Electrical work can be a dangerous aspect of DIY home improvement. Follow these 10 tips for best safe practices when working around all things electrical.
Analyze Your Home’s Electrical System Every home differs in layout and design, and the electrical system is no different. Learn how yours is laid out, including the number of circuits you have, what the amps are, and your system’s available load capacity. Figure out which breakers trip which circuits and label them clearly. Knowing how to navigate your electrical system helps to correctly identify problems and allows you to work more safely.
Review the Safety Codes in Your Area Electrical work is regulated by Federal, state, and local safety codes, including acceptable practices, material requirements, as well as permits and licenses. Find out exactly what codes are relevant to your area, and follow them carefully to pass any future inspections.
GFCI Outlets for Power Tools When using power tools, plug them into a grounded outlet. GFCI outlets are usually found near sources of water, such as decks and patios, bathrooms, kitchens and laundry rooms. In the event of an electrical short or overload, the GFCI outlet will trip the circuit and shut off the power to prevent electrical shock or fires. Always Test Wires before Work You know to shut off circuits at the breaker before you begin work on any home wiring, but it’s equally important to test the wire before you touch it. Sometimes the breaker is mislabeled, and you’ve shut off the wrong one. Sometimes the breaker fails, and the current is still active. Electric wire testers are inexpensive and available at any hardware store. Use one of these devices as an additional precaution every time you work on your home’s wiring.
Keep Extension Cords Short Extensions cords can be handy, but extremely long cords have their own hazards. They get caught on obstacles and can cause those obstacles to topple over. Furthermore, all the snags and catches can cause the cord to bend, kink, wear or get crushed, all of which causes damage that can lead to sparks and fires. Use the shortest cord possible for each job and keep them all under 100 feet.
Cut Into Walls Slowly Even if you think you know what lies behind the space you’re cutting into, proceed slowly. There could be hidden pipes, wires or circuits of any kind behind that wall, so be careful and make shallow cuts until you can breach inside the cavity and inspect the wall’s interior construction.
Avoid Pipes Plumbing and gas lines are routed through floors, ceilings and walls just along like the electrical wires, and many utilities are often run through the same areas to save space. Just as you should proceed carefully to avoid wires, make sure you avoid any nearby pipes, which can be easily damaged by tools.
Consider Using Tools with Insulated Grips Tools that have insulated grips look and function like ordinary tools but have a handle that will protect you from electrical shock. If you plan on working with wiring on a regular basis, they can be smart investment in keeping you safe.
Work with Safety Devices Power tools can occasionally fail, and in some cases that failure can cause a shock or even start a fire. One precautionary measure is plug your tools into an electrical safety box when working. If your tool trips the device, it should be serviced by a professional to determine the problem before you continue to use it.
Know When to Call a Pro Electrical work often falls into a gray area for the DIY skill-set with some jobs being fairly simple and others requiring serious training and instruction. Many homeowners choose to do their own wiring, then have a licensed electrician oversee the final connection to the service panel. Others may feel comfortable installing a single light fixture, but call a professional for major projects like kitchen remodels that require routing new wires and installing new appliance outlets. Don’t be afraid to ask for help when working around potentially dangerous electrical wiring. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.