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Working with Electricity Safely
WHILE EXTREME CARE HAS BEEN IMPLEMENTED IN THE PREPARATION OF THIS SELF-HELP DOCUMENT, THE AUTHOR AND/OR PROVIDERS OF THIS DOCUMENT ASSUMES NO RESPONSIBILITY FOR ERRORS OR OMISSIONS, NOR IS ANY LIABILITY ASSUMED FROM THE USE OF THE INFORMATION, CONTAINED IN THIS DOCUMENT, BY THE AUTHOR and / OR PROVIDER.
Read the legal disclaimer page - click the legal link in the menu above
This first part will be repeated in the legal article on this website...
The information on this website is to provide you with the knowledge & understandings of how to work with electricity in the home, and to keep your family safe at the same this information is not intended on being a replacement for professional advice and help. As a founder of this website and author of these self help documents it was done with the intention of saving lives through education and knowledge and not intended as a way to put electricians out of business.
Rather the profession likes / approves it or not, every day home owners do some of their own electrical work, I am not here to promote the practice, I only acknowledge the practice is happening all the time. I have had comments before from people in the profession that people like me are putting electricians out of business, I would like to reply to those questions that people like me are saving lives, and giving people the knowledge that will help those you would try and do at least some of their own electrical rather this website existed or not, these types of websites at least lessens the chance that they will do something that could harm or prove fatal to them or their families.
Next I would like everyone considering doing any of their own electrical themselves to evaluate their own comfort level and their knowledge level before starting any electrical project. As with me their are things I will not touch, one of those things are gas pipes which I would use someone who is an expert in that field to perform those tasks in the home, please know your abilities and limitations; do not tackle beyond those comfort limitations that we all have. Some people do really well if they are able to gain some direction and knowledge, others no matter how much knowledge is out there from places such as this website they will still not comprehend it fully that is not something that diminishes you as a person as everyone has their weakness and strengths, we just have it in different areas. Electricians have to go through formal classroom training as well as years of on the job training and experience before obtaining a full electricians license.
I am not afraid of electricity to a point, as a homeowner the utility power meter is off limits, and the main master breaker cut off (likely a 200 amp main breaker if you have 200 amp service) at the service panel is off limits to me, as that is a direct connection to the utility company that I cannot shut down on both sides of this, the power lines coming from the utility to the home is also off limits.
I would like to point out I am not a licensed electrician, but still maintain a broad range of knowledge on electrical subjects, I have previously co produced and sold websites on electrical subjects, my co producer of those websites was an electrical & building inspector in the United States (I live in Canada), unfortunately he became deceased, during the many years that I worked with him building electrical websites I benefited from increasing even more my knowledge on electrical subjects. I hold a amateur radio license, and consider myself highly technically minded, I have done some electronic repairs myself but I am not an electronics technician and work in operations side of broadcast television.
The poorer section of the population, young families that are starting out do not have a great deal of money and are therefore more inclined to do their on work including electrical because when it comes down to it living pay to pay, and barely making it to the next payday, feeding and meeting the day to day needs of their family as well as paying the utilities and mortgage is always at the priority and little money is left to cover the cost of bringing in a professional.
Self Help websites do not exist to take away the livelihoods of professionals, I hope that some knowledge gained on this website and others like it that we will help families live a longer life and keep them safe.
Working with Electricity
So what can kill and what is safe, when it comes to any electrical current there is no iron clad number, you would expect a 10,000 volt power line will likely kill if gets a return path through a person, but voltages of a lot less less than 100 volts can also kill, DC (direct current) can be as dangerous as AC (alternating current). Resistance to electrical flow on a person can also vary depending on a number of factors including if the skin is perfectly dry, damp, wet, sweating. The path in which the electricity takes, the current level that passes through you, there are so many factors that can come into play that can decide rather you live or die. A shock of just a few milliamps can cause sustained muscle contraction that you cannot get yourself free from the electrical item giving your the shock, it can literally burn the flesh, paralyze the lungs which stops breathing, and stop the heart from pumping. Yes doctors can restart a heart with a electrical shock but electrical shock can also stop a beating heart. In my view there is no safe level of electricity, period.
Always shut down the power to any circuit that you are working on. When wiring new circuits or parts of circuits, make certain the certain breaker / fuse on that circuit is OFF, if it is a fuse totally remove the fuse not just screw it part way out.
Some circuit tests and trouble shooting methods must be done with the power on, trouble shooting will be explained in the article 'Trouble shooting problems'
When working in the breaker service panel, make sure you are wearing insulated rubber footwear / boots; the only way to kill the power to the main ungrounded (hot) buses is to switch off the main circuit breaker that shuts down power to the entire home, this also means no light in the room where the panel is located. Not all panels are the same, in Canada most panels have a separately covered protected area where the main breaker is located, on my panel it is all one unit but the area where the main breaker is isolated with a separate cover over it, so that section can be left with the protector cover on it and the other section that has all the home distribution breakers in it has a separate cover that can be removed, what this does to provide total isolation and the ability to shut down the power to the entire other section. United States panels can have the main breaker in the same section of the service panel. See more information on main service panels in the article 'Main Electrical Panel' Regardless how your particular panel is designed and regardless on rather the main breaker is on or off always work as if the panel is live, that way you never make a mistake thinking for just one moment the panel is dead when you actually missed a step.
If you shut down the main panel you will not have any room lights and will have to rely on battery powered lights, and if your panel does not have an isolated section that hoses the main breaker that in itself could be dangerous if you do not have the inside of the panel well lighted. I have installed new breakers with the panel being live before to take advantage of better lighting, and that can be done safely, you just have to understand absolutely what is in there and what to stay away from, tests such as using a current meter clamping on to a wire cable would have to be done with power on as there is no current to read with the power off.
If you decide to install a new breaker with the power on, wear insulated electricians gloves, turn OFF the new breaker before installing, turn off the nearby breakers that sit beside where the new breaker is located. use insulated tools, never use un-insulated tools. Above all no children near you, if you have children in the home they must be in a different area of the home supervised by another person. If you where to ever make a mistake and physically cross the two ungrounded (hot) bus bars without insulated electricians gloves on you will get hit with 220 volts, and it would take more than 200 amps to take out the main breaker, you would be dead before that main breaker cut off. If you are not sure or even think you have second thoughts then get some bright battery powered lights and shut down the main breaker. most experts will likely tell you to shut down the main breaker when installing new breakers and wiring a new cable in it, it is one of those things where do as I say not as I do advice you should take seriously. Even with a complete shutdown treat and work in the panel as if it was live.
Electricity that passes through the chest cavity is even more dangerous, I will explain in detail about wiring in the main service panel in the article 'Main Electrical Panel'
In summary main panel work...
a) Wear insulated electricians gloves when working in the main service panel even if the main breaker is shut off.
b) use only insulated tools.
c) know all components of the panel and I do mean everything before any work is performed inside the panel, understand it fully.
d) wear insulated foot wear.
e) wear long pants not short pants, less of a chance your legs will rub against something that could provide a path to ground.
f) As they say don't drink and drive, I will also say don't drink and work with electricity.
If working on a circuit outside of the panel in the home, turn off the circuit breaker to that circuit, and tell others in the home what you are doing, so when someone discovers that their bedroom light does not work they do not get the bright idea of resetting the breaker while you are working on that circuit.
Written: Jan. 3 2012
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All Rights Reserved
Donald Kerr / Wiring Done Right