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Frequently Asked Questions

In addition to the frequently asked questions listed below, we encourage you to read the following article regarding electrical panel safety for homeowners:

Important Information About Federal Pacific Electric, Zinsco and Outdated Electric Panel Boxes

Q. Do you have an old electrical panel?

A. Panels like Federal Pacific or Zinsco Electrical are likely to create a fire hazard in your home. To learn more about the risks these brands of panels can create in your home check out the website www.ismypanelsafe.com. Once you’ve seen all the facts and potential hazards your panel could be causing first hand, give us a call and we’d like to give you a FREE quote to have your panel fully replaced and up to the most recent safety codes as compliant with the NEC.Today we rely on an increased amount of power daily and aside from any safety hazards, homes built 20-30 plus years ago are not able to electrically withstand all the power we use. Most homes have multiple electronic devices like computers, TVs, DVD players, game consoles, kitchen electrics, gate and garage door openers, etc. – all of which require a substantial amount of power. Even though your panel may not be a fire hazard (like Federal Pacific or Zinsco) it may just be too small for what your home needs.

You may have heard that you could try a smaller panel, like a 100A panel or a larger one like a 200A which is not really necessary. We will give you an honest quote after we check out your panel and your home in order to ensure your home’s safety. It is not our intention to sell you any more or any less than what we believe your home requires.

During panel replacements, we always perform a routine panel schedule where we label each breaker identifying what each one operates. Next, the panel schedule gets returned to our office, typed up and printed on weatherproof sticker paper. Then we mail the homeowner the completed panel schedule and they will need to adhere it to the inside of their panel. At Southwinds Electric, we pride ourselves in being an honest reliable company who is only going to give you a quote for the work you NEED. If you happen to have any more questions on a panel replacement, please call us at 281-990-3254 or fill out our short form, and any one of our estimators will be more than happy to assist you.

Q. What is Your panel replacement process?

A. In all of our panel replacement processes we will perform a panel schedule, and then label each breaker in order to show operation.

Q. Why do my light bulbs burn out so fast?

A. You may be exceeding the maximum lamp wattage of the fixture. (There should be a label inside the fixture). Do not exceed 60 watts for most ceiling fixtures. Another reason may be vibration. Vibration is the culprit in short bulb life. There are vibration resistant bulbs for ceiling fans and garage door openers. There are also rough service bulbs for portable lights. For lights such as recessed lights, consider replacing the bulbs to bulbs that are rated 130VAC, instead of the standard 120VAC bulbs you currently have.

Q. Can I replace a standard wall switch with a dimmer?

A. A dimmer easily replaces a standard wall switch and uses the exact same wiring. Some light bulbs may not be suitable for dimming.

Q. Can a dimmer control a ceiling fan?

A. A dimmer cannot control a ceiling fan, it will damage the fan’s motor. Only use a fan speed control to control a ceiling fan. Fan speed controls have special circuitry that will not damage the motor. For ceiling fans with a built-in light fixture, combination dimmer/fan speed control is available.

Q. When I go to turn my dimmer off, it is very hot. Is this a fire hazard?

A. Dimmers are rated for how many watts they are designed to handle. If a dimmer has to operate at or close to its full capacity, it will heat up. Some dimmers have metal fins on the front of them to enable proper heat dissipation. You can either reduce the wattage connected to the dimmer to alleviate the problem, or put in a larger-rated dimmer.

Q. My lights dim or flicker when the microwave or other appliance is used?

A. This normally only happens in older homes. The reason is basically twofold. Older homes were not wired for the electrical usage of today’s homes and with all the modern day appliances most branch circuits in older homes are just overwhelmed, creating a draw that in turn momentarily dims the lights. Today’s homes have several more branch circuits to spread out the load on any given circuit and the main panels handle double the amperage. The other reason is generally associated with the neutral. A possible solution would be to upgrade your panel but is the cost worth the occasional dimming of your lights? Probably not.

Q. What causes a power loss?

A. Power loss may be caused by any unforeseen event that disconnects the power from your electrical system like energy shortage, a winter storm, or problem with a power line.

Q. Why do circuits breaker trip?

A. When too many appliances are plugged in or turned on in the circuit, you will experience an overload which makes the circuit breaker trip. Other reasons are faulty wiring or appliances that cause a short circuit.

Q. What causes a power loss?

A. A power loss may be caused by a winter storm, an energy shortage, a summer brownout, a downed tree falling on a power line, an earthquake or any unforeseen event that cuts off the power to your electrical system.

Q. How can I prepare for power loss?

A. You can install a backup power system, consisting of a generator connected to a switching panel. Southwinds Electric installs all sizes of emergency home generator systems according to your home needs.

Q. How does a generator work?

A. When the power goes out, a generator creates electrical power without using a utility’s electrical source. Typically, a generator runs on fuel, like diesel, natural gas or LPG. When a generator is installed in your home, one main breaker is connected to your home’s load center and the other main breaker is connected to your generator. The generator panel is then connected to circuits for critical electrical loads – furnace, refrigerator, lights, sump pump, etc. – that you designate need to remain on during a power loss.

Q. What type of generator is right for my home?

A. The first step in purchasing a generator is to identify the things you absolutely cannot live without during a power outage. Usually high on the list will be the refrigerator and the freezer, a well pump, the furnace fan if you have natural gas or oil heat, and maybe some lighting. Southwinds Electric can share more details with you. Just give us a call to find out how you can protect yourself against power losses.

Q. My house does not have grounded outlets. Do I need to rewire my house?

A. No. In home wiring, prior the 1960’s, it was quite common to only have a 2 wire (not grounded) system. The NEC allows the installation of GFCI outlets either at the first outlet of the circuit or at every outlet. They must however be labeled “ungrounded receptacle”.

Q. My electric bill is too high. Is my electric meter spinning faster than it should?

A. No, all electric meters are calibrated once by their manufacturer. Your meter is designed to spin by the electrical energy that passes through it. Therefore, it is not possible that the meter is “over spinning”. In some cases mechanical meters may spin slower than they should due to gear issues.

Q. What are polarized electrical outlets?

A. The different sized slots were developed to allow outlets to be polarized as a safety enhancement. The larger slot connects the common wire in the outlet to the common wire in a device. The smaller slot connects the “hot” wires. By forcing the smaller blade of the plug to always connect the hot wires, the outlet is polarized. Devices, such as a table lamp, are designed to minimize the risk of electric shock by keeping the hot wire as short as possible by wiring directly to the switch. The rest of the internal wiring connects to the neutral wire. While this system does not eliminate the possibility of electrocution, fire and electrical faults, it reduces the risk by limiting the path of live current.

Q. What does the ground do?

A. Another improvement in safety came with the addition of a ground wire to the outlet. This serves as an alternative return path for electricity and is referred to as the equipment ground. Ordinarily current flows from the hot wire and returns via the common wire to ground. However, if the hot wire comes in contact with a metal part of a device, the outer cabinet housing of a washing machine for instance, current could flow through you to ground. The ground wire in a device connects to the housing and provides a return path. The current could still travel through you, but the ground wire probably has lower resistance and so chooses that path over through you.

Q. What is a GFCI outlet?

A. GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlet is a device that adds a greater level of safety by reducing the risk of electric shock. Most building codes now require that a GFCI outlet be used in wet locations such as bathrooms, kitchens, and laundry rooms.

Q. I lost power in my bathroom outlet and all breakers are on. What can I do?

A. Typically when a house is wired and has two bathrooms, the master bath has a GFCI outlet that protects both bathrooms. The kitchen has one that protects the other plugs close to the sink and there is typically one in the garage that protects the outlets there and perhaps the outside plugs as well. Often times the GFCI outlet will go bad or is faulty, affecting the other plugs downstream as it were.

Q. What causes an outlet to spark?

A. Sometimes, when you plug an electrical appliance into an outlet, you may notice a small blue spark. In most situations, this is a normal event as the electrons begin to flow into the appliance’s power cord. At other times, however, a spark from an electrical outlet could start a fire or severely damage the plug. It is important for homeowners to understand why an electrical outlet may spark or short out without warning.

Q. What is an electrical outlet?

A. An electrical outlet is an opening or series of openings connected to a wired power source meant to power electrical equipment and components. The electrical outlet is one of the most commonly used items in a home or building. The electrical outlet provides power to an electronic component by using a wire to take power to the outlet. The plug of the component then transfers power to the device requiring it. Another wire takes the electricity back to its original location. For simplification, in a home environment, this is the electrical panel. Due to this round-trip routing, it is often called an electrical circuit.

Q. Do dimmers save energy?

A. Dimming a bulb by 25% uses approximately 20% less energy, and it will help extend bulb life by up to 4 times as well.

Q. How can I reduce my energy bill?

A. There are a few things you may do to lower your electrical energy consumption.1. Unplug seldom used appliances, like an extra refrigerator in the basement or garage that contains just a few items. You may save around $10 every month on your utility bill. Unplug your chargers when you’re not charging. Keep them unplugged until you need them.

2. Enable the “sleep mode” feature on your computer, allowing it to use less power during periods of inactivity. Configure your computer to “hibernate” automatically after 30 minutes or so of inactivity. The “hibernate mode” turns the computer off in a way that doesn’t require you to reload everything when you switch it back.

3. Set your thermostat in winter to 68 degrees or less during the daytime, and 55 degrees before going to sleep (or when you’re away for the day). During the summer, set thermostats to 78 degrees or more. Ceiling fans can make a room feel much cooler without using nearly as much electricity. This allows you to keep your thermostat a little higher in the summer. During the winter, you can reverse your ceiling fan, which will push the warm air back down.

4. Set your refrigerator temperature at 38 to 42 degrees Fahrenheit; your freezer should be set between 0 and 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Use the power-save switch if your fridge has one, and make sure the door seals tightly. Don’t preheat or “peek” inside the oven more than necessary. Check the seal on the oven door, and use a microwave oven for cooking or reheating small items. Wash only full loads in your dishwasher.

5. Don’t forget to flick the switch when you leave a room. Use motion sensor lights inside and outside of your home. Use compact fluorescent energy saving light bulb where possible.

Q. Does compact flourescent bulbs really save on energy?

A. Replace traditional incandescent bulbs with Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) that have the ENERGY STAR® label. (Those are the bulbs that look like soft ice cream cones.) Now days, you have many choices of shapes, sizes, and colors of light. CFLs cost little up front and last up to 10 times longer than a regular incandescent light bulb. Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs create savings on your electric bill. Up to 20% of the average home’s electric bill is made up by lighting. Because CFLs use up to 75% less electricity than a traditional bulb, they lower your bill and provide a quick return on investment. If every home in America replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an ENERGY STAR CFL, in one year enough energy would be saved to light more than 3 million homes. This would reduce greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to taking 800,000 cars off the road. CFLs also reduce mercury emissions to 1/5th of those generated by the use of traditional incandescent bulbs. Click here for more information about saving energy with CFLs.

Q. What can I do to prevent arc faults?

A. You can’t prevent arc faults from occurring. However, there is a device that can stop them–by interrupting the electrical current before any damage is done. It’s called an Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter (AFCI). It electronically detects any arc fault and stops the flow of electricity in a fraction of a second. No electricity, no heat, no fire. Also, by tripping on a specific circuit, the AFCI helps you identify the source of the problem right at the load center.

Q. Do fuses and circuit breakers serve the same purpose as AFCI’s?

A. No. Fuses and circuit breakers cannot detect low-level arcs. Only AFCIs are specifically designed for that purpose.

Q. Are AFCIs required by the National Electrical Code?

A. Yes. As of January 2002, arc fault circuit interrupters are required by the National Electrical Code on all new bedroom circuits. But, you can protect your existing home too! By installing AFCIs now, you can get peace of mind from their added fire protection.

Q. What surge protector is right for me?

A. Each type of surge protector focuses on a particular type of wiring: electrical, telephone or coaxial cable. There are two AC power surge protectors, allowing you protection regardless of the brand of load center in your home. Ask your Southwinds Electric’s electrician what type of protection is right for you and your home.

Q. What should children know about electrical safety when they play outside?

A. Assume overhead lines are power lines and stay away from them. Do not climb trees, or fly kites near power lines, and never attempt to remove something that may be caught on an overhead line. Never touch anyone who is in contact with a power line and call 911. Get inside at the first sign of lightning. Do not seek shelter under a tree.

Q. How do we keep our pets safe from electrical hazards?

A. Make sure that your pet(s) do not use electrical devices as toys. The same frayed electrical cord that delivers an electrical shock to an adult, have enough voltage to kill a dog or cat. Keep those electrical cords away from puppies and kittens. If you have difficulty getting your pet to stop chewing on the cord, you may want to wrap the cord in a thick plastic sleeve.Keep Halogen lamps away from play areas for pets and children. Some Halogen bulbs can reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees. A fire can easily begin, if the lamp is knocked over during play.

Discourage pets from curling up for a nap behind warm computer equipment.

Q. My smoke detector keeps beeping. What should I do?

A. Detectors start chirping when either of the following happens: 1. The battery that is in the smoke detector is dying, or 2. The smoke detector is dying. (This can happen in dusty conditions more such as having your home painted etc.) Our recommendations are to have us replace your smoke detectors throughout your home with smoke/carbon monoxide detectors with Lithium batteries installed. They should last a good 5 years. The average life span of smoke detectors is 5 years and it is recommended by manufacturers to replace them every 5 years. The national fire protections agency suggests every 10 years.
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