Wiring is one of the most overlooked components of a home's infrastructure. Homeowners often assume the electricity will flow forever with no maintenance. However, an occasional inspection will help keep your home safe and its equipment operating properly.
If you're experiencing power quality problems (i.e. TV and radio interference, tripping breakers, blown fuses, and dimming or flickering lights) it is a good indication that your wiring and connections need a thorough inspection and possibly some repair work.
To provide safe, reliable service, electrical connections should be tight and dry. If not, they can degrade over time resulting in overheating, arcing and possibly even a fire.
To prevent problems, watch for symptoms of poor electrical connections. If connections begin to arc (which you probably won't be able to see or hear) you may notice the electrical noise arcing generates because it often causes radio or television interference. If you experience interference, you can locate the offending connection by turning off the breakers at your main panel one at a time until the interference disappears. You will have isolated the circuit with the loose connections. Call a qualified electrician to inspect your home's entire electrical system, and direct the contractor's attention to the circuit you've identified.
A standard outlet has three holes for each plug, two vertical rectangular slots and one rounded slot centered between (and slightly below) the other two. In a properly wired outlet, the rounded slot is the ground connection, which is for safety. The larger of two vertical slots is for the neutral connection, which returns the electrical current used in your appliances back to the source. The smaller slot is the energized conductor sometimes called the hot leg.
Some home appliances have polarized plugs (meaning one of the plug's two prongs is larger than the other.) This ensures the proper polarity when they're plugged into a standard outlet. If any of the wires in the outlet is connected to the wrong slot, the equipment can malfunction and people can get hurt. It's easy to check polarity at an outlet. Most home supply stores sell an inexpensive device that will tell you if the outlet is properly wired.
If you check an outlet with a polarity tester and the unit shows an improper condition, have a qualified electrician inspect the electrical system.