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Who doesn’t love a good DIY project? From changing the water valve in the toilet to patching a hole in drywall, you’re quite the craftsperson. But there’s one type of project you should always approach with the utmost caution: electrical.
Electrical home projects can be dangerous, but there are a few you may be able tackle by taking the necessary precautions.
We spoke with Brett Brenner, president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International, to find out which electrical home projects to consider and which to leave to the pros. We also added a few tips to keep you safe and to help you pick your next home pro.
DIY Project #1 – Installing a ceiling fan
Installing a ceiling fan is a relatively easy project for a first-time electrical project as the directions are typically straightforward.
“In general, most lighting projects and ceiling fan installations are probably pretty safe for homeowners to tackle,” says Brett. “You’re really not dealing with a lot of dangers as long as the power is turned off.”
VP of Content Jeff Roos agrees as he recently tackled this DIY project in his own dining room!
DIY Project #2 – Installing light switches
“The switches are usually pretty benign as long as you’re not rewiring things to the point where you’re not sure what you’re doing,” says Brett. “That’s usually the red flag that you should stop and get a professional.”
Safety tips for DIY home electrical projects
Before starting any DIY electrical projects for the home, take the following steps to make sure you stay safe and your home stays standing.
Test your breakers
“You can either use a plug-in type of tester or a voltage tester to make sure there’s no power in the circuit,” says Brett.
Then turn off the corresponding breaker
With the power off, you should be relatively safe when tackling your DIY electrical project. However, as Brett stresses, “The rule of thumb is – if you’re going above what you’re comfortable with, that should be a sign to get a professional to install it.”
Ensure no one will inadvertently turn the power back on
“We’ve seen some issues with that,” says Brett. “Sometimes the lights don’t work and the kids go downstairs and turn the circuit back on when somebody’s working. So you have to be a little more mindful of that.”
Brett recommends adding signage to the breaker box or other areas to inform your family or roommates.
When should you absolutely call in the pros?
Some electrical problems and projects are just too much for the average homeowner to handle and should be left to a home professional.
“We always say, ‘Use a professional,’ for everything,” says Brett, “but realizing that do-it-yourselfers are going to tackle some things, there are some projects that are just too much to tackle as a homeowner.”
Get your electrician on speed dial for these projects and warning signs.
Anything to do with the breaker box, lines coming into the house, or solar cells should be handled by a professional.
“There’s definitely codes and standards around the country that say you can’t do that,” says Brett. “If you can’t shut the power off at the breaker box or you’re doing anything behind the breaker box or between the service providers where the utility brings you power – you should not be messing with any of that.”
“When you start to do things behind walls, that’s usually when the problem starts,” warns Brett. “You need to be careful. Anything behind the wall, it should really be done by a professional.”
Depending upon your locality, electrical work behind walls may require a permit. (“That changes from county to county, state to state, and your project might also require an inspection.”)
This includes replacing outlets. ESFI recommends hiring a qualified electrician to install or repair outlets in your home. A qualified electrician will ensure your outlets are installed and operating safely and make sure you have the correct ones installed according to the National Electrical Code.
The code requires specialized outlets that can prevent electrical shock or fires, such as arc-fault circuit interrupters, ground-fault circuit interrupters, and tamper resistant receptacles, in various locations inside and outside your home. An electrician will be able to diagnose any other issues that may be occurring to make your home safer.
Electrical wiring projects
“A lot of times, you end up creating more problems for yourself,” says Brett. “I know that the way modern homes are actually wired with shared neutrals, you can turn off everything on that circuit if you don’t wire things correctly.”
You should also leave any rewiring or repairing of lamps or lighting fixtures to the professionals.
Explains Brett, “Typically you really need to know what you’re doing in terms of rewiring any kind of lamps or any lighting fixtures because it might not be to the original manufacturer specs. If you start to rewire a lamp and it’s not done correctly, it could definitely be a fire hazard.”
When you encounter a warning sign
- Discoloration around an outlet or any electrical device
- Of you see an arc or a spark when plugging in a device
- If you hear something that doesn’t seem right
“It might be something that you didn’t do, something a previous owner did, or the device is not working correctly,” says Brett. “It’s something you want to get checked out.”
This also includes if your home keeps tripping breakers or blowing fuses.
“That’s a telltale sign that you’re having issues,” explains Brett. “The electricity is trying to say something is not correct or not safe, and you need to have that investigated.”
Before you hire your next electrician
Unfortunately, there is no license for electricians that’s mandatory across the country, and it’s hard to know who is “qualified” for your home project. When you’re looking to hire an electrician, it’s best to make sure that person is insured.
“You want to make sure that the person seems competent and has the right liability insurance,” recommends Brett. “Hopefully, the insurance company wouldn’t bond and insure a company or a person who doesn’t know what they’re doing. It’s their business to make sure they do.”
Also, opt for someone who specializes in electricity.
Adds Brett, “If you’re going to hire somebody, then make sure they’re not necessarily a jack of all trades. A lot of times, those guys can do it and do it appropriately, but they might not be following the local codes and ordinances that they need to.”
Learn more precautions for staying safe during electrical projects in DIY Home Electrical Safety Tips for New Homeowners.
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