faqs

Have a simple question and not sure if you should call an electrician? Look through our frequently asked questions and see if you can find an answer.

Electrical FAQs

When should you call an electrician?

If you notice that you are resetting circuit breakers or changing fuses too often, or when you turn on your air conditioner and the lights dimor flicker. Definitely if you smell electricity burning. When you have too many electronic devices going into one outlet in back of your electronics center and overburdened outlets with multi-plug strips. When a three-prong plug needs a two-prong adapter.

Can I just throw away my old recyclable batteries?

No, laws require that they be recycled. This includes Nickel Cadmium (Ni-Cd), Nickel Metal Hydride (Ni-MH), Lithium Ion (Li-ion) and small sealed Lead (Pb) batteries. You can look for a battery recycling seal on the rechargeable batteries found in cordless power tools, cellular and cordless telephones, laptop computers and camcorders.

I have a circuit breaker that tripped. Is this dangerous?

Usually the problem is simply an overload and you only need to run fewer appliances on the circuit. However, if it is not overloaded and it keeps tripping, you should suspect a short. Also, look for a defective cord, socket or plug.

Is it all right to replace a fuse or circuit breaker with a larger one to prevent them from blowing or tripping?

In most cases the answer is no. They are designed to blow at certain levels to protect equipment and for fire safety.

What is the difference between a floodlight and a spotlight?

The floodlight will have a broader light pattern, while a spotlight will focus on a more narrow area.

Do 4-foot fluorescent fixtures come in different wattages?

Yes, the most common are 25-, 34- and 40-watt bulbs.

What is the advantage of a halogen bulb?

It provides brighter, cleaner light. However, it consumes lots of electricity and gets very hot. You should ensure that it stays away from draperies, bedding, clothing and hanging plants.

What's making the tubes in my fluorescent light flicker?

Wiggle the tubes to make sure they are properly seated. Replace any tubes that are dark or have damaged pins. Replace the starter if there is one.

The dryer plug will not fit the receptacle in our new house. How can I remedy this?

In most new homes, there should be four-prong dryer and range receptacles. If you have a three-prong power cord, you will need to have it changed.

What is a polarized plug?

One prong is bigger than the other. This feature is designed to make sure that a 110-volt plug is never put into a socket that is not a 110-volt outlet.

Will a three-pronged plug adapter protect me against electrical shock when I use it in a two-prong receptacle?

Only if the wall plate screw is grounded.

What do I need to buy for a basic electrical tool kit?

We recommend the following:

How do I test a switch to see if it is working?

We recommend using a continuity tester. First, shut off the electricity going to the switch and remove it. Touch the tester leads to both of the switch's terminals. If the switch is working properly, the tester will light up when the switch is on and go out when the switch is turned off.

What is the easiest way to test an outlet?

Use a receptacle analyzer. Leave the power on, but make sure nothing is plugged into any outlet on the circuit, and turn off all switches on the circuit. Now, plug the analyzer into the outlet. A series of lights will tell you if the outlet is wired correctly and working.

What do numbers on electrical cable mean?

They refer to the number and types of wire inside the cable. For example, 14-2 means the cable has two 14-gauge wires inside. 12-3 G means the cable has three 12-gauge wires plus a bare ground wire.

What do the colors of the plastic insulation mean on wires?

They are designed to indicate their use, but be careful because they are not always hooked correctly. Hot wires, those carrying current at full voltage, are usually black, red or white with black marks. Neutral wires are usually white or gray. Ground wires are usually either green or bare copper.

When my house was built, they did not install a doorbell. Is there an easy way to solve this?

Yes, there are wireless door chimes.

What is a ground fault interrupter?

It's a safety device that shuts off the power if a wire in an outlet develops a leak that could electrocute someone. This hazard is so serious that the National Electrical Code requires all new homes be equipped with them in the bathroom, kitchen, workroom, outdoor, basement, garage and swimming pool circuits.

What is a transformer?

It's a device that changes the voltage. In most home usage, it reduces the voltage for use on low-voltage equipment, such as thermostats, doorbells and low-voltage outdoor lighting.

If there is a short in the line, where should I look for it?

Search for loose taped wire; also look for worn fabric insulation on old wires and check any terminals that have multiple wires since one of the wires may have slipped off.

How do you figure amperage?

It's watts divided by volts. For example, a 1500-watt heater (divided by) 120 volts equals 12.5 amps.

My doorbell doesn't work, do you know what's wrong with it?

There are three components to the doorbell; the button, the transformer and the bell itself. First, look for any loose wires throughout the system. If all the wires are connected, test the doorbell button by removing it and touching the two wires together. If this makes the doorbell work, you have a bad button that is easily replaced.

I've bypassed the doorbell button, and the doorbell still did not work. What's the most likely problem?

Check the transformer. You will have to find it. It might be in the attic, but it can be anywhere. You just need to trace the wire. If it makes a humming sound when the button is pushed, your problem is probably the chime. If it doesn't make a sound, change the transformer to see if that's the problem.

Do all of the outlets in my kitchen need to have ground-fault circuit interrupters?

No, if the first in the series is GFCI, then all are protected.

Where are GFCIs required?

Any bathroom or garage outlet within 6' of a sink must be GFCI protected. The code also requires all kitchen outlets for countertop use to be GFCI protected. GFCI outlets must be installed in any area where electricity and water could come into contact, including basements, pools, spas, utility rooms, and attached garages. At least one GFCI outlet is required in an unfinished basement and for most outdoor outlets.

There are two types of GFCIs in homes, the GFCI outlet and the GFCI circuit breaker. Both do the same job, but each has different applications and limitations.

The GFCI outlet is actually a replacement for a standard electrical outlet. A GFCI is not dependent of a ground to function. It does not measure shorts to the ground, it measures the current difference between the hot and neutral wires. The only problem with this is there may be some accidental tripping in highly inductive loads like large motors or even fluorescent lamps or fixtures on the same circuit. But the newer models have somewhat corrected this.

It protects any appliance plugged into it, and can also be wired to protect other outlets that are connected to it. The GFCI circuit breaker controls an entire circuit, and is installed as a replacement for a circuit breaker on your home's main circuit board. Rather than install multiple GFCI outlets, one GFCI circuit breaker can protect the entire circuit. There is a test button and a reset button on these units. If you press the test button the reset should pop out. To reset just push the reset button in.

Is there a light switch that I can use to replace one in my house?

Yes, but is it a single pole or is it a three-way switch. A three-way switch is one that is used when a light is controlled by more than one switch.

What does gauge mean?

Wires have size numbers that express their diameter. These are even numbers from 0 to 18, and smaller numbers indicate larger diameters that can carry more power.

I am putting a couple of more outlets in my garage. Can I use 14-gauge wire?

While 14-gauge wire is the minimum for most house wiring, it can only be used for 15-amp circuits. Number 12-gauge wire is recommended for general home use. There is often a chart on boxes of wire that will show you recommended gauges for specific applications.

I need to install a receptacle for my kitchen range. Is it okay to use one designed for a dryer?

No, they may look similar, but they have different features. Make sure you check the manufacturers' label to ensure you are buying one that is rated for the proper amperage.

Do I need a special lamp for this droplight?

Use a rough service bulb. These heavy-duty bulbs will take rougher treatment and water droplets.

How is UF electric wire different from regular Romax cable?

If you lay cable underground, it must be UF (underground feed) cable, which has each individual wire insulated and has plastic wound around the insulated wire for weather and sunlight protection. Romax has a paper product around the wires.

What type of wire should I use for a 220-volt outlet?

The best choice is a three-wire cable with a ground. Also, make sure it's rated for the amperage you need.

What type of switches will I need to turn a light on from three different locations?

Two of the locations will use a three-way switch and the other location will need a four-way switch.

How do I troubleshoot a fluorescent fixture that doesn't light?

It's probably not the bulb because they rarely go bad all at once. Wiggle the tube to make sure it is seated. Replace any damaged lamp holders. Replace the starter. Check the switch and outlet box to make sure it is getting power.

What's causing my fluorescent fixture is hum?

The ballast probably needs to be replaced. Another sign of a faulty ballast is black tar-like substance oozing from the fixture.

How do I check the starter in the fluorescent fixture?

Older, delayed-start fluorescent lights flicker when they first light up. If this lasts more than a couple of seconds, make sure the starter is seated by pushing it in and turning clockwise. If the ends of the tube light up and the middle does not, the starter is bad. Remove it by turning counterclockwise.

The tubes in my fluorescent light are graying near the ends. Does this mean they are wearing out?

Working tubes usually have a gray tinge on the ends, but dark gray or black is a sign that the tube is failing.

My fluorescent fixture does not seem to be putting out as much light as it used to. Could the tube be failing?

If the entire tube is dim, it may simply need washing. Try removing it and wiping it with a damp cloth.

Is there a special extension cord for my window air conditioner?

Yes, you need to use a major appliance cord. A regular extension cord doesn't have heavy enough wire to safely conduct the necessary current.

What is the difference between an extension cord rated for outdoor use and a standard one?

The outer coating of the insulation on the outdoor-use cord is weather and sunlight resistant.

What tool should I use to strip the plastic sheathing off wire?

A combination tool has openings that fit different sizes of wire. When a wire is put into the correct one and pulled, it will remove the covering without damaging the wire.

Is there a tool for removing the outer sheathing on cables such as Romax?

A utility knife will work, but an inexpensive cable ripper is designed for the task and will not damage the wires inside.

I have some slots left on my circuit breaker box that do not have breakers in them. Can I add more circuits?

You need to see how many amps your box is rated for and then look at the existing circuits to see how many total amps are already being used. If you have not reached the maximum, it's possible to add more, but it's best to have a professional do the work inside the box unless you have the specific knowledge.

I think there is a short in a wire running to one of my rooms. Is there some way to test it to find out?

A continuity tester will let you know if there is a short. It is a tool that includes a battery so that it can supply a low-voltage current to devices and wires to see if there is a complete circuit.

I have low-voltage outdoor lighting. Can I add additional lights?

You will have to look at your transformer to determine what its maximum wattage is. Most bulbs are 4 watts, but they come in different wattages. You will have to add up what you are currently using.

My dusk to dawn light doesn't go off and remains on all day. Do I need to replace it?

First find the sensor and see if it is being obscured by something. If not, you can probably just replace this sensor.

Is replacing my thermostat an easy project?

Yes, simply remove the old thermostat from the wall. Next, disconnect each wire and mark it so you can keep track of where it was connected. Attach the new thermostat to the wall and attach the old wires.

What is a voltage tester?

It's an inexpensive tool that tests for live current. It can save your life. To use a voltage tester, simply plug its leads into a receptacle, or, if the cover plate is off, touch them to the screw terminals of the device. If current is present, the tester will light.

I have some tools that have three prongs, but the outlet I want to use has only two prongs. Can I safely cut the extra prong off?

No, the third prong is the grounding prong. If you cut it off or use a plug adapter that is not grounded, you will disable a feature that is designed to protect against electrical shock.

Why do some appliances and tools only have two prongs and no grounding prong?

These products are "double-insulated" and do not need the added protection of a grounding plug. You can plug them into ungrounded outlets and still be protected.

Is it easy to replace a faulty plug?

Yes, start by snipping off the original plug. Slide the cord into the new plug, strip the wires and connect them to the proper terminals. For lamps and small appliances there are quick-connect plugs. The snipped wire is inserted and a small lever is closed, which holds and pierces the wire to make the connection.

Can I add additional outlets to an existing circuit?

You need to figure the current circuit load in watts to see if it can handle additional use. The National Electric Code is 20 percent less than maximum. This means a 15-amp circuit has a safe capacity of 1,440 watts. A 20-amp circuit limit is 1,920 watts, a 25-amp circuit's limit is 2,400 watts and a 30-amp circuit has a safe limit of 2,880 watts.

How can you recognize a socket used for a three-way lamp?

This socket will have a regular contact tab inside, which all sockets have, plus another raised contact point.

Is it okay to use an extension cord with a fuse on it rather than a surge protector for my computer?

No, a surge protector has components that trip before a spike in electricity damages your electronic equipment.

Do I need special tape for wiring?

Yes, you should use electrical tape.

Interested in working with us?

Let us help you with your next project! Fill out our online form and we will get back to you with ideas and a cost estimate.

Contact Us

Our Process

We'll guide you through the whole process to deliver your project on-time and on-budget. Free estimates and your satisfaction is guaranteed!

Concept: ideas and planningSatisfaction Guaranteed
Design: architecture and design
Scheduling: timing and actual work
Completion!

Members of

Handyman Club of America
Electrical Contractors Association

Handyman.comECABetter Business Bureau