Installing electrical wiring in your home can be a dangerous endeavor for amateur DIYers. Seemingly minor mistakes can lead to major safety hazards, fires, and destruction of property. As a homeowner, I've learned the hard way that electrical work is best left to the professionals. However, if you decide to take on an electrical project yourself, beware of these 7 common mistakes:
1. Using the Wrong Wire Gauge
One of the most important considerations when running electrical wire is the wire gauge, or thickness. The gauge must be suitable for the expected electrical load. For lighting circuits, 14 AWG wire is usually sufficient, but for major appliances like electric dryers, ranges, etc., a heavier 10 AWG wire is required. If the wires are too small for the current draw, they can overheat, melt insulation, arc, and cause fires. Always consult electrical code books for recommended gauges. Undersized wires are a fire hazard!
2. Inadequate Circuit Protection
Every circuit in your electrical panel should have a circuit breaker or fuse sized to protect the wiring gauge used. For example, standard 15 amp circuit breakers for 14 AWG wire and 20 amp breakers for 12 AWG wire. If you install thicker wires but forget to upgrade the circuit protection, the risk of overheated wires still exists. Conversely, if you pair a 20 amp breaker with 14 AWG wire, the breaker won't trip when it should. Both scenarios can lead to electrical fires.
3. Incorrect Wire Terminations
Sloppy and incorrect wire terminations create resistance and loose connections. This allows wires to overheat at connection points, melting insulation and potentially igniting fires. When terminating wires to devices and receptacles, strip insulation properly, loop tightly clockwise, tighten screws securely, and tug test each wire. Ensure wires are fully inserted into breakers and terminal blocks as well. Loose connections are fire-starters!
4. Overloading Circuits
Don't overload circuits! Add up the wattage of all devices on a circuit and ensure it stays within the circuit rating. For example, avoid plugging in multiple space heaters, hair dryers, and other high-wattage devices on the same circuit at once. Overloads cause breakers to trip or wires to overheat. Use wattage calculators to determine safe load limits. Overloaded circuits are begging for trouble.
5. Incorrect Breaker Installation
Seemingly simple mistakes installing circuit breakers can create major issues. Breakers must be fully inserted into panelboard bus stabs and tightened down securely. Ensure the breaker amperage matches wire size. When multi-wire branch circuits are involved, proper handle ties must be used. Failure to do so creates imbalanced loads and overheating. Improper breaker installation is hazardous!
6. Faulty Grounding
Proper grounding provides protection from electrocution and electrical fire risks. All circuits must have a continuous ground wire securely bonded to devices, junction boxes, outlets, and the main electrical panel. Use #12 or #10 AWG for ground wires, green color. Without solid grounding, a fault can energize enclosures and hardware, leading to deadly shocks. Don't neglect grounding - it saves lives!
7. Lack of GFCI and AFCI Protection
Install GFCI receptacles in bathrooms, kitchens, garages, and other potentially wet locations to prevent shocks. AFCI breakers prevent deadly arc faults caused by damaged wires. Though more expensive, GFCIs and AFCIs provide vital protection from fires and electrocution. Don't skip these important safety devices!
In summary, electrical DIY projects require knowledge, extreme care, and adherence to electrical codes and safety practices. Unless you are highly experienced, it's wise to hire a professional electrician. If you DIY, plan thoroughly, use extreme caution, and don't cut corners. Your home's safety is at stake! Follow code, use common sense, get permits, and have work inspected. Prevent electrical fires before they happen!