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What are connection points and why should you care?

Using our appliances, lights, and electric cars is everyday minutiae to us. Most of this stuff comes robotically without more than a glancing thought. But what exactly happens when the connections within these electrical items aren’t tightened as they should be? Let’s get into it!

The heart of your home’s electrical system is the electrical meter. The meter is fed from the utility (what the city owns) to the breaker box inside or outside the house (depending on where you live, some breaker panels are inside or outside homes). Power then flows through a variety of circuit breakers to supply the load demanded by the circuits inside a home. These breakers go to HVAC circuits, outlets, lighting, etc.: Anything in your house that demands electricity.

When things go south:

Sometimes an electrical installation can become seriously damaged when a connection is not tight. Nearly every single electrical device, panel, or appliance has a manufacturer specification for tightening and installation printed on it. If these specifications are not followed, a bad connection can occur.

There are many issues a bad connection can cause. To name a few:

- Melting of devices

- Damage to electrical boxes

- Damage to appliances

- House fires

We know that the last one sounds the scariest, but it is preventable. We’ll get into that a little later…

The above issues can happen within your house when you have interior bad connections, but there are also potential hazards that can occur outside the structure. If a bad connection is present where the utility brings power in, you could “lose a neutral” to your system. The neutral wire in your electrical system is your “return path to ground”. It’s a very important wire (we won’t get into too much of the specifics), even though typically all people think about when they consider wires in their homes are the hot and the ground wires. If you lose a neutral wire, all of your household standard 120-volt receptacles, lights, and everything plugged into an outlet will receive 240 volts of electricity. This will cook all of the aforementioned things, and undeniably result in very expensive replacements and repairs.

When should you be concerned about loose connections at the utility? If all of the lights in your home are flickering, or you are noticing broad power issues (not isolated to a singular room), then it's time to call the power company to take a look at the utility to see if there are loose connections on their end.

See below for a video that shows you a real live action view of how loose wires can cause fires.

So, what should you do?

As a homeowner there are some preventative steps you can take to avoid loose connections. To start, and something you can do yourself, is to make sure all of your bulbs are nice and snug inside their sockets (they’re a connection point, too!). Make sure all of your receptacles hold whatever you plug into them tightly. If you notice your plugs are wiggly and not holding the male outlet end securely, they should be replaced (we can do that).

If you see that your breaker panel appears aged (rusted) or notice a burning smell—or perhaps you just want the peace of mind that your house has a nice solid connection—we offer panel tune ups (where we tighten connections inside your electrical panel) and evaluations. We also offer visual inspection of your home and can ensure that your receptacles handle a load correctly by using a special testing device to test every outlet.

There are roughly 51,000 house fires each year caused by electrical issues and failures, and it is my personal goal to ensure that every electrical item that I touch has a solid connection and is done up to the manufacturer’s specifications. I want everyone to be enlightened and educated on the dangers of loose connections and hope you feel more so after this article.

Andrew Gloudeman Lead Electrician Gloudeman Electric, LLC

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As an electrical company, we're all about hiring a licensed and insured electrician for your electrical needs. That said, we're also homeowner advocates and want to empower you to take on the things that really are safe for you to do at home, and to inform you of things that can save you money and increase the electrical safety of your home. If you're interested in growing your knowledge about the above, read on.

You may have heard it a million times, but switching to LED bulbs really can help both you and your electrical system. Some people argue that “the savings will be

minimal until years down the road,” but let's look at the bigger picture here. Imagine you have two bulbs, one halogen, and one LED. They both give the equivalent of 60w of light. But one of them gets incredibly hot to the touch, risks combusting materials, and adds unnecessary stress on the electrical system. The other bulb, which only pulls a measly 8 watts compared to the halogen's 60 watts, is cool to the touch, worry-free in the combustible department, and could give you the same color temperature (tone). You can go to any big box hardware store to buy your own LED bulbs, or have me (Andrew) come out and install some beautiful LED lighting in your home. I just can't in good conscious use halogens/incandescent bulbs anymore after seeing what I have. If you do decide to go with incandescent bulbs, make sure you read your fixtures specifications to not over watt (heat) the fixture.

To piggyback off the above tip, also be sure you are not overloading your dimmers. Have you ever noticed that your dimmer was unusually hot to the touch? Some heat is normal with incandescent dimming, but dimmers actually do have a max wattage rating. Typical rating for dimmers is 150w LED max, and 500w incandescent. This means that you can have that many "watts" pulling on the system at the same time, so keep an eye on how many bulbs you have on that dimmer and how many watts they are pulling. With incandescent/halogen


bulbs, if they give off 60 watts of light, they are also pulling 60 watts of energy. Whereas an LED light may pull 9 watts but give a visual wattage of 60 watt equivalent. (Side note: When you look at that dimmer max wattage and see that the LED number is lower than the incandescent max, it's because although the dimmer "allows only" 150 LED watts, that 150 watt actual is giving light equivalent of about 1,000 watts of light)

An easy way to ensure you are not over-watting your dimmer is to take all the bulbs on that circuit and add up what their label says in wattage. If it is over those above wattage limits, go with a lesser wattage bulb (less light output), or switch to LED!

Test your GFIS, PLEASE! Ever notice devices around your kitchen, or outside by your porch have a weird button-thing on them? Well, they have a purpose! These nifty devices were created by Charles Daziel in 1961 to protect people from electrical shocks in moist or wet environments. GFIs read current coming out of the devices, and if it isn’t equal to what comes back, it automatically trips the plug. In the low country here, electrical storm surges cause these devices to sometimes become defective, and even scarier, they can still function, even if the button is coming out!

How do you test them? Easy: Go around your house and check each one. They are required to be in every bathroom, or outside circuit, and garage. If your plugs don’t have any buttons on them, check your breaker panel. Sometimes the electrician will use what we call a GFI breaker to tackle the NEC (National Electrical Code) requirements. You test the plugs by pressing the "test" button and then the "reset" button. If it resets, you're good. If it doesn't, you'll want to call us to replace the GFI. There is also a test button GFI breakers.

(If you are interested in in-panel surge protection, which should only be installed by a licensed electrician, this is a wonderful investment to protect your home against outlet blowouts and protect your appliances from harmful electrical storm surges.) If you're missing GFI outlets or breakers in your home, they really are an important safety feature in your system and we can get those installed for you.

Exercise your breakers. Every home has what's called a breaker box/electrical panel. They're typically housed in your garage, or sometimes inside a room in your house. In older homes, sometimes these breakers haven’t been exercised in decades. Especially if they haven’t tripped in a long time. The problem with this, is if the breaker was needing to trip because of a safety hazard or overloading, if they haven't been flipped back and forth in a long time, sometimes they could be stuck in the “on” position. Allowing this dangerous situation to occur opens the door to a hazard inside your home.

electrician working on electrical panel
Andrew working on a panel. Don't take the cover off yours!

You want to make sure this does not happen (breakers don't become stuck), and that the contacts and levers are in healthy condition. Simply rock the breakers off and on one by one. I recommend doing this bimonthly to keep your mind at ease and to make sure your breaker box is in working condition. A note to add: Any breaker box that has the name “Federal Pacific, Zinsco, Challenger, or Pushomaticz” are ALL dangerous and should be evaluated as soon as possible. These were recalled due to fire and overheating. If you are worried and think you may have one of these, I would be glad to inspect your panel for you. If you do not feel comfortable testing your breakers, we offer a home maintenance package where we test all of your breakers and outlets for a package price.

Throw out your old and cut up extension cords/lamps. If you notice cuts on your cords and lamp cords, please do not risk a house fire. Roughly 3,300 fires are started each year from these, with around 50 fatalities. Heartbreakingly, many of these could have been prevented. Cut wires can cause arcing, which sets combustible material on fire. Please make sure you are not running cords under rugs. Be safe!

Do not overload “plug strips”. Every plug strip has a max amperage that should not be overloaded with heavy loads like heaters, power tools, etc. Space heaters and power tools should ONLY be plugged directly into an outlet. No exceptions.

Clean around your bathroom vent fans, ceiling fans, and light fixtures. I know life gets busy, but as dust collects around your fixtures, so do the chances of them destroying your fans and possibly igniting. This is a simple yet effective home tip.

Thank you for taking the time to read and we hope you got something useful out of the above. Happy Homeowning to you all!

Andrew Gloudeman

Lead Electrician

Gloudeman Electric, LLC

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We hope that you have made it through Hurricane Ian safely and that your home did, too. The presence of the first hurricane in the Charleston area for some time (the last time we remember evacuating for a storm was 2019) brought up the presence of an important topic: Generator backfeeding.

Many of you with portable generators have had an electrician install an inlet, which gives you the ability of powering your home during a power outage. Most likely you have some sort of panel or interlock kit that ensures you don't turn on your main breaker and your generator breaker at the same time. Unfortunately, that isn't always the case, opening the door to a very dangerous scenario.

What you must do when turning on a portable generator, no matter what, is make sure your main breaker is always off during the power outage. If you leave your main breaker on while powering your portable generator, you do something called "backfeeding" into the utility grid, which causes an extremally hazardous and fatal situation for linemen working on the power lines. The same transformers that step down power (stepping down power means changing high voltage from the power lines to the usable 120-220 V voltage in our homes) will do the exact opposite when backfed: Converting your home's 220 V into THOUSANDS of volts, sent back to the lineman.

When these linemen are working, they assume the power is shut off because they bet on the house's utility power being shut off, not realizing an alternate source (your portable generator) is being fed into the grid and creating power. When the lineman then interact with the power lines, this can cause fatal electrocution, arc blasts, and many other forms of danger.

To avoid the possibility of the above situation and to keep our utilitymen and women safe, the best thing to do is to have a transfer switch installed before you utilize a portable generator. Some situations may not allow for a transfer switch to be installed (like if your main panel does not have a main breaker), so at the very minimum, just be SURE to turn off your main breaker before turning on your portable generator, as the consequences if you do not can be deadly.

Andrew & the Gloudeman Electric Team

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