Avoiding Electrical Overloads

During the winter circuit overloads are not uncommon.  With the increased use of space heaters, circuit overloads increase where there was no problem before. Around Christmas time, with all of the lighting added to the space heaters, the incidence is further increased.

Cause Of Overloads

The Bad News:
  1. Extension cords make it possible to plug far more into a circuit than it is designed to handle.
  2. The total amperage of the devices on that circuit exceed that of the breaker
  3. Improper use of electrical appliances.
  4. Plugging in more devices than the circuit can handle
The Good News:
  1. Properly installed electrical circuits cause circuit breakers to trip when there are overloads.
  2. Circuit breakers shut off electricity to that circuit preventing the chance of fires.
  3. Home fires are not the result of system overloads. They are the result of faulty wiring.

Finding The Overload

To deal with the overload, start at the main panel.  It is usually grey, about a foot wide and about two feet tall. Typically in some out-of-the-way place like your garage, basement or utility room.

The electricity entering your home goes to the main circuit breaker in the main panel. With that one single circuit breaker, you can completely shut off all power to your entire house.

From there, wiring goes to several different circuit breakers that control either dedicated circuits or circuits providing electricity to a specific area of your house.

Identifying Circuits

With luck, each circuit breaker will be labeled with the things or the areas that it powers. If they aren’t labeled, you will need to label them.

You can do that by turning off a circuit breaker and identifying the things that no longer work.  It might take a lot of trial and error to identify everything controlled by that breaker but will be well worth it in the long run.

When you have identified what is controlled by a specific breaker, take note of the amperage of the circuit. This will usually be 10, 15 or 20 amps. The total amperage of the devices on that circuit cannot exceed that number. If that happens, then result is an overloaded circuit and no power.

Every lamp or electrical device will have a label on it that says something like “120VAC 60HZ .065A 55W.” The “.065A” is the important part for you. That is the amperage of that device.


Dedicated Circuits

Dedicated circuits provide electricity to a single appliance or system. These circuits usually power a single item, making unusual to have an overload on one of them. For example, the kitchen stove, electric clothes dryer and furnace will be on a circuit by itself. Overloads on a dedicated circuit would result, though, if the wiring to or within that single device has become frayed or a connection has come loose.

The rest of your home receives power from circuits that power a specific zone. Bedrooms, bathrooms, or the ceiling lights in a section of the house.