Residential Electrical Wiring Safety
First and foremost, when working with residential electrical wiring
remember one important maxim. “Electricity can kill”. It is important you
fully respect it when working on electrical wiring in the home. In many
municipalities you may not even be allowed to work on it, and in most cases
you will need a permit at a minimum. In my experience local building
inspectors will provide homeowners permits for small projects if they
present an electrical wiring diagram plan and can demonstrate some level of
basic electrical wiring knowledge.
A couple of key things to remember when it comes to residential
and Red wires are typically “Hot” meaning current (Amps) are flowing from
the circuit breaker to the appliance or electrical box.
wires are usually the “Returns” where current (Amps) will return back to
the circuit breaker after passing through the appliance/load.
Circuit Panel and Circuit Breakers
The second most important maxim to remember when building a new home and
installing your home’s electrical wiring is. “You can never have enough
As our homes today become increasingly filled with home theater systems,
multiple computers, fancier lighting systems, and other new age kitchen
appliances, residential electricity demand continues to rise. Gone are the
days when 100 Amp circuit panel is sufficient.
This said, when meeting with your electrical contractor ask for a minimum
of a 200 Amp circuit panel with 40 locations for circuit breakers. You may
not initially need all of the circuit breaker locations, but over time you
probably will. For example if you install a pool or build a home addition
later on you will need additional circuit breakers.
If you are unfamiliar with a circuit panel, it is where all of the wires
in your home get tied into and connected to circuit breakers. These circuit
breakers are fed by one large circuit breaker that connects your home to the
local electric grid. Typically each circuit breaker is targeted towards a
specific room within the home. In some cases there may be multiple circuit
breakers for a room.
There are national, state and local residential electrical wiring codes
that specify the maximum number of outlets, switches and appliances that can
be on a circuit breaker. Also, circuit breakers come in different shapes and
sizes with different current rating capacities. The electrical codes also
specify the current capacity of the circuit breaker for particular rooms.
They also specify the types of rooms that need ground fault interrupt
circuit breakers. For example, typically kitchens and bathrooms will require
20amp ground fault circuit breakers due to the number of appliances that are
used in these rooms and the higher risk of electrical shock. Ground fault
interrupt circuit breakers are designed to trip in the event an electrical
appliance comes in contact with water, thus potentially saving your life.
Residential Electrical Wiring
Another important residential electrical wiring tip is the choice of
electrical wiring. Many codes only require the use of 14-2 wire, which
consists of a black, white and bare ground wire that is typically tied into
a 15-amp circuit breaker. Again, with the increase of electronic technology
in the home I would suggest using 12-2 wire in all rooms. This is a thicker
wire usually used in conjunction with 20amp circuit breakers. With more
current carrying capacity you will have less chance of tripping circuit
breakers when the home theater, computer and vacuum cleaner are all running
simultaneously. If you have kids, you know this is possible.
Also, if you plan on building a workshop in your garage or basement
you’ll definitely want to use 12-2 wire. I’ve been in too many homes where I
turn on the table saw and trip the circuit breaker because someone else was
simultaneously using an electric drill.
Location and Height of Electrical
Again, codes dictate minimum heights off of the floor and maximum
distances between outlets. However, I typically install outlets so that the
bottom of the box is 16 inches off the floor. I also try to install outlet
boxes near where I anticipate furniture to reside.
Location of Electrical Switches
When installing light switches carefully consider the locations of them.
You don’t want them installed behind doors. You want them to be intuitively
located when walking into the room. Usually you will want to place them
within arm reach of the doorway at a height of 48 inches or so off of the
Also consider 3-way switches, which means you can turn the light off at
two locations within the room. This is particularly helpful if there are two
ways of egress from the room. Don’t forgo this type of switch, if your
wiring your own home or room, just because it seems too complicated. You
will regret your decision over an over. A 3-way switch is not too
complicated. It just requires the right type of switches (two 3-way
switches) and reading the wiring instructions in the 3-way switch packaging.
You can also find instructions online.
Installing Ceiling Lights and Ceiling
When installing ceiling/wall lights and ceiling fans, assemble them as
much as possible on the ground to eliminate neck strain and the need for
having another set of hands to hold them up when installing them.
Use the Right Tools
Always use the right tools when installing residential electrical wiring
in your home. Pliers and screwdrivers should have insulated grips. Also,
needle nose pliers are great for creating the loops in the wire to fasten
the outlet/switch screws to. In addition, use insulated wire stripping tools
for stripping wires. Finally, there are also some inexpensive casing
strippers to help to quickly remove the white casing around the 12-2 or 14-2
For information on Changing a Light
Switch, See HomeAdditionPlus.com's "How
to Change a Light Switch Ebook". It provides detailed, easy to
understand, step-by-step instructions and pictures, on how to replace a
For information on refinishing Brass
Exterior Light Fixtures, See HomeAdditionPlus.com's "Refinishing
Brass exterior Light Fixtures Ebook". If you are are
tired of looking at those dull and faded brass exterior light fixtures
on the outside of your home, and want to do something about it this
Ebook provides detailed, easy to understand, step-by-step instructions
and pictures, on how to make them look like new.