Electrician FAQs

A GFCI is a “ground-fault circuit interrupter.” It measures the current flowing through the hot wire and the neutral wire. If they differ by more than a few milliamps, the presumption is that current is leaking to ground via some other path. This may be because of a short circuit to the chassis of an appliance, or to the ground lead, or through a person. Any of these situations is hazardous, so the GFCI trips, breaking the circuit.

In bathrooms, kitchen counters, wet-bar sinks, garages, unfinished basements or crawl spaces, outdoors, or just about anywhere else where you’re likely to encounter water or dampness.

Often, after installing a dimmer switch, or replacing bulbs controlled by a dimmer, you’ll start hearing buzzing or humming from the bulb. As far as the bulbs are concerned, a bulb consists of a series of supports and a fine filament of wire. When you run current through a coil, it becomes a magnet. With the metal constructed light fixture, the filament will move or vibrate at a fast speed. This is what causes the singing. You can try replacing the bulb with a “rough service” type bulb. They’re usually much stronger and better supported. Chances are, however, that switching bulbs won’t make that much of a difference. Perhaps the buzzing will go away at some dimmer settings, but not at all.

During the 1970s, aluminum (instead of copper) wiring became quite popular and was extensively used. Since that time, aluminum wiring has been implicated in a number of house fires; however, don’t panic if your house has aluminum wiring. Aluminum wiring, when properly installed, can be just as safe as copper. We suggest that, if you’re considering purchasing a home with aluminum wiring — or have discovered it later — that you have us in your home to check over the wiring for safety issues. Read more about aluminum wiring here.

Definitely not! Each breaker in your panel is there for the sole purpose of protecting the wires that run through that particular line. If, for example, the wires are a size that needs a 15A breaker to protect them, and you were to switch the breaker to a 20A, you would be causing a dangerous situation. There would be nothing to protect the wires from overheating.

A common occurrence is that you could be accumulating “static electricity” and discharging it by touching a switch or receptacle that is grounded properly. If you have metal cover plates, try changing to plastic & see if this helps. If the shock is not static, call to have this looked at ASAP. This could also be due to some portion of the device being energized that is not properly grounded or tripping the breaker/fuse.

Go to the service panels. Find the specific circuit breaker that feeds the problem circuit or appliance. Attempt to reset the breaker or replace the blown fuse. Please note that many circuit breakers appear to be on when actually tripped. In fact, most breakers require that one must push the breaker handle completely to the off position to then re-set. If this does not restore the power, you are likely to be in need of an electrician.

First, turn off selective breakers in your service panel. This reduces further damage due to improper voltages to the home appliances, HVAC and electronic equipment. The more you can turn off, the better. This is likely to be a power company issue in that you may have partial, if not a total loss of incoming power to your home. A second option is that you have a problem with your main electrical service. This is where your problem begins. Who do you call? The power company or us for the repair? If a call is made to the power company, you will likely here that they will send someone out to look at the problem. If they find that the problem is not due to their equipment, they will charge you some fee. If we are asked to come to your home and check out the problem, you will receive a fee for our services. If we are going to be asked to come to your home first, be sure to ask the power company about a reimbursement process should it turn out to be a power company issue.

BGE — 1-877-778-2222
PEPCO — 1-887-737-2662
DelMarVa Power — 1-800-375-7117
Virginia Power — 1-866-366-4357

It could be a loose connection. The problem could also be a bad thermal cut out in the recessed fixture itself. Did you want more light output & installed a higher wattage light bulb? An increased lamp in wattage can cause the light to turn on / off on its own. Look inside the light. It should have a sticker that provides the maximum wattage lamp size allowed.

More than likely, it is as simple as replacing the battery. Always change all throughout the house at the same time. Most manufacturers recommend replacing the detectors once they reach 15 years of age.

Without removing the detector from the ceiling, vacuum all detectors out. As dust is collected within the detector over the years, it may be that your HVAC system or some other movement of air is disturbing the dust thereby causing the unit to activate & sound as your heat / A/C is running.

Generally, one per level near the foot/top of each stairway & in the hallways just outside of the bedrooms. Also, one in each bedroom.

The latest code dictates that you should install in one of two ways. Either by the appliance, HVAC equipment, fireplace, or any other fuel burning equipment or in the hallways at the bedroom entries. Often times in new or renovated homes, a combination smoke / CO detectors are installed to minimize wiring.

Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) are prone to “nuisance tripping,” which is probably what you’re experiencing. AFCIs are designed to sense an arc. To solve the nuisance tripping problem, start with things you can do yourself. Unplug or turn off surge protectors plugged into bedroom outlets, fluorescent lights with electronic ballasts, and lighting controls with LED displays that are on the AFCI circuit. They sometimes allow current “leakage” that can trip the AFCI. Damage or deterioration to wires or cords (which can happen when furniture is pushed against plugs in an outlet) also causes arcing faults and will trip the circuit. If you identify one of these sources, you’ll have to either replace the electrical item or leave it unplugged. Another, very popular problem is that you may be plugging something in that has the switch in the “on” position. If so, a small arc can occur while plugging in the light, vacuum cleaner, or any other item. This arc is likely to trip the breaker giving you the impression that the circuit was not energized. Even after resetting the arc-fault breaker. Be sure that your item is in the OFF position prior to plugging in for use.

Please note that these responses are for general informational purposes only, are not a training tool, and are not a substitute for a professional evaluation or advice. Be sure to contact us directly for individual questions and/or necessary repairs to your home wiring system.

Glossary of Electrician Terms

Box / Equipment capable of being serviced without removing finished surfaces

AFCI — Arc-Fault Circuit Interrupter

Device used to sense arcing in a circuit & if present, disconnects power from the source.

Al / Cu

Al — Aluminum Wiring or Cu — Copper Wiring


Amount of current in amps that wiring, devices, or equipment is rated


Connected to establish electrical continuity and conductivity

Branch Circuit

The conductors between the last overcurrent protective device and the outlets or loads.

BX Wiring

Bundles of insulated wires sheathed in a very sturdy metallic “armor.”


Usually refers to minimum distances required for electrical equipment


Interconnection of components to provide an electrical path between two or more components.

Circuit Breaker

A protective device used to open a circuit when current exceeds a maximum value. In effect, a reusable fuse.

C.O. Detector

Poisoning with carbon monoxide, a tasteless odorless gas that is a byproduct of combustion. Carbon monoxide acts as a poison by competing with oxygen for binding sites on hemoglobin

Cold Water Ground

Conductor from main service to water piping for service grounding


Usually a metallic substance capable of transmitting electricity with little resistance. The best conductor at normal temperature ranges is silver. The most common is copper. Some other recently discovered substances called super conductors actually have zero resistance at extremely low temperatures.


A plastic or metal channel used to conceal wires or cables from one point to another.

Control Wiring

Wiring not associated with providing power to an electrical device used to control its operation


The flow of electricity commonly measured in amperes.


A component or part. Usually referring to a switch or receptacle

Disconnecting Means

A device, or group of devices, or other means by which the conductors of a circuit can be disconnected from their source of supply

Double Tapped

When two wires are connected under one screw or terminal inside an electric panel.


Amount of current under use at circuits end.


The amount of power delivered to the load of an amplifier as a percentage of the power required from the power supply.


The flow of electrons through a conductor


The case or housing of apparatus surrounding an installation to prevent personnel from accidentally contacting energized parts or to protect the equipment from physical damage.


The capacity for, or the ability to do, mechanical work. Electrical energy is measured in kilowatt-hours for billing purposes.


A short circuit.


Circuit conductors between the service equipment and the last downstream branch circuit overcurrent protective device.

Footer Ground

Conductor from main service to the homes footing for service grounding


A protective device in the current path that melts or breaks when current exceeds a predetermined maximum value


In construction, referring to a specific exterior area being at a permanent level / height

Ground Rod

A metal rod (typically 5/8 inch diameter) that is driven into the earth (typically 8 feet deep) and is mechanically connected to the grounding conductor


An intentional or accidental conducting path between an electrical system or circuit and the earth or some conducting body acting in place of the earth. A ground is often used as the common wiring point or reference in a circuit.

GFI / GFCI — Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter

A device designed to interrupt the flow of power when a minuscule imbalance is detected between the flow and return of current.

Hot Spot

Referring to an area that is warmer than ambient surroundings and / or operating at temperature hotter than recommended.

IC Rated Recess Light Fixture

IC rated recess light housing is designed for installation in areas where direct contact with building insulation is permitted.


When a non conducting material is used to isolate conducting materials from one another.

Junction Box

A box containing splices in cables. Has a removable cover that must be accessible (cannot be buried in ceilings and walls).

KO Filler

A partially prepunched opening in a box that is removed to allow the entry of cable. A knockout that is mistakenly opened or is open because a cable is removed must be filled with a knockout seal.


Unit of power equal to 1000 watts. Abbreviation for kilowatt


An electrical device or material that has been tested by a recognized organization and shown to meet appropriate standards. Many local governmental authorities require that installed electrical products be listed. A well-known listing organization is Underwriters Laboratories (UL).


A device which consumes electrical power and is connected to a source of electricity.

Main Service

Electrical service equipment that provides the first means of overcurrent protection of your home

MC Wiring

Bundles of insulated wires sheathed in a very sturdy metallic “armor” with an insulated green grounding conductor


Abbreviation for the National Electrical Code.


A conductor of an electrical system which usually operates with minimal voltage to ground. Depending on the type of system, it may carry little current or only unbalance current. Systems that have one conductor grounded use the neutral for this purpose.

Neutral Imbalance

Homes circuit breakers should be install such a manner that under normal use, an equal amount of current will be drawn from each of the two electrical phases provided by you power company. If this is not the case, the imbalance of the current of one phase will be carried by the service neutral of the service thereby generating heat and loss of efficiency which equates to higher monthly power company invoicing.


A point on the wiring system at which current is taken to supply utilization equipment


Any current beyond the continuous rated current of the conductor or equipment. This may be value slightly above the rating as in the case of an overload, or may be far above the rating as in the case of a short circuit.


Operation of electrical equipment above its normal full-load rating or of a conductor above its rated Ampacity. An overload condition will eventually cause dangerous overheating and damage.


In electrical engineering, single-phase electric power refers to the distribution of alternating current electric power using a system in which all the voltages of the supply vary in unison.


The rate at which work is performed or that energy is transferred. Electric power is commonly measured in watts or kilowatts. A power of 746 watts is equivalent to 1 horsepower.


A plastic or metal channel used to conceal wires or cables from one point to another.


A brand of nonmetallic-sheathed cable.


Cable for the point where the electrical service enters the house, becoming your responsibility instead of the electric companies.


The equipment and conductors that transmit electricity from the utility supply system to the building being served.

Service Panel

Usually installed near the service entrance, this panel contains the main switch or breaker to disconnect the house system from the power source as well as circuit breakers

Short Circuit

A low resistance connection unintentionally made between points of an electrical circuit which may result in current flow far above normal levels.


Acts as a waypoint between the main service panel and branch circuits further down the line.

Surge Protection

A device for limiting surge voltages by discharging or bypassing surge current.


A device designed to open, close, or both, one or more electrical circuits


Point of termination made prior to the final overcurrent protection device to supply power to alternate load.

Tandem Breaker

Tandem breakers, often called split breakers or double breakers, provide two separate circuits in the space of a regular sized breaker opening.

Thermal Protector — Recess Lighting

Provides cutoff off power to fixture lamp due to overheating


Provision a convenient means of connecting individual electrical wires.


Making final connection at the end of a wire or cable


Underwriters Laboratories — a non-profit organization that was established by the insurance industry to test electrical devices for safety.

Under Load

Refers to full operation of existing circuit / s


The voltage between two points is a short name for the electrical force that would drive an electric current between those points

Voltage Drop

A voltage reduction due to impedances between the power source and the load.


A unit of power equal to the rate of work represented by a current of one ampere under a pressure of one volt.

W.P. Weatherproof

Constructed or protected so that exposure to the weather will not interfere with successful operation

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