Steps to Perform Electrical Repairs at Home

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Home Improvement

If you are trying to fix some home repairs on your own, it is important to understand the basics of your home’s plumbing and electrical systems. Although they may seem different, there are significant similarities between the two. Just like water flows through pipes under pressure, electricity enters your home through wires under voltage pressure. When you turn on an electrical device, the electricity flows at a certain rate (measured in amps).

When replacing a receptacle, it is important to find a match for the one you are removing. If you have a grounded type, you must buy a receptacle that has a ground terminal screw and slots for three-prong grounded plugs.

Unlike water, which is used as it comes from the tap, electricity is meant to do work. It is converted from energy to power, measured in watts. Since household electrical consumption is relatively high, the unit of measure most often used is the kilowatt. The total amount of electrical energy you use in any period is measured in terms of kilowatt-hours (kwh).

An electric meter is used to record how much electricity you use. This meter tells the power company how much electricity they need to charge you for. There are two types of electric meters in general use. One type displays a row of small dials on its face with individual indicators, each of which registers the kilowatt-hours of electrical energy. For example, if you leave a 100-watt bulb burning for 10 hours, the meter will register 1 kilowatt-hour (10×100 = 1,000 watt-hours, or 1 kwh). Each dial registers a certain number of kilowatt-hours of electrical energy. The far right dial counts individual kilowatt-hours from 1 to 10, the next one counts the electricity from 10 to 100 kilowatt-hours, the third dial counts up to 1,000, the fourth up to 10,000, and the dial at the extreme left counts kilowatt-hours up to 100,000. If the arrow on a dial is between two numbers, the lower number should always be read.

The article discusses electric meters and the three-wire system that supplies power to homes. There are two types of electric meters, one with individual dials and the other with numerals in slots. The second type is read from left to right and shows total electrical consumption. The three-wire system delivers 110-120/220-240 volts AC to the home and provides power for lighting, receptacles, small appliances, air conditioning, electric range, clothes dryer, water heater, and electric heating. The power enters the home through the service equipment, which is a disconnect device that is usually located inside the home. The main entrance panel contains the fuses or circuit breakers that distribute power throughout the building. The hot wires are attached to the parallel copper bars, while the neutral wire is connected to the separate grounding bar. The article also mentions overload protection and how circuit breakers automatically trip open to interrupt the flow of electrical current when it overloads the circuit.

The electrical system in your home has safety devices called fuses and circuit breakers. Without them, an overloaded circuit could cause a fire. Fuses and circuit breakers prevent this by tripping or blowing when the current exceeds their capacity. A blown fuse or tripped circuit breaker means there is a problem in the circuit. The cause should be found and fixed before replacing the fuse or resetting the breaker.

It’s important to never replace a fuse with one of a higher capacity, as this defeats the safety system. Circuit breakers are switches that trip open when overloaded, and can be reset by turning them fully off and then back on.

The circuits in your home are either feeder or branch circuits. Feeder circuits use thicker cables and are found in newer homes, providing power to remote areas or outbuildings. Branch circuits run from the main entrance panel or smaller panels to the various points of use, and have different amperage ratings depending on their purpose.

The capacity of a 15-amp circuit is 1,800 watts, while a 20-amp circuit can handle up to 2,400 watts. However, it is recommended that you limit the load on a 15-amp circuit to no more than 1,440 watts and the load on a 20-amp circuit to no more than 1,920 watts. To determine the load on a circuit, add up the wattages of all lamps and appliances plugged into the circuit, allowing for motor-driven appliances that draw more current when starting up. It’s important to be aware of the hazards and precautions when working with electricity, such as never breaking the conductor’s insulation and turning off the power before replacing any electrical components. Regularly examine wiring for safety reasons and replace cords with brittle or damaged insulation. Remember to make safety a top priority when working with your home’s electrical system.

  • When working with electrical circuits, always make sure to connect wires and joints inside an approved electrical box and use solderless connectors such as crimp-on or screw-on wirenuts. It is important to avoid connecting wires together in inaccessible locations behind walls or ceilings without opening an electrical box. When joining insulated wires or fastening them under terminal screws, ensure no uninsulated or bare wire is exposed beyond the connection, and the insulation should extend up to the solderless connector or terminal screw.

  • One of the best ways to join wires is by using solderless connectors called wirenuts. Twist the conductor ends together and screw the wirenut into the twisted ends, making sure that no bare conductor is exposed.

    It is crucial for everyone in the family to know where and how to throw the master switch that cuts off all electrical current.

  • It is important to avoid wading in water if there is a possibility of contact between water and electricity until the master switch has been turned off.
  • Always assume that an electrical receptacle or apparatus is energized until proven otherwise with a circuit tester or by pulling out a fuse or tripping the disconnect plug.
  • Use only insulated pliers when working with electricity.
  • When working with a fuse box or circuit breaker box, stand on a dry board or wooden platform, and use a wooden stepladder instead of an aluminum one to minimize the risk of shock when working with electrical wiring.
  • To save time, you can determine which electrical circuits activate which receptacles in your home and then create a diagram or print the information inside the circuit breaker or fuse box.

Electrical Grounding

Grounding your electrical system properly is crucial to your safety. Electricity always follows the path of least resistance, and that path could be you if an appliance or another electrical component is not grounded.

Grounding directs electrical energy into the earth by providing a conductor that is less resistant than you are. This is achieved by attaching one end of the wire to an appliance’s frame and fastening the other end to a cold water pipe. Most plastic-coated electrical cables contain a bare wire that carries the grounded connection to every electrical box, receptacle, and appliance in your home. You can usually determine whether your electrical system is grounded by checking the receptacles. If you have the type that accepts plugs with two blades and one prong, your system should have three wires, one of which is a grounding wire. The prong carries the safety ground to the metal frame of any appliance that has a three-wire plug and cord.

An appliance’s metal frame can pose a safety hazard to you and your family. If a power cord’s insulation wears away at the point where the cord enters the metal frame, contact between the metal current conductor and the metal frame could make the whole appliance alive with electricity. Touching a charged metal frame of the appliance while simultaneously touching a water faucet or a radiator will make the current surge through you.

In the electrical system, there are several points where there could be contact between conductor and metal, which could be a safety hazard. It is essential to inspect and maintain these points and make necessary repairs. These points include where wires enter a metal pipe, where the cord enters a lamp or lamp socket, and where in-wall cable enters an electrical box. The surfaces of these points must be free of burrs that could damage the wire’s insulation. To protect the wire, washers and grommets are used at these entry points. However, the best way to ensure electrical safety is to make sure the whole system is grounded, and the ground circuit is electrically continuous without any breaks.

It is crucial to prioritize electrical safety when doing home repairs. When necessary, it is best to call a professional electrician.

To restore a circuit, first, make a list of all the branch circuits in your home and what area each one controls. Once you know which receptacles, fixtures, and appliances are connected to each branch circuit, write all the information on a card and attach it inside the main entrance panel. When a circuit goes off, visually or audibly locate the trouble spot and disconnect the faulty equipment. Check the main entrance panel to see which fuse is blown or which breaker has tripped and disconnect everything on that circuit that you can. Inspect those fixtures that cannot be easily disconnected for signs of malfunction. Replace the fuse or reset the breaker. If the circuit holds, check for short circuits or other problems. If there is no evidence of an electrical fault in the fixtures, remove some of the load from the circuit.

If a new fuse blows or the circuit breaker won’t reset, the issue may be with the equipment still connected or the circuit cable itself. To identify the problem, check the connected items and inspect each for faults until the faulty equipment is found. If the circuit still fails when no loads are connected, there may be faulty wiring, likely due to a short in a junction or receptacle box or in the cable. When suspecting faulty wiring, it is recommended to call an electrician.

Although circuit breakers are usually reliable, they can occasionally fail. If a breaker has failed, the circuit will not energize even if it is fault-free. To identify a failed breaker, check if the breaker has a burnt plastic smell, a loose and wobbly trip handle, or if it rattles when moved. Turn off the circuit, test the breaker with a continuity tester, and replace it as necessary.

Coping With a Power Outage

When the power goes out in a house, it may be due to a general power outage in the neighborhood or a problem with the individual residential wiring system. To determine the cause, first, check if the outage is general or restricted to only the home. Check if the neighborhood is dark at night or call a neighbor during the day to see if others are affected. If the main breaker is still on or both main fuses are good but the neighbors have power and the home does not, the fault may lie between the main entrance panel and the power transmission lines. Contact the power company as this is their responsibility. If there is a tripped main breaker or blown main fuses in the main entrance panel, the problem may be within the house and should not be attempted to reset or replace without professional help. The issue may be a system overload or a dead short somewhere in the house. To identify the issue, turn off everything in the house and flip all the breakers to the off position. Then reset the main breaker to the on position and one by one, trip the branch circuit breakers back on. If one fails to reset or the main breaker trips off again, the source of the issue lies in that circuit and must be cleared of the fault.

If all the smaller breakers are back on and the main breaker is still on, then there are two possibilities. One possibility is that something that you had disconnected earlier is faulty. You need to inspect each item along the line to find the one that’s causing the problem. The other possibility is that there’s a systemwide overloading, which is characterized by the main breaker tripping out frequently. You can either reduce the total electrical load or install a new larger main entrance panel with new branch circuits to handle heavy electrical usage. This job requires a licensed electrician.

If the main panel has fuses, then the troubleshooting approach is similar, except that you’ll need a supply of fuses on hand. You need to replace each fuse or set of fuses until the one that’s causing the outage blows out again. General overloading will cause the main fuses to go out again, in which case you should call an electrician.

To prepare for power outages, you should create an emergency blackout kit that includes candles, oil lamps, matches, flashlights, batteries, and a circuit tester. You should also have replacement fuses, circuit breakers, lightbulbs, and receptacles on hand. With preparation and knowledge, you can handle power outages and perform repairs and maintenance checks on home electrical receptacles.

Restoring a Circuit: A Guide

Older residential wiring systems often use a two-wire system for their 110-120-volt branch circuits. One wire is hot, while the other is neutral. Although the neutral wire may serve as a ground, it usually does not, making the system ungrounded and potentially hazardous.

To determine if your circuits are of this type, check your receptacles. Ungrounded receptacles have only two slots for each plug. Modern wiring, on the other hand, requires the installation of a third conductor, resulting in receptacles with three openings: two vertical slots and a third, rounded hole centered below or above them.

©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
A plug-in polarity checker can enable
you to make sure your outlets
are installed properly.

While both two-prong and three-prong plugs can be used with these receptacles, only three-prong plugs carry the equipment grounding line to the electrical equipment. Additionally, one vertical slot is larger than the other, allowing only newer types of two-pronged plugs to be inserted in one direction, ensuring proper polarization with the hot side to hot side and neutral to neutral.

To ensure proper operation and safety, make sure all receptacles on each circuit are correctly installed with individual conductors going to the right terminals, avoiding polarity reversals. Unfortunately, receptacles are not always connected correctly, even in new wiring systems installed by professional electricians. Use a small and inexpensive tester called a polarity checker to check your receptacles. It looks like a fancy three-pronged plug and contains three neon bulb indicators.

To check receptacles for polarity, plug the polarity checker into a receptacle. The lights will indicate if the polarity is correct and which lines are reversed if it is not. If there is a reversal, turn off the circuit, remove the receptacle from the electrical box, and switch the wires to the proper terminals. To restore the effectiveness of the circuit, trace the circuit using a continuity tester if the equipment-grounding circuit is open (discontinuous) and reconnect it.

Replacing an Electrical Receptacle: A Step-by-Step Guide

Tools Needed
Here are the tools you”ll want to have when replacing an electrical receptacle:

  • Replacement receptacle
  • Screwdriver
  • Single-edge razor blade or utility knife
  • Grounding screws or clips
  • Wire stripper with cutting blade

Almost everyone has encountered an electrical receptacle that doesn’t work efficiently or at all. How does a receptacle fail to do its job safely and properly? There are two possible explanations.

Improper use of an electrical receptacle can cause permanent damage. Even something as simple as sticking a hairpin or paper clip in it can shorten the life of the receptacle. If an appliance with a short circuit is plugged in, it can also cause damage. Regardless of how it happened, a damaged electrical receptacle must be replaced.

Another reason why an electrical receptacle may not work efficiently and safely is that it’s old and worn out from frequent use. There are two clear indications of a worn-out electrical receptacle: the cord’s weight pulls the plug out of the receptacle or the plug blades do not make constant electrical contact within the receptacle slots. At this point, the old electrical receptacle should be replaced.

Replacing an electrical receptacle is not difficult, but you must follow the correct installation procedures carefully. Before working on an electrical receptacle, deenergize the circuit that controls it. Inspect the old receptacle to see if it can take a plug with a round prong for grounding in addition to two flat blades. Buy a new receptacle with a 20-amp rating of the same type, grounded or ungrounded, as the one you’re replacing.

To install the new receptacle, remove the plate that covers the receptacle by removing the center screw with a screwdriver. If the cover doesn’t come off easily, it may be held in place by several coats of paint, so carefully cut the paint around the edge of the cover plate with a razor blade or utility knife. Remove the two screws holding the receptacle in the electrical box and carefully pull the receptacle out of the box as far as the attached line wires allow. Loosen terminal screws on the receptacle and remove line wires. If the wires or insulation are brittle or frayed, that part of the circuit should be professionally rewired.

The replacement receptacle must match the one you are removing. If you have the grounded type, you must buy a receptacle that has a ground terminal screw and slots for three-prong grounded plugs. Connect wires to the new electrical receptacle with the white wire under the silver-color screw and the black wire under the dark-color screw. If there is a green wire or a bare wire in the box, fasten the wire under the screw that has a dab of green color on it, then fasten it to the box with a grounding screw or clip. Loop the line wires in a clockwise direction under the heads of terminal screws so screw heads will pull wire loops tighter. Also, ensure that wires are connected so all wire without any insulation is secured safely under screw heads. Clip off any excess uninsulated wire.

Carefully fold wires into the space in the electrical box behind the receptacle, then push the receptacle into the box. Although there’s no such thing as right side up for a two-blade receptacle, there is a correct position for receptacles designed to handle three-prong grounding plugs. Grounding plugs often attach to their cords at a right angle, so position the receptacle so the cord will hang down without a loop. Tighten the two screws that hold the receptacle in the receptacle box, then replace the cover plate. Restore the fuse or trip the circuit breaker.

Some electrical receptacles have slots that are not the same size; one is wider than the other. The wider slot is for the white or neutral wire, while the narrower slot is for the black or hot wire. Certain plugs are created with one wide and one narrow blade, and they can only fit into the receptacle in one direction. The purpose of a polarized plug is to maintain the identity of the hot and neutral wires from the circuit to the appliance.

For more information, check out these related articles on HowStuffWorks:

– How to Replace a Wall Switch

– How to Rewire a Lamp

– How to Replace an Incandescent Light

– How to Install a Fluorescent Light

– How to Repair a Doorbell

– How to Install a Ceiling Fan


1. What are some common home electrical repairs that I can do myself?

Some common home electrical repairs that you can do yourself include replacing a light switch or outlet, replacing a light fixture, installing a ceiling fan, and fixing a circuit breaker. However, it’s important to make sure you have the necessary knowledge and skills before attempting any electrical repair. Safety should always be your top priority.

2. How do I know if I need to hire a professional electrician?

If you’re not comfortable working with electricity or if you’re not sure what the problem is, it’s best to hire a professional electrician. You should also hire an electrician if the repair involves any major wiring or if the repair requires a permit. If you’re unsure, it’s always better to err on the side of caution and hire a professional.

3. What tools do I need for home electrical repairs?

Some basic tools you’ll need for home electrical repairs include a voltage tester, wire stripper, pliers, screwdrivers, electrical tape, and a flashlight. You may also need wire nuts, electrical connectors, and a wire fish tape if you’re doing any rewiring.

4. How do I safely turn off the power before starting an electrical repair?

Before you start any electrical repair, you should turn off the power to the circuit you’ll be working on. You can turn off the power at the circuit breaker or fuse box. It’s important to test the circuit with a voltage tester to make sure the power is off before starting the repair.

5. What should I do if I encounter a problem during an electrical repair?

If you encounter a problem during an electrical repair, such as a sparking wire or a tripped circuit breaker, stop immediately and reassess the situation. If you’re not sure what to do, it’s best to call a professional electrician. Trying to fix the problem yourself could be dangerous.

6. How do I replace a light switch?

To replace a light switch, turn off the power to the circuit and remove the cover plate. Use a voltage tester to make sure the power is off and then unscrew the switch from the electrical box. Disconnect the wires from the old switch and connect them to the new switch, making sure to match the wire colors. Screw the new switch into the electrical box and replace the cover plate.

7. How do I replace a light fixture?

To replace a light fixture, turn off the power to the circuit and remove the old fixture. Connect the wires from the new fixture to the wires in the electrical box, making sure to match the wire colors. Install the new fixture according to the manufacturer’s instructions and turn the power back on to test the fixture.

8. How do I install a ceiling fan?

Installing a ceiling fan can be more complicated than other electrical repairs. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and to make sure the electrical box can support the weight of the fan. You’ll need to connect the wires from the fan to the electrical box and install the fan blades and light kit according to the instructions.

9. How do I fix a circuit breaker?

If a circuit breaker trips frequently or won’t reset, it may be faulty and need to be replaced. Turn off the power to the circuit and remove the cover from the circuit breaker panel. Remove the faulty breaker and replace it with a new one of the same size and type. Make sure the new breaker is properly seated and then turn the power back on to the circuit.

10. How do I prevent electrical problems in my home?

To prevent electrical problems in your home, make sure your electrical system is up to code and that all electrical work is done by a licensed professional. Regularly inspect your electrical system for signs of wear or damage, such as frayed wires or broken outlets. Don’t overload outlets or circuits and use surge protectors to protect your electronics. Finally, practice electrical safety by keeping flammable materials away from outlets and appliances and never using electrical appliances near water.

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