Handyman Electrician or Disaster Waiting to Happen: 7 Steps to a Successful Electrical Project

Written By: Ron Daggett

DIY Electrical Project

Plan ahead, take your time, and always keep safety in mind when doing electrical projects.

Are you contemplating doing a little electrical work at home? Maybe you’re looking at your old, discolored light switches from the ‘70s and are thinking you could change them out, or you would love to have another electrical outlet near the PC in your home office. How big of a deal could it be anyway? Just unscrew a few things, put in a new outlet, and away you go….

Hold on! Before you do any of your own electrical work, there are some really important things to consider:

1. Have a Plan.
So it’s time to install the new electrical outlet. Does it really matter which side I land the black wire on versus the white wire? What is this green wire all about? Do I even need to connect it to anything? Do I need a permit? Most jobs you might undertake at home will be relatively simple. With some research on the Internet, you will be able to understand how the wiring needs to be done. Just plan ahead a little bit, and you will be fine.

2. Find Out if You Need Permits.
Be sure to check with your local government to determine if you have to pull a permit to do the work.  The consequences of not getting one when it is required can vary, but never take the chance. Find out if a permit is needed and get it.

3. Safety, Safety, Safety – Kill Power.
First and foremost, you must be absolutely sure whatever circuit you are working on is dead. You have to find the circuit breaker inside your home electrical panel that feeds the area you are going to work on and turn it off. However, even this isn’t enough. You should lock out the circuit breaker so a well-intentioned person doesn’t come by and flip it on while you’re doing your home project. The last thing you want to do is get shocked–or worse yet–allow someone else to get shocked.


Using a voltage meter or multi-meter will help ensure the circuit is off.

4. Check the Circuit with a Meter.
Even though you might think you turned off and locked out the appropriate circuit breaker, are you 100% sure you turned off the right one? Before diving into your project and touching any potentially live wire, always verify the circuit is energy free by checking it with a voltage meter or a voltage indicator. You can get a device to do this at any home improvement store for around $30. You could also buy a higher-end multi-meter and spend a couple hundred dollars, but that degree of an instrument is unnecessary.

5. Make Sure any Changes Meet Code.
Does the outlet need to be GFCI? What gauge of wire should I use? Does the color of wire make any difference? Does this circuit need a ground? These are just some of the many questions that need to be considered. If you aren’t familiar with the National Electric Code (NEC), you should consult an electrician or engineer before embarking on your project. You don’t want to find out you did the job wrong and didn’t meet code during a home inspection while selling your house. Or worse yet, you find out the hard way the wire is sized wrong when a fire breaks out in your home.

6. Have the Right Tools and Good Workmanship.
Most jobs require just a few basic tools. In addition to the voltage indicator discussed above, you need to have wire strippers, wire cutters, and a selection of screw drivers. When doing the work, make sure you are careful to properly strip the wires, not have too much extra copper showing on the ends of the stripped wire, and tighten all of the terminals. A loose terminal can rear its ugly head years later in the form of an arc, which has the potential to start a fire. Slow down, and do the job to the best of your ability!

7. Test Your Work.
The wiring is done, and the big moment comes….flipping the circuit breaker back on. Flipping the circuit breaker on is your first and most important test. You’ll know right away if you made a major mistake. If there is any kind of short, the circuit breaker will trip. Don’t try to turn it back on and hope for the best. This means you have a short somewhere in your wiring. You need to retrace your work and find the error. After you are able to flip the circuit breaker on without incident, you simply need to test all of the devices you installed.

If you make it to this point, you finished a successful home project. If you aren’t sure you can confidently take all of these steps, I would highly recommend you hire a licensed electrician. They, obviously, are well versed in all of these items, and you can be assured the job will be done right. If you do feel confident you can do the project yourself, I wish you the best of luck. I would never take any electrical work lightly. A mistake can have significant consequences. Above all, if you are going to do the work yourself, keep safety in mind at all times.

Ron is the Controls Manager at Bastian Solutions and has been with the company since 2007.

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