In today’s economy, many a Virginia homeowner is tempted to save a little money by not hiring an licensed electrician for little tasks around the home. And more power to you if you are… provided you know what you are doing, that is.
- Are you legally allowed to do what you want to do? There are some things that are better left to professionals, and then there are things you are required to leave to the professionals. The electrical system is one of the most dangerous things in your home, and as such, it is closely regulated as to what home owners are and are not allowed to do on their own. Before you start any DIY electrical project, be sure the work you are attempting isn’t required to be done by a licensed electrical contractor. If it is, there’s probably a good reason.
- Do you know how to turn off the power? No, seriously – we’re not kidding. This is one of those little pieces of knowledge that gets taken for granted. If you’ve never seen the inside of your home’s electrical panel before, you probably should ask for some help from a neighbor who knows what they’re doing.
- Better yet, do you know which circuits lead to the outlets you’re trying to work on? For most project, you don’t have to turn off power to the entire house, provided you know which electrical breaker cuts power to the fixture you’re working on. In newer homes this isn’t usually a problem, but if you live in one of Virginia’s older neighborhoods, such as Arlington or Alexandria, your electrical service box may be pre-WWII. If the circuits in your home aren’t clearly labeled, you need to have a professional come out and help you identify your home’s zones.
- Do you know know the maximum load you can put on a circuit? The reason homes are divided into different zones is to spread the load. That way one hairdryer running in an upstairs outlet does end up blowing out the lights in an entire section of the house.
- Do you know what gauge wire you should have on hand? In fact do you have the proper tools to strip, cut, or twist wire? Do you have the right size wire nut to splices the wires at a connection?
- Do you know the difference between a hot and a return wire? Give you three guesses which one you don’t want to grab when the power’s on. Whenever you’re working on a fixture, power should be off at the panel, so grabbing the hot isn’t a problem. However, putting them in backward can cause a fire when you do turn the breakers back on. This is one of those easy things you really need to not screw up.
Yes it’s true, we, your friendly local electricians, do want your business. It would be a lie to say there isn’t some ulterior motive here. That said, however, there are good reasons for the laws that are keeping you from doing some of your own electrical work. They protect you, your property and your family from harm. Not knowing what you’re doing when you’re trying to fix electrical problems at home can lead to you or someone else getting a nasty electrical shock, or worse, a fire in your home.
Even if you aren’t a rookie, there is still a very good reason to contract out your electrical work. Best case scenario if you mess up – you end up with an ongoing annoyance that will cost you more time and perhaps more money than if you’d hired a professional to start with. Worst case scenario – you have an electrical fire, and because you, who are not a licensed electrician, did the work yourself, your homeowner’s insurance may not cover the damage. Oh yes… before you start any DIY project on your home, check the fine print of your homeowner’s insurance policy to make sure what is covered. It isn’t uncommon for policies to have exclusions if you didn’t hire a professional for the job. It’s like the homeowner insurance policy version of a pre-existing condition.
If you’re thinking of trying to DIY your next electrical upgrade, take the time to talk to a professional, licensed electrician first and make sure there isn’t something you don’t know that you should… like maybe the fact that you really should do it yourself.
- DIY disasters cost bungling Brits £2.1 billion a year (newslite.tv)
- Arc Fault Circuit Interrupter outlets can prevent house fires (knoxnews.com)
- How to Install Ground Fault Circuits in Ungrounded Houses: A DIY Project (brighthub.com)