Safety tips for home electrical repair

Before starting any electrical project, here are some safety tips you need to know.

Safety tips for home electrical repair

How to turn off the power before you start

Always turn off the power to a fixture or an outlet that needs repair by flipping off the circuit breaker or removing the fuse that controls it at the main service panel. Then test the wires to confirm that the power is shut off.

  • Use an inexpensive neon tester, sold in hardware stores. Buy a tester that's rated for 120/240 volt household current — not a nine volt automobile unit.
  • To test, first turn off the power to the outlet at the service panel.
  • Remove the cover plate and then take out the screws holding the switch or receptacle to the box.
  • Pull the switch out from the box, being careful not to touch the wires.
  • Touch one prong of the tester to the electrical box if the box is metal, or to the bare metal of the ground wire if the box is plastic; touch the other prong to one screw terminal, then to the other screw terminal. Then touch the prongs to the two screw terminals at the same time.
  • If the tester doesn't light up at any point, there's no power. It's safe to continue the repair.

Understanding a GFCI

A ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) is a safety device that can save your life. It protects you from an abnormal electrical current flow due to a short.

  • When an electrical current is operating correctly, an equal amount of power is flowing to and from the intended target on two wires. If that current becomes disrupted, part of the current is taking another path.
  • A GFCI senses the change in the current flow and immediately shuts off the power to the target.
  • National and local codes require GFCI outlets in kitchens, bathrooms, garages, basements and outdoors for new homes.
  • In most cases, you can replace standard receptacles with GFCI receptacles. You can also have GFCI circuit breakers installed in your service panel. Plug-in GFCI adapters and GFCI extension cords are also available.

Troubleshooting a GFCI

If a GFCI trips constantly or fails to reset when you push the button, first check the wiring.

  1. Turn off the power to the receptacle at the service panel and verify that no power is reaching the box.
  2. Remove the cover plate and then the screws holding the GFCI in place.
  3. Carefully pull out the GFCI and inspect the wires; the connections should be tight, and wires should not be making contact with anything except the terminal screw.
  4. As a precaution against shorts, wrap the terminal screws with tape. (If your newly installed GFCI doesn't operate correctly, make sure the wires have been connected correctly; check the instructions.)
  5. Push the GFCI into the box, attach the screws and cover plate, restore power and test.
  6. If the problem persists, you should replace the GFCI. If necessary, have an electrician check the circuit.

Before you start any renovation project that involves electricity, make sure you understand the safety features of a GFCI, to minimize the risk of electrical damage.

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