Electrical work can range from simple to incredibly complex, and no matter what, it’s wise for every homeowner to understand the basics of electrical wiring.
Keep reading below to learn about the electrical process and discover essential DIY electrical and safety tips. Knowing the basics will ensure your home improvement projects are more successful and your house’s electrical system continues to run smoothly.
The Electrical Process
Have you ever wondered how power is transmitted throughout your home? Let’s walk through some of the electrical essentials:
- Electrical Power Service and Meter
Electricity is delivered from power plants to residential and commercial buildings through power lines (this system is often referred to as the grid). You receive your power from your service company who installs an electric meter to measure the amount of electricity you’re using.
- Disconnect Switch
Some homes have a designated disconnect switch that can be used if there is a fire, flood, or another hazard. This switch turns off the power entirely, so you do not have to go inside. Other homes may only rely on the main circuit breaker as the main off switch.
- Main Service Panel
The main service panel (also called the load center) is essentially the control room that houses an assortment of breakers. This panel receives all the incoming electricity from your power provider and disburses the power to circuits around your home (lights, appliances, outlets, etc.).
- Main Circuit Breaker
This is the largest breaker usually placed at the top of the panel. It is responsible for distributing electricity to the branch circuit breakers.
- Branch Circuit Breaker
Branch circuit breakers are the smaller breakers located inside the main service panel. They are switches designed to interrupt the flow of electricity when there is an abnormal or high magnitude current to prevent damage to the electrical system (a blown breaker).
Devices consist of everything in your home that needs power to operate. These can include lights, appliances, light switches, outlets, etc. They are connected to each of the branch circuit breakers.
Your home’s electrical wiring distributes electrical currents throughout your home based on the electrical code and involves a few different cables. The size of the wire (gauge number) depends on how much current it can support. Lower gauge numbers indicate a larger wire. The cables commonly used include non-metallic cables, NM or Bx cables, and conduit cables.
5 DIY Tips for Common Household Electrical Work
1. Tap Into Power From a Neighboring Wall
There may be a time when you need to install another outlet in a room. You can get to the electrical wiring on both sides of a wall if there’s an outlet already installed on one wall. All you need to do is simply cut a hole behind the receptacle, and you can access the circuit from there.
2. Adjust Ceiling Light Fixtures
Sometimes ceiling fans and other light fixtures are oddly placed. Before you start running more wire, stop! Chances are, you can move them pretty far by using the circuit from your attic. Just take off a couple of staples that are securing the cable and reattach them after you’ve found the perfect spot.
3. Calculate Your Outlet Wires
Many ambitious DIY homeowners stuff too many wires into a receptacle (outlet), which can pose a safety threat and is also against electrical code requirements. Outlet boxes can only handle so many wires; they can quickly overheat if they have too many. Check out this article to learn how to total up your wires.
4. Make Use of Old or Closed Electrical Boxes
Old electrical boxes most likely still have power running to them. Although these blend in pretty well after they’re painted and covered, you can take the cover off and test the voltage. It may turn out that you don’t need to create another area for your lighting fixture!
5. Use a Non-Contact Voltage Tester
A non-contact voltage tester is an inexpensive and convenient tool to have on hand, whether you’re a professional electrician or a DIY enthusiast. You can get this little device for less than $20.
This voltage tester will help you confirm that the electricity is switched off, saving you from messing with wires and potentially harming yourself in the process. You can test various things with this device, such as receptacles, light switches, and hot cables.
Electric Work Safety Tips
It’s important to stay safe while you’re working on a DIY electric project. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Shut off the power and test it before beginning any sort of electrical project.
- Install outlets far away from any water sources such as sinks, showers, etc.
- Remove jewelry while performing electrical work.
- Wear rubber-soled shoes to help insulate yourself from any electricity.
- Watch out for sweaty hands or any sort of moisture (keep a towel nearby just in case).
- Don’t rush! Take your time and do the job well.
- If an electrical fire starts, use a fire extinguisher. Do NOT use water. Learn more ways to put out electrical fires here.
- Use a residual current device (RCD), a device that will turn off power if an electrical fault occurs.
- Determine where your electrical cables are in your wall by using a cable detector to prevent cable damage.
- Never overload your power strips or outlets.
- Make sure you’re using the correct wattage in your appliances and fixtures.
- Watch out for any frayed wires or damaged cords.
- Examine your products and appliances to see if they have been tested and certified by the Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTL), which deems them acceptable according to electrical safety requirements.
You’re Not a Professional Electrician, and That’s Okay!
When the going gets tough, there’s no shame in calling a professional. Although you may need to swallow your pride, it’s better than ending up with dangerous and inconvenient faulty wiring and electrical problems in your home. So for your next electrical project at home, call Electric City to help.