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Top 10 Electrical Mistakes

Wiring problems and mistakes are all too common, and if left uncorrected have the potential to
cause short circuits, shocks and even fires. Here's what to look for and how to fix what you find.

Mistake 1: Making Connections Outside Electrical Boxes
Mistake: No electrical box
Never connect wires outside of electrical boxes. Junction boxes protect the connections from accidental
damage and contain sparks and heat from a loose connection or short circuit.
Solution: Add a box

install a box and reconnect the wires inside it. from the box. Mistake 2: Cutting Wires Too Short Mistake 2: Wires too short Wires that are cut too short make wire connections difficult and—since you're more likely to make poor connections—dangerous. Solution: Extend wires . Leave the wires long enough to protrude at least 3 in.Where connections aren't contained in an electrical box. The photo shows one way to do this for an exterior light mounted on wood siding.

The photo shows a type of wire connector that's easier to install in tight spots. Mistake 3: Leaving Plastic-Sheathed Cable Unprotected Mistake: Unprotected cable . there's an easy fix.If you run into short wires. Simply add 6-in. extensions onto the existing wires. You'll find these in hardware stores and home centers.

-thick board alongside the cable. Solution: Install a 2 x 2 Protect exposed plastic. as shown here. That's why the electrical code requires cable to be protected in these areas. Cable is especially vulnerable when it's run over or under wall or ceiling framing.sheathed cable by nailing or screwing a 1-1/2-in.sheathed cable that's left exposed between framing members. You don't have to staple the cable to the board.It's easy to damage plastic. Mistake 4: Poor Support for Outlets and Switches .

Loose wires can arc and overheat. causing the wires to loosen from the terminals. Other options include small washers or a coil of wire wrapped around the screw. Loosely connected outlets can move around. Solution: Add rigid spacers Fix loose outlets by shimming under the screws to create a tight connection to the box. . creating a potential fire hazard. You can buy special spacers like we show here at home centers and hardware stores. they're dangerous. but worse yet.Mistake: Loose outlet Loose switches or outlets can look bad.

. it's tempting to replace them with three-slot outlets so you can plug in threeprong plugs. If you discover a three-slot outlet in an ungrounded box. A series of lights indicates whether the outlet is wired correctly or what fault exists.Mistake 5: Installing a Three-Slot receptacle without a Ground Wire Solution: Install a two-slot outlet If you have two-slot outlets. These testers are readily available at home centers and hardware stores. But don't do this unless you're sure there's a ground available. the easiest fix is to simply replace it with a twoslot outlet as shown. Use a tester to see if your outlet is grounded.

Boxes recessed behind combustible materials like wood present a fire hazard because the wood is left exposed to potential heat and sparks.Mistake 6: Recessing Boxes Behind the Wall Surface Mistake: Exposed combustible material Electrical boxes must be flush to the wall surface if the wall surface is a combustible material. Solution: Add a box extension .

Mistake 7: Installing Cable Without a Clamp Mistake: Missing clamp Cable that's not secured can strain the connections. the sharp edges can cut the insulation on the wires. If you use a metal box extension on a plastic box. of the box.The fix is simply to install a metal or plastic box extension. Single plastic boxes do not require internal cable clamps. Larger plastic boxes are required to have built-in cable clamps and the . connect the metal extension to the ground wire in the box using a grounding clip and a short piece of wire. but the cable must be stapled within 8 in. In metal boxes.

buy clamps separately and install them when you add the cable to the box. and that about 1/4 in. of the box. Solution: Install a clamp Make sure the sheathing on the cable is trapped under the clamp. If the box you’re using doesn't include clamps.cable must be stapled within 12 in. Some metal boxes have built-in cable clamps. Cables must be connected to metal boxes with an approved cable clamp. Mistake 8: Overfilling Electrical Boxes Mistake: Box too small . of sheathing is visible inside the box.

usually on the back.00 for 14-gauge wire and by 2. short-circuiting and fire. Steel boxes won’t be labeled.25 for 12-gauge wire to get the minimum box size required in cubic inches. width and depth of the interior. Solution: Install a larger box To figure the minimum box size required.for each device (switch or outlet—but not light fixtures) Multiply the total by 2.for all the cable clamps combined 2 . add up the items in the box: 1 . Then multiply to find the volume. so you'll have to measure the height. The National Electrical Code specifies minimum box sizes to reduce this risk. Plastic boxes have the volume stamped inside.Too many wires stuffed into a box can cause dangerous overheating. Steel box capacities are listed in the electrical code. .for all the ground wires combined 1 .for each hot wire and neutral wire entering the box 1 . Then choose a box with at least this much volume.

It's usually identified by a silver or light-colored screw. The trouble is that you may not realize the mistake until someone gets shocked.Mistake 9: Reversing Hot and Neutral Wires Solution: Identify the neutral terminal Connecting the black hot wire to the neutral terminal of an outlet creates the potential for a lethal shock. The neutral terminal is always marked. that's the ground. If there's a green or bare copper wire. because lights and most other plug-in devices will still work. . they just won't work safely. Connect the ground to the green grounding screw or to a ground wire or grounded box. Connect the hot wire to the other terminal. Always connect the white wire to the neutral terminal of outlets and light fixtures.

” is for incoming power for the GFCI outlet itself. . They have two pairs of terminals. The other set is labeled “load” and provides protection for downstream outlets. labeled “line. You'll lose the shock protection if you mix up the line and load connections. One pair.Mistake 10: Wiring a GFCI Backward Solution: Connect power to the “line” terminals GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets protect you from a lethal shock by shutting off the power when they sense slight differences in current.