We all rely heavily on electricity, so much so that when there’s a power cut we literally feel powerless. Without electricity, there’s no heating, no hot water (so no tea or coffee), no telly, no internet, no cooking – and a slowly defrosting freezer. Aaargh! Life as we know it is grinding to a halt, so what can we do?
Are your neighbours affected?
The first thing to do is check if your neighbours are also without power or if it’s just your household. If the street lights are on but some or all of the houses in the neighbourhood have no power, it’s usually a problem with your local electricity sub-station.
If that is the case, there’s not much you can do other than wait for the fault to be fixed. If you have internet access, perhaps via a smartphone, you can call your electricity provider or check their Twitter feed, which is usually the fastest way to communicate and view status updates. Rest assured that the electricity company will be as motivated to restore power quickly as you are, but depending on the exact nature of the problem, it may take time to fix.
While you wait, make sure you have a supply of candles and/or torches if it’s dark outside, and perhaps check on any elderly neighbours to make sure they’re OK. Turn off any electrical and electronic equipment such as microwaves, TVs and computers, just in case of a power surge when the electricity comes back on. Other than that, there’s nothing for it but to wrap up warm, practise the age old art of conversation with the other members of the family, or go out, or just have an early night.
Check the fuse box
If all your neighbours in the street have power and you don’t, then a quick look at your fuse box should tell you what’s happened. Before spending money calling in an electrician, take a torch and check your fuse box. It will contain either miniature circuit breakers (small up and down flip switches), or older re-wirable fuses which you can easily pull out. There will probably also be a main trip switch, which has a ‘push to test’ or a ‘reset’ button.
For systems with miniature circuit breakers, here’s what you need to do to identify where in your home the fault is located, and hopefully restore power:
- Keep the main trip switch turned on and your main power switch turned off. Now flip all the individual switches to the off position.
- Flip ONE switch back into the on position and turn the power back on.
- If the power works and the main trip switch does not trip, switch off the power again and repeat this process, adding ONE switch at a time. Eventually the switch that is protecting the faulty circuit will cause the main switch to trip. When this happens switch the power back off and reset the main trip switch. Then turn the last flip switch back to off.
- Next, flip all the circuit switches back on. Turn the power on again and if there’s only one fault the power should stay on.
- Turn the power off, unplug everything that runs on the faulty circuit – things like hot plates, kettles, electric cookers. Then try flipping the switch back on. If the main trip goes off again you probably have a wiring fault, and for this you’ll need an electrician.
- If, however, the power remains on, then one or more of the appliances you have removed is faulty. Turn off the power again and repeat with each appliance. Once the power stays on, you’ll have found the culprit.
With re-wirable fuses, the process is the same, except where there is a fault you will need to replace the fuse.
- Main trip switch on, main power switch off, pull out all fuses.
- See if any are damaged.
- Keep main power off, replace a single fuse and turn power on.
- If the main trip switch does not switch off, turn off the power again and repeat the process, adding ONE fuse at a time. Eventually the fuse protecting the faulty circuit will trip the main switch. Power back off, reset main trip switch, remove the last fuse again.
- Put all fuses back, turn power on. If there’s only one fault the power should remain on.
- Power off again, unplug appliances that run on the faulty circuit. Replace this fuse, turn power back on. If the main trips and nothing is plugged in it’s a problem with the wiring. Call your electrician.
- If power remains on and the main switch does not trip, then one or more appliances is faulty. Power off, plug in and switch on ONE appliance, then switch main power back on. Repeat until the main trip switch goes. Remove the last thing you plugged in. If power stays on, you’ve found the faulty appliance.
If you’ve checked your fuses or trip switches and your appliances and wiring are not faulty, you should report the power cut immediately.
After the power cut
Hopefully, you won’t have been too inconvenienced by the disruption to your power supply and, once the power comes back on, everything will be back to normal.
After a power cut, it’s important to test any smoke alarms in the building, as most will switch to battery back-up mode automatically when there is interrupted supply. Many home alarm systems also have a battery back-up that will store entry codes and other system information. Most electronic locks will automatically switch to unlocked if the power is interrupted. When power is restored, double check that all your alarm equipment is working properly. If in doubt, contact your alarm installer or maintenance company to help you restore peace of mind.
This article was written by Dakota Murphey, an independent content writer for electronic design house and manufacturers, Outram Research, who were consulted for some of the information in this article.