It’s important to be aware of how your electrical system works and what could be the cause if something goes wrong.

The National Association of Home Builders’ MyHome Press has published a handbook for homeowners, “Home Maintenance Made Easy.” The excerpt below contains advice about the electrical system in your home and how to address any problems that may occur:

Circuit breakers and fuses

These devices protect the electrical wiring and equipment in your home from overloading. They are the safety valves of your home’s electrical system. Breakers trip from overloads caused by plugging too many appliances into the circuit or from a worn cord or defective appliance, starting an electric motor or operating an appliance with a voltage requirement higher than what the circuit was designed to handle.


If a circuit trips repeatedly, unplug everything connected to it and reset it. If it stays on, one of the items you unplugged is defective and is in need of repair or replacement. If the circuit trips when nothing is connected to it, call an electrician as soon as possible.


Every house should have a master circuit breaker. It generally is located near the smaller circuit breakers. Tripping the master breaker cuts off electricity to the whole house. Circuit breakers may be reset by first switching the breaker to full-off and then back to full-on.

Ordinarily, small appliances that require personal attendance while operating may be plugged into any outlet. However, operating many small appliances or one large one on a single circuit can overload it. If this happens frequently, contact a licensed electrician to discuss whether your home needs additional wiring.

Ground-Fault Circuit Interrupters (GFCIs)

The receptacles in your kitchen, bathrooms and outdoors should be equipped with GFCIs. These safety devices are commonly installed where small appliances (such as hair dryers) are used near sources of water, which can “ground” a person and electrocute him or her if the appliance malfunctions or is dropped into water. GFCIs cut the flow of electricity to the appliance within a fraction of a second if they detect a change in the flow of current to (and from) the appliance.


One GFCI breaker may control up to four outlets. If a breaker trips during normal use, an appliance may be at fault. You will need to investigate the problem.

Test your GFCI receptacles monthly by pressing the “test” button. This will trip the circuit. To return service, press “reset.”

For more home maintenance and safety advice, contact: or go to

Karen Nakamura is CEO of the Building Industry Association of Hawaii.