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Common Electrical Mistakes by Homeowners

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Electrical installations and repairs will happen throughout the years and if you are knowledgeable enough, you will attempt some of these electrical fixes yourself. Electrical wiring can be easy enough for the average homeowner, but there are some common mistakes that happen far too often. These common mistakes and blunders can be a safety hazard, and can ultimately cause electrical fires. Don’t become a statistic working with electricity! See how many of these common mistakes are in your home right now. Correcting these problems will give you a safer home and peace of mind. Here are some common mistakes.

1. Wire Straps

A common mistake among electrical do-it-yourselfers is to nail NM wire straps too tightly. When installing NM (Romex) wiring, you must support it securely to the wooden studs by nailing straps around the wire. These straps usually come with two small nails and a plastic wire cover. The straps secure the wire tightly to the stud. This ensures the wire doesn’t hang loosely in the wall channel and so the wire doesn’t get pinched in the wall when drywall is installed.

2. Box Installation Mistakes

Nailing an electrical box in a wall seems simple enough, but too often they are installed too far out of the wall. Extend the face of the box out from the stud plus the thickness of the drywall to be installed. If you’re installing 5/8” drywall on a wall in a living room, the face of the box will need to extend 5/8” out from the face of the stud of the wall. This way, when the drywall is installed, the face of the box and the face of the wall will be flush. If the box that you are installing needs to have an extension ring added, then you’ll mount the box face flush with the wall stud and add the appropriate thickness extension ring that matches the thickness of the drywall that you are installing.

3. Wire Size Mishaps

It seems every day I either hear someone say something about adding an outlet or circuit in a home. This next part always scares me. I see someone holding 14-2 NM wire, which is rated for 15 amps, and this person is going to add an outlet or circuit to a 20-amp breaker or fuse. Wow! The wire is only rated for 15 amps and the fuse or breaker is rated for 20 amps. It makes me cringe every time I hear this. Here it comes... ready? “This wire looks heavy enough for this outlet,” he says. What is he thinking? Would you drive a car that had a wheel falling off and say it should stay on? I don’t think so! Only use wire and devices that are rated for the proper amperage. Your safety depends on it!

4. Fuse Replacement

Here’s another bonehead electrical move that is as dangerous as they come. The fuse keeps blowing every time you replace it or the breaker continues to keep tripping after you reset it. After a few times, frustration sets in, and you decide to replace the fuse or breaker with a larger size. No, no, no! Never do this! Breakers and fuses are designed to protect the wire ampacity rating and the devices and appliances that they are connected to. By connecting the wrong ampacity wire to a fuse or breaker that is too large, overheating of the wire can occur and this can cause a fire. The reason for the breaker tripping or the fuse blowing is because there is a problem in the circuit wiring and this should be addressed at once!

5. Light Bulbs

Everyone that I know has been guilty of this at one time or another. Most incandescent light bases in your home require that you use 60-watt bulbs. A wattage limit is posted next to the socket for safety purposes. The problem arises when a 100-watt bulb is screwed into the socket. Yes, the bulb fits just fine in the socket and it lights just likes the 60-watt bulb, but brighter. So what’s the problem? This bulb uses more power and gets much hotter than the 60-watt bulb. The socket contacts are not designed for this extra load and as a result, the base will get hotter. This in effect can cause the base to overheat and potentially cause a fire. For your safety, always use the recommended wattage bulb in any light fixture.

6. Wire Connections in a Box

When making a connection in a junction box, the length of wire in a box is important. The general rule of thumb is to install six inches of wire in a box in order to have enough to make proper connections. You need enough wire to strip, connect and fold over a connection in a box. Have enough wire left over in the box so you don’t have to stretch wires to connect them and so you’ll have enough left in the box to strip the wire and still have enough to connect it again. On the other hand, having too much wire in a box can be just as bad. In this case, when you try to jam too much wire in the box and install devices in the same box, there is always the chance that the wires could get damaged and short out.

7. Loose Wire Connections

This one will be hard to believe. It amazes me that someone would strip a conductor and wrap another wire around it to make a connection. This is just inviting an electrical fire. Connections of wires should be made with wire nuts and twisted together. Loose connections on switches and outlets pose another problem. When tightening a wire around a terminal screw on a device, bend the stripped wire in a half-moon shape and put the open end towards the right. Tighten the screw in a clockwise motion until tight. This will draw the copper around the screw, thus closing the loop tighter. If you have the open end the other way, the half moon will actually open up a bit, causing the connection to not be as secure.

8. Loose Connections in Panels

Check the neutral and breaker connections in your panel to be sure they are tight. In this case, be sure to turn off the breakers before you begin. Safety first! A loose neutral will cause flickering lights and has been know to cause dim lighting in homes. Loose connections under breakers will cause the circuit to heat up and sometimes trip the breaker. This too can cause flickering of lights.

9. Proper Wires Connected to Terminals

Please take time and examine any connections that you make. Connecting a wire to the wrong terminal can cause electrical problems. This is a common mistake and it can be avoided by knowing the following. The hot wire of a circuit connects to the brass colored screw of an outlet. Look at the face of the outlet and look for the smaller slot. This is the connection side for the hot wire. The neutral wire connects to the silver terminal that will be on the side of the longer slot of the outlet. The ground wire is simple. It connects to the green screw and can never be mistaken for the other two. It is the rounded hole of the outlet and this connection is usually either on the top or bottom of the outlet.

10. Overloading Outlets

Everyone has been guilty of this one. It may be Christmas dinner, Christmas tree lights, or just the entertainment center wiring nightmare. The hardware and electronic stores have these nifty multi-outlet circuit extenders that seem to provide an outlet for half of the house. The only problem is that the circuit can only handle 20 amps. Every appliance in your home needs its own circuit, so spread out the electrical load. Appliances like a dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers, washers, window air conditioners, and garbage disposals all draw a lot of power and need their own supply. If a freezer and a refrigerator are on the same circuit, the load is too great and the breaker can trip. The contents can then spoil and cost you plenty.

11. Overloading a Drop Cord

Using a drop cord for a load that it isn't rated for can cause it to get smoking hot! This is a great way to start an electrical fire. If you must use a drop cord on a heavy load appliance, use an appliance drop cord that is rated for the proper ampacity. They are a little more expensive than the cheap one you bought at the dollar store, but safety is what we’re looking for here. The overloaded drop cord is most popular during the Christmas season. I know there are a few Clark Grizzwalds out there that have a million and one Christmas lights in and around their homes. This is the house that looks like an alien spaceship landed in their front lawn. This is the house that makes the utility company smile from ear to ear.
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