Frequently Asked Questions
- When is it time to call an electrician?
- What size service do I install in my home?
- How can I save money on my electric bill?
- How can I figure Kilowatt Hours?
- How do I read the utility electric meter?
- What size generator should you get?
- Why put transfer switches on generators?
- What causes lights to dim?
When you are resetting circuit breakers or changing fuses to often. When your lights flicker or go on and off. When you can smell electricity burning. When you have six electronic devises going into one outlet in back of your electronics center. When you have receptacle outlets overburdened by multi-plug strips. When a three-prong plug needs a two-prong adapter. If you have to run extention cords to plug in electrical devises.
Most states call for 100 amps minimum, but with all the new electronic devices, air conditioning and electric heat, I would suggest 200 amps especially in new homes. This also gives you some space for future additions. This is not a job for an unlicensed person to attempt. In most cases it involves replacing everything from the service loop (this is the wire that extends from the top of your meter to the utility tie in ) up to and including the main panel.
Depending on the layout of the house and the area upgrading to a 200 amp service could cost anywhere between 800 to 1,500 dollars. Rewiring an entire house, again depending on the layout of the home could cost between 2,000 and 4,000 dollars. These are just rough estimates.
The most electricity in your home is used by Electric Heat, Air conditioners, Electric Hot Water and your Electric Dryer. You could help by getting an automatic thermostat. Those long showers are nice but there costing you extra money. Do you really need to run that dryer that often? One other thing that could cause a problem would be a bad breaker or loose connections at the breaker.
Depending on what part of the country you live in, heating and cooling are the largest contributors to most household energy bills and are the best places you can look to save money. After making sure your home is well insulated, make sure your heating and cooling systems are running efficiently and central systems are checked annually.
To keep equipment running efficiently, keep heating and cooling air ducts clean and outdoor equipment free from dirt and other debris.
A balanced load in your electrical panel. Also the homeowners habits of electrical use. What is on? At what times? Can save money on your electric bill.
Watts = Volts x Amps and the kilo in kilowatts stands for 1,000. Take the voltage, times the amperage, and divide the result by 1,000. This will give you the kilowatt usage per hour of any electric motor or other electric device.
Most electric meters are clockface, which means they use clockfaces instead of actual numbers. There are usually five clocks. Reading the clock faces from left to right, note the number the hand is pointing to. If the hand is between two numbers, note the lower number. If the number on each meter left to right was 1 2 3 4 5. Than your meter read is 12,345 KWh. And the next month it was 1 2 4 4 5, you would have used 100 KWh.
Generators should be installed by qualified electricians. Most generators are rated in watts. The formula for watts is Watts=Volts x Amps. If you you have a 120 watt bulb at 120 volts you would have one amp. If you were to run 25 100 watt bulbs you would need a 2,500 watt generator. Motor circuits such as circulating motors for heat and compressors for refrigerators must be calculated differently. It takes about three times the current to start a motor. Most motors have the amperage rating on the name tag. If the motor has a nameplate rating of 3 amps you might want to add 9 amps on your generator calculations. Also because most generators may run over a period of time you may not want to run at full capacity. About 80% of the wattage rating of your generator would be the way to go.
The only proper and most safe way to run a generator is with a transfer switch. These switches should only be installed by an electrician. Transfer switches have three selections. Generator...center off...and utility. It prevents you from having the generator and the utility power on at the same time. Which would mess up the wiring in your home. And when installed properly will prevent a backfeed to the utility lines which could prove fatal to lineman working. The utility transformer is a stepdown into your home but becomes a stepup when fed the other way.
If your lights dim when an appliance (fridge, air cond, etc.) comes on, check to see if the lights are on the same circuit with the appliance. Most fixed appliances (fridge, air cond, etc.) should be on a dedicated circuit back to the main panel. These devices draw quite a bit of current in the first second or so when they first start up.
If all the lights in your house are dim all the time or periodically, the problem could be at the local utilities substation, transformer or their service feed coming into your house. This is one of the first thing you might want to have checked.
Your lights could dim if the wiring in your house is not large enough, it will have too much resistance. When a large current is present in the wire, there will be a significant voltage drop, leaving less voltage available to your lights.
If the light in your house dim and also get brighter it could indicate a lot more serious problem, a loose, broken or corroded neutral wire. Electricity is usually delivered to your home via three wires, two hot and one neutral. Each 120 volt circuit taps one hot wire and the neutral. A 240 volt circuit taps both hot wires. If the neutral wire comes loose, there is a risk that the 120 volt circuits will, at least momentarily, be supplied with 240 volts. The problem could be with the utility company connections, the main panel, or the branch circuits.
For the three-wire cable, two of the wires will insulated. They are called the "hot" wire (black) and the return wire (white). The third wire is typically a bare or green covered copper wire. The 120 VAC potential will be found on the hot wire, while the return wire should be close to zero potential. Current will flow from the hot wire to the device and return along the return wire. No current flows without a return path. There should always be the same current flowing in the return as there is in the hot wire.
But the return is not always at zero potential relative to your local ground. For safety, there should always be a local ground. This is the purpose of the bare copper wire. It should be connected at one end to a conductor that is buried into the ground. All metal electrical casings and electrical outlets should be connected to this wire.
If you are burning bulbs to frequently you also might try using lower wattage bulbs. A 40 W bulb has a higher resistance than a 100 W bulb. Both bulbs will have the same voltage, the 100 W bulb must have more current. And that means the 100 W bulb must have a lower resistance. So the filament for the higher resistance 40 W filament must be heavier or have a smaller cross section. There is also a rough service buld that is made with a heavier filament. The best bulb on the market today is the CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) (Philips, Sylvania). These bulbs may cost 10 to 15 dollars, but will last about 10,000 hours.
Newer light fixtures require that the temperature rating of the wire feeding these fixtures be at least 90 degrees C. This is the temperature rating for these light fixtures. It's important that the temperature rating for the wiring feeding these fixtures match or exceed the rating for the fixture. If the temperature rating of the wiring is lower than the 90 degrees C. required, the insulation around it becomes brittle and may break away. This allows arcing between bare wires, which causes heat that melts the fixture and could be a fire hazard.
Look for the letters NMB on the jacket of the wire. The NM means nonmetallic sheath cable (Romex) and the B suffix means that the cable's conductors are rated for a maximum operating temperature of 90°C 194°F. We can assume that wiring made prior to 1984, without the B suffix, is rated at 60°C 140°F. This is the type of wiring found in most older homes that were built before 1982.