Five Potentially Dangerous Mistakes Made By Electrical DIY-ers

Posted: August 17, 2019

This year marks a significant cultural milestone. It was 25 years ago that a small home improvement channel first started broadcast operations under the name of Home, Lawn, and Garden Channel – a moniker that was subsequently shortened to HGTV. In its quarter century, HGTV has launched the careers of countless household names. But more significantly, it spawned an entire generation of Do It Yourself-ers.

One thing that even the most hardcore DIYer learns very early on is that thing they see being done on TV is a lot more complicated in real time and space. Moreover, when it comes to electrical work, while most jobs are within the capabilities of your average joe, mistakes can happen. These mistakes, which can result in short circuits, electric shock or electrocution, and house fires. In fact, the Electrical Safety Foundation International, (EFSI) notes that in the US, there is an estimated average of 400 electrocution and 70 electrocution fatalities each year associated with consumer products.

On top of that, a 2017 report released by the National Fire Protection Association stated that between 2012 and 2064, 18% of home fires were caused by electrical failure or malfunction. All the more reason for homeowners to leave wiring to the pros. The words “licensed and insured” aren’t meaningless adjectives.

We’ve done some research and came up with a list of five common mistakes that DIYers make when handling their own wiring jobs.

1 - CUTTING WIRES TOO SHORT



First time DIYers forget that wire insulation has to be stripped. Usually this leads to them cutting wires too short. Wires that are too short at a junction can sometimes cause poor connections which are potentially hazardous. Here’s a good rule of thumb. When cutting wires leave about three to six inches of slack from outside the junction box. If you find that your wires are too short, LifeHacker recommends using push-in connectors to splice in an extra wire.

2 - WIRING CONNECTIONS OUTSIDE OF ELECTRICAL BOXES



Electrical boxes, junction boxes, and boxes to protect wiring aren’t just there for show. These boxes exist to make sure that connections are contained. They protect wiring from outside damage and keep sparks from loose connections from igniting drywall. Always make sure that your wires are protected at the connection point with an electrical or junction box.

3 - CHOOSING AN ELECTRICAL BOX THAT IS TOO SMALL FOR THE JOB



Electrical boxes come in different sizes for a reason. An electrical box size should be dictated by the number of wires that the box will be needed to protect. Too many wires shoved into a box puts the box at risk for overheating, short-circuiting, and (a worse case scenario), fire. Choose a box with proper volume for the amount of wires it will be required to hold. Plastic boxes have volume stamped inside. Steel boxes usually aren’t labeled. Do some research online first. Then make sure you speak with a knowledgeable sales person before making your purchase.

4 - LEAVING CABLE UNPROTECTED



Just because your cable is inside a wall doesn’t mean that it’s being protected from sharp objects. Molly bolt anchors, dry wall screws that don’t hit the stud, and picture hanging nails can potentially nick the insulation on cables leaving wires exposed and present a fire hazard. A flexible plastic or rigid metal conduit that contains wires is a quick and easy fix to this problem.

 5 - IMPROPERLY INSTALLING A GFCI OUTLET



Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) outlets are a must in bathrooms, kitchens or anywhere that’s near a water source. They protect lethal shocks by shutting off power with the slightest sense of a difference in current. But they only work when they’re installed properly. A GFCI outlet has two pairs of terminals, one for the line (incoming power), and one for load - which provides protection. Mix up the terminals and the shock protection function won’t work.

DIY SAFETY TIPS



EFSI recommends that you hire a licensed electrician to perform electrical work in your home. But if you’re an intrepid and experienced DIYer who feels up-to-the challenge, you should consider the following safety tips outlines by EFSI before embarking on any home electrical project.

  • Get to know your home electrical system so that you can safely navigate and maintain it.

  • Don’t take on projects that are beyond your skill level. Knowing when to call a professional may help prevent electrical fires, injuries, and fatalities.

  • Always turn off the power to the circuit that you plan to work on by switching off the circuit breaker in the main service panel.

  • Without exception, unplug any lamp or appliance before working on it.

  • Test the wires before you touch them to make sure that the power has been turned off.

  • Never touch plumbing or gas pipes when performing a do-it-yourself electrical project.



DIY-ing can be a fun hobby and even save you a few bucks. But nothing can beat the peace of mind of having something potentially hazardous like electricity handled by a licensed and insured professional

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