Avoid the Shock: Electrical Safety Tips
So you’ve just bought a house, and you’re already seeing things that need attention. That ceiling fan in the living room looks like it was put up in the 1970s. Or the electrical outlets in the garage are still the old two-prong type. You want to update these items, to make improvements that will, in the long run, make for a more efficient and safer home.
But you don’t want to pay an electrician to do it.
A quick trip to the local hardware store, and you’re all set to start ripping out the old and putting in the new. But before you start the DIY ball rolling, let’s talk safety.
Electricity can be a scary and dangerous thing, and it needs to be approached with a healthy respect. Electrical work can be done safely and effectively, if you know what you’re doing. So here are some tips to stay safe while you tackle those little electrical projects around the home.
Number 1: know a little about electricity and electrical work. Knowledge is the first, best defense against electrical injuries, and, with information practically at our fingertips these days, knowledge is very easy to come by. There are many home improvement websites like this one that offer users basic courses in electrical work and how electricity works. Your local library is also an excellent source of information. Home improvement books abound, and any number of them can fill you in on all you need to know.
Number 2: know your home’s breaker box. Circuit breakers are the quickest, safest way to cut power to whatever it is you want to work on, and knowing which individual breakers control which parts of your home will save you a lot of time and trouble. Breaker boxes usually have a label on the back of the box cover indicating what controls what. Breaker box labels on many houses, especially older ones, may not be filled out. It’s a good idea, in such a case, to experiment a little with your breakers, turning off each one to ascertain what they control and writing in the information yourself. Even if your breaker box is labeled, it’s a good idea to make sure it’s labeled properly. Switch each breaker off and make sure it controls what the label says it controls.
Number 3: cut power to whatever you’re working on. I know, that kind of goes without saying. But this is vitally important—the difference between life and death, in many cases—and it doesn’t hurt to state the obvious. And don’t be satisfied with just switching off the appropriate breaker. Double-check the wiring you’ll be working with by hooking up either a multimeter or a voltage tester (which is a relatively inexpensive tool and can be found at any hardware store) to the circuit to ensure there’s no power coming through.
Number 4: stay “grounded.” Wear rubber-soled sneakers and clothing that doesn’t have any kind of metal sown into it. Yes, that’s right. Act as though it’s still a live circuit. It’s better to err on the side of caution. In addition, take off any jewelry before you start your project. And it’s a good idea to use tools that are insulated, as well. The more insulated you and your equipment are, the more remote a possibility any kind of electrical mishap becomes.
Number 5: Take your time. Electrical work must be done properly. Allow sufficient time to check and double-check your work. For more complex projects, have a professional electrician look over your work. That may not always be necessary, but a simple rule of thumb is that the more complex an electrical project, the greater the need to have it checked out by a pro.
Just remember, before you ramp into DIY mode, think safety. It’ll make all the difference in your home.