Electrical Wiring Safety Tips for Home Installation and Repair
Wisdom From the Pro to the Apprentice
A little healthy paranoia can go a long way. This is especially true for electrical work around the home where electrical accidents are the cause of tens of thousands of fires, injuries, and deaths each year. What you don’t even know that you don’t know is a dangerous area – ignorance is definitely not bliss! So the first rule is to know what you are doing. Here are some electrical wiring safety tips from the Pros to help guide you aspiring electricians out there.
You can greatly reduce the immediate danger of electrical work by being sure that the power is off and will stay off during the job. Even if you’ll be near the switch or service panel, it’s a good idea to tape switches off and even lock panels. There’s a reason industrial sites use lock out/tag out safety procedures – it’s not that everyone will flip the switch, it’s that one ignorant person might.
Include a note that alerts anyone approaching the panel that the power must remain off. Just as you would treat every firearm as if it was loaded, treat each wire as if it was live. Use a small, non-contact voltage tester to verify there’s no current. I’ve known several electricians with horror stories about “helpful” coworkers who flipped a breaker on a little too early.
How Do I Look?
Many new electricians neglect to wear the proper protective gear because they think the job will only take a few minutes. The danger only exists for the other guy who didn’t watch enough YouTube videos about parallel circuits, right?
But how often has the scope of work increased, the job taken longer, or an accident happened that wasn’t intended (isn’t that what an accident is, after all?)
For that reason, be sure your eyes are protected from stiff copper wire, electrical arcs, attic insulation, and other risks. Wear boots or thickly-soled shoes to reduce the chance that you slip in an attic and become part of a remodeling project. Gloves are always a good idea, too.
No matter what precautions you take, always be aware of your surroundings. Never stand in water or a puddle while you work on electricity. It sounds obvious at first, but a good portion of a house is taken up by laundries, kitchens, and baths where water and electricity are in close proximity. One of the most important electrical wiring safety tips is to simply avoid becoming part of the circuit.
Shocking, We Know
Electrical work itself must ensure that the house and its occupants are safe after the job is complete. Be sure that outlets are wired correctly and connections are made securely. If you have an older home, don’t just replace a two-slot outlet with an ungrounded three-slot outlet. Use GFCI outlets in laundries, kitchens, and baths. Check your work with circuit testers. Junction and outlet boxes ensure that sparks caused by faulty or loose wiring don’t touch combustible building materials.
If you’re doing new work, leave enough wire to easily complete the outlet. Many newbies leave the wires too short which results in weak connections that loosen over time. They also attempt to fit too many wires in one junction box or use boxes that aren’t deep enough to handle the amount of wiring needed. Keep the wires neatly folded and labeled in multi-switch boxes. Boxes must be flush with the wall and not recessed to ensure that sparks don’t have access to anywhere they can cause a fire.
Getting into those habits now will make them second nature to you as your career grows. They will help you maintain an excellent reputation, keeping your clients calling back and referring you to their friends.
Pro Tip: The habits you form as an apprentice will be the foundation of your reputation later in your career. Train to be the guy everyone calls first!
Watt’s That? More Electrical Wiring Safety Tips?
Safety during and after the job is of the utmost importance, so err on the side of caution. If an outlet or service panel is hot, it’s time to call in the Pros. The same is true if an appliance greets you with a small shock now and then. Troubleshooting miswired grounds can be dangerous if not handled properly.
Exposed wires need to be run through conduit and placed out of the way. Loose outlets can wiggle with use and the attached wires can loosen over time, causing sparks and potentially a fire. Remember, electrical fires need a fire extinguisher not water. Come to think of it—do you have a fire extinguisher in your vehicle? There’s more than just electrical wiring safety tips to consider!
One other thing you want to be sure of are your local codes. Newer codes require things like installing Arc Fault interrupters, which prevent slow draws of current from starting a fire. This is typically required for bedrooms and other areas where you may puncture a wall and create a short that doesn’t instantly trip a breaker.
Finally, we’d be remiss if we didn’t encourage all work to be done to code and inspected. It’s not worth losing your license or reputation doing work off the books just to make a few extra bucks.
Having the skill to complete home electrical jobs is very satisfying—use these tips to be sure it’s very safe, too. We hope you’ve learned something good from these electrical wiring safety tips. If you’re a Pro and you have wiring tips to share, add them in the comments below—or contact us with your own Pro tips.