Nationwide Electrician Directory
31 Oct 2016

6 Electrical Repairs You Should Never Do Yourself

Electrical shock is very serious. It can make your entire skeleton glow in a brilliant flash of light, after which you slump to the floor with your hair smoking. Or maybe that’s just in the cartoons. In the real world, a good zap is a lot less cool, although it is theoretically possible for your hair to smoke. So what’s the best way to prevent a life-threatening jolt? Calling an electrician, of course. If you don’t like that plan, at least do whatever you can to avoid the following no-nos, and understand that this is NOT a complete list.

1. Mess with the service lugs in a breaker box

First of all, if you don’t know what service lugs are, you shouldn’t be doing anything in your breaker box (service panel) except resetting tripped breakers, if that. If you happen to know that the lugs are the big screw terminals or posts securing the service cables, you should also know that they’re always hot (energized), even after you shut off the main breakers. Obviously, you should stay well away from the cigar-size cables connected to the lugs, too. Definitely not a good smoke.

2. Work on the weatherhead

This is another one for the “don’t even think of it” category. The weatherhead, also called the service mast or periscope, is the metal pole or other structure that connects the electrical service lines leading from the utility power pole to your house. Since this is part of your house, you might be tempted to upright the pole if it’s leaning or tighten a bolt here and there. Can the thought of 200 amps coursing through your body convince you otherwise?

3. Do any wiring with the power on

If you’re a reader of builders’ magazines, you’ve certainly seen photos of someone doing something dangerous without the recommended protective gear, along with the caption: “Don’t do what this guy’s doing.” (And more often than not, the “guy” happens to be the author.) The point is, just because electricians sometimes work with hot wires doesn’t mean it’s safe for you to do it. It’s not safe for them, either.

4. Repair appliances

Appliances are safe as long as you turn off the power or pull the plug, right? Ever heard of a capacitor? It’s a device that stores electricity to help boost the startup (and other functions) on some appliances, especially big ones like air conditioning units. Cutting the power to the appliance doesn’t discharge the capacitors, but a metal tool touching the contacts surely will. Yow.

5. Tinker with electric (or hybrid) cars

On the heels of this year’s auto show—and the many new electric vehicles—keep in mind that the electrical systems in both plug-in and hybrid cars aren’t just complicated beyond your wildest nightmares, they’re also extremely dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.



23 Oct 2016

Generator Repair

Just like anything else, a generator can malfunction or fall into disrepair. However, because they are the item you count on in an emergency, generator repair is extremely important if you want something dependable powering your home when disaster strikes. Keeping your generator in good working order is a dual process of regular maintenance and prompt repair when a problem is noticed. Knowing more about generator repair can give you the performance you need when the chips are down, and peace of mind when they’re not.

Generator Repair: Maintenance and Prevention

Similar to other large devices like air conditioners and furnaces, one of the most important aspects of generator repair is not calling someone when a problem occurs, but before anything goes wrong. By getting your generator inspected annually, you’ll be able to diagnose any problems that might arise in the near future and identify any existing problems before they get bigger. Having you generator inspected is inexpensive, and could save you a lot of money in the long run (and a lot of worry when the lights go out).

If you live in a place where power outages are frequent or harsh weather is an annual inevitability (coincidentally, these are often the same areas), you may use your generator far more frequently than residents in milder environments. Your yearly generator inspection, therefore, might be slightly more expensive because the likelihood of finding a malfunctioning part or component is greatly increased. It is a good idea to call your generator repair person before harsh weather is expected; waiting until the inclement weather season begins will most likely mean a longer wait for service (or a sticky situation if your generator is needed, but can’t perform).

Major Generator Repair and Generator Replacement

Homeowners with a relatively new generator will probably not need to worry about any serious repairs for several years. However, if your generator is more than a decade old and you are regularly spending hundreds of dollars each year on repairs, it might be time for a replacement generator. There are several things to consider about your home, and even your lifestyle, when looking for the perfect generator.

If you’re thinking of upgrading your generated power, remember that anything that makes heat with electricity (electric heat, water heaters, dryers, etc.) uses relatively huge amounts of power compared to other loads. If your house heats with electricity, consider another heat source or be prepared to buy a large generator.

Motors that start under light load (well and septic pumps, many fans) require two to three times the starting power than they do to run while those starting under heavy loads (refrigerators, compressors) may take as much as five times to start. A “rule of thumb”: Allow 2 to 3 KW of generator power per horsepower of electric motor.

Tech-heavy homes should be aware that electronic loads (particularly newer computers) take relatively little power, but that power must be clean and stable (well-regulated voltage and frequency with low harmonics). But computer electronics have properties that produce difficulties for the power source. If you are planning backup power for computer networks the “rule of thumb” is the total electronic load should not exceed 50 percent of the generator’s capacity.



13 Oct 2016

Electrical Panels 101

In your home—in everyone’s homes, in fact—the seat of electrical power takes an unassuming form. Concealed by a nondescript metal door, the breaker box doesn’t look very impressive, but it’s the reason you can turn on the lights, the blender, the air conditioning, and the TV. The breaker box, or service panel, operates as a central relay point: It takes power from the street, then feeds that power to the different electrical outlets and hard-wired appliances throughout your residence.

Most people open the breaker box only when there’s a problem—for example, when a circuit needs to be restored after tripping. And that’s the way it should be. Homeowners are wise to be hands-off with electrical elements, especially those they don’t understand. Make no mistake: The breaker box is dangerous. Hire a licensed electrician if you think the panel needs attention. The goal of this article is merely to explain a bit more about all of those mysterious wires and switches.

Double Pole Service Disconnect
At the top of the breaker box, the switch that’s bigger than the others is commonly referred to as the “main.” (Technically, it’s called the double pole service disconnect.) This is where, after passing through your electricity meter, two hot wires from the utility company hook up to your house. Each wire carries 120 volts. If you were to put this switch into the off position, the electrical current to your house would be broken and your dishwasher would suddenly stop running. Turn the switch back the other way, and your dishwasher—not to mention your refrigerator, home office computer, and bedroom alarm clocks—would come back to life.

Hot Bus Bars
From the main breaker, each one of the two hot lines from the utility company passes into its own bus. To the eye, a bus looks like a regular metal bar. One bus runs vertically along the left side of the panel. The second bus runs vertically along the right side.

Neutral Bus
A third metal bar, the neutral bus, receives the electrical current back again after it has exited the breaker box and flowed throughout your home doing its work.

Circuit Breakers
The circuit breakers straddle the hot bus bars, and if there’s an overload—say, from too many appliances running simultaneously—the affected circuit trips and automatically suspends the electrical current. In addition, circuit breakers serve as the origin points for the wiring that runs to different parts of your home. That’s why there are labels (with the names of rooms or major appliances) next to the individual switches. Each circuit has two hot wires feeding into the breaker, as well as a neutral wire that connects to the neutral bus. Together, these three wires exit the breaker box and go on to provide the juice for their designated circuit.

There are two main types of breakers:

• Single Pole: These consist of one switch, handle 120 volts, and can be either 15 or 20 amps.

• Double Pole: Handling 240 volts with amperage ratings from 15 to 70, these look like two switches joined together.

Hardwired lighting, electrical outlets, and baseboard heaters typically require 15- or 20-amp breakers. Water heaters and dryers are best served with 30 amps. Meanwhile, electric ranges take 40- to 50-amp breakers, and such things as the air conditioning system may be served by an even larger breaker or a subpanel.

The wiring into a breaker must correspond to its amperage. Twelve-gauge wire suits 15- to 20-amp breakers; 8-gauge wire goes with 40- or 60-amp two-pole breakers.

In the maze of wires that inhabits your breaker box, there’s one more to be aware of: the grounding wire. Typically a bare copper wire, it connects the neutral bus to a metal water pipe (or to a metal rod buried in the earth). Grounding prevents currents traveling through frayed wires from carrying on to metal surfaces they weren’t intended to reach.



03 Oct 2016

5 Things You Should Know about Electrical Wiring

The electrical wiring system within any building can look incredibly complex to anyone not well-versed in the way such systems work. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a residential area or in a commercial complex – people are dependent upon power yet know very little about it. Here are some things we thought you should know about electrical wiring in general.

Wiring Codes

Electrical codes seem like a pain, but they were created to help protect both you and your home. The codes, first established in 1891 in New York state, were put in place to ensure that the right type of wiring is used in each area. This reduces the risk of a malfunction or surge in your electrical system – one that could cause damage like electrocution or fire.

Electrical Wiring Color Codes

Electrical wiring comes in different colors for a reason. Each color tells us something specific about the wire and what it is used for. The most common colors are black, red, blue, yellow, green, and bare copper.

  • Black wires indicate that a wire is hot. They usually lead to outlets and switches.
  • Red wires also indicate a hot connection. They’re commonly used with appliances that require a 220 volt connection. They can often be found connected to ceiling fans or hardwired alarms like smoke detectors.
  • Yellow wires and blue wires are also used for hot connections, but they are used in switches that have three or four-way connections. You’ll often see these connected to lights and fans.
  • Bare copper and green wires are usually used to create safe connections during grounding.

There are a few exceptions to the wire color rules. White wires, for example, often indicate something is neutral, but they can also be used as hot wires where an additional is needed. If you use a wire for something other than it’s normal, color-coded purpose you should mark it with a piece of colored electrical tape so that it matches the normal coding.

Aluminum Wiring is Outdated

Older homes were wired with aluminum wiring but today’s codes call for copper wiring. Sadly, many homes built during the Vietnam War timeframe used aluminum because copper was being used by the military. The US Consumer Product Safety Commission estimates, on average, that a home with aluminum wiring has a 50x higher risk of developing a fire hazard issue. If that’s not a reason for an electrical upgrade, we don’t know what is.

Downed Wires are Still Energized

Do not assume that a power line is de-engergized simply because it is down or because the power in your house has gone out. They might be without energy, but they may still be holding a low level of energy. There is also no way of knowing if the power will suddenly kick back on. Your best bet is to stay away from downed wires until the pros arrive on the scene.

Rewiring a Home is a Huge Project

We’re often asked why rewiring the entire electrical system in a home is so expensive. Sadly, if you need your entire house rewired your electrical contractor will have to open up all of your walls in order to get to the old wires, replace them, and reconnect them to your outlets and switches. They they, of course, have to put your home back together again. You can save yourself some cash if you rewire your home during a remodeling project, but if you don’t have one planned and don’t have the budget for a total re-wire, you can help yourself out by making upgrades here and there so that you don’t end up subjecting yourself to a fire hazard.

Wiring can be tricky and messy, but with a talented residential or commercial contractor or electrician on your side you can’t go wrong. Never make an assumption when it comes to your household wiring. Call a pro and get the right answers the first time.



23 Sep 2016

Electrical Basics 101

We depend on electricity to light our homes, turn on our television sets, and even cook our meals. When the power goes out because of a storm, a short circuit, or another problem in the electrical circuit, understanding what the basic components of an electrical system is a must. Do you know what a light switch, an outlet, a range outlet, a dryer outlet, the difference between the cords is, the difference between a 15-amp and a 20-amp outlet, etc… As you can see, the list can go on and on.

Understanding how things work in the electrical system will educate you in the choosing of the appropriate devices needed to safely and effectively power your home and devices. It’s also important to know things like who is responsible for what portion of your electrical service components. The utility company services the line portion of your electrical service, but not the load side. For service after the attachment point, you’ll need to call an electrician. Let’s take a good look at the electrical breakdown to make you more informed of its parts.

1.  Electrical Service Connection

Your homes’ electricity starts with the power service. This is where the electric company connects their wires to your homes’ feeder wires that attach to the meter on your home or power pole. This is the device that measures the amount of electricity your home uses and determines the amount of money the electric company charges you on a monthly basis.

From here your meter either feeds a disconnect switch or a main breaker or fuse panel. A typical home has a single phase service consisting of an “A” phase and a “B” phase, a neutral and a ground wire.

2.  Disconnect Switch

A disconnect switch is mounted on the outside of your home close in proximity to the meter on the outside of your home or power pole. The advantage of having a disconnect switch is for safety. In the event of a fire or flash flood, you can shut the power off from the outside of your home verses having to enter a burning home or a flooded basement.

The other instance is having a transfer switch in which you can switch between live power and a generator for backup power.

3.  Breaker and Fuse Panels

A breaker panel consists of a main breaker that is sized according to your homes’ load needs. Typically, homes have a 100 amp or a 200 amp service.

A main breaker of 100 amps will only allow 100 amps to flow through it without tripping. In a tripped state, no current will flow throughout the panel. It is the interrupt between the service and the branch circuits of the panel.

This main breaker protects the main service wires from damages that would occur given an overload. In that case, the wires would heat up and eventually could cause a fire.

4.  Switches

Switches are the devices that turn on and off lights and fans in your home. These switches come in many different styles and colors to suit your design needs. There are single-pole, three-way, four-way and dimmer switches. Their purpose is to alter the flow of current to your lights and fans in a home.

5.  Outlets

Electrical outlets are used to plug portable devices into. Televisions, lights, computers, freezers, vacuums and toasters are all good examples of devices that can be plugged into an outlet.

Outlets consist of a hot feed, a neutral and a ground. Some outlets are used especially for wet areas.



13 Sep 2016

Electrical 101

Many homeowners are afraid to tackle simple electrical projects – and rightly so. Electrical projects can be intimidating. But jobs like light fixture replacements can be easy and safe. The following offers some basic information every homeowner can benefit from – nothing too scary.


Getting Started

When working with electricity always:

  • Turn OFF electricity at the main fuse box (or the circuit breaker box) that controls the power to the fixture or the room you’re working on.
  • Test the wires to ensure the power is OFF.
  • Place the wall switch in the OFF position.
  • All electrical connections must be in agreement with local codes. Check with local authorities to see if a permit is required.
  • If in doubt, consult a qualified electrician.
  • Do not use bulbs with wattage greater than specified for this fixture (if applicable).

Remove the wall plate and switch mounting screws so the switch can be pulled from the wall and the wires exposed. Don’t touch any of the wires until you’ve confirmed they aren’t carrying electrical current.


Two-and Three-Wire Cables

In contemporary wiring, individual wires run in a sheathed cable. Two-wire with ground and three-wire with ground cables are available. Two-wire with ground cables have a black wire, a white wire and an uninsulated ground. Three-wire with ground cables have a black wire, a white wire, a red wire and an uninsulated ground. Older houses may have knob-and-tube (K&T) wiring-a two-wire system. With this system, individual wires are insulated with white or black treated fabric.

Regardless of the type of wiring in your home, the white wire is usually the neutral wire, the black wire is “hot,” and the exposed copper wires are ground wires. The white wire is sometimes used as a hot wire because some wiring installations require it. In this case, the white wire should be coded black with paint or electrical tape. Note, however, that it is possible that whoever did the wiring may not have coded the wire. If a red wire is present, it should also be hot.


Electrical Switches

A switch is what opens or closes an electrical current to a light fixture, ceiling fan, garbage disposer or other electrical device. There are single-pole, three-way and multi-location switches, double switches and dimmer switches. Switches may be wired at the end or in the middle of a circuit.

If only a single cable enters the box (or one set of black and white wires), the fixture is at the end of the circuit. This is usually, but not always, the situation with ceiling light fixtures. If two cables enter the box (or two sets of black and white wires in older K&T installations), the fixture is in the middle of a circuit. A third cable (or set of black and white wires) may also enter the fixture, depending upon the installation. The placement of the fixture within the circuit affects how it is wired.

The black, or hot wires, are connected to the brass screw terminals on receptacles and switches. The neutral wires are connected to the silver terminals. Ground wires should not be ignored. They should be connected to each other, to the grounding screw terminals (painted green) on receptacles, and to grounding screws in metal electrical boxes when metal boxes are used.

Pigtail Leads

Pigtail Leads

Pigtail leads are short wires which are connected to terminals on receptacles or switches. The leads are then connected to the home wiring using plastic wire connectors. Codes in some areas require that pigtails be used on all standard receptacle connections. Always use pigtails when more than one wire must be connected to a single terminal.



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.







23 Jun 2016

9 Tips for Easier Home Electrical Wiring

Even if you have years of wiring experience, there are always a few tricks you may not know. We worked with two master electricians with decades of experience between them to glean their tips, tricks and techniques. From straightening cable to labeling wires, these tips will help you wire better, faster and neater.

Uncoil Cable Without Kinks

Pulling plastic-sheathed cable through holes in the framing is a lot easier if you straighten the cable out first. If you simply pull the cable from the center of the coil, it’ll kink as you pull it through the studs. The trick is to lift a handful of coils (four loops will reach about 12 ft.) from the center of the roll (left) and toss them across the floor as if you’re throwing a coiled rope. Next, walk along the length of cable, straightening it as you go (right). The electricians we talked to prefer this method because they can keep the cable contained in the plastic wrapper for easier handling and neater storage.

Pack Electrical Boxes Neatly

If you’ve done much wiring, we’re sure you’ve had times when you could barely push the switch or outlet into the box because there were so many wires. The solution is to arrange the wires neatly and then fold them carefully into the box. Here’s how to keep wires neat and compact: First, gather all the bare ground wires along with a long pigtail and connect them. Fold them into the back of the box, leaving the pigtail extended. Next, do the same for the neutral wires. If you’re connecting switches as shown here, you don’t need a neutral pigtail. Leave the hot wire extra long and fold it back and forth across the bottom of the box. Put a wire connector cap on the hot wire to identify it. The neatly packed box makes it easy to identify the wires and leaves you plenty of room for the switches.

Remove Sheathing from Underground Feeder (UF) Cable

Underground feeder (UF) cable has a tough plastic sheathing that allows you to bury it directly in the ground without running it through a conduit (of course, it has to be buried deep enough to satisfy the electrical code). But that tough sheathing is also difficult to remove—unless you know this trick. Start by separating the black and white wires from the bare copper by grabbing each with pliers and twisting (top). They’re easy to tear apart once you get them started. Pull them apart until you have about a foot of separated wires. Next, remove the sheathing from the insulated wires by grabbing the end of the wire with one pliers and the sheathing with another pliers and working them apart. After you get the sheathing separated from the insulated wire at the top, just peel it off (bottom). Repeat the process to remove the sheathing from the black wire. Finally, cut off the loose sheathing with scissors or a knife.

No-Snag Fish Tape Connections

After going to all the trouble of working your fish tape to its destination, the last thing you want is to lose the cable or get your tape stuck on something inside the wall as you pull it back. Here’s how to avoid both problems. Start by stripping an 8-in. length of cable. Using a side cutters, cut off all but one wire. Cut at a steep angle to avoid a “shoulder” that could catch on something. Then bend the single wire around the loop on the end of the fish tape and wrap the whole works with electrical tape to form a smooth bundle. Now you can pull the wire without worrying that it might fall off, and the smooth lump won’t get snagged by or stuck on obstructions.

Identify Roughed-In Wires

Save yourself a lot of headaches by identifying the wires as you install them. It’s a lot harder to figure out which wires go where when they’re covered with drywall. The electricians we talked to use a “code” for marking wires, and so can you. The top photo shows one example. Another method is to use a label (bottom). But by the time you get back to connect switches and outlets, you might find that drywallers, tapers and painters have covered the label or knocked it off. That’s why it’s best to use non-label coding whenever possible. Develop a system and write it down. You’ll never have to guess which are the “line” and “load” and which wires are the travelers for your three-way switch.

Test Wires Before Touching

When you’ve done a lot of wiring, it’s easy to get complacent about whether the power is off. But don’t. Use a noncontact voltage detector to check every wire in the box or area in which you’re working. Always check the tester on a wire or cord you know is live to make sure it’s working before you rely on it. Noncontact voltage detectors are available at home centers, hardware stores and online. The Klein-NCVT-1 tool shown here has a green light that indicates it’s turned on and working—a nice feature that’s well worth the extra money.

Troubleshooting GFCIs

We asked our electrical pros what problems they run into with GFCIs and how to solve them. For starters, we found that most complaints occur when several outlets are protected by one GFCI. There are several possible causes, ranging from a light or appliance with a ground fault that’s plugged into a downstream outlet, to a defective GFCI or even a circuit with too much cable. To determine whether the problem is with the GFCI itself, or downstream, turn off the power to the GFCI and disconnect the wires from the “load” terminals. Push the reset button (if it doesn’t click, you’ll have to reset it after the power is back on) and plug a GFCI tester into the GFCI outlet before you turn the power back on. If the GFCI trips after you turn the power on, replace it. If it holds, then the problem is with one of the downstream outlets. To avoid the timeconsuming process of troubleshooting the “load” outlets, the easiest and best solution is to replace each of them with a new, tamper-resistant GFCI.

Multiple Switches, One Hot Wire

A box with three switches is crowded enough without adding extra wire connectors and pigtails. Here’s a wiring method that eliminates extra connections and creates a neater installation. Instead of running a separate pigtail from the hot wire to each switch, just leave the hot wire extra long. To connect the switches, simply score the wire with your wire stripper and push the insulation to expose about 3/4 in. of bare wire (left). Wrap this bare section at least three-quarters of the way around the screw terminal of the first switch. Repeat the process for the remaining intermediate switches (right). Connect the last switch in the usual manner, looping the wire around the screw in a clockwise direction.

Strip Cable Sheathing First

It’s tempting to push your roughed-in cable through the knockouts in the box and worry about how to strip the sheathing later. But that’s the hard way. It’s much easier to remove the sheathing before you push the wires into the box. The only trick is to make sure you have the cable in about the right spot before marking it (left) and removing the sheathing (right). As long as you don’t have the cable stretched tight, there will be enough “play” to make final adjustments after you’ve inserted the conductors into the box. Remember, the electrical code requires that at least 1/4 in. of sheathing be visible inside the box.