Electric problem fixed! Why did I let this go on for 5+ years?

Several months after buying our house, something tripped a breaker and 5 outlets stopped working. (2 in the kitchen, one outside, and two in the garage) Our breaker box is inconveniently located at the back of our small pantry, so we weren’t in any hurry to flip it back on.

For the next 5+ years we would occasionally flip the switch during pantry clean-outs only to have the power go back out within a few hours to three days. This would eventually have to be repaired, but everybody told me electricians are expensive. So I put it off.

This year, my daughter and I decided to treat ourselves to a dishwasher for Christmas 🙂 The best place to install a dishwasher happened to be right under one of the bad outlets.  So I called a handyman and an electrician.

Here is what I learned:

1. Outside outlets near the ground are prone to problems.

I was suspicious of our outside outlets in the garage. Could a bird or bug have poked something in the plug hole and caused a problem?

The handyman said it was more likely to be the outlet that was installed outside my house near the ground. For whatever reason, when he is troubleshooting electrical problems that include one of these it is often the culprit.

2. Breaker Boxes are supposed to have 3-ft clearance.

I often question the design choices when previous owners redid our kitchen. One of their choices was to line the wall that contains our breaker box with kitchen cabinets. The breaker box itself is in a tall pantry cabinet with a hole cut out of the back, just big enough to open and close the door if you need to flip a switch.

The electrician had to cut through the back of our pantry for full access to the box. I guess he could tell I was upset because he apologized twice. But I wasn’t upset at him. This is one of three places where I wonder why previous owners didn’t make easier access points when they remodeled the house.

3. Sometimes it’s just a weak breaker!

The electrician could not find anything wrong. But with how I described our problem, he said it was probably a weak breaker. He replaced the breaker and said he will wait a few weeks to make sure it holds before billing us.

4. Major appliances should have their own breaker.

I knew it was suggested that some appliances have their own breakers. But I wasn’t sure exactly what those appliances were.

According to the electrician, our refrigerator, microwave, and future dishwasher all need to be on their own breakers. I really wanted our microwave and dishwasher on the same one because of where those outlets are located. But I guess it’s better to have a yellow microwave cord visible than to put extra strain on a breaker.

The two big take-away lessons:

I should take advantage of more learning opportunities when they come up. Even if they are slightly intimidating. The last several days I keep thinking of that time my grandpa wanted to teach me about electricity so I could help rewire his house, but I was too scared. I will never regret choosing “safety first.” But I could have made sure to start with knowing the safety precautions.

And it rarely pays to postpone fixing a problem. I used to answer peoples’ remarks about plumbers and electricians being expensive with “but what if it’s something simple that doesn’t cost much?” Yet I still let that fear of a big bill hold me back from having the problem fixed in a timely manner.

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