Preventing a problem is always better — and cheaper — than fixing one. That’s especially true with electrical systems, where seemingly small issues (like a loose connection) can lead to big failures over time.
Unlike with an HVAC system, for example, which makes noise or stops cooling, your electrical system won’t give you much if any warning of a looming breakdown. Without a ‘squeaky wheel’ that’s demanding some grease, preventive maintenance is easy to delay or even overlook.
While you can’t usually hear an electrical problem developing, all that electricity coursing through your system is nonetheless creating wear and tear. The 60Hz ‘buzz’ of U.S. electrical systems eventually loosens what were once tight electrical connections. Left unattended, that looseness can lead to major failures, outages, and serious safety and fire risks.
How do you ‘see’ into your otherwise out-of-sight electrical system to spot weaknesses? The best approach is branch circuit monitoring, which gives you long-term usage information. (We’ll cover that topic in a future post.)
At a bare minimum, though, you should do an annual infrared (IR) scan. IR scanning alone won’t tell you the whole story, but it will show you hot spots (usually poor/loose connections) that you can tighten up.
An IR scan is essentially a snapshot that gives you a ‘picture’ — in the form of a reading — from a single moment in time. When you perform the IR scan you’ll need to measure amperage on any hot circuits.
For best results, go ahead and tighten up all electrical connections in the piece of equipment you had scanned (a panel, for example). The IR scan will only spot loose connections that are under load. You might have connections that are loose but not under load — and thus not ‘hot’ enough for the IR scan to catch — hence the wisdom of tightening them all.
Whenever you’re having work done on electrical equipment, plan to conduct preventive maintenance on it concurrently if at all possible. And of course, make sure the electrician is following all of the equipment manufacturer’s recommendations, particularly for torque when tightening a loose connection.