5 Common Electrical Mistakes in DIY Projects

1. Choosing the Wrong Circuit Breaker

Reliant Naperville can help you understand which electrical protection goes where, by considering what each type of breaker was designed to do.

  • Standard circuit breaker

Circuit breakers protect wiring and equipment like furnaces, air conditioners, dryers and stoves. Standard circuit breakers are better at protecting wiring and equipment than preventing fires and protecting people. That’s why they have largely been replaced by GFCIs and AFCIs. There are only a few places left where standard circuit breakers can be used, typically for large appliances.

  • Ground fault circuit interrupter

Ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) protect people in areas where they are likely to be using small appliances and where water is present. GFCI breakers and outlets have been around for a while, and most people know they’re required in bathrooms, kitchens and outdoors, but our experts are still finding violations, especially in these areas: garages, crawl spaces, storage/work areas in unfinished basements, wet bars (within 6 ft. of a sink), and sump pumps. And don’t forget that GFCIs need to be readily accessible in order to be reset. This means they shouldn’t be installed on the ceiling or buried under a hydro massage tub without an access panel.

  • Arc fault circuit interrupter

Arc fault circuit interrupters (AFCIs) prevent fires in all living areas where appliance cords are prone to be pinched or crimped, or chewed by pets.They used to be required only on bedroom circuits, but the National Electrical Code now requires AFCI protection in all living areas. They’re equipped with sophisticated electronics that can detect an arcing condition (like in a frayed lamp cord), which may not be detected by a standard circuit breaker until after a fire has started. AFCI protection is not just required for new construction; it’s now also required where branch-circuit wiring is modified, replaced or extended into existing homes.

2. Don’t Wire Switches Without a Neutral Wire

All switch locations need a neutral wire. This electrical code was mainly implemented to accommodate potential future uses. Electronic switches require a small amount of constant electricity and therefore need a neutral wire run to them. There are exceptions to this code, but if the walls are currently open anyway, don’t make the next person fish in a wire. Do it right and make sure there’s a neutral wire in the box.

3. Don’t Forget Tamper-Resistant Receptacles

Tamper-resistant receptacles are designed to stop a kid from inserting an object, such as a paper clip.

They’re required for all locations, indoors and out. Tamper-resistant receptacles are a great invention, so use them—it’s code.

4. Poor Support for Outlets and Switches

Mistake: Loose outlet

Loose switches or outlets can look bad, but worse yet, they’re dangerous. Loosely connected outlets can move around, causing the wires to loosen from the terminals. Loose wires can overheat, creating fire hazards.

Solution: Add rigid spacers

Fix loose outlets by shimming under the screws to create a tight connection to the box. You can buy special spacers like we show here at home centers and hardware stores. Other options include small washers or a coil of wire wrapped around the screw.

5. Installing a Three-Slot receptacle without a Ground Wire

Solution: Install a two-slot outlet

If you have two-slot outlets, it’s tempting to replace them with three-slot outlets so you can plug in three-prong plugs. But don’t do this unless you’re sure there’s a ground available. Use a tester to see if your outlet is grounded. A series of lights indicates whether the outlet is wired correctly or what fault exists. These testers are readily available at home centers and hardware stores.

If you discover a three-slot outlet in an ungrounded box, the easiest fix is to simply replace it with a two-slot outlet as shown.