Common Electrical Mistakes Homeowners Make, Part 2

In Common Electrical Mistakes Part 1, we wrote about common mistakes any homeowner can make. In this blog, we’re writing about mistakes you might make specifically when you’re working on an electrical project.

Now, you might be reading these so you can know what you’re talking about when you call the pros. You could also be reading them because you’re preparing to undertake an electrical project yourself. This blog is for you Do-It-Yourself-ers out there. While you’re working on your project, be very careful to avoid these mistakes. We see people make these mistakes all the time, and they can be costly and even dangerous. Next time you’re working on your electricity, make sure you don’t…

1. Think Lower Voltage Levels Can’t Hurt You

We start with this one because it is (sorry about this) really shocking. The only difference between low and high voltage is how fast it can kill you. High voltage kills instantly; low voltage may take a while longer.

A 120 volt shock can kill you up to 48 hours later. Always take appropriate safety precautions when working with electrical wiring. Make absolutely sure your electricity isn’t live before working.

2. Cut the Wires Too Short

There’s an old saying, “Measure twice, cut once.” When you’re cutting wires, make sure your wires reach at least three-to-six inches from the junction box. That gives you enough wire to strip the ends, connect, and fold wires over so they fit. When wires are too short, you get poor connections and potentially hazardous situations. If you did cut them too short, you can add an extension with a splice.

How to Splice Wires (quick tutorial)

  • Use an insulation stripper (not a knife) to strip about an inch of insulation from the ends of the wires.
    Hold the two wires so they’re parallel with each other. Twist the ends of the wires together clockwise one-to-one and one-half twists.
  • Cut about 1/2 inch off of the ends of the twisted wires.
  • Insert the twisted wires into a wire nut and screw the nut clockwise. Keep going until the nut is tight enough that it doesn’t come loose when tugged.
  • Make sure no bare wires are exposed.

3. Leave the Cables Exposed

According to the National Electrical Code, plastic-sheathed cables that run through walls or ceilings must be properly shielded from the framing. When cables are left exposed, structural framing can damage them over time, creating a potential fire hazard. Use either a rigid metal or flexible conduit. They’re available for .50 cents to $2 per linear foot.

4. Install Electrical Boxes Incorrectly

You know wires that connect to power outlets are housed in an electrical box tucked behind the wall. You have to make sure those boxes sit flat against the backside of the wall and tightly connect to the outlet. If they’re installed too far back behind the outlet, they can move around and make wires spark.

5. Forget to Install a Junction Box

Not installing a junction box is probably the biggest mistake people make. Junction boxes hold connected wires together and keep them away from combustible materials like wood. They help prevent accidental damage from sparks and heat when there’s a loose connection or short circuit.

Installing a plastic or steel box adds a step when putting in a new outlet or light fixture, but it’s worth it. Not only that, but accessible junction boxes are also required by code in most areas of the United States.

6. Fail to Support a Receptacle or Switch

Let’s be honest, loose receptacles and switches look like crap. They’re also unsafe. When receptacles move, wires get loose from terminals, creating a potential fire hazard. Inexpensive spacers can tighten those receptacles and switches and easily fix this problem.

7. Mix Wire Gauges

To prevent overloading, use the same gauge wire throughout a circuit. And be sure to use the right size wire for the amount of amps in the circuit. Don’t just eyeball it, know the amp capacity for each gauge of wire. Contrary to logic, the smaller the gauge number, the thicker the wire. Using the same wire gauge will help to prevent overloading.

Here is the amp capacity of three common wire gauges.

14 gauge = 15 amps
12 gauge = 20 amps
10 gauge = 30 amps

8. Forget to Use a Voltage Tester

You, the DIY-er, x you have to turn off the electrical circuit before working with electricity. But, even if you turn it off, you still want to test the wires before doing any work. Testing them with a voltage tester is the only way to make sure everything is “dead” before moving forward. You reeeeeally can’t be too careful when it comes to working with electricity. Plus, these testers are pretty cheap.

9. Reverse Hot and Neutral Wires

White wires connect to the neutral terminal on outlets and light fixtures. The neutral terminal is usually identified by a silver or light-colored screw. The green or bare copper wire is the ground. Obviously, that’s where you connect the ground wire. Connect the black hot wire to the other terminal. Careful here: connecting them the wrong way could shock you.

If you have any other questions about electrical issues, DIY or otherwise, give Early Bird a call. Our experts are always available to help fix up your electricity and keep you safe.