Look out for warning signs of an electrical problem in your home

It is something many homeowners may not think about much until there is an obvious problem.

Angie Hicks, consumer group Angie's List, says "Your home's electrical system is extremely important because not only does it provide comfort throughout the house, but also it can be a huge hazard if there is any kind of problems with it. Unfortunately, most consumers never think about their electrical system until something goes wrong."

According to Angie's List, dealing with an electrical problem can be one of the most dangerous home repairs out there, if you don't know what you're doing.  Angie's List points to poor wiring for about a third of all urban residential fires in the US.

Angie's List says these can be warning signs:

1. Lights that routinely flicker or dim when major appliances switch on.
2. Light switches, outlets or your electrical panel that are hot to the touch.
3. Electrical outlets with only two holes. Homes built after 1970 should have three-prong outlets, and homes built after 1990 should have three-prong ground fault interrupter outlets. That third hole is grounded, which protects you from being shocked should you have an electrical issue.
4. Always make sure your panel's breaker fuses are the right size and type. Using the wrong fuse can overload the circuit, which can melt through the wiring and cause a fire. The average home needs to have 120/240 volts, with a main electrical panel that's rated for 100 to 200 amperes.

Angie's List says these are common DIY or discount electrical mistakes:
· Outdoor lighting: Often homeowners or non-licensed service personnel use the wrong type of wiring and don't bury it deep enough. If the wire frays or is nicked by a spade, and water - even morning dew - is present, anyone walking over that ground can be shocked. It's particularly dangerous for animals.
· Installing new light fixtures or ceiling fans: Well-intentioned DIYers will splice the new fixture wire into the closest existing wire, tape the wires together and let them lay. But if they're not properly encased, and they spark, they could easily start a fire.
· Using a higher wattage bulb than fixtures are designed to hold: People tend to replace the bulb with whatever the other fixture used, just assuming it's the same. Read the label because the wrong wattage will burn more hotly than the fixture is designed to hold. That will damage the wiring, eventually causing it to fail.
· Use surge protectors: A $50 surge protector is worth the money if it means your new flat-screen TV or computer doesn't get fried by a power surge.

Angie's List tips for hiring an electrician:
· Have one handy: Most homeowners call electricians in an emergency or if they're building or remodeling - so it's important to research a contractor and find a skilled electrician before you need one.
· Always check licensing: If your state requires electricians to be licensed, check that the license is current. Poor wire connections, overloaded circuits, improper grounding and broken safety elements on an electrical panel are just a few of the problems that can arise from bad workmanship.
· Inquire about costs: Highly rated electricians on Angie's List tell us replacing just the panel can cost anywhere from $1,200 to $2,000. Rewiring a whole house runs from $8,000 to $15,000 for a 1,500- to 3,000-square-foot house.
· Don't forget permits: A permit is usually required in most counties and from the power company any time you're replacing a home's main electrical equipment or doing a significant amount of rewiring. The cost of the permit is often included in your electrician's bill - but be sure to ask. With the permit comes an inspection to ensure the work meets code.
· Ask about education: A reputable company will require staff to attend monthly training courses and be up-to-date on the National Electrical Code, which is amended every three years.
· Electrical Inspection: Depending on the age of the home and what appliances have been added, it's a good idea to have an electrical inspection once every three to five years.
· Service plans: A trend taking hold is several companies are already or plan to offer electrical maintenance service plans. Much like seasonal air conditioner and furnace inspections, these service plans involve a yearly or twice-yearly review. The homeowner receives a written report detailing the condition of and any concerns with the home's electrical system, from outlets to smoke alarms, to the breaker panel and all wiring in between. This service is generally priced by the size of the home and can save money by find finding problems early and avoiding emergency repair bills. Some providers will point out imminent problems with major appliances, which can also save on emergency repairs.

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