Do-it-yourself (DIY) electrical projects can save considerable money and help you understand the inner workings of your home’s electrical system. They can also, however, be dangerous and costly if you don’t know what you’re doing. Avoiding common mistakes is a great first step toward successfully completing a DIY electrical project. Once you learn what not to do, you can focus on what to do.
Failing to Use a Non-Contact Voltage Tester
One of the absolute most important steps to take before starting any DIY electrical project is to invest in a non-contact voltage tester. This little tool could prevent serious personal injury accidents during a DIY electrical endeavor. It is the fastest, simplest, and safest way to check for an electrical current in a component. Test wires, switches, circuits, and outlets for voltage before you cut or work to prevent electric shocks. Even if you think you have shut off the power source, use a voltage tester to double-check before beginning work.
Skipping the Electrical Box
Electrical boxes aren’t just a precaution. They keep wire connections free and clear from damage that could be deadly. Anywhere you make wire connections requires an electrical box, or junction box. Otherwise, the elements could damage a connection, change the way it carries electrical current, cause too much heat, and lead to a short circuit, a spark, or an electrical fire. Install boxes anywhere you need to connect two or more wires.
Cutting Wires Too Short
It’s always better to have wires that are too long than too short. You can always go back and shorten wires, but it’s more difficult to extend a wire you’ve chopped too short. Long wires may be more cumbersome in an electrical box, but wires that are too short can have poor connections and a higher risk of electrical problems. You should cut your wires so that they protrude three inches from the box. Your wire lengths should be just right to allow a tight connection, but also should give the wire a bit of slack.
Reversing Wire Types
One of the deadliest DIY electrical mistakes a person can make is getting a hot and a neutral wire confused. If this is even a possibility, call an electrician to take over the project. Reversing hot and neutral wires can lead to a lethal electric shock. Hot wires are black. White wires are neutral.Always connect the black wire to the hot terminal, and the white wire to the neutral terminal of outlets and fixtures. The neutral terminal will also have a marker, such as a silver screw. Ground wires will have green or copper wires. Connect these to green grounding screws. Confusing wires and screws is a common but serious mistake you must be careful to avoid.
Refusing to Call an Electrician
Although you can do many household electrical projects yourself with a few basic tools and a bit of know-how, you shouldn’t attempt projects that are outside your realm of knowledge. Working with electrical components always comes with the risk of electrical shocks, mistakes, and fires. Unless you’re confident you can complete a project without encountering these risks, call in a professional electrician for the job instead. There’s no shame in contacting the experts for more complex electrical projects—especially if it keeps you alive.