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DIY Don't!: A Quick Guide to Common Electrical Errors

For those of us who grew up in the HGTV era, DIY is just a way of life. We’ve got YouTube tutorials, help from our local hardware store, and informative blogs (like this one!) instructing us on any number of home repairs, both large and small. Taking care of our living spaces ourselves, without having to call in the professionals, is often a point of pride, making us feel accomplished as well as thrifty. But as all DIYers know, the first attempt to solve a problem isn’t always successful. Even the third time isn’t always the charm. And while having to cut and recut the trim for your newly installed shelves is a headache, making a mistake with electricity isn’t just annoying; it has the potential to be very dangerous. We’ve put together some common electrical mistakes we’ve seen homeowners make, so you can make sure your own work is error-free.

Turn Down for Watt

One of the most common errors we see is also one of the simplest: using the wrong wattage bulb for a lighting fixture. When replacing bulbs, check the wattage limit (usually found right near the socket) and stick to it. Higher wattage bulbs burn hotter; using one that’s more than your socket is designed for can cause the base of the fixture to overheat and could potentially cause a fire. Do your due diligence when replacing bulbs to keep your home and family safe.

Lighten Your Load

Another common error is overloading your outlets. Each outlet in your home is designed to handle a certain number of amps, and every device plugged into that outlet contributes to that number. Too many devices equals too much power being used. Make sure you’re not overloading your circuits by using power strips judiciously and never plug a power strip into another power strip. If you need additional outlets, your residential electrician can safely install them for you.

Missed Connections

When making electrical connections, it’s vitally important to get the wire to its proper terminal. Check and double check to be sure you’ve done it correctly. The hot wire goes to the brass screw (this will be the smaller opening in the outlet), and the neutral wire goes to the silver screw (which corresponds to the larger opening). Finally, if there is a ground wire, it connects to the green screw. Keep in mind that you should never replace a two-prong outlet with a three-prong outlet unless you know there is a ground available. Use a tester (available at your local hardware store) to make sure the outlet is grounded. If not, use two-prong outlets only. And when making connections in your electrical panel, be sure they’re nice and tight. Loose connections can cause flickering lights and tripped breakers. Turn off breakers before inspecting and retightening connections.

When it comes to electrical safety, you can never be too careful! If you’re ever concerned that you’ve made a mistake or gotten in over your head on a project, your residential electrician is just a phone call away and is happy to help. DIY to your heart’s delight, but always remember, safety first!