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Electrical Questions

Question or Comment?

Question: This year I am placing Christmas lights on the ground in front of my house. Are there any safety issues I need to be aware of?

John

Answer: There are two issues to check out.

First, the circuit for these lights must be protected by a working GFCI. If you plug into a receptacle on the outside of the house, it probably is protected. Use a receptacle tester with a GFCI button and test this receptacle to verify protection.

Second, keep the lights away from the sidewalk to reduce the chance someone will step on them.

Question

I have an electrical outlet where the plastic is broken just below the ground pin opening. Is this dangerous? Should the outlet be replaced?

Sheila

Answer

This condition is not unusual. Sometimes this plastic will break off when a plug is yanked out improperly from the receptacle. As long as the plug fits snugly into the receptacle, and there is no other damage, there should be no danger and the receptacle does not need to be replaced.

Question

I want to purchase a ceiling light fixture that advertises it can only accommodate a 60 W bulb maximum. I would like to know if it is possible to re-configure the wiring of the fixture to accommodate a 150 Watt bulb?

Gregory

Answer

The wattage rating of a light fixture is not based on the wire gauge, but on the socket and the rest of the fixture's ability to withstand the heat output of the bulb(s) without damage to the fixture. There are two options you can do to get more light output.

1. Use a higher wattage equivalent CFL or LED bulb (A 100 watt equivalent CFL is actually about 23 watts). A 150 watt equivalent bulb may be too big to fit in your fixture. The 100 watt equivalent may be better. Some CFLs are available in a smaller physical size. Using a CFL or LED with a higher color temperature (whiter color) will give the appearance of a brighter light.

2. Purchase a fixture that will accommodate a higher wattage bulb.

Question

One of the bulbs was out on a track light, I had just changed it last week. When I was ready to change it again, the bulb was on. The bulb is an MR16 halogen.

Nick

Answer

There are two possibilities for this situation.

Most likely the connection to the socket is bad. An MR16 bulb has two pins on the back that plug into a socket. Since halogen bulbs run very hot, sometimes the socket breaks down from the heat. Check for any burn spots on the socket. Using an oven mitt or pot holder, wiggle the bulb a little when it is in the socket. Then pull it out slightly and push it back in again. If it flickers, the socket connection is bad.

The second possibility is the track light fixture may have a bad connection to the track. Wiggle the fixture a little, or turn it slightly to see if the bulb flickers or goes out. If it does, the connection to the track is bad. The track may be worn at this location. Try removing the fixture and installing it into the track a few inches from its original location.

Question

I just replaced two 4 foot fluorescent bulbs. now what do I do with the old ones, they don't fit in the garbage can?

Jeff

Answer

Fluorescent tubes should not be disposed of in the trash. Home improvement stores normally accept only CFLs for recycling. However, if you call the electrical department of your local home improvement store, ask if you can drop off these tubes, they may accept them. Otherwise see www.earth911.org for fluorescent tube recycling locations.

Fluorescent lights can be dropped off at community recycling events, or a hazardous waste collection center. For more info on your state, see www.epa.gov/epahome/state.htm.

Question

When I plug my electric charcoal starter into the outside outlet, the GFCI trips in the garage. The charcoal starter is pretty old.

Answer

You might need to replace your old charcoal starter. It looks like the outside receptacle is connected to the GFCI in the garage. Plug the starter into another GFCI in the kitchen or bathroom (not an outlet protected by the garage GFCI). If the charcoal starter trips a different GFCI, then the charcoal starter needs be replaced. If it only trips the garage GFCI then it might need to be replaced. I suggest replacing the old charcoal starter in either case.

Question

Sometimes I don’t have power to the microwave and bathroom outlet in my RV. I think there is a problem with the circuit breaker.

Dom

Answer

We had a chance to troubleshoot the problem onsite. The RV was plugged in to a receptacle at the house using an extension cord and a 120 volt to 240 volt adapter. After testing for voltage in the RV’s electrical panel, we determined power was not getting to the RV from the house. There was proper voltage present at the extension cord and at the adapter. After plugging the adapter back into the RV and twisting it clockwise (twist-lock adapter) power was restored to the panel, microwave, and bathroom receptacle. The twist-lock adapter may not have been secured to the RV’s plug. If there are any further problems, try another adapter, check for a loose RV plug, or loose connection at the RV’s plug.

Question

I lost power to the bathroom outlets when using the hair dryer. I checked the circuit breakers and they appeared OK. I pressed the buttons on the garage outlet and power came back on to the bathroom. Why does a garage outlet control the bathroom outlets?

Stephanie

Answer

The outlet in the garage is a GFCI receptacle outlet. It is very common for a garage GFCI receptacle to provide GFCI protection to standard receptacles in bathrooms, outside, and other receptacles in the garage. One GFCI receptacle can provide GFCI protection to other standard receptacles. The garage GFCI can be tripped from any of these other locations. See the following links below for more information.