Don’t underestimate the risk of overloads

Man checking fuse box

Don’t rely on extension cords to solve the problem of inadequate electrical outlets. Recognize the signs of an overloaded outlet; if your outlets are overloaded, head to your circuit panel and reset them. Familiarize yourself with your circuit panel before problems could occur. 

It’s a common problem for most of us: relying on a handy dandy extension cord since we have so many devices and not enough outlets to plug them all into. For safety’s sake, extension cords should only be used short-term.

“It’s easy to grab an extension cord when you’ve run out of outlets,” said Jon Elkins, vice president of safety, training and compliance at Indiana Electric Cooperatives. “Their convenience is undeniable. But relying on them day in and day out means your home doesn’t have enough outlets.”

Why is that a potential problem? Electrical overloads can occur when your home draws more electricity than a circuit can safely handle. When a circuit receives too much electricity, it causes the circuit breaker to trip. That shuts power off to the entire circuit. 

Breakers are critical components to the circuit’s safety. If there were no breaker in the circuit, an overload would occur, causing the wires to overheat. That could lead to a fire.

There are several signs which could indicate whether circuits in your home are overloaded. Among them:

  • Flickering, blinking or dimming lights
  • The outlet switch covers are warm to the touch
  • Burning odors from outlets or switches
  • Frequently tripped circuit breakers
  • Crackling, sizzling or buzzing from receptacles
  • Mild shock or tingles after touching appliances, receptacles or switches
  • Power tools, appliances or electronics seem to lack adequate power 

If any of these things are occurring, head to your circuit panel. It’s usually located in the basement or garage. Check to see if any of the switches in the panel have been tripped or partially tripped. Turn them off — then back on again.

Knowing what is on each circuit will help you navigate possible overloads in the future. Indiana Electric Cooperatives suggests consumers grab a notepad and pencil to map their home’s circuits. Do this before potential problems occur. You’ll be glad you took the time to familiarize yourself with the circuit panel ahead of time.