Why You May Want to Wire Your Home Yourself
As a homeowner, you may find yourself needing to do some electrical work around your house. Hiring an electrician can be expensive, with average service call fees ranging from $50 to $100. For larger jobs, you could end up paying hundreds or even thousands of dollars in labor costs alone.
Doing the electrical work yourself can save you a significant amount of money. With some basic skills and the right precautions, homeowners can safely handle many common wiring projects.
Some reasons you may want to consider wiring your home yourself include:
- Cost savings - No labor fees means great savings on materials cost only.
- Convenience - No waiting around for an electrician's schedule to open up.
- Customization - Wire your home exactly how you want it.
- Skill building - Learn a handy electrical DIY skill.
- Satisfaction - Feel pride from completing a project yourself.
However, safety should always be the top priority when working with electrical wiring.
Evaluating Your Skill Level
Before beginning any electrical project, honestly evaluate your skill level and comfort working with wiring. Certain projects are only recommended for those with experience.
Consider the following before deciding to wire your home without help:
- Have you wired lighting before? Starting with a basic light fixture is a good way to build confidence before tackling more complex circuits.
- Do you understand electrical concepts? You should have a solid grasp of how home electrical systems work in order to work on them safely.
- Are you prepared to research? Be ready to carefully study any new project before attempting it yourself.
- Do you have the right tools? Quality tools designed for electrical work are a must.
If you are uncomfortable working with household wiring, it's usually safest to hire a professional. But for those willing to learn, many projects can be successfully completed without an electrician.
Safety Tips When Wiring Your Home
Working with electrical wiring can be dangerous if proper precautions are not taken. Here are some key safety tips to follow:
- Turn off power at the main breaker. This is the most important step! Make sure power is shut off before working on any circuits.
- Test wires before touching. Verify power is off with a non-contact voltage tester.
- Wear insulating gloves. These will protect you from accidental shock.
- Never work alone. Have someone present in case an emergency occurs.
- Use caution on aluminum wiring. Special considerations must be made to safely connect copper to aluminum.
- Install GFCIs. These outlets will shut off power in the event of a shock, preventing serious injury.
- Never exceed your skill level. Be realistic about which projects are within your ability.
- Call a professional when needed. Know when to call for help if a project is beyond your skill level.
Working on wiring without proper knowledge and safety practices can lead to electrocution or a fire. But when adequate precautions are taken, many projects can be completed safely.
Choosing the Right Materials
To complete a wiring project successfully, you need the right materials selected for the specific application.
Select the gauge and type of wire suitable for the circuit:
- Gauge - 15A household circuits often use 14 gauge. 20A circuits require 12 gauge wire.
- Type - Copper wire is the common choice. Aluminum requires special connections.
- Sheathing - Romex brand nonmetallic-sheathed cable is commonly used.
Outlets and switches
Choose products listed by Underwriters Laboratories:
- Tamper-resistant - Code requires these in homes with small children.
- GFCI protection - Required for outlets near water sources.
- 3-way - Allows control from multiple locations.
- Dimmer - Used to vary light levels. Verify bulb type compatibility.
Proper connectors create safe, secure connections:
- Wire nuts - Twists multiple wires together.
- Terminal screws - Secure individual wires under outlet and switch terminals.
- Crimp connectors - Often used when splicing wires.
Purchase quality materials from electrical supply stores. Avoid inferior products that can present safety hazards.
Common Household Wiring Projects
Here are some of the most common DIY wiring projects encountered in homes:
Installing a New Light Fixture
Adding lighting is a basic project many homeowners can tackle.
Follow these general steps:
- Turn off power at the breaker.
- Remove old fixture and disconnect wires.
- Feed wires from new fixture through the electrical box.
- Connect matching wires using wire nuts.
- Mount new fixture to box.
- Turn power back on and test operation.
Be sure to consult the manufacturer's wiring diagram for specifics.
Replacing an Electrical Outlet
Upgrading outlets is a straightforward wiring task.
To replace an outlet:
- Turn off power and verify it's off.
- Remove cover plate screws and outlet mounting screws.
- Disconnect and remove old outlet.
- Secure new outlet's wires clockwise around screws.
- Remount outlet to box and reattach cover plate.
- Turn power back on and test with a lamp or voltage tester.
Match wire colors and use cable clamps for a safe connection.
Installing a GFCI Outlet
GFCI outlets prevent shocks in wet areas of the home.
Follow these steps to add a GFCI outlet:
- Turn off power to the outlet box.
- Disconnect and remove the old outlet.
- Connect the GFCI's LINE wires to the home's wires.
- Connect additional outlets to the GFCI's LOAD terminals.
- Mount the GFCI outlet in the box and attach the cover plate.
- Restore power and press the "Test" button to verify protection.
Be sure to connect the GFCI as the first outlet in the circuit.
Adding a 240V Circuit for an Appliance
Large appliances like dryers often require 240V circuits.
To add a 240V circuit:
- Determine the required circuit amperage based on appliance load.
- Install appropriate gauge cable between main panel and outlet.
- Connect black wires to each 240V breaker terminal.
- Connect white wire to neutral bus bar in panel.
- Install 240V outlet and connect wires.
- Verify polarity with a voltage tester before use.
Always confirm appliance requirements and install suitable overcurrent protection.
Following Code Requirements
All electrical work should be done according to local building codes and the National Electrical Code (NEC). Key requirements include:
- Circuit labeling - Clearly label all breakers and junction boxes.
- Cable securing - Cables must be stapled every 4-6 feet for support.
- Box fill - Outlet boxes have limits on the number and gauge of wires.
- Wire splicing - Use approved connectors and avoid exposed conductors.
- Tamper-resistant receptacles - Now required in home outlets.
- Grounding - Metallic boxes and fixtures must be properly grounded.
Consult your local codes before beginning a project. Passing inspections will ensure your home's electrical system is safe.
When to Call An Electrician
While many wiring projects can be DIYed, some are best left to the professionals:
- Service panel upgrades - Requires changing the main breaker box.
- Whole home rewiring - Major undertakings that involve running all new wires.
- Load calculations - Needed when adding many new appliances and large equipment.
- Integrating generators - Improper generator connections can backfeed dangerous power on utility lines.
- Fixing hazardous wiring - Some older home wiring is unsafe and must be corrected.
Hire a licensed electrician for large, complex wiring jobs. They have the proper training and experience to handle potentially dangerous electrical work.
Working Safely on Your Home's Electrical System
Home electrical projects require working carefully and cautiously. But with proper precautions, you can safely wire many things in your home without calling an electrician.
Follow safety procedures, research all projects thoroughly, use quality materials, and don't hesitate to call a pro when needed. Paying close attention to details will allow you to take control of your home's wiring while avoiding hazards. With practice and experience, you may find that many electrical projects are perfectly manageable on your own.