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Homes and Renovations: Electrical Renovations - Save big with these electrical renovations
If you’re anything like most average homeowners, the mere thought of having anything to do with renovations involving the electrical system or the electrical wiring in your home beyond changing a light bulb sends you running for the nearest telephone and yellow pages, frantically searching for a professional electrician. Renovations dealing with electricity and home wiring can be a difficult and dangerous challenge if you don’t know what you’re doing and most of us fall into that category. But don’t give up! Many electrical renovations are actually quite simple. In addition, manufacturers today are making more and more electrical supplies and equipment with the home renovator in mind. Take some time to learn the basic principles of how electricity works and become familiar with the electrical system of your home. Once these two initial steps are mastered, the do-it-yourselfer can easily undertake electrical renovations ranging from the very simple such as fixing a light switch or receptacle to more advanced projects like installing a ceiling fan to very complicated jobs such as installing outdoor lighting, putting track lights in your living room or garage door openers. Do-it-yourself electrical renovations don’t involve a lot of expensive equipment. The biggest expense in renovations of this sort comes from the electrician’s fees. There are some basic things that you need, but once you have them, you can undertake almost any electrical renovation or repair in your home. The basic set of tools includes needle-nose pliers, a utility knife, a multi-tool (to cut and strip different gauges of wire), a drywall saw or a similar implement, electrical tape, fish tape and flat-head and Phillips screwdrivers. A voltage tester and/or a continuity tester can be useful to make sure that the power to the appliance has been turned off. The actual electrical supplies needed are also reasonably priced. They include boxes to hold receptacles or switches, the receptacles and switches themselves, cover plates, cable connectors, and cable and wire of various gauges. All of these tools and supplies will be readily available at any home supply store. Invest in the best quality tools and electrical supplies that you can afford, in order to avoid accidents and premature repairs down the road. It helps to have a sound grasp of the basics of electricity.
The four terms that are most important are current, ampere, voltage and wattage. Current is flowing electricity and it is measured in amperes, or amps. Current flows only when called upon to do so and, by flipping a switch or by turning a lamp or appliance on or off. Different appliances use different amounts of current; for example, a sewing machine uses a small amount of current, while an air conditioner or dryer uses a much larger amount. In North America, all electrical appliances use either 120 or 240 volts. Light bulbs and small appliances use 120; major appliances such as air conditioners or dryers use 240. Amps, or the current, are moved along a circuit by pressure, which is measure in volts. The more voltage a current has, the more pressure there is behind the amps, and the more current or power sent to the appliance in question. In order for any electrical appliance to work a circuit must be completed. The current must travel along a wire loop from an electrical source to an electrical outlet and back again. If that wire breaks, the current is interrupted, resulting in a short. The simplest representation of this is to imagine the broken wire inside a burned-out light bulb. It is also important to have a clear picture of the electrical system of your home before beginning any electrical renovations. The electricity provided to your home starts at a generator, is pumped to a distribution center, then on to neighborhood substations, then to a street and, finally, into individual homes through the residential service conductor on the outside of the home, which is connected to the main service panel inside the home (the fuse box, or far more commonly, the breaker box). It is a good idea, before undertaking even the most basic electrical renovations, to become completely familiar with your home’s own particular electrical system. Know where all your outlets, switches, ceiling fixtures and major appliances are, and which breaker controls each room or major appliance. Make a label for each breaker in the box, telling what part of the house or which appliance it controls. Now it’s time to start the renovations. As in any new endeavor, it’s best to start small with a simple task like fixing a switch or a light bulb socket or a wall receptacle, and work your way up through the more complicated projects. Do some research. There is a wide variety of books available in bookstores or at the library that will take you through a project with very detailed step-by-step explanations, accompanied by diagrams, drawings and photographs to make things crystal clear.
There is also an amazing amount of information for the do-it-yourselfer available on the Internet, just by searching your specific project. Before starting any electrical renovation project, it is important to learn as much as you can about the required electrical safety standards enforced in your area. These are outlined in great detail in the National Electrical Code. Any electrical renovations you plan to undertake in your home must comply with the standards set forth in the Code. The NEC makes available the established safety standards for the installation, maintenance and operation of electrical equipment. While this code is written for professionals, there is a very great deal of crucial information in it for the layman, and this information is available online as well as being available for purchase. It is also important to pay a visit the authority governing electricity and home electrical supply in your area to ascertain whether or not you need a permit or to schedule inspections. Most minor home electrical renovations will not require either, but it is better to be safe than sorry. Now that it’s time to start, it’s also time to get very serious. The most important thing to consider when dealing with home electrical renovations is electrical safety. It is crucial that you avoid direct contact with the electrical supply or current in your home. Failure to do this can result in death by electrocution, as well as less severe shocks, burns or falls. The first and foremost thing to do before starting any job is to make absolutely sure that the electrical supply to your house is turned off by the main switch at the main power source, either the fuse box or, more commonly now, the breaker box. Double check that you’ve turned of the main power source. Triple check it. Then have someone else go downstairs and check it again. Put a sign saying “Do Not Touch” on the box, or better still, lock it—most boxes come equipped for a padlock. Once you’ve made absolutely certain that the power is turned off, it is still wise to use a voltage tester or a continuity tester to test receptacles, switches and outlets JUST TO MAKE SURE! Next, unplug all the appliances you intend to work with.
Then, check all the tools and appliances you will be working with. Make sure they are clean and in good repair. It is especially important to check electrical cords to make sure that they aren’t frayed and that no wires are showing. If you are using fuses, make sure you have the correct amperage fuse for whatever appliance you are repairing. Tools with rubber-coated handles are the safest to use, as they will not act as conductors. The same is true for footwear—wear shoes with rubber soles. It’s also a good idea to have a safety goggles and a pair of safety gloves to wear while you are working. Never touch plumbing pipes when undertaking electrical renovations. Most home electrical systems are grounded through the water pipe system, and touching them could result in an accidental and severe shock. It is also very important to keep your work area absolutely dry and clean. Wear shoes with rubber soles and use tools with rubber handles. If you must work in an area that is damp, stand on a piece of plywood.
Do not use an aluminum ladder, as it can easily conduct electricity from the source to you. Wear safety goggles and protective gloves. Now you’re ready to start your electrical renovations. Beginner projects might include fixing or replacing switches, installing a three-way switch, fixing a lamp socket, and repairing or replacing a damaged electrical cord. Then, as your confidence builds, you can move on to more complicated things such as installing doorbells, ceiling or bathroom fans and ceiling light fixtures. With perseverance and practice, you can move on to major projects involving the larger home appliances such as washers, dryers and air conditioners or working with and installing outside lighting systems for your yard. The sky’s the limit. But before you begin, just run downstairs one more time to make sure that the main power source has been turned off!