Kansas City Finance

Dec 31 2017

Wiring Outlets and Switches the Safe and Easy Way

#installing #electrical #outlets #in #basement


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Wiring Outlets and Switches the Safe and Easy Way

Buying a Dimmer Switch

Dimmer switches are available in many styles and configurations, including slides, knobs and touch-sensitive dimming mechanisms. However, check these key things:

  • Capacity (how many lights it can control). The capacity will be measured in watts. Add up the wattage of the bulbs in all the fixtures the switch controls to make sure it falls within the switch rating listed on the package or instructions.
  • Single-pole or three-way. Buy a “single-pole” switch if one switch controls the lights or a “three-way” if you have two switches controlling the same lights.
  • Light type. Standard and halogen bulbs require standard incandescent dimmers. A few fluorescent lights can be dimmed with special dimmer switches, but most can’t. Low-voltage lights may also require special dimmers.

Don’t Reverse Hot and Neutral Wires

Connecting the black hot wire to the neutral terminal of an outlet creates the potential for a lethal shock. The trouble is that you may not realize the mistake until someone gets shocked, because lights and most other plug-in devices will still work; they just won’t work safely.

Always connect the white wire to the neutral terminal of outlets and light fixtures. The neutral terminal is always marked. It’s usually identified by a silver or light-colored screw. Connect the hot wire to the other terminal. If there’s a green or bare copper wire, that’s the ground. Connect the ground to the green grounding screw or to a ground wire or grounded box.

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Wrap Wires Clockwise Around Terminal Screws

Wrapping the wire clockwise ensures that the loop on the end of the wire will tend to close when the screw is tightened. If you put the loop over the screw in the counterclockwise direction, tightening the screw will force the loop open and could create a loose connection.

Pack Boxes Neatly

Here’s how to keep wires neat and compact: First, gather all the bare ground wires along with a long pigtail and connect them. Fold them into the back of the box, leaving the pigtail extended. Next, do the same for the neutral wires. If you’re connecting switches as shown here, you don’t need a neutral pigtail. Leave the hot wire extra long and fold it back and forth across the bottom of the box. Put a wire connector cap on the hot wire to identify it.

Twist Off Ends of UF

Underground feeder (UF) cable has a tough plastic sheathing that’s difficult to remove—unless you know this trick. Start by separating the black and white wires from the bare copper by grabbing each with pliers and twisting. They’re easy to tear apart once you get them started. Pull them apart until you have about a foot of separated wires.

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Strip Off Sheathing

Remove the sheathing from the insulated underground feeder wires by grabbing the end of the wire with one pliers and the sheathing with another pliers and working them apart. After you get the sheathing separated from the insulated wire at the top, just peel it off. Repeat the process to remove the sheathing from the black wire. Finally, cut off the loose sheathing with scissors or a knife.

Save Box Space

A box with three switches is crowded enough without adding extra wire connectors and pigtails. Here’s a wiring method that eliminates extra connections and creates a neater installation. Instead of running a separate pigtail from the hot wire to each switch, just leave the hot wire extra long. To connect the switches, simply score the wire with your wire stripper and push the insulation to expose about 3/4 in. of bare wire. Connect the last switch in the usual manner, looping the wire around the screw in a clockwise direction.

Ground hole down or up

You usually see outlets installed with the ground hole down. But it’s no better than installing them the opposite direction. Electricians endlessly debate this and vigorously extol the virtues of installing it one way or the other, but we’ll tell it to you straight—it just doesn’t matter. Both ways are correct. The electrical code doesn’t specify which direction the ground plug hole needs to face. One way isn’t safer than the other—as long as the outlet is wired correctly.

It all comes down to aesthetics, so install them whatever way looks best to you. Incidentally, the ground plug is typically down in the United States, the opposite of how it’s generally installed in Canada.

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Use Four Key Tools for Safe and Fast Wiring

Here are four must-have tools if you plan to wire many switches and outlets:

Voltage tester. You can pick one up for a few bucks and use it to test for hot wires or to find a neutral. Just touch the probes between a hot and a neutral, or between two hot wires. The tester will light up if the wires are “hot.” The tester shown also tests for 240 volts.

Combination sheath and wire stripper. In addition to slots for stripping insulation from 14- and 12-gauge wire, it has slots to strip the sheathing from 14- and 12-gauge nonmetallic cable.

Voltage “sniffer.” The beauty of this tool is that you don’t have to touch bare wires to see if they’re hot. Just hold it near any wire or cable to see if it’s energized. Use a noncontact voltage tester like this to double-check that all wires in a box are “dead” after turning off the circuit breaker.

GFCI receptacle tester. Just plug it into any GFCI outlet and the lights will indicate whether the outlet is properly wired. Plug it into a GFCI receptacle and press the test button to see if the GFCI is working correctly.

Use Pigtails on Outlets

Outlets have pairs of screws on each side that you can use to connect downstream outlets, but it’s best not to use them. There are two reasons for this. First, connecting the wires leading to downstream outlets with wire connectors creates a more secure connection. And second, it’s easier to press the outlet back into the box if fewer of its screws are connected to wires. Instead, use wire connectors to connect the neutral, hot and ground wires along with 6-in.-long “pigtails.” Then connect the pigtails to the outlet.

Smart Switches May Need a Neutral Wire

Switch makers have built all kinds of cool features into modern “smart switches.” You can buy switches with occupancy sensors, timers and programmable dimmers. But the catch is that, unlike an ordinary switch, some of these new switches require a neutral to operate correctly. This is a problem if your old switch is wired as a “switch loop,” such that only a hot and a switched hot are available in the box.

Before you shop for a new switch, remove your old one from the box—after making sure the power is off, of course—and look for a neutral white wire. Any wires connected to the existing switch are not neutral wires. If a white wire is connected to the switch, it should be marked as a hot wire with either a piece of black tape or black marker as shown. If there’s no neutral in the box, shop for a smart switch that doesn’t require a neutral.

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