Choosing an Electrical Contractor

Spring is here, and for many this is the time of year we start to think about doing things around our homes.  Whether its a simple lighting upgrade or a full on, down to the studs remodel you are looking at here are a few things you should know before choosing someone to do your work.

In the state of Washington there are only 2 categories of people that are allowed to perform electrical work.  That is the property owner working on their own property after obtaining an electrical permit from the state, or a licensed electrical contractor.  There are many general contractors and handymen that will tell you they can take care of things for you, however, what they are doing is illegal unless they are sub contracting this work out to a licensed electrical contractor.  Trust me, I’ve repaired many projects where unlicensed contractors have done the electrical wiring themselves and you do not want this for your home.

IMG_0402

So you’ve decided you want to hire an electrical contractor in the Tacoma area to work on your home, where are you going to find a good one?  There are hundreds of licensed contractor in this area.  I would suggest asking around to friends and family.  A referral is always a good place to start since that person has already had a good experience with that contractor.  Yelp, Google, Angie’s List, or Facebook are also great places to search for local companies who would love your business.  Please, if you take one thing from this, do some homework on the contractors you are looking to give your business to.  Visit this site https://secure.lni.wa.gov/verify/ and search their name.  This will show their current license status, their bond information, and if they have had any major infractions as a contractor.  There are many unlicensed contractors out there looking for work so please be aware.

If you have any questions or are looking to hire a licensed electrical contractor in the Tacoma or Puyallup area, please give HB Electric Solutions a call at 253-256-7861, or feel free to send us an email at info@hbelectricsolutions.com.

The ins and outs of Outdoor Lighting

What to consider when choosing outdoor lighting

Winter time brings short days and long nights for us here in the Pacific Northwest and we see an increase in calls regarding outdoor lighting. I hope to shed some light (no pun intended!) on the subject of outdoor lighting so that you can make a more informed choice when deciding what to do and how to do it when it comes to choosing how to keep the outside of your home and business safer from hazards and more secure from those things that go bump in the night!

Home and business owners install outdoor lighting for different reasons and whether you are looking for decorative, safety, or security, the options are endless. So I’d like to start by giving a little insight as to the types of lighting available so hopefully you can narrow down the choices a bit.

HID lighting

HID lighting, or high intensity discharge lighting comes in a couple different types and are typically used in commercial applications, or in areas where a large space needs to be lit up. The 3 main types are mercury vapor, high pressure sodium, and metal halide. They provide a lot of light and typically have a long life span, however they are somewhat costly to run and maintain and will have a delay turning on, warming up until you have full brightness. Mercury vapor lights are rarely used anymore but you will find them typically as “barn lights”, the type of light you would see hanging over the eve of a barn.

mercury-vapor

High Pressure Sodium lights are a good choice when lighting up a perimeter as they give off a very even light pattern. These are the yellow colored lights you see in parking lots or along streets.

hps-light

Metal Halide lights give off a nice crisp white light emulating daylight, and are a good choice for security lighting of a large area.

metalhalide

 

CFL lighting

Compact fluorescent lighting is a very energy efficient choice when looking at outdoor lighting. It gives off a nice white light and can be used for many different applications. One thing to consider however is the temperature of the area it will be used in. Many fluorescent lights do not perform well in the cold. Some take longer to get to full brightness, while others may never reach full brightness if it is below freezing. Typically they will use far less electricity that a standard incandescent light and have a lifespan of up to 10 times longer than an incandescent light bulb.

cfl

 

LED lighting

I’ve saved what I think is the best for last. LED which stands for light emitting diode, is somewhat new technology when it comes to the lighting world. It came on the scene about 2010 in full commercial production and has steadily improved while the price of LED lighting has significantly decreased. LED lights come in all shapes and sizes. They can be used for any application, whether it be security, safety, or decorative. Just about any fixture type out there can be found in an LED form of some sort. They provide instant, crisp light for security lighting, or can be found in more subdued contrasts for decorative lighting or pathway lighting. They last for more than 25,000 hours and draw less than ¼ the wattage of standard incandescent lamps. The costs are slightly higher than other types of fixtures, but the operating costs will make up that difference in short order.

led-can  led-post  led-step

In closing, I hope that by reading and making an informed decision when choosing the type of outdoor lighting you would like to use your project will come out better than you could have envisioned. Remember, we at HB Electric Solutions are always here to help as your friendly electrician when it comes to wanting information on what type of light would work best for your need. Please feel free to give us a call at 253-256-7861, or shoot us an email at info@hbelectricsolutions.com.

Outdoor lighting Puyallup WA

 

If you’ve lost power to part of your home or business, here’s some things to check before calling HB Electric Solutions

I’ve lost power to part of my home or business, what should I do?

I think that’s a question quite a few people ask themselves when they are having a problem with their electrical system. There are a few things you can check before you call that could save you the cost of a service call.

gfci

First off we get a few calls a month from customers about a loss of power to some specific outlets or part of their home. If you have several receptacles that don’t have power, it can be a good time to check for a GFCI receptacle. Many times builders will install one GFCI receptacle that will also be linked to several other outlets in your home. GFCI protection is required for receptacles in kitchens, bathrooms, garages, outdoors, and in laundry rooms. Say for instance your bathroom has lost power to the receptacle, chances are there is a GFCI receptacle in another bathroom or in the garage that has tripped and therefore shut off the power to the other receptacles it protects. The GFCI could also be part of the breaker in the panel so that’s another place to check.

If you have lost power to a section of your home or business it can be likely that a circuit has tripped due to overloading or a short circuit. You can check for a tripped breaker in your electrical panel. Breakers that are in their normal on or off position will have their handles to the far left or far right. When a breaker trips the handle will be set in the middle position.  Many circuit breakers will have a trip indicator on them as well which will be a red or orange window on the breaker.

tripped-breaker

To reset a breaker that has tripped you will want to turn the breaker into the off position. Usually it will click or stay in this position. Once there switch it over to the on position. The breaker should stay on, but in the event that it does not and it trips again you likely have a short circuit somewhere and a qualified electrician should be called in to evaluate the situation.

reset-breaker

If you have checked for both a tripped GFCI and a tripped circuit breaker and neither seem to be the problem its best to call in a professional like HB Electric Solutions to take a look at things. Many of these situations can be troubleshot and the problem fixed for a simple affordable service call. If you need an electrician to take a look at something similar to this in the Puyallup or greater south Puget Sound area give HB Electric Solutions a call at 253-256-7861. We can also be contacted via email at info@hbelectricsolutions.com and we will get back to you as quickly as we can to set up an appointment to get things fixed back up to normal.

Electrical repair Puyallup, WA

Automatic Standby Generators for your home

Worried about being away from home and losing power for days on end? An automatic standby generator will take those worries away and HB Electric Solutions can help you out with that. An automatic standby generator will start upon the loss of power and when combined with an automatic transfer switch will transfer power over to the generator automatically until utility power is restored. This will give you peace of mind knowing that your home will never miss a beat during an outage. There are a few things to consider when preparing to purchase one of these set ups though and its our goal to help you out with these decisions in this blog post.

First of all, what size do you need? Automatic standby generators come in sizes from 8Kw up to 22Kw in the most common air cooled versions. For most homes with gas or propane heat and hot water an 11Kw up to 16Kw will fit the bill. These will run most everything in your home with the exception of your larger loads such as an electric dryer or range. This will give you lights, heat, keep your refrigerator and freezer going, and possibly your heat pump or A/C unit depending on its size. There are several easy to use sizing guides available online to help you out with finding the suitable size as well. Standby generators are typically fueled by natural gas or propane depending on what is available to your home. Something to consider when choosing a generator if you are planning on fueling it with natural gas is if the line coming to your home is adequate enough for your generator. Your local gas provider can help answer that question for you.

There are a couple options when it comes to the automatic transfer switch to consider as well. You can have a full size, 200 amp transfer switch which will provide power to your whole electrical panel. These are probably most commonly found in homes. Keep in mind you are limited to the size of your generator so you may not be able to use every electrical device in your home, just because it has power doesn’t mean you are able to use it. Another option is to have an automatic transfer switch that has a built in panel for the loads you want to use while on generator power. With this you would have the circuits available that would be essential during a power outage. Things such as your furnace, lights, and freezer would be examples of loads that would be carried by this panel. Finally there are switches capable of turning on and off circuits as the demands increase or decrease. These are called load shedding panels. With these devices, your essential loads would remain on at all times, and you have a load shedding section with circuits that would be nice to have on during an outage, but not critical that they stay on all the time.

Hopefully this sheds some light on automatic standby generators and automatic transfer switches. If you have any questions or would like to discuss installation in your home or business feel free to give HB Electric Solutions a call at 253-256-7861, or send us an email at info@hbelectricsolutions.com and we would be glad to help you out.

Generators Puyallup, WA

Portable generator power for your home

Portable Generators for your home, how can I use one to keep my lights on when everything goes dark?

Its getting to be that time of year again, the rain has returned and with it comes the wind.  As we all know here in the pacific northwest the weather can knock out our power pretty frequently, so do you just deal with it, or is there a need for a portable generator to provide backup power to your home?  Portable generators can be an affordable option to ride out the storm as opposed to a large standby generator system.  We’ll talk about those in another thread.  There are a few options to choose from so I would like to take a couple minutes to go over them with you.

portable-generator

The first thing to look at is what portable generator works for you.  These generators range from 1000 watts, or 1 Kw, up to 7 Kw, and a typical one that you could tie into your home would be 5000 watts.  These typically will have a couple standard 120 volt receptacles on them as well as a 240 volt 30 amp receptacle.  This is what will be used get the power you need to keep things running in your house during those nasty days when your generator will be used.

generator-interlock-kit

So you have a generator, now you need to get that tied into your home to get the lights and heat going.  There are a couple different ways to do that, the first is installing a generator inter-lock kit into your existing electrical panel.  The purpose of this is to allow the electrical power from the generator into your home without it tying into the electrical grid outside causing a very dangerous issue for the guys trying to get your power restored.  These will allow you to power up anything in your home within reason.  The limitation would be the amount of power your generator can produce.  Most generators will have meters on them so you can see how much power you are drawing from them.  You will need to keep an eye on these as not to overload the generator and be back in the dark again.  A 5000 watt generator is typically enough to provide power to your lights, refrigerator, and freezer, and if you have gas heat will power the fan in the furnace so you can stay warm.

generator-panel

The second option would be to install a separate pre-wired generator panel.  These come as an assembly that allows you to transfer certain circuits from your existing electrical panel into the generator panel so they can be switched over to generator power when the need arises.  Some of these will even have meters on them so you can see as you turn things on how much power you are drawing from the generator.  The downside is if you have a lot of circuits in your home you will be limited to what areas you are able to use during a power outage.  These will typically come with 6-10 circuit capability, but are a very good option if that is all you will need to use.

Whichever option you choose to have installed to keep your lights on and your neighbors jealous during those nasty winter storms we are here to help you get them safely and correctly installed.  Give us a call before the storms of winter 2016-17 get going full speed.  HB Electric Solutions, 253-256-7861, or email us at info@hbelectricsolutions.com

Portable generators Puyallup, WA

Gentrans switch Puyallup, WA

The power is out to part of my home. What do I do?

Power is out to part of my house, what do I do?
This is a call we often get, “I don’t know what happened but I don’t have power to part of my house.” We will respond and ask the customer if they have checked their GFCI receptacles to see if they need to be reset by pushing the button marked reset, and also if they have any circuit breakers in their panel that appear to be tripped in an attempt to save them the cost of a service call. As our earlier post stated, GFCI protection is required in kitchens, bathrooms, garages, and outdoors. In your home, these are common places to find GFCI receptacles that could trip. Many homes will have several receptacles controlled by one GFCI receptacle, usually located in one of these locations. If you checked all of these locations and still can’t find the problem, or if you found the GFCI and it wasn’t tripped, the next step would be to examine your electrical panel. Typically in the panel your circuit breaker handles will be all pointed toward the center of the panel. In some cases they point towards the outside of the panel as in a Federal Pacific Panel. Nonetheless, if you have one breaker that has the handle in the center portion of the breaker it is likely tripped. Some breakers have trip indicators which will show an orange or red tab through a small window in the breaker. If a breaker is tripped, there is likely a cause for it, weather it is overloaded or short circuited. If it is overloaded, simply remove some of the load by unplugging some of the items plugged into the circuit and moving them to a different part of your home, then reset the breaker. If this is the case you may want to call an electrician to add a circuit to the affected area so this doesn’t happen again. If there is no evidence of overloading, then a device that is plugged into the circuit or the circuit itself may have short circuited, tripping the breaker. It is best at this point to recruit the help of a qualified licensed electrical contractor to take a good look at things and advise you as to potential solutions to your problem. If this sounds like something that is going on in your home, give us, HB Electric Solutions, a call at 253-256-7861, or email us at info@hbelectricsolutions.com.

What is a GFCI Receptacle, the funny little plug with the buttons??

GFCI receptacles, the funny plug with the buttons on it

 

So what exactly is that strange receptacle in my kitchen with the buttons on it and why do I need it? That’s a questions that comes up on a fairly regular basis and with this I hope to answer some of these questions.

gfci-receptacle
A GFCI receptacle, or ground fault circuit interrupter is a receptacle designed to help prevent people from getting injured due to electrical current that could possibly travel through your body from faulty electrical equipment. Did you know that less than 0.1 amps of current traveling through your body could be fatal? A GFCI is designed to stop this dangerous situation in less than a tenth of a second. They are designed to sense as low as 4 milliamps of current keeping the user safe from harm.
Electricity leaving a receptacle flows from the “hot” side of the receptacle to the device being used then back through the “neutral” side of the receptacle. The amount of current between the two sides should remain balanced at all times. If current gets out of balance it is because it is going somewhere else, maybe YOU!! The GFCI is designed to sense this imbalance and shut the power off protecting the user.
GFCI protection is required in kitchens, bathrooms, near sinks, outdoors, garages, and basements. Anywhere there is a chance of water being near electricity there should be ground fault protection. There is 2 ways of providing this protection in your home or business and that is through a ground fault receptacle or breaker. Either device can protect a single point or a whole circuit. Receptacles other than GFCI’s should be labeled if they are GFCI protected so the end user will know. These device should be tested monthly by pushing the test button to ensure they trip. They can also be tested using a receptacle tester that has a GFCI test button on it.
If you have any questions about your GFCI’s in your home or business or have a faulty one that needs to be replaced don’t hesitate to call a professional licensed electrician near you. HB Electric Solutions can be reached at 253-256-7861, or by email at info@hbelectricsolutions.com

What is an AFCI, or Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter and why do I need them?

What is an AFCI, or Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter and why do we need them?

afci receptacle afci breaker

 

About 15 years ago we began to see a change to the electrical code beginning to require AFCI protection on branch circuits within a home.  So what exactly are they and why do I need them?  Hopefully in this post I can help explain the answers to these questions and provide some clarity into why we need to install them when working on your home.

Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters come in several different types that can be installed in your home.  There are circuit breakers that have built in AFCI protection that can be installed directly into your panel, and there are receptacles that have AFCI protection that can be installed anywhere within a circuit, but preferably at the head of the circuit.  Is there any advantage in using one over the other?  Circuit breakers with some exceptions will only work on a 2 wire circuit.  So if you have a home that was wired using 3 wire home runs they won’t work.  This is where the receptacles come in as they can be installed in the circuit within the home outside of where the neutral conductor is shared as in a 3 wire circuit.  There are also combination AFCI/GFCI receptacles that can be installed where both protections are required.

So the big question is, what do they do?  Like the name of them says, they protect against arc fault conditions such as an arcing appliance or a loose connection that is creating an arc.  They are designed to protect the branch circuit from this arcing which could potentially create a fire if this arcing is near a combustible source.  One thing to realize though is that an AFCI does not protect against an overcurrent situation.  This is what your breakers are for, they will detect an overloaded condition or a short circuit condition and open the circuit.  Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters detect smaller erratic current conditions that are caused by arcing.

One question I’ve been asked is what is the difference between a GFCI and an AFCI?  To explain it in simple terms, a GFCI, or Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter is to sense a ground fault and protect people from getting a dangerous electrical shock.  An AFCI is there to protect the branch circuit and the equipment attached to the branch circuit from an arcing condition which could lead to a fire.

Within the latest code update AFCI protection is required in homes on all branch circuits supplying outlets or devices installed in kitchens, family rooms, dining rooms, living rooms, parlors, libraries, dens, bedrooms, sunrooms, recreation rooms, closets, hallways, laundry areas, or similar rooms or areas. This is pretty much everywhere in a home with the exception of garages, outdoors, and bathrooms.  This could possibly change with the 2017 code update.  Any time a circuit is added in one of these areas or an existing circuit is extended, arc fault circuit interrupter protection is required.  So, let’s say you would like to add a few can lights in your living room, these need to be arc fault protected.

If you would like to speak to a professional about arc fault protection or need assistance installing some in your home, please contact us at HB Electric Solutions and we will do our best to come up with a solution that works for you.

Should I change my Federal Pacific electrical panel in Tacoma?

Should I change my Federal Pacific Electrical Panel in Tacoma?

fpe panel

If you own a home that was built between the early 1950’s and the late 1980’s, there is a good chance that you have a fire waiting to happen in the form of a Federal Pacific electrical panel. These were a very common brand of panel during these years. At the time they seemed like a good economical piece to install as the center of the electrical system, however in the early 1980’s there were questions raised as to their safety specifications. These questions were focused on their ability to trip at their rated settings. In many cases it was found that they did not trip under overloaded conditions creating a great fire hazard. In 1983, the Consumer Product Safety Commission concluded a 2 year investigation into the panels and breakers in question and found that although there were issues with them, they had to stop the investigation and possible recall notice due to budget constraints. Federal Pacific was bought out and soon went out of business after this report was concluded.

fpepanel1

There are several apparent flaws with Federal Pacific electrical panels. First off would be their age. They were made in a time where less stringent codes were in place compared to today. These panels would not come close to today’s standards for safety. Another is the design of the panel. These panels have less space in them which makes for crowding of the wires inside and having to bend the wires beyond their specified bending radius to connect them to their terminals. Another big issue with them would be how the breaker connects to the bus of the panel. Their claim to fame was the Stab-Loc system where there was a spade on the front tip of the breaker that stabbed into a notch cut out on the bus. Today’s breakers have a small spring loaded clamp that clips onto a tab on the bus providing a positive connection. FPE Stab-Loc design was not a very reliable connection creating a loose connections which in turn will cause heat either damaging the buss or breaker, or potentially welding the breaker to the buss. I have seen these connections so loose that the breaker simply falls out when the panel cover is removed. Lastly would be the problems with these breakers not tripping under fault conditions. This is the most concerning issue here as there is a tremendous amount of current generated during a short circuit. This results in heat that can be very damaging to the panel, wire, and devices connected to the circuit, not to mention whatever is causing the short. This is an issue to be very concerned about as it would be able to do the most harm in a short amount of time.

fpebreaker

In closing, if you have a Federal Pacific electrical panel in your home or business take heed and call us or another qualified electrical contractor to come out and take a good look at it.
Call HB Electric Solutions today at 253-256-7861