Home Electrical Safety & Fundamentals

Simple home electrical repairs can be performed safely IF you follow safety practices for working around electricity. This article reviews key safety guidelines that will keep you safe!


Simple home electrical repairs can be performed safely IF you educate yourself on the safety practices necessary for working around electricity in the home and otherwise.  This article reviews key safety guidelines to follow to keep you safe!

Every do-it-yourselfer should familiarize themselves with the following important guidelines regarding safety.

The three most common statements that we, as electricians, hear are:

1.  “I don’t touch electrical stuff, it’s too scary, so I leave it to the pros”.
2.  “House wiring isn’t that dangerous. It’s only 120 volts”.
3.  “Pulling your wire again, eh?”

All three statements are popular misconceptions. Here’s my response:

1.  Electrical work doesn’t have to be scary, as long as you understand it and follow some basic safety rules, which we will outline for you.

2.  120 volts can be extremely dangerous, and are more than enough to push the necessary amount of current through your heart to stop it from beating, thus killing you dead!

3.  Although this may have been funny the first 800 times we’ve heard this comment, it is wearing a bit thin.

To ensure your safety when working around electricity, there are some critical steps that you must take:

A Word on Electrical Permits

All electrical work requires that you pull a permit with your local electrical authority.  Most jurisdictions allow a homeowner to work on his/her own home’s electrical system.  Some areas only allow work on branch circuits and not main service panel installation.  Some areas will not allow homeowner permits at all.  This varies from place to place, so you must check the rules in your area.

Shut Off the Power

ALWAYS shut off the breaker (or pull the fuse, in the case of an older house) that feeds the circuit you are about to work on.   Most electrical distribution panels have a schedule on them as to which circuit is hooked up to which breaker.  NEVER trust these, as they may be vague and non-descriptive, or changes may have been made and not documented.

ALWAYS verify that that the circuit is dead before working on it.  You can do so by testing to make sure the power is off.  Use a voltage tester or a lamp or radio.  Plug the meter (lamp or radio) into the receptacle or plug that you are wanting to work on to verify that there is power.  One by one, start turning off the breakers until you find the one that shuts off that particular circuit.

You may want to post a sign on the service panel to ensure that nobody attempts to restore power while you are working on the circuits.  To really be sure, lock the panel.  Always double-check the circuit with a voltage tester before you touch it.  Don’t restore power until your repair or replacement has been completed.

Be Wary of Service Panels

The two or three large wires entering a panel from the outside REMAIN LIVE, even if you have shut off the switch or breakers.  NEVER touch service wires, and don’t work near them with a metal ladder.  If you think there is a problem with these wires, play it safe and contact the power company.

Don’t Stand On A Wet Floor

To avoid potentially dangerous shocks, NEVER stand in water or on a wet floor.  Put down dry boards or a rubber mat to stand on while you work.  And NEVER work with electricity when you are wet – be safe and change into dry clothes.

Do Not Touch Metal

Metal conducts electricity; if you happen to touch metal while also touching a live wire, current can then flow through your body, increasing the chance of dangerous shocks.

The Right Tools For the Job

Tools with rubber or plastic coated handles are insulated.  Wear shoes with non-conductive soles, such as rubber-soled shoes or sneakers.  Also consider wearing safety goggles or glasses, and gloves if practical.

Test It Out

When you have completed your electrical project, turn the power back on and check your work with a voltage tester (lamp or radio).

When in Doubt ….

NEVER push yourself when working on any electrical project.  Make sure you give yourself the time to think the project through thoroughly; mistakes happen when we rush projects.

Use good judgment – if you still don’t feel comfortable, leave the job to a qualified electrician.

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