The preponderance of home improvement stores encourage even the most reticent homeowner to perform some of their own electrical work. While some electrical repairs and upgrades can be done safely with a limited amount of specialty tools and expertise, amateur as well as professional electricians must always keep safe practices in mind.
Unlike other home projects, failure in electrical work could mean more than having the work redone. It may mean severe injury or death to the electrician and destruction of the home and inhabitants from an electrical fire. Here are some important things to remember when doing electrical projects.
You must be certain the power is off at your worksite.
Any work that is performed outside of the circuit breaker box requires that the individual breaker that controls the power to the location where you intend to work be shut off. Only the circuit breaker can shut off the power. For example, shutting off a light switch to work on an overhead light to change or repair the light is insufficient. A light switch simply interrupts the circuit. It doesn't cut all power to the light. If you attempt to work on the wiring to a light fixture with only the switch turned off and you touch both the "hot" wire and a metal surface with a screwdriver, you will create a circuit of which you may be a part.
Working inside the breaker box
Performing electrical work inside the breaker box requires the main breakers to the home to be shut off. These breakers may be located inside the box or in a different area of the home. This means that you'll be working in darkness, so adequate portable lighting is essential.
While simple tasks such as replacing breakers are relatively safe for the amateur electrician, more intricate repairs or upgrades to the breaker box should be handled by a professional.
Select the proper gauge of wire for your project
Using electric wire that is too thin can result in overheating and possible fire. The gauge (thickness) of wire to be used will be determined by the amp rating of the line. Electrical circuits for normal use in the home are generally 15 and 20 amp lines. A 15 amp line requires at least 14 gauge wire, while a more powerful 20 amp line reunites the use of at least 12 gauge wire.
Wire gauge numbers decrease as the thickness of the wires increase. The price of the wire and the difficulty in working with it also increases as the gauge number decreases. Never try to skimp on price or make the job easier by using wire that is not rated for the line. You must also use a corresponding circuit breaker to match the amp rating.
A 15 amp line must have a 15 amp breaker, while a 20 amp line requires a 20 amp breaker. Larger appliances such as electric dryers will require the use of 30 amp double breakers and even heavier gauge wire.
Great care must be taken in connecting wires to outlets and other components, especially with heavier gauge wires that are difficult to bend. Loose wiring can cause the line to fail or cause overheating that may lead to fire.
You must be mindful and respectful of the power of electricity, but if your fear is too great, leave it to the pros. You can conquer other worlds of home repair within your home.