DIY (and Don't DIY) Electrical Repairs
Know which electrical projects are safe and which are best left to a pro
By Kimbra Cutlip
Changing cover plates and lightbulbs is easy enough for anyone to do. But a handy homeowner can also take on other electrical tasks with just a few precautions. However, there are other tasks that should be left to professionals. Before you begin, always turn off the breaker that serves the circuit on which you are working. If in doubt, turn off the whole house with the main circuit breaker.
DO: Change a Light Fixture
New, updated light fixtures spruce up an outdated room. Changing them is as simple as disconnecting the old fixture and reconnecting the wires to the new one. An assistant that helps hold a heavy light fixture in place is a welcome addition.
DO: Replace an Old Receptacle
As receptacles wear out, they can loosen. Eventually they will be unable to hold a plug, and you will need to replace them.
DO: Change a Switch or Install a Dimmer
Flickering lights can mean an old, worn-out light switch. You can replace a worn one, or change out a standard switch for a dimmer.
DO: Change an Existing Ceiling Fan
Ceiling fan boxes need to be securely fastened into ceiling joists. An experienced homeowner can do this, but if you're new at it, stick to replacing an existing fan only. Hire an electrician to install a new one.
DON'T: Alter Wiring in the Walls
Hire an electrician to trace out your circuits and repair, replace or install wiring that will be covered by walls. If you do your own wiring, have a certified electrician inspect it before you cover it with drywall.
DON'T: Install Hard-Wired Appliances
Leave it to an electrician to install ranges, dishwashers and other appliances that cannot simply be plugged in to an outlet. Loose or improperly made connections create fire hazards and are a common cause of household fires. These special appliances often require 220 voltage outlets as opposed to the standard 110 voltage service to the rest of the house. They also require higher capacity circuit breakers.
DON'T: Replace a Circuit Breaker
Working in your electrical panel poses a shock hazard and should always be left to an experienced electrician unless you are handy with electrical circuits and you have a basic understanding of the wiring process.
DON'T: Splice Between Junction Boxes
Never splice wires between junction boxes. This is the first safety precaution most budding electricians learn because it may result in a fire within a wall. A single length of wire should run from outlet to outlet or from outlet to switch or from switch to light fixture.
About the Author
A former science writer for the Smithsonian Institution, Kimbra Cutlip is also the co-owner of a remodeling company specializing in energy efficient sustainable building and solar hot water systems.
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