Nationwide Electrician Directory
23 Jul 2016

You’ll Need an Electrician for These 4 Projects

Most electrical projects are not DIY.

Most homeowners should never attempt DIY electrical work, unless you already have experience in the electrical field. Electricity is extremely complicated and dangerous.

An amateur electrical job may cause poor wire connections, overloaded circuits and faulty grounding, which could be hazardous to the safety of your home and your loved ones.

Licensed electricians must undergo extensive training and keep up to date with the latest electrical codes. Instead of risking it, call a professional for help if you’re experiencing signs of a home electrical problem or want to upgrade your home’s electricity capacity. Here are four common services an electrician can provide (and one electrical project you can probably tackle yourself):

Circuit breaker upgrades

Electrical panels provide electricity to your whole home. As you upgrade the appliances, you sometimes need to also upgrade the electrical service panels to adequately supply them with power. Old breaker boxes can cause flickering lights, blown fuses and more.

Hire an electrician to upgrade your circuit breaker panel, especially if you’re adding new living space or if your home is old and the electricity is acting up. The job is extremely complicated and should never be attempted by an amateur.

Adding outlets, GFCI receptacles, USB ports

An electrician can install additional outlets in your home or convert any of the ones you have to GFCIs (ground fault circuit interrupter). Often, electrical code requires that at least one outlet in your bathroom and kitchen is a GFCI outlet, which are designed to shut off power if water comes in contact with the electricity or the load of electricity becomes unbalanced, preventing a shock. However, many older homes do not have this feature. It’s also important that outdoor outlets are GFCI equipped.

Call an electrician to install a GFCI plug. Improper grounding can result in fire or loss of power. Additionally, if you need extra outlets, your electrician can install those for you. Adding outlets requires cutting into the wall and replacing part of the wiring. Never attempt to do this on your own.

If you need more charging space for your family’s electronics, consider converting an existing outlet to one with built-in USB ports.

Outdoor lighting

If you want to install ambient or security lighting in the outdoors, you should call in an electrician. An electrical contractor can help you thread wiring to the outside if there was none before.

He or she will ensure that the wiring is properly grounded for the outdoors. In addition, an electrician can help you choose lighting that’s rated for the outdoors so it will withstand the elements.

Replacing light fixtures

Generally speaking, a homeowner can replace light fixtures. However, there are a few instances where you should bring in professional help.

First, check the amperage of the circuit and the wattage of the new fixture. If the amperage isn’t high enough to cover the wattage of your new light, you will need an additional wire run from your circuit breaker. It’s best to hire a licensed and qualified electrician for such a task.

A couple of other considerations before you dig into this lighting project: Many older homes don’t have high-temperature insulation, which is required by many ceiling lights and fans. In addition, the ceiling mounting needs to be strong enough to support the fixture.

An electrician can help you with any of these concerns, which you might not be able to tackle on your own.

DIY project: Installing switches and outlet covers

Installing light switches and outlet covers requires little knowledge of electrical work. Replacing outlet covers simply takes a screwdriver — just make sure you turn the power off to that part of the house before you get started.

DIY homeowners can also install switches with a little know-how. There are plenty of tutorials and how-tos online. Again, it’s important to turn off the power beforehand to avoid an electric shock.

If you don’t feel comfortable replacing a switch yourself, call in an electrician. It’s better to spend the money and get the job right and safely. When it comes to electrical work, you don’t want to mess around. An amateur job can have disastrous consequences. When in doubt, leave it to the pros.


13 Jul 2016

Installing an Electrical Outlet Anywhere

Adding receptacles isn’t overly complicated, but there are facts you should know in order to stay safe and code compliant. Longtime electrician Rune Eriksen shares his advice, tips and handy techniques to help you deal with wiring scenarios you may encounter.

Make a Starter Hole with a Screwdriver

Drywall keyhole saws are often called “jab saws” because they can be used to jab through drywall to start a hole. But our expert finds that he damages less drywall when he makes a couple of starter holes in opposite corners with a skinny, flat head screwdriver. When you’re cutting, let the saw do the work. Over-aggressive sawing can tear the paper on the back side, which will weaken the drywall significantly. It’s important to stay inside the lines; a hole that’s too big will be unusable. If a hole ends up too small, you can carve away at the edges with a utility knife.

Find the Wall Cavity with a Clothes Hanger

When you’re pulling power up from an unfinished basement, a simple way to figure out where to drill the hole for the new cable is to drill a small “finder” hole near the base of the wall and stick a length of wire clothes hanger down through the hole. Our expert uses a wire cutter to make a 45-degree cut and actually uses the cut end to do the drilling. The hanger will bore through carpeting, hardwood floors, subfloor and even drywall. If you’re going into the attic, poke the hanger through, and then go downstairs and measure over about 3-1/2 in. (3/4-in. quarter round, 1/2 in. base trim, 1/2-in. drywall and half the width of a 2×4 = 3-1/2 in.). That’s where to drill your new hole. Patching the finder hole is a piece of cake. The same trick works when pulling power from the attic. Just drill up into the attic where the wall intersects the ceiling. Because there’s no trim, measure over only 2-1/4 in. from the hanger instead of 3-1/2 in. If you run out of wire hangers, go to your local dry cleaner, because most stores only sell plastic ones these days.

Strip Cables Before Pulling Them

It’s a lot easier to remove the sheathing from the cables before you install the box. Make sure there’s at least 1/4 in. of the sheathing pulled inside the box beyond the cable clamp. And at least 6 in. of wire should be left in the box, measured from the front edge of the box opening. After the box is installed, bend the end of the wires using the hole on your wire stripper.

Cut Holes in Tile with a Rotary Tool

A rotary tool is a great, safe way to cut through tile. Set the depth of the tile-cutting bit shallow to avoid hitting plumbing or wires in the wall cavity. Whenever possible, use grout lines for two sides of the hole because they’re much easier to cut through. Drill starter holes in two opposite corners with a glass-and-tile drill bit.

“Old Work” Boxes

There are several kinds of “old work” boxes, sometimes called “remodel” boxes. Some are easier to find than others (but all are available online), and some are easier to install and more durable (details below). Instead of being nailed to a stud, “old work” boxes are clamped onto the drywall. Here are a few of the most common styles.

This tough fiberglass box is a favorite of many contractors although it’s a bit more expensive (top). They like it because the rugged clamping system is much more secure than that of cheaper styles. These boxes aren’t always available at home centers, but you can find them at electrical supply stores. Or search online for “Carlon 70108.” Choose this style if the outlet gets a lot of use.

This PVC box is the least expensive (middle) and most readily available, but it’s also the flimsiest. Some pros complain that the clamping tabs aren’t strong enough and the screws strip out the plastic.

This fiberglass box is a good choice. It’s reasonably priced (bottom), available at many home centers and stronger than the PVC version.

Fold Wires Into the Box

Our expert connects all the wires together and then runs short individual wires (pigtails) to the receptacle. Pigtails also ensure that the rest of the circuit remains energized downstream even if this receptacle fails. Try to fold all the wires as neatly as you can and push them into the back of the box. Cramming receptacles into a crowded box can result in loose connections and damaged wire insulation, which can cause a fire.

Use the Same Gauge Wire

If you’re pulling wire from a circuit that has 12-gauge wire, don’t install 14-gauge wire to the new receptacle or vice versa. The new receptacle should be wired with the same gauge wire as the source.

Trim Metal Supports

Our expert prefers working with the “old work” boxes with metal flanges. They provide more support than the boxes with flipout wings. One drawback of these boxes is they aren’t made for thicker walls. So when you need to add a receptacle to a wall with drywall and thick wainscoting, we recommend cutting about 3/4 in. off both metal flanges with aviator snips before installing it. Make straight cuts or the box will end up crooked in the hole.

Where to Get Power

When you’re choosing which circuit to add on to, the ease of pulling the wire to the new receptacle will likely be the most important factor. Here are some acceptable options.

DO add on to these circuits:

  • General-purpose receptacle circuits in living areas, attics and unfinished basements.
  • Light switch and light fixture locations where unswitched 120-volt power is available.
  • Smoke detector locations.

You can’t add on to just any circuit in your house. Here are some circuits you definitely want to avoid.

DON’T add on to these circuits:

  • Dedicated kitchen, bathroom and laundry circuits.
  • Individual circuits for motor-operated appliances like garbage disposers, refrigerators, furnaces, dishwashers and trash compactors.
  • Circuits for specialty appliances like microwave ovens.
  • A box with too many wires.

AFCI Protection for the Whole Circuit

When you’re pulling power from a source other than a receptacle (such as a light fixture or smoke detector), the new cable and receptacle will need to be arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) protected. If there are no receptacles upstream where you could install an AFCI-type receptacle, you have no choice but to protect the entire circuit by installing an AFCI circuit breaker at the panel.

Install an AFCI Receptacle at the Source

Newer electrical codes require arc-fault circuit interrupter (AFCI) protection for all branch circuits supplying receptacles, switches, light fixtures, smoke detectors, etc., in essentially all locations in the dwelling except bathrooms, basement storage areas and garages. AFCI circuit breakers and receptacles are designed to detect dangerous, abnormal arcing in branch circuits and cut off the power before a fire can start.

When you pull power from an existing receptacle for a new receptacle, the electrical code requires AFCI protection for both the existing wiring and the new wiring. The easiest way to do this is to install an AFCI receptacle at the first receptacle outlet of the existing circuit. The AFCI receptacle will provide downstream protection for the majority of the existing circuit and the new extended wiring too.

Install Tamper-Resistant Receptacles

Tamper-resistant receptacles are designed to help prevent children from shoving a metal object into an outlet. Tamper-resistant receptacles are now required at all indoor and outdoor locations for dwelling units.



03 Jul 2016

How to Replace or Install a Light Switch

An argument could be made that light switches are among the most important energy-saving tools in our homes because they allow us to easily turn off lights when lighting isn’t needed.

Here we look at how to install or replace light switches. Why might you want to do this? For starters, light switches wear out because of their frequent use. When they wear out, they don’t work or, worse, they give off sparks. A light switch that gives off sparks is a fire and shock hazard and should be replaced immediately. (Because common light switches are relatively inexpensive (typically less than $10), it doesn’t pay to try to fix a broken one. Instead, you just replace it.)

reason for replacing a light switch is better functionality. As discussed in the Light Switches Buying Guide, light switches have come a long way in recent years. Today, options include dimmers, motion-sensing switches, timers, central lighting controls—and more. Any one of these options may perform much better at a given location than a conventional (“single-pole”) light switch.  (You can’t, however, replace a single-pole switch with another type that requires more wires, such as a three-way switch.)

For information on wiring a three-say switch, see How to Wire a Three-Way Light Switch. If you want to convert to a dimmer switch, please see How to Install a Dimmer Switch.

Appearance is yet another reason for switching switches. Quite simply, new light switches can add a contemporary look to a room.

How to Replace a Single-Pole Light Switch

If a switch doesn’t work, first make sure the problem is with the switch and not the light or device it’s supposed to power. Put a new bulb into the light fixture or plug a working lamp or other appliance into the switch-controlled receptacle to make sure the switch is faulty.

When you replace a switch, make sure you check the amp and voltage ratings on the back of the old switch. The new switch should have the same ratings. If you have aluminum wiring (the metal part of the wires looks silvery), be sure to get a replacement switch marked “CO/ALR.” Unmarked or CU/AL switches should be replaced with CO/ALR switches. Here is how to replace or install an old single-pole light switch with new one:

1After shutting off the power to the switch, use a screwdriver to remove the plastic faceplate and to unscrew the existing switch from the electrical box. Pull the switch outward without touching any bare wires. Use an electrical tester to check the wires that go to the existing switch (or the new wires that are intended for the switch) so you can be sure they are not active. Place one probe on the bare ground wire inside the box and touch the other probe on each of the wired screw terminals of the switch or the bare end of the black wire that will carry electricity to the switch. No voltage should register.

Use a small flat-bladed screwdriver to release the wires.©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Use a small flat-bladed screwdriver to release the wires.

2.) Once you’re sure the power is off to the switch, use the screwdriver to remove the existing switch (if there is one) from its wires. If the wires are connected to terminal screws, turn the screws counterclockwise to loosen them and unhook the wires. If the wires are pushed into terminal holes in the back of the switch, push a very small flat-bladed screwdriver into the slot next to the screw connection holes to release the wires.

3.) Straighten or, if necessary, clip off the very ends of the circuit wires you will be connecting to the switch. Use wire strippers to remove 1/2-inch of insulation from the wire ends unless the ends are already stripped.

Wire nut, twisted onto the bare ends of stripped wires, makes a solid connection.©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Wire nut, twisted onto the bare ends of stripped wires, makes a solid connection.

4.) Loosen the green grounding terminal screw on the switch and, using needle-nose pliers, loop the bare or green grounding wire from the circuit clockwise around it, and tighten the screw to lock the wire in place. Note: If the switch has its own grounding wire, twist the bare end together with the circuit’s grounding wire, using lineman pliers, and secure it with a copper compression sleeve or wire nut. Note: If you are using a metal box, include a grounding wire “jumper” from the ground wire connections to the box.

5.) If the switch has terminal screws, loop the circuit wires clockwise around the terminal screws in the same fashion and tighten the screws. . It does not matter which wire goes to which terminal. If the switch only has push-in terminal holes in the back, make sure that 1/2 inch of insulation is stripped from the end of each circuit wire, straighten each tip with lineman’s pliers, and push the wires into the terminal holes (again, note the brass and silver sides of the switch). Wiggle all the wire connections to make sure they are secure.

Note: If the new switch has short wires coming out of its body, use lineman’s pliers to twist together the bare end of the green wire clockwise with the circuit’s green or bare ground wire, and then secure the connection with a wire nut. Then join the bare ends of the switch’s wires to the circuit wires, twisting clockwise, and secure them with wire nuts. Wiggle the wires to make sure the connections are secure.

Mount the switch right side up.©Don Vandervort, HomeTips

Mount the new switch right side up.

6.) Mount the switch right side up. First, fold the wires behind the switch and carefully push the switch into the box. Next, align the switch vertically by adjusting the screws in the mounting slots. Also make sure the switch is flush with the wall. If it isn’t, shim it out using the break-off portions of the switch’s plaster ears or use special washers sold for shimming purposes. Screw the switch to the box.

7.) Screw the faceplate to the switch using the screws included with the faceplate. Then turn the circuit back on. If the light still doesn’t work, the problem is in the wiring or the light fixture.