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Wiring for the Home
Electrical Renovations: Wiring for the Home - How to flip the switch on electrical savings
Beyond changing a fuse or flipping a circuit breaker switch back to its “on” position after it trips and the power has gone off somewhere in the house right in the middle of something really important that uses electricity, most of us are totally petrified by the unapproachable mystery that constitutes the electrical wiring systems in our homes.
Home electrical wiring can be a difficult and scary thing if you don’t know what you’re doing While it is absolutely vital to acquire the correct information regarding electrical wiring for the home, once you are armed with the basics on electrical wiring systems, the do-it-yourselfer can successfully tackle common electrical wiring projects with ease, including connecting electrical wires together to repair shorts, changing circuit breakers or fuses and moving on to such jobs as rewiring small household appliances and installing or modifying a fuse or circuit breaker box.
There are a couple of general areas to learn about – the basics of how electricity works in general and how it gets into our homes. It is also an excellent idea to completely familiarize yourself with your home’s individual electrical system. Electricity is actually a fairly simple phenomenon. An electrical current runs along a circuit whenever it is called upon to do so. The circuit consists of a wire loop along which the electricity travels from a source to an outlet and back again. Switches interrupt the flow of the current. Amps, watts and volts, those three confusing terms, each have their own role to play. The current is measure in amperes, or amps. The amps are moved along the circuit by pressure. This pressure is the wattage. Wattage is measured in volts. The more voltage there is, the more pressure there is and this results in a stronger current. This in turn supplies more power to a given electrical implement.
In North America, electrical appliances are powered either by 120 or 240 volts, a standard established by the National Electrical Code. Light bulbs and small home appliances like sewing machines and toasters fall into the 120 volt category, while larger, more powerful appliances, such as washing machines and dryers, water heaters and air conditioners use 240 volts. The electrical supply to households originates at generators, which are powered by water, oil, gas, coal or nuclear energy. It is pumped out of the generators at a very high voltage and sent to major distribution centers. There the voltage is reduced, split and sent along to neighborhood substations, where it continues along either overhead or buried cables. Individual homes are connected to these cables through a residential service conductor on the outside of the house. This is in turn connected to the internal main power supply source – either a circuit breaker box, or in older homes, a fuse box. From this source the electricity is routed to the various receptacles and outlets throughout the house. Before beginning any work with your electrical wiring system, make an electrical “map” of your home. These are time-consuming to prepare, but will prove useful over and over again.
Use a sheet of paper for each floor and draw a rough sketch of the walls and rooms. Indicate every receptacle, switch and permanent light fixture. Mark the positions of the major appliances. Make sure a light or other small appliance is on in every room. Next, go to the main power source for the house and remove the fuses or trip the breaker switches in order to ascertain which element controls which electrical outlets. Label and number the breakers or fuses according to the interrupted service and note the number on the map. Wiring for the home is most familiar in light switches, lamps, receptacles (outlets for the plug) and permanent ceiling fixtures for lights and fans. With proper care and a healthy respect for the electrical system you are working with, projects involving any of these can be easily undertaken by most people. One thing to ascertain before any repairs or renovations begin is whether or not they will require a permit or inspections. Check with your local electrical supply authority. Almost all home repairs will not, but some major ones might and it is always best to know. In addition, any repairs and especially any major renovations to the electrical system in your home must comply with the standards set out in the most recent edition of the National Electrical Code. While ostensibly written for professional electricians, the Code is accessible and can be easily understood by the layman as well. It is available for purchase or for use in libraries.
Electrical safety is always and forever the most crucial thing to consider when working with electricity. Before beginning any electrical wiring work in the home, turn off the entire electrical supply for the whole house at the main power source (fuse or breaker box). Failure to do this could tragically result in serious shocks, burns, falls or in the very worst-case scenario, death by electrocution. The current in your home is by far powerful enough to cause any of these tragic accidents to occur. Double and triple-check to make sure the power is turned off, and as an extra precaution, lock the power source door; most come equipped to use a padlock for exactly this purpose. Check the suggestions for prevention of these incidents in the National Electrical Code as well.
There are some other important safety rules to follow. Make sure your work area is clean and absolutely dry. If you are working in an area that is damp or water is often used such as a basement, bathroom or kitchen, stand on a piece of plywood. Wear proper clothing, including rubber-soled shoes or workboots, safety gloves and some sort of eye protection, such as goggles. Don’t use an aluminum ladder, as it will serve as an excellent conductor of electricity. Make sure that your tools are in good repair and have rubber handles or grips. Make sure that the appliances you will be working with have cords that are not frayed or showing any exposed wires. Unplug the appliances you plan to repair. Don’t touch any nearby water pipes, as the wires in your home are grounded through them, and shock can occur. Make sure that the proper designation of fuse or breaker goes in the right slot, or shorting out and shocks may be the result. Repairs and renovations to the electrical wiring systems of your home need not involve a lot of expensive equipment. Of course, it is always wise to invest in the best tools you can afford, as they are safer and last longer, but you don’t have to become a complete tool junkie and buy the most expensive example just because it is the most expensive one. There are some basic things that you need, but once you have them, you can undertake almost any electrical chore that might arise.
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 a flat-head and Phillips screwdrivers of various sizes. The actual electrical supplies needed are also, if not inexpensive, reasonably priced. They include electrical 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. Another couple of important and safety-oriented implements to add to an electrical toolbox are the voltage tester and the continuity tester. The voltage tester is one more safeguard to make absolutely certain that the main power source has been turned off before beginning repairs. It consists of a small box, with two wire probes extending from it. It has no power of its own, but it is used to test receptacles to see if the power at that receptacle is indeed shut off. The probes are inserted into the receptacle slots; if there is an electrical current still flowing, a neon light in the bulb comes on.
Continuity testers are used simply to find out if an electrical appliance or device, like a switch or receptacle, is working. They are battery operated, with a clip and probe system. The clip is attached to one side of the item to be tested, and the probe is touched to the other side, completing a circuit. If the tester lights up, the appliance works. While neither of these are absolute necessities for the home electrician, they are very useful additions which further ensure safety and efficiency. It is important to make sure the power is turned off before using either device. Armed with the necessary information and the basic tools and electrical supplies and a healthy dose of respect for electricity in general, the home repairman should soon have the confidence needed to work with electrical wiring for the home so that the first impulse when a short occurs or something needs a minor repair will be to check it out personally before calling in a professional electrician.