Watch Out For These Wiring Mistakes

Can you change an outlet or move a light switch? Do you consider yourself an amateur electrician? You may feel up to most electrical tasks but here are some pitfalls to watch out for that could save your life and your circuits.

1. Three way switch wiring
3-way switches can be confusing. There are three screws on the switch to terminate the switch wiring. Two of the screws are going to be brass colored and these are where you terminate the travelers. There is also going to be an odd colored screw. Typically, it is either black or copper color. This is the common terminal. You will terminate the power supply hot wire on one end and the hot wire that goes to the light on the other end.

2. GFCI receptacle wiring
GFCI receptacles have a line side set of terminals and a load side set of terminals. The line side is the power supply wires. The load side is the wires going out to a downstream device being protected by the GFCI receptacle. You need to ensure that the neutral wires are terminated on the correct terminals as well.

3. Using the wrong size circuit breaker
Circuit breakers provide over current protection and need to be sized properly. If you have a 15 amp circuit breaker that keeps tripping, you CAN’T replace it with a 20 amp to solve the problem. This will eventually start a fire. If the breaker is tripping, there is probably a reason behind it. You need to solve the problem which is causing the breaker to trip. If the circuit is overloaded, then install a new circuit.

4. Grounding and bonding.
Grounding and bonding is confusing. Most electricians get confused with grounding and bonding as well. It is the largest section in the code book and pretty confusing. Everything pertaining to grounding and bonding can’t be summed up in one paragraph.

In a residential application just remember to install a ground wire with every circuit. Connect the ground wire to all metallic boxes, switches, lights, receptacles, etc. Your ground and neutral wires are required to be separated everywhere in the house except at the first point of disconnect.

5. Loose connections.
Loose connections are bad. After you place a wire nut on the wires or terminate them to a device, you should pull on the wires to ensure the connection is tight. A loose connection could start a fire, will prohibit a circuit or device from working and will provide enough resistance to increase the voltage drop to unacceptable levels.

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Timothy Dahl

Founder/EIC at Charles & Hudson
Timothy’s background includes stints at This Old House, ELLE DECOR, Metropolitan Home and Woman’s Day. His work has been published on Wired Design, Bob Vila, DIY Network, The Family Handyman and Popular Mechanics and he has been featured on the Martha Stewart radio show and as a speaker at the ALT Design Summit, K/BIS and the National Hardware Show.
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