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Ask the Expert

By Tim Hough

Art by Tim Hough

Ask the Expert

Do you have an electrical, data, BAS, or alternative energy question you’d like to ask? We’d be happy to provide you with the answer. Just complete the questionnaire below and we’ll email you a response (if you provide us your email address) along with posting your question and the answer in our “Ask The Expert” archive within 2 working days. All information is optional, except the question, of course, and we do not sell your contact info or provide it to any third party. We’d just like to help in any way we can.

Previously Asked Questions

Is aluminum wiring a hazard? (View Answer)

Aluminum wiring was an accepted wiring method in the early 1970s. Many homes still have aluminum wiring installed. The issue with aluminum wiring is at the connection point, the receptacle, switch, or fixture. The connection can oxidize creating heat and ultimate failure. Some fires have been caused by this situation. The preferred and recommended method of correction is to replace the aluminum wire with copper. However, this can be expensive so alternative repairs can be made. There are dual rated wiring devices that can handle either copper or aluminum wire terminations. The old devices can be replaced with this type. There are also wire connectors that are rated for aluminum wire. These wire connectors can be used at light fixtures or to “pigtail” copper from the aluminum building wire to the wiring device. Note that aluminum wiring is still an acceptable wiring method when used for larger loads such as electric ranges or ovens as long as it is installed properly. The larger wire used on these loads is not affected as significantly as the smaller #12 or #10 aluminum wire.

Does my bathroom plug really keep me from getting shocked if I drop it in the water? (View Answer)

Most newer homes have outlets with GFCI protection.  They are the ones with the test button on them.  If working properly these outlets are designed to protect you from this hazard.  They, of course, should be regularly tested for proper operation by a qualified person.  You should have similar outlets in your kitchen and on the exterior of your home.  Oh, Mary, I would not suggest a live test on a real human or a family pet.


We bought a microwave in May and it has flipped the breaker a few times. (View Answer)

We bought a microwave in May and it has flipped the breaker a few times. The last time the microwave shut off, the outlet it was plugged into will no longer provide power. It is an over the cooktop hood type microwave. The house was built in 2000. The outlet that is no longer working is not a GFI type outlet. We plugged the microwave into an extension cord just to see if its clock lights and it does. Is it possible the microwave is faulty and what kind of suggestion can you make to fix the problem?


In response to your question:

It sounds like you may have a problem with the circuit going to the microwave. Common problems that we run across with equipment that draws higher amperage like a microwave are loose connections in the circuit. Now this could mean a loose connection in the breaker box or anywhere else that this circuit runs including the connections in the outlet that it is plugged into. If the microwave works when you plug it into an extension cord that usually means the circuit has the problem and the microwave is fine. When the breaker trips it is actually protecting that circuit from damage caused by overloading. I would suggest troubleshooting the problem by a licensed electrician.

Let me know if you have any other question or if this does not make sense.