Questions My Mother Asks Me – Part Three

This one came from my mother-in-law. When I first married my wife, Kari, my mother-in-law called me asking, “Todd, every time Ben is using the leaf blower in the back yard I can’t use my hair dryer or the breaker trips. Can you do something about that?”

This is a very common problem in older homes. The electrical demand we place on our homes today is much greater than it was thirty years ago. The above question illustrates just one of the problems that arises out of this situation. The bathroom, garage, and outside receptacles are all on the same circuit and typically share one GFCI receptacle located in the garage. This means that if you are in the bathroom and the GFCI receptacle trips you have to go in to the garage to reset it. Not very convenient if you are in the upstairs bathroom trying to get ready for work!

In today’s homes, the bathroom receptacles are required to be on a dedicated 20 amp circuit separate from the rest of the house. In older homes, it is common to see the bathroom, garage, and outside receptacles on a single 15 amp circuit.

The solution to my mother-in-law’s problem was simple: we ran a dedicated, 20 amp circuit into her bathroom. Now she can use her hair dryer without worrying what Ben is doing outside. This was definitely the best Christmas gift I could have ever given her and I am now her favorite son-in-law (and it’s not just because I’m her only son-in-law).

Another common problem seen in older homes (especially those that have had their kitchens remodeled, maybe as part of a flip that was recently purchased by an investor) is that the kitchen lights will dim whenever they use the microwave.

The original kitchen was never designed for a built in microwave or microwave exhaust hood which is very common these days. Additionally, in modern kitchens there is a minimum of two 20 amp circuits for the counter receptacles. Older kitchens usually only had one and it might even be shared with another room. When the remodel was done, they tied the receptacle for the microwave into the
lighting circuit.

Since the microwave uses a lot of power when it is running, it causes the lights to dim. You may see the same thing happen when your air conditioning turns on in your home. There is a very large initial electrical draw which causes your lights to dim, but it is only temporary. The problem is that with the microwave it isn’t a temporary draw- it lasts the whole time it is running.

There is another simple fix for this problem: Simple Electric can install a dedicated, 20 amp circuit for your microwave. This will supply adequate power to your microwave and keep the lights on.

Just remember, you can always update your home to make it more conducive to our modern lifestyle. Our next series will cover some of the most common updates that can be done to your home which will not only make it more user friendly, but will also improve the look and value of your home.

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