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Robert Lamoureux: New electronics can trip breakers

Your Home Improvements

Posted: November 26, 2010 10:30 p.m.
Updated: November 27, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Hello Robert,
I live in an older home, have a breaker panel in my house and the same breaker keeps tripping. I’d say at least once a night while I’m watching television, it will turn off. I want to know what size would you recommend that I change it to, or how could I figure out what size would be the right size? It is a 42” flat-screen television. Thank you,
Pat M.

Hi Pat,
You can’t overrate a breaker on wiring. For instance, if you’ve got a No. 10 wire and a 20 amp breaker, you are allowed to go a 30 amp breaker. You cannot take No. 12 wire and put a 30 -amp breaker on it. If you do, in theory, the wire will burn before the breaker trips. 

My recommendation is to first hire a licensed electrician. Have him come out and inspect your panel.  He will let you know if you can increase any of your breaker sizes. You say it’s an older home, you may need to run a new circuit to accommodate modern electrical draws.      

There is some troubleshooting you can do beforehand. The next time your breaker trips, see what else is being used on that circuit.

Do you have a portable heater operating? Any other appliances? Is there anything else that is running that is causing the overload?

You could reconfigure the other appliances to another circuit.  

Hello Robert,
I have a standard-ignition fireplace that uses gas. To light it, I have to use a match, which I don’t like to do because sometimes too much gas comes out before it lights, and it all lights at once, which is not safe. Can this type of gas ignition be converted to an electronic-ignition fireplace instead? Thank you very much,
Jennifer L.

Hi Jennifer,
Yes. All you need is an electronic-ignition valve and wire it in. I would recommend hiring a licensed electrician to make the conversion. Permits will be required.

Generally, those ignitions are run off of a wall switch. You just flip the switch, and it lights the gas. It’s very similar to how a gas stove operates, but designed for a fireplace. 

Hello Robert,
This might be a tough question, but do you have any advice on ways to save money on energy costs? I would also like to know the best way to determine how much it costs to operate different items in my home. Thank you very much,
Alfonso M.

Hi Alfonso,

Some money-saving items are initially costly, like dual-pane, Argon gas-filled windows, but these are so energy efficient that they will end up saving you money over the long term.        

Inexpensive options would include checking that your doors and windows are sealed properly. If you feel a draft or see any light coming in from around your door, this means that heat is escaping.  Replace the weather stripping. 

You can change your bulbs to the compact fluorescent light bulbs or CFLs. Initially, they are more expensive, but they last up to 10 times longer and use 75-percent less energy than standard bulbs. You can find these in almost every size to fit different fixtures inside your home.  

CFL bulbs are superior in many ways to traditional bulbs, but they do contain a small amount of mercury, usually about 5 milligrams which is highly toxic, although nowhere near — the 3,000 milligrams of mercury found in old fashioned thermostat switches still found in many homes. 

If you should ever break one of these CFL bulbs, there are some very specific steps involved with the clean up according to the EPA — Environmental Protection Agency. 

The first step, they recommend, is to open a window for a least 15 minutes, vacate the room, both people and pets, and air it out. Don’t let anyone walk through the breakage on the way out. Shut off central forced-air heating/air conditioning system if present.

If the bulb breaks on a hard surface, do not use a vacuum or broom. Instead, carefully scoop up glass pieces and powder using stiff paper or cardboard, and place them in a glass jar with a metal lid (such as a canning jar) or in a sealed plastic bag. Then use duct tape to remove any fragments and powder. Once all of the glass and powder has been removed, wipe the area clean with damp paper towels or wet wipes, which are then placed in the jar or sealable plastic bag. 

If the bulb breaks on a carpeted surface, first carefully pick up the glass fragments and place in the lidded glass jar or sealable plastic bag.

Then proceed with duct tape to remove as much as possible of the remaining breakage. Then, if necessary, vacuum. Place the entire vacuum bag in a sealed plastic bag when finished.

If any clothing or bedding should come into contact with the mercury vapor from a broken CFL bulb, wash as needed. If any broken glass or mercury-containing powder should come into contact with clothing or bedding, it should be thrown away. Don’t attempt to wash because the mercury could contaminate your washing machine or pollute sewage. 

For shoes, wipe down with wet paper towels or wet wipes, which are then placed in the jar or plastic bag and sealed. 
For disposal, place all clean up materials outside in the trash can for the next normal pick up and thoroughly wash your hands once disposed.

To save money on energy costs, electricity is most expensive between the peak hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. because of the increased demand. Southern California Edison has programs for customers who use most of their electricity during “off-peak” hours. They call these “Time of Use” programs, which will save you money on your electricity costs. For the various programs, they offer contact SCE at: (800) 655-4555.

To calculate how much you’re paying for electricity, there is a formula to determine the cost of operation of your appliances:

(Wattage) ÷ (1,000) x (cost per kilowatt hour) = (usage cost per hour)

The cost per kilowatt hour for Southern California Edison ranges anywhere from .11/hr. to .29/hr. depending on which of the various programs they offer and if usage is during peak or off-peak hours.  For example, say you have a 1500 watt space heater you use for five hours a day.  

Take (1,500) ÷ (1,000)  =  1.5 x (.20 average cost per kWh) = .30 per hour to operate.

.30 X (5 hours) = $1.50 per day, or $45 per month.

We have designed a custom, full-color The Signal/Your Home Improvements T-shirt we will give you if we answer your question. The T-shirt is available to be picked up at our office.

Robert Lamoureux has 25 years experience as a general contractor, with separate licenses in electrical and plumbing contacting. He owns IMS Construction Inc. in Valencia. His opinions are his own and not necessarily those of The Signal. Opinions expressed in this column are not meant to replace the recommendations of a qualified contractor, after that contractor has made a thorough visual inspection. Send your questions to


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