No matter how old or new your home is many times when there is an electrical problem in your home there will be warning signs before the problem becomes so serious that you will have to hire an electrician to fix it. If you know the signs it can alert you that something is wrong and it needs to be fixed before it causes property damage or even electrocution. Some of the problems you may be able to diagnosis and fix but many times it is going to take a licensed electrician to diagnosis the problem and fix it.
Problems with circuit breakers
When a circuit is overloaded a circuit breaker is made to trip. When you shut off the electrical supply the breaker will prevent the electrical wires from becoming overheated, which could cause a fire. A circuit breaker can also trip when they are old. When they occasionally trip it could indicate a simple overload. Try to plug what caused the breaker to trip into another circuit and if the breaker trips again you should call an electrician. You should be careful when you work inside an electrical panel because it does require skill. Even if you turn off the main breaker there is still power going into the electric panel. If you replace a fuse or circuit breaker make sure that you never replace them with one that has a higher rating because this could cause it to overheat and catch on fire.
Hot ceiling fixtures
Most people do not think to check the area around their ceiling fixtures occasionally to see if they are warm. The reason is that not all light fixtures in the ceilings are insulated very well Also if the maximum wattage that is recommended for the light bulb is exceeded it could cause the light fixture to overheat. It can become a fire hazard if too much heat builds up. One solution is to switch to LED (light emitting diode) or CFL (compact fluorescent light) bulbs. Either of these bulbs do not produce as much heat as regular light bulbs.
Sparks or burning odor
If there is a burning odor being emitted from any switches or outlets you should immediately go to the electric panel and turn off the power. Next you should call a qualified electrician to come to your home and find what is causing the odor and make the repairs. It could just be a faulty device but it may able be an overload or wiring problem. Smelling a burning odor can be a very serious issue because it could be an indicator of an electrical fire starting.