A house isn’t just four walls and a roof—it’s a complex system of infrastructure, most of which is hidden away (behind those walls, the floors, and ceilings) for aesthetic and safety reasons. Most of us don’t dig into our home’s wiring beyond (maybe) labeling the breaker or making sure all the outlets work, but we really should. The good news is that bad wiring in your home—whether it’s poorly done DIY repairs or simply old, corroded lines—often offers plenty of warnings that you’re about to have a huge problem. Here are the signs that your home’s wiring is bad.
One of the most obvious signs that your wiring is in trouble is flickering lights. If the lights in your house flicker or dim randomly, it’s a sign that there’s a loose connection. If it’s just one light, it might be a localized problem—but if you experience flickering lights so much you suspect ghosts, it’s a sign that you should call an electrician right away.
Hot outlets and wall plates
Electricity is very good at making things hot—that’s how we get toasters and space heaters. But the wiring in your wall is never supposed to get hot to the touch. Your outlets or the wall plates over them might occasionally get a little warm, but if touching one feels like touching a hot pan on your stove, that’s a problem. If you have an appliance plugged into that outlet, unplug it and see if the heat goes away—if so, you might simply have overloaded a circuit. If the heat persists, consider flipping the breaker for that particular area and call an electrician.
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Burning smell or buzzing
This might seem obvious, but it’s amazing how often people can smell something burning in their house and just assume it’s coming from outside. If you smell something burning without an obvious source, inspect your wall outlets and light switches to see if the smell intensifies—it could be a sign that your wiring is dangerously overheated.
Similarly, if you notice outlets or switches emitting a buzzing noise, you should have them serviced right away—properly run electricity shouldn’t make any noise at all. And this might seem very, very obvious—but if you ever see smoke coming out of an outlet or light switch, hit the breakers and exit the house until you can get a licensed professional to inspect your wiring.
Shocks or sparking
A little static electricity shock, especially in winter, isn’t uncommon when turning on devices or appliances. But if you get a shock big enough to be painful, that’s something much, much more dangerous—your electrical system is probably not grounded correctly, which means that excess power surges won’t be safely carried away from you, but may instead flow directly into you, or simply overload the wiring and catch fire. And if you ever see sparks when plugging something into the wall or turning on an appliance—or if you notice scorching around an outlet or switch—unplug everything from that outlet immediately, hit the breaker for that part of the house, and get a pro in there pronto.
If one of your wall outlets or switches has become loose enough to jiggle around when you use it, it should be inspected and repaired right away. Loose outlets and switches might simply be the result of time and constant use, but all that movement can also loosen the connections inside them, which can lead to bigger problems. This is usually a simple and easy repair—just make sure you’ve cut the power to that spot before doing anything.
Yes, signs of mice or rats are always a concern—but when you see their droppings near your wiring, take immediate action. Rodents love to chew on the insulation around wires. This usually leads to their spectacular death—but that could also damage your wiring and even start an electrical fire. If you know you’ve got some critters roaming the house, inspect the wiring in your house where you can, looking for any signs of chewed insulation.
Even if you know absolutely nothing about electricity and wiring, you know that there’s a big box somewhere in the house with a lot of switches that turn the power on and off in different areas of your house. These breakers protect your home from being overloaded by power surges—when your wiring shorts out or gets overloaded, the breaker “trips” and cuts the power. You then manually reset it and hopefully everything goes back to normal.
If your breakers trip regularly, however, that’s an indication that you have bigger problems. Even if resetting them seems to work fine and you have no other signs of trouble, tripping a breaker more than once in recent memory is a hint that you need to get an electrician in right away, because you either have a short circuit somewhere between the breaker and the wall outlet or switch, or some other potentially dangerous situation.
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