring
Popular in the 1960s and ’70s, unsafe aluminum wiring is a cheap substitute for copper
What it means: You have a type of wiring, used in the 1960s and ’70s as a cheap substitute for copper, that is no longer considered safe.
Danger level: High Aluminum corrodes when in contact with copper, so connections loosen, which can lead to arcing and fires.
Solution: Retrofit a dielectric wire nut approved for aluminum wire onto each copper/aluminum connection in light fixtures. These nuts have a special grease that stops corrosion while maintaining conductivity. Make sure any replacement switches and receptacles are labeled AL-compatible.