Improving your home's electrical system can increase safety, add functionality, and raise property value. However, electrical work can be dangerous and complex. That's why professional electricians usually recommend hiring them for most electrical projects.
However, with the right knowledge and precautions, homeowners can safely handle some basic wiring projects. This article reveals 7 insider wiring tips electricians usually keep to themselves. Read on to learn how to upgrade your home's electrical yourself.
Know Your Home's Electrical System
Before touching wires, you need to understand your home's electrical system. Here's a quick overview:
The electrical service panel, usually located outside, connects your home to the utility company's power lines. This panel contains the main circuit breaker that controls power to the entire house.
The service panel also contains individual circuit breakers that control power to specific sections of the home. Each circuit powers certain rooms or groups of outlets.
Electrical current flows through wiring that runs inside walls, ceilings and floors to outlets, switches and appliances. Materials include copper, aluminum and sometimes older cloth-wrapped wiring.
Common home wiring systems include 12-2, 12-3, 14-2, and 14-3. The first number indicates wire thickness, the second number shows wire quantity, and the third number represents ground wires.
Knowing your home's wiring system helps ensure you work safely on the correct circuits and wires.
Upgrade Outdated Fuse Boxes
Many older homes still use fuse boxes instead of modern circuit breakers. Fuses are small plug-in devices that melt and "blow" when overloaded. This opens the circuit, stopping dangerous overloads.
However, blown fuses must be replaced manually. Circuit breakers automatically flip off and can easily be switched back on.
Replacing an old fuse box with a new circuit breaker panel provides these benefits:
- Increased safety - Breakers prevent fires better than fuses
- Added capacity - Breaker panels can support more circuits/outlets
- Convenience - No more searching for replacement fuses
Upgrading is straightforward. An electrician can replace the main panel in a single visit. Expect costs around $1,500-$3,000 depending on house size and features.
Add More Circuits and Outlets
If your home's electrical needs have expanded, you may benefit from extra circuits and outlets. This provides capacity for more devices and appliances without overloading.
Adding a 220-volt circuit is especially beneficial for large, high-power devices like dryers, stoves and air conditioners. Here are two options:
- Hire an electrician - Quick and safe but more expensive
- DIY circuit installation - Saves money but requires electrical skills
When adding outlets, use 3-prong versions for increased safety. Make sure to connect the ground wire, which protects from shocks and fires.
Consider adding GFCI outlets in kitchens, bathrooms and other wet areas. These outlets contain ground fault circuit interrupters that quickly cut power if they detect current leaks, preventing shocks.
Replace Old Light Fixtures
Outdated light fixtures can be inefficient and provide poor lighting. Replacing old fixtures is an easy upgrade anyone can do.
Follow these safe steps:
- Turn off power at the light switch and circuit breaker
- Remove old fixture - carefully disconnect wires
- Install new mounting bracket if needed
- Connect wires on new fixture matching wire colors
- Mount fixture base and install light bulbs
- Turn power back on and test
This simple replacement project can modernize your lighting.
Install Dimmer Switches
Replacing standard light switches with dimmer switches adds lighting flexibility. Here's how:
- Turn off power to switch at circuit breaker
- Remove old switch and disconnect wires
- Connect wires to matching terminals on dimmer switch
- Ground the dimmer switch if there's a ground wire
- Mount the new dimmer switch in box
- Turn power back on to test
Choose 3-way dimmers for circuits with multiple switches. Place dimmer switches on the live wire, not at lamps.
Dimmers give you precise light level control for ambiance and visual comfort.
Add New Switched Outlets
Need to control lamps and other plug-in devices from a wall switch? Switched outlets provide this functionality.
The project steps are:
- Turn off power to outlet
- Remove existing outlet
- Break connector tab between hot side brass terminals
- Connect switched hot to one brass terminal
- Connect constant hot to other brass terminal
- Connect neutral and ground wires
- Install new outlet in box
- Turn power back on and test switch
This allows you to turn on lamps and appliances plugged into the outlet by flipping the wall switch.
Label Circuit Breakers
With unlabeled circuit breakers, finding the right one can be frustrating when you need to cut power. Make things easier by labeling each circuit breaker with its connected rooms or appliances.
Mapping your circuits:
- Turn off all breakers
- Turn on one breaker and check outlets
- Repeat for each breaker, labeling as you go
Clearly labeled panels help quickly shut off the right circuit when needed.
Inspect all Wiring for Damage
It's smart to periodically inspect wiring for damage that can cause fires or shocks:
- Look for cracked, burnt or fraying wire insulation
- Check for loose connections at outlets
- Watch for warm spots or melting which can indicate overloads
- Make sure wires are secured tightly with no pulling or tension
If you find any wiring damage, disconnect power to that section and call an electrician immediately. Wiring in conduit is well protected, but exposed wiring needs vigilance.
By learning basic home electrical skills, homeowners can take control of upgrades and repairs. But always exercise extreme caution and call a professional for any complex or hazardous electrical jobs.
With the right knowledge, you can upgrade your home's wiring safely and pocket the electrician fees!