Excerpt from my regular column in the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Too Much Wattage
Question: We recently remodeling our kitchen which turned out beautifully but we have a problem with the ceiling lights. We have open beamed cathedral ceilings in the kitchen and dining area with track lights on the ceiling and pendant lights over the countertop peninsula, all with 10 small halogen spotlights. The lights all work wonderfully except when we turn on the microwave oven, the circuit breaker trips and we have to turn the breaker back on before we can have our lights working again. The lights and microwave oven are brand new so we think that the circuit breaker may be bad. What can we do?
Your Handyman: Circuit breakers are designed to both prevent a shock in the event of an accidental short to ground which can happen if a person touches an energized wire, and also to prevent the electrical wires in your walls from over heating and possibly causing a fire when too much power is being demanded from a circuit. Electricity can be a bit of a mystery to many people but the basic concepts are actually pretty easy to understand.
The electrical service in your home is divided up into circuits each having its own circuit breaker located in your circuit breaker box which is usually found on the outside wall of your home where the cables from the power lines on the street attaches to the house. A newer home will have separate 110 volt circuits for your wall outlets, ceiling lights, large appliances like your refrigerator and dishwasher, and a few 220 volt circuits for an electric water heater or clothes dryer. Each circuit is designed to safely provide adequate electrical service to run the lights and appliances that may be connected to or plugged into that circuit. An easy way to think of voltage is to compare it to pressure as found in your garden hose; the higher the pressure, the more work that can be accomplished with the water. Most homes have 220 volts of available electrical service at the circuit breaker box which is mostly distributed throughout the home in mostly 110 volt circuits and also in 220 volt circuits for large appliances.
Amperage or amps is another common electrical term that can be understood as the strength or amount of current that is available to your home. Most new homes will typically have about 200 total amps of available power while older homes may only have as little as 100 total amps. Each circuit breaker is rated for a certain level of amperage with the most common being 15 or 20 amps for most household usage and 40 or 50 amps for an electric oven or water heater. If the amperage needs of a circuit exceed the rating of the circuit breaker, then it will trip or open, which basically turns off the circuit.
The third common electrical term that helps to understand basic home electrical service is Wattage which is simply the amount of power that a light bulb or an appliance requires to work efficiently. You probably have noticed that light bulbs are always rated for wattage with a large incandescent flood light requiring as much as 150 watts or a new LED recessed can light only needing 9 watts. An electrical appliance like a large flat screen TV or a microwave oven may be rated for as high as 1200 – 1500 watts.
The last factoid of electrical information for this discussion is the simple formula: Wattage = Voltage x Amperage. The basic application of this formula for the layman home owner is that the amount of available wattage on any circuit is determined by the voltage which is 110V in this case, and the amperage rating of the circuit breaker which is likely 15 amps in this case. Multiplying 110 volts by 15 amps gives us a maximum available wattage of 1650 watts on this kitchen circuit. Each halogen light bulb is probably rated at 50 watts, with 10 bulbs having a total of 500 watts, plus the likely wattage of the micro wave over at 1200 watts gives a total wattage of 1700 watts. The combined wattage of the lights and micro wave oven exceed the rating of the 15 amp circuit breaker and the breaker trips.
All that being said, what is your solution? I would suggest replacing the halogen lighting with LED lighting which uses far less electricity, produces very little heat versus the halogen which is very hot, and produces a very comfortable light. Another possible option is to plug the micro wave oven into a nearby outlet on a different circuit using a heavy duty appliance extension cord with 12 gauge wiring.
Question: A friend of mine used to work as a handyman in the town that I grew up in, and would tell me stories about all the unusual and varied jobs that he would do. What is the most unusual job that your handyman company has done?
Your Handyman: I think one of the most attractive aspects of the handyman business is the many different types of jobs that you do in a typical month. Many trade’s people who have worked as or for a general contractor much prefer handyman work versus spending often as long as 18 months or more working on a custom home where different personalities in the crew can start to create friction.
We have done all sorts of unusual jobs involving installing many types of artwork and sculptures into difficult locations, slogging around in waist deep mud to repair water lines, and performing all types of finish carpentry in the many beautiful homes of Santa Barbara. But the job that stands out as the one that we probably won’t repeat was helping a senior lady with the interment of her beloved pet dog. The lady lived alone, was quite frail, her canine companion of many years had died, and she wanted the pet buried in her backyard. One of our technicians carefully laid the dog to rest, and then said a few words about the dog at the lady’s request.
Owner, YourHandyman & Construction
CA License #935259