Electrical wiring, more than any other domestic project, has to do with safety. In the following post, we will give you some quick tips to make you safely make small electrical modifications in your home by yourself.
Install an electrical outlet correctly and be as safe as possible; installing it incorrectly can be life-threatening. That’s why there are so many rules surrounding electrical wiring and installations. The rules can be complicated, safe, and sometimes confusing even for master electricians, but some basic concepts and practices apply to almost every electrical wiring project. Here is a look at five of the most important rules that will help keep you safe.
1. Power Test
The best way to avoid electrical shock is to test cables and devices for power before working on or near them. Simply turning off the power is not enough.
Here’s an example of why: You want to replace a light fixture to turn off the power to the fixture’s circuit breaker. You remove the fixture, exposing the electrical box. Inside the box are four electrical wires. Two belong to the device’s circuit, while the other two belong to another circuit. The installing electrician used the box as a junction box for another circuit (for which he did not turn off the power). You assume that they are all part of the same circuit, but you are digging into a box with live wires in reality.
If you tested the power inside the box (this only takes a few seconds with a non-contact voltage tester), you would know that those two wires still have power and that you must find your circuit breaker and turn it off.
2. Check the amperage ratings.
All electrical wiring and devices have an amperage or amplifier rating. This is the maximum amount of electrical current they can safely carry. Most standard household circuits are rated at 15 amps or 20 amps, while large appliance circuits (such as electric dryers and stoves) can be rated at 30, 40, 50, or more amps.
When installing or replacing wiring or devices, all parts you use must have the circuit’s proper amperage rating. For example, a 20 amp circuit must have 12 gauge wire, rated for 20 amps. If you install 14- and 15-ampere wire on that circuit, you create a fire hazard because the 20-ampere circuit breaker protecting that circuit may not turn off before the 15-ampere wiring is overheated.
3. Making narrow connections
Electricity travels along conductors, such as wires and metal contacts in electrical outlets and plugs. Narrow connections between conductors create smooth transitions from one conductor to another. But loose connections act like speed bumps, restricting flow and creating friction and heat. Very loose connections can lead to arcing, where electricity jumps through the air from one conductor to another, creating tremendous heat.
Avoid fire hazards by making sure all connections are tight and have full contact with the joined conductors. When splicing wires, always use wire connectors (“wire nuts”).
4. Respect Grounding and polarization
Grounding and polarization are essential to the safety of modern electrical systems. Grounding provides a safe route for lost electrical current caused by a fault or other problem in a circuit. Polarization ensures that electrical current travels from the source along the “hot” wires and returns to the neutral wires’ source.
Always follow the manufacturer’s wiring diagrams and understand and use your home’s grounding system to ensure that the grounding and polarization remain intact.
5. Boxing and Securing
The Electrical Code requires that all wiring connections be made in an appropriate cabinet. In most cases, this means an electrical box. Enclosures protect the connections and protect people from accidental contact with those connections and provide a means of securing the conductors (such as electrical wires) and devices.
The rule here is simple: don’t be lazy. If you need to make a cable splice, install a junction box and secure the cables to the box with cable ties. Never leave a splice or other connection exposed or unsafe.
With these five simple tips, you can safely make small electrical changes inside your home. When you need to go deeper, the most appropriate thing is to call a specialized electrician.