Electrical Tips and Techniques

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A few simple tips to help you get through your next electrical project.

Some homeowners may understand a few basic wiring principles for switches, outlets, and small fixture installation. Here are a few tips and tricks you can use that will make the job go smoothly and produce a better finished product.

Fishing a Wire in a Wall

When fishing a wire through a wall, use jack chain rather than string. It is easily pulled through insulation, block,and other materials. You can pull on it hard without breaking and the weight of the chain helps when dropping it through the wall cavity. You can either open up the last link or strip the wire and insert one of the conductors into the link and secure with a few twists and electrical tape.

Jack Chain is used to hang fixtures in unfinished spaces like garages and basements.

Rusted Screws

For outlets and switches installed in damp locations like bathrooms and around the kitchen, replace 6-32 screws in devices with stainless steel Phillips head screws. Then they will come out easier when needed.

Old Work Box Installation

Most home centers now carry the PVC “old work” boxes with the screws and swings ears to secure the box to the drywall. These may not work if you have a paneled wall that is too deep. Also, you need to cut out a small notch in opposite corners to allow the box to slide into the opening and these may not be covered by the cover plate. Instead use Madison bars, also called F-brackets or “battleship” bars to install the box. It is best to use them with a metal box with a larger tab at the top and bottom. Insert the bars alongside the box and fold the tabs into the box. Keep old work boxes away from studs.

Madison Bars

Stripped Threads on Screws

You can repair a damaged screw on a device with a wire nut. Take out the screw and find an appropriate sized wire nut that fits over the end of the screw. Twist it on until it starts to grab the threads and then remove it. Since the coiled spring inside the wire nut is tapered, it gently repairs the threads and you can reuse the screw.

Ground Up or Down?

There is some debate in residential electrical wiring requirements when positioning outlets. In commercial settings, boxes are typically metal and outlets are required to have the ground prong up. This is to prevent an accidental short if a plug is loose and a metal cover plate comes in contact with the hot and neutral prongs. If you have metal outlet cover plates, install them with the ground prong up. To be on the safe side when you remodel, install new outlets with the ground prong up.

Wire Nuts

Connect wires with a wire nut is the most common connection you can make. Strip about an inch off the wires and twist them together with a pair of electrician’s pliers. Hold the wire nut over the twisted wires and cut off the tip of the wires so the insulation will be covered by the wire nut. Twist on until tight. In damp locations or outside, secure the wires with a piece of electrical tape to help keep out moisture.

Itchy Insulation

When working in an attic or walls or ceilings with insulation, the small glass fibers can itch and irritate your skin. Some people like to use lotion afterwards to help loose the fibers, but you can take a bottle of baby powder or corn starch and apply it to your hands, arms, neck and a face. The powder protects your skin from the insulation and prevents the irritation and itching. Be careful to keep it out of your eyes.


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