Easy fixes for power outages

June 30, 2015

Home appliances have become much more sophisticated. Get to know your system so that you can spot emerging problems so that you know what to do in case of an interrupted power supply.

Easy fixes for power outages

The power’s gone off

Check your breaker panel or fuse box

Keep a small flashlight next to your breaker panel for use in emergencies — it'll save you from hunting for a light in the darkness.

  1. When the power goes off unexpectedly, check if the whole house is affected, or just one circuit (one group of power outlets or lights). If the whole house is dark, call your neighbours to check if their supply is working — the power outage may be affecting the neighbourhood, in which case you should report the problem to your electricity supplier.
  2. If the power went off when you turned on an appliance (a kettle or toaster, for example) or a light, turn off its switch and go to the breaker panel. Make sure your hands are dry and that there's no water leaking on or near the unit. If there is, don't touch any appliances; shut off the water supply and call an electrician immediately.
  3. It is likely that one or more of the MCB or RCD (breaker) switches is in the "off" position; simply move them to the "on" position and check if power is restored. If the power continues to trip off, unplug any appliances connected to the circuit and try again. Identify the appliance that is causing the power to trip by a process of elimination. Have it repaired if it is broken, or take it for recycling.
  4. Some high-wattage appliances, such as microwave ovens and hair dryers, can cause an MCB to trip after they have been on for awhile. Ideally, the circuit should be upgraded by an electrician, but in the meantime, limit the number of appliances used on that circuit or turn the appliance to a lower power setting.
  5. Older homes may contain wire fuses rather than modern circuit breakers. Here, you'll need to check each fuse to see if the wire within has melted, or if the glass window of the fuse has darkened. Remove the blown fuse and replace it with a new fuse of exactly the same size and rating; if you're unsure, take the broken fuse to a hardware store or electrical supplier.

Call an electrician if the problem isn't resolved — your wiring could be in a dangerous state.

Words to know

Distribution board

The consumer unit (or breaker box or fuse box) is a box wired between your electricity meter and the electrical outlets in your home. Its job is to distribute power to subsidiary circuits, and protect these circuits from dangerous overloads.

Older units contain wire fuses for this purpose, while modern ones have miniature circuit breakers (MCBs) that switch off the power if it exceeds a set value. The distribution board may also contain a residual current device (RCD). This detects the leakage of electrical current that may occur if your wiring is faulty or if someone receives an electric shock, and cuts the power immediately. A main on/off switch in the unit cuts power to all circuits in the home.

*Not only is it dangerous, it may even be illegal in some provinces, such as Québec, to do your own electrical wiring. The solution: consider hiring a master electrician.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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