As homeowners, we rely on electricity to power our modern lifestyles. Without electrical knowledge, this energy source can become a safety hazard and budget-buster. But without sufficient electrical knowledge, this invisible energy source can become a safety hazard and budget-buster.
From minor issues to more serious risks, a lack of knowledge in DIY electrical work can cause mental and financial stress. From minor annoyances like tripped breakers to serious risks like arc faults and wiring fires, a lack of DIY electrical savvy can truly zap your peace of mind and finances.
You don’t have to study electrical engineering to pick up some key tips for taming your home’s electrical system. We’ve made plenty of mistakes over the years. We learned how to handle common electrical issues ourselves through trial and error.
In this article, we’ll share everything we wish we had known as new homeowners about electrical safety, efficiency, and savings.
Map Your Home’s Electrical Circuits
The first step in understanding your electrical system is to map out your home’s circuits. The circuit breaker box is the mission control center. It directs currents along different circuits running to rooms, outlets, and appliances.
Familiarizing yourself with your circuit map will help you quickly diagnose issues when there is a power outage. For instance, if bedroom outlets suddenly stop working, you’ll know to check the dedicated bedroom circuit at the breaker box.
We label each circuit at our breaker box so there’s no confusion. This makes it simple for us and future homeowners to quickly restore power during an outage.
Use GFCI and GFI Outlets in Wet Areas
Installing GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter) outlets and GFI (ground fault interrupter) outlets is highly recommended for wet areas of the home. GFCIs provide an extra level of protection by quickly shutting off power if electricity flows through a person. This prevents serious shocks and electrocution from happening.
GFI outlets are an older technology but are similar to GFCI outlets. Both types of outlets help prevent accidental electric shocks in damp locations.
The electrical code mandates GFCI outlets within 6 feet of sinks, tubs, pools, and other areas that are at risk of electric shock from water contact. However, we recommend installing additional GFCI and GFI outlets in places like garages, crawlspaces, unfinished basements, kitchen countertops, and outdoor outlets as an added safety precaution.
While more expensive than standard outlets, GFCI and GFI outlets can save lives by preventing tragic accidents. We make it a priority to install them anywhere there is a risk of electric shock, not just in the locations strictly required by code.
Surge Protectors Aren’t Enough
Power surges seem harmless, but they can destroy electronics and appliances in an instant. Plug-in surge protectors help but have limitations. Whole home surge protectors installed at the main panel are the only way to fully protect your electrical system.
We learned this lesson the hard way after a massive surge fried our Wi-Fi routers, game consoles, TVs, and more—thousands of dollars worth of damage. We wish we would have installed whole home surge protectors sooner to block that surge. It would have paid for itself 10 times over in the damage prevented.
Inspect Electrical Components Regularly
Outdated, damaged wiring is the number one cause of electrical fires. You should make it a habit to periodically inspect exposed wires, outlets, switches, and junction boxes for heat damage, nicks, exposed copper, and more.
We avoided disaster when we caught a melted outlet just in time. Rodents had also chewed through wires in our garage. By catching these fire hazards early, we prevented what could have been a tragedy. Make electrical inspections a priority!
LED Lighting Saves Big on Bills
Upgrading old lighting while upgrading your house is one of the fastest ways to start saving on electricity. While LED bulbs are more expensive up front, they use a fraction of the energy of incandescent and last years longer.
We switched out nearly all of our home’s lighting to LEDs last year. Despite the higher initial cost, our utility bill dropped 15% the very next month!
The upgrade paid for itself in less than a year through energy savings. And with LEDs lasting years longer, the savings will continue to grow far into the future.
Check Voltage Ratings Before DIY Installs
Electrical capacity is measured in volts and amps. The standard household voltage is 120V. Before installing new lighting or appliances yourself, always check the voltage and amperage ratings to ensure your home’s circuits can handle the load.
We learned this lesson after installing a new 240V outlet for a welder. Turns out the circuit we tapped didn’t have sufficient amperage. Every time we used the welder, it would trip the breaker. Oops!
We had to call an electrician to run a new, higher-capacity circuit. Remember to check power demands first before DIY electrical work.
Consult Professionals When Needed
While handling minor electrical repairs yourself can save money, you should know when to call the pros. Licensed electricians have the expertise to assess and troubleshoot complex wiring jobs and ensure work is fully up to code.
We’ve enlisted electricians’ help for large projects like rewiring our kitchen during renovation, installing a new AC unit and backup generator, and running additional circuits when we added a master suite.
Although it costs more upfront, having the right electrical infrastructure installed professionally gave us invaluable peace of mind. Don’t cut corners when it comes to major electrical work.
Test GFCIs and Smoke Detectors Regularly
Two of the easiest ways to stay safe are testing GFCIs and smoke detectors monthly. GFCIs can weaken over time.
Test them by pressing the “Test” button to ensure the trip. Check smoke detectors by pressing the test button until the alarm sounds. Batteries should be replaced annually.
Performing these simple, quick tests provides cheap insurance against tragedy. We test all GFCIs and smoke detectors each month when we pay bills. It takes less than 10 minutes and ensures these crucial safety devices will function properly if ever needed.
Know When to Upgrade Your Electrical Panel
As you add larger appliances and more power-hungry devices, an outdated electrical panel can become overloaded.
Signs include frequently tripped breakers, flickering lights, and buzzing/humming from outlets. If your fuse box is still ungrounded or running on just 60 amps, it’s likely time for an upgrade.
We realized that our old 60 amp panel was maxed out after multiple tripped breakers when using newer appliances, like an instant pot and infrared space heater.
We had an electrician install a new 200 amp grounded panel—even though it cost over $1000, and it was worth the peace of mind and convenience.
Home electrical systems provide ever-increasing levels of convenience. But without proper knowledge and maintenance, that convenience comes with ever-increasing risks to your safety and wallet.
We hope these tips empower you to take control of your home electrical system. Master the fundamentals, watch for hazards, upgrade wisely, and consult professionals when prudent.
Follow these electrifying tips, and you’ll keep your home, family, and budget running smoothly for many years to come!