Electrical FAQs

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Frequently Asked “Electrical” Questions

Thanks for visiting our Frequently Asked Questions page! We hope you find the information below helpful. Have a question you want us to answer here that we don’t already have? Shoot us a message via our onsite contact form and we’ll have one our San Jose electricians add to this page!

My home or business is out of power, what should I do?
First, it’s always good to have a working flashlight with fresh batteries handy at all times. Sort of goes without saying, but try to always have an extra set of batteries on hand as well. Having a battery operated radio in case of emergencies is also a wise thing have around. In case of widespread power outages, you can rely on radio broadcasts to keep you informed about the outage.

Figure out if it is just your home or building that is without power. If you notice other homes or businesses around you are also without power you will know if the problem is isolate to just you or everyone on your grid. Most power companies these days provide their customers with some sort of hotline access where you can call in and get live up to date information on power outages in your area.  Keep in mind, most phones these days rely on electrical power to function so it’s also a good thing to throw a phone in your “being prepared” arsenal that connects straight to the phone line.

If you discover the outage is isolated to just your home or place of business, first check to see if the main breaker to your home or business has tripped. Attempt to reset the breaker if you find it tripped but do not continue to reset if it immediately trips again once reset. This could be a sign of a bad breaker or an electrical short within the buildings electrical system. If you know the problem is isolated to just your home or business and you can’t get it back on from the main breaker, call one of our electricians for some advice over the phone or to schedule a visit to troubleshoot the problem.

Try to avoid opening your refrigerator or freezer to lesson the risk of losing your food should you be without power for more than a few hours.

What is a GFCI breaker or outlet and how does it work?
GFCI stands for “ground fault circuit interrupter” and is an electronic device designed to protect people from serious injury or death from electrical shock.

The purpose of a GFCI device is to constantly monitor the electricity flowing into the circuit. While monitoring this flow of current, if the GFCI senses even the smallest fluctuation in that current, the GFCI device will immediately trip or shut that circuit off. The time it takes the device to kill the power on that circuit is less than 1/10 of a second, with the intention of killing the power before serious injury or death can occur.

Be aware, these devices are intended as an extra layer of safety to an electrical circuit but the same caution should be given as if one did not exist! These devices CAN FAIL and should never be relied upon to protect you from harm!!

What is the purpose of the National Electrical Safety Code®?
As defined by Wikipedia, the National Electrical Safety Code, or NESC, is a United States standard of the safe installation, operation, and maintenance of electric power and communication utility systems including power substations, power and communication overhead lines, and power and communication underground lines.

The NESC is published by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, or IEEE.  Both “National Electrical Safety Code” and “NESC” are registered trademarks of the IEEE.  The NESC should not be confused with the National Electrical Code, or NEC, published by the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA.

Visit National Electrical Safety Code for more information on the NESC.

What is the purpose of the National Electrical Code®?
As defined by Wikipedia, the National Electrical Code, or NEC, or NFPA 70, is a regionally adoptable standard for the safe installation of electrical wiring and equipment in the United States. It is part of the National Fire Codes series published by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a private trade association.

Despite the use of the term “national”, it is not a federal law. It is typically adopted by states and municipalities in an effort to standardize their enforcement of safe electrical practices. In some cases, the NEC is amended, altered and may even be rejected in lieu of regional regulations as voted on by local governing bodies.

Both “National Electrical Code” and “NEC” are registered trademarks of the NFPA.

Visit National Electrical Code for more information on the NEC.

My appliance keeps tripping the breaker, what should I do?
Appliances that repeatedly trip your breaker or blow a fuse should be immediately unplugged and usage of the appliance stopped until it is repaired or replaced.

Sometimes the problem causing the breaker to trip or the fuse to blow, can be a wiring problem within the home or building…..such as a bad receptacle, bad breaker, a short or bad connection somewhere in the circuit. Either way, it can be dangerous to continue use of the appliance until the exact cause can be troubleshot properly.

What's the difference between grounding, grounded and neutral?
According to the National Electrical Code, or NEC, the “grounding conductor” is to be used for the safety ground; the green, bare or green with a yellow stripe wire. The term “neutral” is used for the white wire when you have a circuit with more than one “hot” wire. Being that the white wire is connected to neutral and the grounding conductor inside the main service panel, the proper term is “grounded conductor”.

This often leads to confusion between the “grounded conductor” and the “grounding conductor”, this confusion can lead to potentially lethal mistakes! The bare wire should NEVER be used as a “grounded conductor” or the white wire as the “grounding conductor”, regardless of the fact that they are connected together in the panel!!

Sub panels however are typically wired differently where they are fed neutral and ground separately from the main panel.

IMPORTANT Note:  Never tape, color or substitute different color wires for the safety grounding conductor. In typical usage, the word neutral is used for “grounded conductor”, we use “neutral” in this FAQ to help avoid confusion and would recommend to everyone else to use it too, thus the white wire always being “neutral” NOT ground.

Can I install a replacement lighting fixture on my own?
Generally speaking most “do it your-selfers” can replace and upgrade lighting fixtures on their own without the aid of a professional electrician, however caution and respect towards electricity should be maintained at all times. Be 100% certain you have killed all the power on the circuit that runs the fixture you are going to replace, preferably lock the breaker or panel if possible so no one can turn the power on while you are wiring up the new fixture.

If you are replacing a fixture that pulls more power, be sure the circuit you are installing it on can handle the extra pull. In other words don’t pull out an old 500 watt fixture and replace it with one that pulls 700 watts and assume it’s ok. You need to make 100% certain that new fixture, along with everything else running on that circuit, does not surpass the wire or breaker ratings.

If you are unsure of this in anyway, be safe and call a professional electrician!

What wire size should I use?
For 20 amp circuits, you want to use 12 gauge wire. For 15 amp circuits, you can typically use 14 gauge wire “in most areas”. For long runs however, it’s always best to use one gauge up from the recommended wire size to avoid any potential voltage drops. Keep in mind 12 gauge is typically only slightly more expensive than 14 gauge, but it’s also stiffer and a bit harder to work with.

Again, if you’re unsure at all what wire size you should be using for a particular application, seek the advice of a professional electrician. Most will give you this type of advice free of charge and if they don’t…..call us!

Visit National Electrical Code American Wire Gauge for more information on proper wire size use and applications.

My home has aluminum wiring. Is it dangerous?
Aluminum wiring was used heavily in the 70’s as it became very popular over the use of copper. Over the years, aluminum wiring has been blamed for a number of household fires. Most jurisdictions in the US no longer permit the use of aluminum wiring because of this.

It is advisable if upgrading or replacing wiring in your home, that you use copper wire for any new wiring you do. There is however no reason to panic if your home still has aluminum wiring in it as it is most often just as safe as copper WHEN PROPERLY INSTALLED. One important thing to note about aluminum wiring is that it is FAR less forgiving to improper use or installation!

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