How to Avoid an Electrical Overload

How to Avoid an Electrical Overload

Refrigerators, microwave ovens, air conditioners, TVs, computers, hair dryers, lights, and more put a heavy demand on your home electrical system. Plugging in too many devices can overload a circuit. Faulty or outdated wiring can also cause trouble.

If there’s an electrical overload, you could lose power, an appliance may be irreparably damaged, or a fire can occur. The circuit breakers in the main electrical panel should protect against such situations. However, it’s best to avoid an overload as it may require calling an emergency electrician.

Electrical Overloads Can Be Prevented

Each circuit is designed to carry a maximum amount of current. If the current load exceeds what the wires are rated for, they can overheat and melt. The heat can pass to other materials, which can ignite. Electrical arcing can also damage the circuit breaker, the main panel, and other parts of your electrical system and home.

Even if a circuit breaker trips, it can be damaged in the process. Therefore, it won’t provide the same level of protection next time. But to avoid electrical overloads in the first place: 

Know How Much Power a Circuit Can Handle

A 15-amp breaker can handle up to 1,800 watts, while a 20-amp breaker can tolerate 2,400 watts. Designed to limit the amount of power that enters wires, a breaker will trip if the voltage exceeds the circuit’s limits. To play it safe, the total wattage should remain below the breaker’s capacity. But this isn’t as simple as comparing capacity and device wattages.

Many appliances draw standby power when not in use, and generate spikes in voltage when they start up, adding to the electrical demand on the circuit. The National Electrical Code (NEC) recommends using only 80% of a circuit’s capacity to avoid exceeding its load limit. Therefore, for a 15-amp breaker, the load shouldn’t exceed 1,440 watts, and for a 20-amp breaker, it shouldn’t exceed 1,920 watts.

Calculate How Much Power Your Appliances Draw

Higher-power circuits should be dedicated to larger appliances. But even with general-purpose circuits, knowing the power draw of smaller appliances, electronics, and light fixtures can help avoid an electrical overload. 

Here are examples of appliances and the wattage they can draw:

  • Oven: 2,150 watts
  • Dishwasher: 1,500 watts
  • Refrigerator: 400 watts
  • Coffee Maker: 1,400 watts
  • Microwave: 1,723 watts
  • Flat Screen TV: 115 watts
  • Washing Machine: 500 watts
  • Dryer: 1,000 to 4,000 watts
  • Central Air Conditioner: Up to 4,000 watts¹

These aren’t the only systems operating in your home. Every device plugged into a circuit adds to the total power draw (adding to the potential for an overload). A hairdryer can draw up to 1,200 watts, so it should only be plugged into a sparsely used circuit. For smaller devices, check their wattage and add it to the existing load before plugging them in.

Avoid Connecting Too Many Devices

An electrical overload often isn’t evident until a circuit breaker trips. To prevent it from happening again, or in the first place, unplug some devices and add them to a different circuit. You can also trace the circuit by shutting its breaker and testing devices or light switches in one area or room. Therefore, you can map the circuit, calculate its existing electrical load, and make adjustments to avoid exceeding the circuit’s capacity.

Add New Outlets

If redistributing the load isn’t an option, you can hire an electrician to add new circuits and outlets. Such a project requires installing one or more new circuit breakers, wiring, and junction boxes for electrical connections. Installing new outlets is safer if you often use power strips and extension cords.

Other Tips to Avoid an Electrical Overload

To protect your home against overloads and other hazards:

  • Unplug TVs, toasters, computers, and other energy-draining devices when not in use.
  • Don’t plug in big appliances with an extension cord.
  • Purchase energy-saving appliances that reduce the power load on the circuit.
  • Inspect wiring, cords, and appliances for signs of fraying or other damage.
  • Consider rewiring your home if it’s an older structure.
  • Install a whole-home surge protection system to protect against voltage spikes.

Contact Express Electrical Services

Avoiding an electrical overload can be as simple as making some small adjustments. But it may also require adding new circuits or wiring additional outlets. Only a licensed Los Angeles electrician should perform such work on your electrical system. They’re trained in the latest tools, installation methods, and safety protocols. At Express Electrical Services, we specialize in wiring and re-wiring; to get started, call (805) 250-5807 or request service online.



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