In the United States, there are around 1,000 deaths per year that are caused by electrical accidents. This shows that, even as technology and safety have improved when it comes to the design of electrical appliances and wiring, there remains a real and present danger from electricity within the home. If something goes wrong, it’s better to call in a professional who knows what they are doing than to attempt to fix the problem yourself.
A professional will not only be able to solve the problem but determine if any electrical emergency is greater than it may superficially seem. So if you lose power, notice sparks, smell burning, or any of the telltale signs of an electrical emergency, your first thought should be of safety. See our page on electrical safety basics for some helpful tips.
This guide is designed to walk you through the process of finding an emergency electrician, including:
When to call one
What to look for
How much you can expect to pay
In general, you should do this research before an emergency strikes. After all, you don’t want to be scrambling around to find someone when the power goes off at 2 am in the middle of winter. Instead, be prepared for an emergency before it occurs will make all of the difference.
WHEN TO CALL AN EMERGENCY ELECTRICIAN
Most homeowners’ natural instinct is to try and solve problems themselves. Some are reluctant to call a professional because they fear that a problem isn’t serious enough. However, it is far better to err on the side of caution when it comes to the electrical system in your home.
There is easily enough current flowing through a family home to kill and while it is safely kept away from human contact most of the time, it can still go wrong some of the time. Small details can indicate larger problems. Just as smelling smoke is an indicator of a fire, there are lots of tiny ‘tells’ when it comes to electrical problems.
So, if you notice any of the following, it’s time to call an emergency electrician:
Mild shocks from devices.
In some (faulty) appliances, the residual current gets stored after use. When you touch the device (or the switch) that current enters your body and gives you a shock. Even if you notice a mild shock, cease using the device and call an emergency electrician.
Fuses blowing regularly.
Although fuses blow from time to time – particularly in older homes, with older fuses – if they regularly blow it suggests that there are energy surges affecting your system. A fuse is designed as an emergency circuit breaker: it gives way to prevent too much current from swamping the system. When they break regularly, something is wrong.
Warm switches or appliances.
Even if you don’t get a shock from touching a switch or an appliance, if you feel unexpected warmth from them, there is likely an electrical problem. As with a shock, if you feel warmth, stop using the device and call a professional. Warm electronics can cause fires, so it’s far better to act sooner than later.
When you MAY need to call an emergency electrician
The above points are situations when you should absolutely call an electrician. In other situations, however, you may need to do some further investigating before you call in a professional. If you experience any of the following, it may be time to call an electrician, but you’ll need to monitor the situation (assuming it is safe to do so).
WHEN LIGHTS ARE FLICKERING
When the lights in your home start to flicker, it can be because of electrical demand on other parts of your home. This usually means that one particular outlet is receiving more than its fair demand for power, which is a sign that something is going wrong. If you get regularly flickering lights, it’s time to call an electrician.
OVERLOADED EXTENSION CORDS
If you have too many extension cords in a single socket, it can cause it to become overloaded. If you notice any dimming of power, see any soot marks around the socket, or notice any warmth from any of the devices, you should call an emergency electrician. If nothing else, they will be able to add more outlets for you (although this is a job they won’t complete on an emergency call out).
LIGHT BULBS BREAKING
If you regularly experience lightbulbs breaking (either through burnout, through popping, or through rapid deterioration) then it’s likely there’s a problem with the electrical system, which will require a full inspection.
LARGE ELECTRICAL BILL
If your electrical bill is significantly larger than usual (and not caused by a change in usage patterns) then it’s best for a professional electrician to come and examine the wiring, as it could be that you have a short-circuit somewhere in the system. It could mean that you need to update your electric panel.
This is one of the most important reasons to call in an electrician – as part of your regular annual inspection of your home’s electrical system. This inspection will help to address any underlying problems and find issues you may not have encountered already.
COST OF HIRING AN EMERGENCY ELECTRICIAN
If you do have to call out an emergency electrician, it’s likely that you’re thinking of things other than cost. The cost can vary a great deal depending on your location, the type of emergency you are experiencing, and the time of day or day of the week (for example, you can double the figures below if you’re experiencing an emergency on a holiday).
Generally, an electrician will charge between $40 and $100 per hour, with a call out fee of $75. This means that your lowest fee will be around $75. The average spend is $280, with a range of $141 to $419 being typical for a small electrical project. Of course, this pales compared with the potential cost of not hiring an electrician during an emergency.
WHAT TO DO DURING AN ELECTRICAL EMERGENCY
If you do experience an electrical emergency, calling an electrician is only one of the key actions to take. In order to keep your family safe, protect your home, and minimize further damage, you should also be prepared to do the following:
Use a fire extinguisher
Electrical fires can be extremely dangerous as using traditional water-based methods can cause the fire to spread. Instead, use a fire extinguisher with a Class C label on it (which shows an electrical outlet). Have at least one of these in your home.
Don't touch anything electrical
This means anything that is either live, or is in contact with anything live. If power lines have fallen down, even the ground around them may carry a charge.
Shut off electricity
Know in advance where the electrical shut off is in your home. When you experience electrical problems (and it is safe to do so) shut off the power to your home. If the emergency is localized, unplugging appliances will prevent damage from spreading.
PREVENTING ELECTRICAL PROBLEMS
As mentioned throughout the course of this guide, a lot of the work that goes into electrical emergencies should happen before the emergency takes place. There’s lots that you, as a homeowner, can do to protect your home. The following are simple steps you can take:
USE SURGE PROTECTORS
These small devices prevent the appliances in your home in the case of an electrical surge. These devices look like power strips but can go a long way to protecting your home.
Wire management is a crucial part of everyday electrical safety. Don’t be tempted to hide wires under rugs, as this can cause fires. Similarly, keeping all cables away from high traffic areas will minimize the likelihood of damage. Your refrigerator should have its own power outlet to protect both it and other appliances.
EDUCATE YOUR FAMILY
Make sure your family is aware of basic electrical safety issues, such as using dry hands when unplugging devices, not overloading outlets and other key safety tips. This will help diminish the likelihood of human error.
The electrics in your home function without issue the vast majority of the time. However, when they do break down, they can cause major problems. From a loss of power, to an electric shock, to a house fire, when electricity is no longer under control it is a major danger to your safety and your home.
Moreover, electrical problems are surprisingly common.
Every year, there are 30,000 electric shock incidents in the United States that are powerful enough to be recorded.
When it comes to electricity, you shouldn’t mess around. Unless you have expert knowledge and experience, it’s unlikely you will be able to fix the problem adequately and safely.
On top of that, you may only be fixing the symptom when there’s a major underlying cause. Instead, call in a professional electrician who will not only be able to give you peace of mind, but will also be able to create a home that is safe in the long term. And that’s worth paying for.