Working on or near a home's electrical system can be hazardous if you don't know the rules. Use these tips to learn how to work safely around electricity.
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Put Safety First
Safety is a concern in any DIY project, but especially when the work includes a home's electrical system. When working on or near electricity there is always the chance of shock, which is dangerous and should not be underestimated.
DIYers familiar with basic wiring practices know how to take precautions. If you are not qualified for electrical work, leave the installation or repair of your home’s electrical system to licensed electricians.
Upgrade Older Equipment
Licensed electricians make sure that your electrical system meets all required safety codes, and they can recommend upgrading an older home with devices that will increase occupant safety.
For example, a ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is an electrical device designed to instantaneously cut off power to outlets when it senses an imbalance, or fault, on the line. Today’s electrical code requires GFCI protection for outlets in "wet" areas such as kitchens, baths, laundry rooms and basements, but many older homes don’t have these relatively modern devices.
By replacing old outlets with GFCIs at the required locations, or by installing ground fault circuit breakers in your home's main electrical panel, you can protect the areas of your home that need it most. A GFCI will respond to electrical current variations too small to be detected by a circuit breaker or fuse.
Practice Electrical Safety
Always remove a plug from a socket by pulling the plug itself, not the appliance cord. Pulling on the cord can break or fray the wires inside, and frayed cords can cause a short circuit fire hazard or electrical shock.
Running appliance or fixture cords under a carpet is dangerous. A cord carrying too much current can overheat, or a frayed cord can cause a short. Both situations can result in a fire. Frayed electrical cords should be repaired or replaced.
Always use the recommended bulb wattage in lamps and light fixtures.
Avoid using electrical appliances in wet places. If you must work in a wet or damp area, portable GFCI outlets are available and should be used.
Never overload an outlet by plugging in or using too many appliances at one time. If you must use a multiple-outlet power strip, use one with a built-in circuit breaker for overload protection.
Have Electrical Work Inspected
After any electrical work is done in a home, it needs to be inspected. The inspector will look for specific "markers" -- such as how the fixtures or switches are wired, and the neatness of the wiring runs -- that indicate whether the work meets professional standards.
An inspector will also look closely at junction boxes, and especially at the main electrical panel, to be sure that everything is properly grounded.
If any code violations are found, no matter how small, they must be repaired before an inspector will approve your electrical system.