Things to know and do.
Put Safety First
Safety is a concern in any DIY project, but especially when the work includes a home’s electrical system. When working on or near electricity there is always the chance of shock, which is dangerous and should not be underestimated.
DIYers familiar with basic wiring practices know how to take precautions. If you are not qualified for electrical work, leave the installation or repair of your home’s electrical system to licensed electricians.
Upgrade Older Equipment
Licensed electricians make sure that your electrical system meets all required safety codes, and they can recommend upgrading an older home with devices that will increase occupant safety.
For example, a ground fault circuit interrupter, or GFCI, is an electrical device designed to instantaneously cut off power to outlets when it senses an imbalance, or fault, on the line. Today’s electrical code requires GFCI protection for outlets in “wet” areas such as kitchens, baths, laundry rooms and basements, but many older homes don’t have these relatively modern devices.
By replacing old outlets with GFCIs at the required locations, or by installing ground fault circuit breakers in your home’s main electrical panel, you can protect the areas of your home that need it most. A GFCI will respond to electrical current variations too small to be detected by a circuit breaker or fuse.
Practice Electrical Safety
Always remove a plug from a socket by pulling the plug itself, not the appliance cord. Pulling on the cord can break or fray the wires inside, and frayed cords can cause a short circuit fire hazard or electrical shock.
Running appliance or fixture cords under a carpet is dangerous. A cord carrying too much current can overheat, or a frayed cord can cause a short. Both situations can result in a fire. Frayed electrical cords should be repaired or replaced.
Always use the recommended bulb wattage in lamps and light fixtures.
Avoid using electrical appliances in wet places. If you must work in a wet or damp area, portable GFCI outlets are available and should be used.
Never overload an outlet by plugging in or using too many appliances at one time. If you must use a multiple-outlet power strip, use one with a built-in circuit breaker for overload protection.
Have Electrical Work Inspected
After any electrical work is done in a home, it needs to be inspected. The inspector will look for specific “markers” — such as how the fixtures or switches are wired, and the neatness of the wiring runs — that indicate whether the work meets professional standards.
An inspector will also look closely at junction boxes, and especially at the main electrical panel, to be sure that everything is properly grounded.
If any code violations are found, no matter how small, they must be repaired before an inspector will approve your electrical system.
Installing a GFI
Step 1: Turn Off the Power
Turn off the power to the circuit. Over the breaker, place a strip of tape with Do not touch written on it; it’s also not a bad idea to place a similar sign on the front of the breaker box.
Step 2: Remove the Cover Plate
Use a tester to make sure the power to the outlet is indeed turned off (Image 1).
Remove the screws holding the cover plate and take the plate off (Image 2). Then test the outlet again — and be sure to use the tester to probe all around the box to make sure there’s no “juice” at all.
Step 3: Remove the Wires
Remove the mounting screw and take the outlet from the wall.
Remove the wires from the outlet in the following order: Starting with the black (hot) wire, loosen the screw that holds it by turning it counterclockwise. Then do the same to remove the white (neutral) wire and lastly, the ground wire.
Step 4: Strip the Neutral and Ground Wires
Straighten out the neutral and ground wires and strip about 1/2″ from the end of each. Leave the hot wire as is.
Step 5: Attach the GFCI
To attach the GFCI, start with the ground wire. Attach it to the green screw by forming a hook on the end of the wire, hooking it around the screw and tightening it, turning the screw clockwise.
GFCI stands for Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, and it means an outlet that can prevent electrical shock in wet locations such as bathrooms, kitchens and outdoor areas.
A GFCI has two buttons: a test button and a reset button.
Step 6: Attach the Neutral Wire
Note that the GFCI receptacle has two holes in the back; this is called a stab-in receptacle. Starting with the neutral wire, push the end of it into the hole on the side with the silver screw. Tighten the screw to hold the wire.
Repeat with the hot wire, attaching it through the hole on the side with the brass-colored screw. Tighten the screw.
Step 7: Push the Wires Back Into the Box, and Replace the Cover
Gently push the wires back into the box, then line up the mounting screw with the corresponding hole and tighten.
Replace the cover plate.
To test the unit (which should be done periodically), plug in an appliance such as a hair dryer and turn it on. While it’s running, press the test button. The dryer should stop. Once you’ve ascertained that the GFCI is working correctly, unplug the dryer and press the reset button.
Remember: If you have any questions or fears about working with electricity, call a licensed electrician. This type of work can be very dangerous, and there’s no use risking your life just to save a little money.