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SME Inc of Seattle provides a wide range of services, across the Residential, Commercial and Industrial industries. Whether you are renovating your workplace, replacing a light socket, installing video surveillance equipment, or remodeling your home, SME’s team of experienced, licensed electricians have the skill and expertise to complete your project.

Frequently asked questions

Circuit Breakers

How to reset a circuit breaker in an electrical panel

  1. Locate the electrical service panel or circuit breaker box. It can be located on or flush with a wall in the garage, basement, closet or even outside your home on an exterior wall. It is a metal box with a flat metal door.
  2. Open the panel door. You’ll see rows (two, most likely) of black switches with numbers on the switch (15, 20, 30, 50). If the circuits are marked for the area of the home they are wired to, look at the one for the area that no longer has power to it.
  3. If a circuit is tripped the switch will be in the middle off position, making it more apparent that it has been tripped.
    1. The fully on position is toward the center of the panel and fully off is toward the outside of the panel for each column. Said another way, for the left column, fully on is to the right and fully off is to the left. For the right column, fully on is to the left and fully off is to the right.
  4. To reset the switch, move the switch further into the off position – fully off (toward the outside of the panel), then move the switch in the opposite direction (toward the center of the panel), which is the fully on position.
    1. If you have too many devices plugged into a receptacle that tripped the circuit, you will need to distribute them to other receptacles or think about adding more receptacles and circuits.
  5. Close the panel. Your fixture or receptacle should be operational again. If it isn’t or if the circuit continues to trip, you may have damaged wiring or are overloading the circuit.
  6. Do not ignore a circuit that keeps tripping, it is telling you something is wrong and ignoring it could result in an electrical fire. Call SME Inc. if your circuit breakers keep tripping.

What is the purpose of a circuit breaker?

  1. Circuit breakers are safety switches for your home’s electrical system. Every circuit breaker has an amp or amperage limit. If the amperage limit is exceeded, the circuit will trip or break.

What makes a circuit breaker trip?

  1. Overloaded Circuits
    1. If this circuit’s amp limit is exceeded, the electrical wires in the wall or ceiling will heat up causing the circuit to break or trip. This breaking of the electricity flow protects your home from an electrical fire by turning off the power to all the fixtures and receptacles wired to the tripped circuit.
  2. Electrical Shorts
    1. When the insulation around wires is damaged - frayed appliance cords or damaged wiring in the walls or ceiling - an electrical short in the circuit is likely to occur. When detected, the circuit breaker will trip to stop the flow of electricity to the fixture or receptacle.

Lighting

How to Change Light bulbs?

  1. Make sure the switch is turned off.
  2. If necessary get a step ladder and set it up.
  3. If the bulb was turned on, let it cool before replacing. This is especially important if the bulb is an incandescent, however the base of the CFL & LED may be warm too.
  4. Rotate the bulb counter-clockwise until it can be removed from the fixture.
  5. Dispose of the bulb in the appropriate manner (some cities require special disposal of CFL bulbs).
  6. Look at the bulb socket or fixture for a watt/amp label. Replace with the correct wattage bulb or its equivalent (CFLs and LEDs will have a lower wattage than an incandescent, but the package will have the equivalent wattage listed.)
  7. Place the base into the socket; turn clockwise until you cannot turn the bulb any more. Don’t use force when twisting the bulb as it may break. If the turning is difficult unscrew the bulb and try again, sometimes the threads don’t align properly.
  8. Turn the light switch to on to make sure the new bulb works.

What is making my fluorescent lights flicker?

  1. Fluorescent flicker can be caused by a burned out bulb (lamp), a bad starter or bad ballast.
  2. If the bulb has turned black at one or both ends try replacing the bulb.
  3. If it isn’t the bulb, locate the starter. Look for a small circle of metal that once turned unlocks a cylinder shaped starter. Replace.
  4. If the flicker doesn’t stop with a replaced bulb, or starter it most likely is the ballast. While a ballast can be replaced, if you don’t know much about electrical wiring, and don’t have the correct tools, you should give us a call.

Can I replace my light fixture with a ceiling fan?

  1. Yes.
  2. However, if you are not electrically knowledgeable or have the correct tools, this might be a job for SME Inc. Give us a call.

GFCI Receptacle

What is a GFCI receptacle (aka GFCI outlet)?

  1. GFCI is an acronym for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, also called a GFI or Ground Fault Interrupter. Think of it as a fast-acting circuit breaker. It is designed to stop the flow of electrical power in about 0.025 seconds when a ground fault is detected and it is designed to protect you from electrocution or electrical burn and shock injuries.
  2. A GFCI is an inexpensive receptacle that has the ground fault protection built into the receptacle. The GFCI receptacle can be easily identified. It has two buttons located between the two sockets on an outlet. One is a test button the other is a reset button. The test button can be black, blue, beige or white and the reset button is red, white or beige. Regardless of the color, each button is labeled as TEST or RESET.
  3. GFCI receptacles are required in new construction, but can and should be added to homes that were built prior to the building code requirement. Contact SME service center for an appointment to access your need for GFCI and installation.
  4. The NEC (National Electrical Code) began requiring GFCI receptacles in 1968 for underwater pool lighting and has added requirements throughout the decades to include installation wherever water may be present and electricity is used:
    1. Outdoors (required since 1973)
    2. Bathrooms (1975)
    3. Garages (1978)
    4. Kitchens (1987)
    5. Crawl Spaces Or Unfinished Basements (1990)
    6. Wet bars or sinks (1993)
    7. Laundry (2005)
    8. GFCIs are also recommended wherever electric garden equipment or electric tools are used.

What does it mean when a GFCI receptacle trips? How do I reset it?

  1. Similar to a circuit breaker trip, the GFCI will break the electrical current to the receptacle at any time it senses a ground fault, but the switch that is tripped is located on the receptacle.
  2. To reset, unplug or turn off any appliance that is on the GFCI circuit. Locate the receptacle, push in the tripped RESET button, plug in or turn on the appliance(s) to make sure the circuit has been reset. If the GFCI continues to trip, call SME, there may be a more serious problem with the wiring.

Smoke & CO Detectors

My smoke detector keeps chirping? What does this mean and how do I stop it?

  1. Chirping is an indicator that either the battery is low on charge or there is something wrong with the electronics or smoke sensor chamber. Refer to your smoke alarm manual to decipher which chirping sequence belongs to the battery and which belongs to the sensor. Use the brand name and the model number (on the back of the alarm) to search online for the manual.
  2. If the chirping indicates the battery is low on charge, the manufacturer’s manual will tell you how to change the battery and what type of battery the smoke alarm requires, generally, stand-alone fire alarms use a 9-volt battery. Many smoke alarms suggest not using rechargeable or generic batteries.
  3. If the chirping is for the smoke alarm sensor chamber, you will need to replace the entire smoke alarm. Manufactures and fire safety organizations recommend replacing your fire alarm(s) every 10 years (CO detectors, every five years) because, over time, the smoke sensors degrade due to exposure to normal home environmental factors.
  4. To find the age of your smoke detector, remove it from the wall or ceiling (usually a quarter turn to the left, or counter clockwise, will release the detector from its base) and look at the back of the smoke alarm for the date of manufacture.
  5. If this date is close to or over 10 years, replace your smoke alarm. If the date is considerably less than 10 years from today's date, but you want to check to make sure the sensors are operating properly, you can purchase an aerosol smoke detector test spray that simulates smoke. Carefully follow the directions that come with this product.

Building or Construction Permits

Why are electrical permits important? Are they always needed?

  1. Permits are required and created by jurisdictions for any new construction, additions or renovations. Permits require inspection of the work to make sure it is in compliance of local, regional and national building codes.
  2. Permits are a safety mechanism that provide a record that the work done has been inspected and meets building code standards. Without permitted construction insurance companies may deny coverage, mortgage companies may not fund a loan when selling a home or they may require costly repairs. Permits also protect you, your neighbors and future owners from potential hazards of shoddy construction practices.
  3. Permits are generally required when:
    1. Building a new structure (home or business)
    2. Putting an addition on your home or business
    3. Residential improvements (decks, fencing, garages, fireplaces, etc.)
    4. Major renovations (kitchen, bath, garages, basements, reroofing, etc.)
    5. Anything that involves adding electrical, plumbing or HVAC systems
  4. The best way to find out if a permit is needed is to call your local building department (Find your Local Building Official in WA http://www.wabo.org/find-your-bo)

Electrical Trade

What is an electrician?

  1. Considered a trade, an electrician is a person who specializes in electrical wiring. This can be for installation of new wiring or maintenance and repair of existing wiring in buildings, airplanes, ships, etc.
  2. There are two categories of electricians; Wireman who work with low voltages (buildings, homes, light-industrial, fire alarm and voice/data) or Lineman who work with higher voltages (utility companies)
  3. Learning how to be an electrician can be done through apprenticeship or by going to a trade school.

Miscellaneous

What is knob and tube wiring?

  1. Knob and tube wiring was the standardized method used to wire buildings in North America from the late 1800s through the 1930s.
  2. Made of porcelain, the knob and tubes acted as insulators to run wire through ceiling joists or wall cavities. The knob, so called because of its cylindrical shape was used to support the wire along its length. The tube, a hollow porcelain sleeve, was inserted into a pre-drilled hole in a joist or stud and the wires would be strung through it.

Is knob and tube wiring dangerous?

  1. It can be.
  2. The electrical load requirements in the 21st century are much more demanding than the 19th or even the 20th centuries and knob and tube wiring is inadequate to power today’s appliances.
  3. Home owners may replace blown fuses with higher rated fuses that allow higher levels of current, which can increase the risk of overheating wires and fire.
  4. The cloth or rubber insulation used on the copper wiring may have disintegrated over time, been damaged by remodeling, rodents or misuse of exposed wiring.
  5. Additionally, the NEC (National Electrical Code) in most states will not allow blown-in, loose or expanding foam insulation to be used with knob and tube wiring as a fire precaution. However, WA (CA, OR and NE) has a modified code that allows for insulation around knob and tube wiring under certain conditions.
  6. Some insurance and mortgage lenders will not cover or fund homes that have knob and tube wiring.

Disclaimer

SME Inc of Seattle recommends all electrical work be performed by a licensed professional electrician. SME is not liable for any damage or injury for electrical work performed by anyone other than SME Inc of Seattle employees.