Important Safety Considerations For Amateur Electricians

Electrical repairs and upgrades can be dangerous, even fatal, to both an amateur electrician and their family members. However, if all electrical work is performed with complete knowledge of and adherence to basic safety rules, it can be as safe as any other home improvement tasks.

What are the major safety considerations when performing electrical repairs?

All power must be turned off to an area where work will be performed

This is the primary safety rule in electrical work. The only way to be certain that the power is turned off before you begin is to follow a few simple steps.  If you are working inside the breaker box adding or replacing and individual breaker, you will need to turn off the main breakers to the entire home. These main breakers may be located at the top of the breaker panel, or in a separate location inside or outside the home. If you will be working on a circuit that is powered from the breaker box, you must turn off the breaker that controls the flow of power to the area in which you will be working.

You will first need to be certain that the breaker that you choose is the correct one. There is a list of the individual breakers and the areas of the home that they control on the inside of the breaker box panel door. However, this list may be wildly inaccurate, with individual circuits snaking through various rooms and floors inside the home. To be absolutely sure that you turn off the correct breaker, you should purchase a no-touch voltage tester.

After turning off the breaker, place the tester near the wiring connections of the component on which you will be working. If no electric current is shown, the component is safe and work can proceed.

Use the correct gauge of wire

If you are adding wiring, it is essential to use the proper gauge (thickness) of wire for the amp requirements of the component. For example, if you are adding or extending a standard 15 or 20 amp circuit in your home, you will use 14 gauge wire for a 15 amp circuit and at least 12 gauge wire for a 20 amp circuit. You must never attempt to save money or make your job easier by using a higher gauge (thinner) wire than these specifications mandate. Overheating of wiring and fire can result.

Higher powered appliances such as electric dryers and stoves need 30 amp or more circuits, with much heavier and expensive wire. You may choose to have a professional electrician install these higher powered circuits.

Wire connections

Wire connections must be done with great care. Loose wires or improper wiring can result in component damage as well as the risks of electric shock and fire. All wire end connections must be performed by first twisting the two bare wire ends together, then twisting a plastic wire nut onto the wire ends until it is completely tight.  

The open end of the wire nut must then be wrapped with electrical tape, which holds the wire nut in place and keep moisture away from the bare wire ends inside. When connecting wire ends to screw terminals, the wire ends must be looped in a clockwise direction under the terminal screw, which is then tightened in the same direction. In the United States, black and red wires are "hot" wires, white wires are neutral, and green or copper wires are ground wires. "Hot" wires must never be connected to neutral or ground wires.

The most important part of any electrical work is vigilance in following the basic safety rules. Anything else is a very distant second is order of importance. For professional assistance, contact an electrical contractor, such as those at Conway Electric.