Electrical components can feel like a mystery for most homeowners, and understandably so. There's a lot that goes on behind the scenes to keep your home running electrically sound. For those who are curious, or simply want to understand and feel a little more in tune with what's going on in your home (thus making it easier to spot when things may be going awry, and catch issues before they become truly dangerous), here are a few things we believe all homeowners should know about their home's electrical components.

What Your Breaker Panel Is Really Trying to Tell You

Sure it can be annoying when a breaker trips, but your circuit breaker panel may have an important message for you - so pay attention. While an infrequent breaker trip isn't all that unusual, and if you've owned a home for any length of time, chances are you've experienced it a time or two, it's not always 'as usual' when it goes off. If the same breaker is tripping repeatedly, you could be dealing with a circuit that's overloaded, not the result of something like a power surge or a temporary or one-time occurrence. Or it could be another of several possibilities, such as an aging circuit breaker that's seen better days and needs replacing. Regardless of the cause, your home could be at risk of fire, and you should call a professional to get to the bottom of the issue.

The panel itself accepts electricity from your utility company and distributes it throughout the home, on an as-needed basis. The individual breaker switches (aka. breakers) inside the panel direct electricity to various parts, or circuits, in your home. Beginning in 1999, AFCI type breakers have been required in certain areas of new homes by national electrical code, and in the last ten years code has been extended requiring them on virtually every circuit in new home construction. An AFCI breaker provides the highest level of safety against electrical fires, and the greatest peace of mind when it comes to your home's electrical systems. Many of the homes that we visit do not yet have these types of breakers.

Beware Warm Outlets, Plugs, and Electrical Cords

Whether it's the age of your electrical outlets, male or female plugs, or appliance cords or extension cords, or an overloaded circuit, or maybe some other related issue, excessive warmth radiating from any of these components can be a big red flag. Because there's not always a surefire way to tell what the root cause is, if any of these are warm to the touch, unplug that appliance or cord, and/or turn off that electrical circuit. Then call your trusted electrician. Heat from an unusual location on any electrical appliance or connection can be an indication of a risk of electrical fire. Don't roll the dice, make the call for professional assistance.

What About Your Smoke Detectors?

Having enough smoke/CO (carbon monoxide) detectors is a big part of your home's safety and your home's electrical system. Knowing the number of detectors isn't always enough. We strongly recommend having a professional inspect and test your smoke and CO detectors to learn, among other things, whether or not your detectors are installed 'solo' or if they're inter-wired throughout the home - not to mention if they're working properly, if they need new batteries, or if you have them installed in all areas that need them. And did you know that carbon monoxide detectors have a limited lifespan?

It's More Complex Than You Think

There's a lot that goes into keeping your home running, from an electrical standpoint, without any hiccups. It's important to understand that the systems involved are more complex than you might think. Most things are interconnected, and a problem that may appear isolated could impact the safety and operational quality of your entire home's electrical components if left unattended. Taking the time to talk with your electrician during your annual inspection about what's going on and what to look for will help you understand not only more about your home in general, but also what to do if something goes awry, and when to pick up the phone ASAP.

Extra Precautions Are Always Beneficial

Any room with running water should feature some type of safety outlet, like a GFCI (ground fault circuit interruptor). National electrical code for new homes is updated every three years, and like AFCI breakers, each update seems to require GCFI outlets in more areas of new homes. Local adoption of code updates often happens shortly after national code changes. Interested in learning more about GFCIs, but not sure where to start? Have your electrician look at your system and let you know where current code has advanced since your system was installed. From there, they can make recommendations for upgrades and prioritize them for you. Again, the bottom line with all this discussion and recommendations is helping you increase safety in your home.

Your Home Has a Birthday, Too

As with most other components of your home, age plays a role in your electrical system's ability to work well. In most cases, an experienced electrician will be able to provide you a baseline for the age and condition of your system's crucial parts, and when you should be looking to replace or keep a closer eye on certain aspects. That's why annual inspection is a crucial component of optimal home care, especially when it comes to electricity. An expert eye will help ensure that things are safe and operating as they should be.

We could go on and on about all the intricacies of your home's electrical system, but this is a good place to start. With some basic knowledge and a trusted team at the ready, you have no reason to fear all that electricity buzzing through your home and providing you with illumination, video stimulation, great cuisine, and music to jam to. Go forth, and let there be light!