Electrical Tips

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Replacing outlets.

  • First you must turn the power off to the outlet you want to replace.

    • Plug a radio into the outlet and turn it up loud.
    • Go to the panel, shut off circuits and listen for the radio to go off.
    • When it does, the outlet should be dead. Double check this with a tester. <Some outlets can have more than one circuit powering them>. Doing it this way, the rest of the power in the house can remain on.
    • A ground must be present to install a grounded outlet.
    • Put the whites to the common side and the blacks to the hot side of the new outlet.
    • Replace the outlet and check that all is well with the outlet using a tester.

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Replacing switches.

Turn off the power. Some switches can have multiple circuits within the box!

Single pole.
If there is only one switch controlling a light, it is considered a single pole. When replacing a single pole switch or dimmer, there are only 2 screw contacts on the switch or dimmer. Before removing the switch, note what wires are located on the screws. Some switches may have several wires going to one screw terminal. Remove the existing switch and install the new device. It does not matter which screw the wires go to (unless its a lighted switch or multiple ganged switch).

Three way.
If there are 2 switches controlling a light, it is considered a 3-way. When replacing a 3-way switch or dimmer, there are 3 screw contacts on the switch. Before removing the switch, look at it. 2 contacts are the same color and the other is an odd color. The odd color screw will usually have a mark to designate them as the odd terminal. The wire that comes off of the odd color screw on the original switch, needs to be connected to the odd color screw of the new switch. Connect the remaining 2 wires to the other 2 contacts. (Trouble shooting 3-ways)

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Trouble shooting 3-way switches.
Continue only if you are qualified for working with live electrical parts and are familiar with working with testers! Read all of the following before beginning. If an item is unfamiliar, do not attempt to continue.

  • Turn off the power for this first step.

  • At the two switch locations, remove the switches from the wall.
  • Remove the 6 wires from the 2 switches and separate the wires from each other and so they are not touching any thing else. Remove only the wires that are on the switch.
  • Turn the power back on.
  • Locate and identify the the "hot" wire.
    • This is done using a tester.
    • Only one wire should be hot out of the 6 wires.
  • Turn the power off.
  • At the location you found the "hot" wire , install a 3-way switch here.
    • On the 3-way switch, there is one out of the three screws that is a different color. The hot wire goes to the different colored screw. The other 2 remaining wires go to the 2 remaining screws. It does not matter which one goes to which of the remaining screws. Replace the switch in the wall. The first switch should be wired correctly now.
  • Turn the power back on.
  • At the second switch location, determine two "runner" wires using a tester. This is done as follows:
    • One wire will be hot at this time.
    • Flip the first 3-way switch.
    • At the second location, a different wire has become hot.
  • Turn the power off.
  • At the second switch location, place the two "runner" wires on the 3-way switch. These two wires should go to the 2 screws that are the same color. It does not matter which one goes to which of the screws.
  • Connect the remaining third wire to the odd colored screw.
  • Replace the switch in the wall. The second switch should be wired correctly now.
  • Turn the power back on and the switches should work correctly now. If not or other complications arise, contact a qualified licensed electrician

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Switch Plates.

When installing switch plates, turn the screws so the slot runs up and down (vertical). It gives the installation a nice professional look.

When painting switch or outlet plates, use 220 sandpaper to remove any dirt and to smooth and "deglaze" the plate. It should have a frosty look to it. Use any normal primer and house paint to complete the process.

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Broken lamp sockets.
If you try to remove a light bulb and the base of the bulb breaks off and remains in the fixture socket, here are a few suggestions for removing the light bulb base without damaging the fixture socket.

  • Make sure the power is off. At this point, there are exposed electrical contacts in the bulb base. It is very difficult to tell if the power is off if the fixture is controlled by a 3-way, timer, etc.!!

  • Here are 3 ways I have used to remove a broken bulbs.

    1. Use needle nose pliers. Not in the way you might think. Do not try to grab hold of the metal lamp shell and turn it. This usually will damage the fixture socket. Instead, close the pliers and insert them into the socket shell. Then open them up so they will press out on the broken shell. With sufficient opening pressure, turn the pliers counterclockwise. This should bring the shell out.

    2. If space will not allow you to use needle nose pliers, I have used a thinly sliced piece of wood (popcicle stick). Shave the width of the wood down so it will snuggly fit into the lamp shell. Turn the stick counterclockwise to remove the broken shell.

    3. I have also heard of using a potato. This would probably work but I really like french fries and would hate to ruin a good potato. I would use this method as a last resort.

  • Always check the fixture socket after removing a stubborn lamp for damage.

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Replacing plugs on a cord.
It sound simple to replace an old plug on a lamp cord. I'm sure thousands of plugs are replaced each year without incident. There is a correct way to install a plug on a cord.

  • When replacing a plug, always purchase the correct type. This is to say that whatever type of plug was on the original cord, the new one should be no different.

    • Grounded cord with a ground prong.
    • Non-polarized plug - both blades are the same size
    • Polarized plug - the grounded blade is larger.

  • The identified strand is the grounded. Identified could be ribs on the cord, a mark of white or grey. The identified strand should go to the larger of the two blades.

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Moisture forming around your bath vent fan.
There could be several reasons moisture would be on the ceiling or on your bath fan cover.

  • If you are taking steamy baths or showers, you need to let the fan run for an extra 5 or 10 minutes after your done with the bath or shower. The reason for this is not only to eliminate any humidity in the air, but to clear the bath vent duct of moisture. Water vapor can collect on the insides of the fan duct (especially when the attic air temperature is below 35 degrees) and drip or collect in the duct. If enough of the water vapor collects and pools, it will leak back down into the fan unit. By running the fan an extra length of time, this will help evaporate any moisture on the duct walls or that may have collected in a low area of the duct.

  • Check to see if your fan has adequate insulation covering the fan. If you take a steamy shower and the attic area where the fan is located is colder than 35 degrees, condensation will form on the metal shell of the fan. This is the same phenomena that a cold glass of ice water goes through on a warm day.

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