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Installing Switches and Outlets

Most electrical work should be done by a licensed electrician. The proper permits must be obtained and inspections must be made. However, there are a few minor jobs that can be done by a seasoned do-it-yourself enthusiast. Just remember that when you work with electricity, one slight misstep could turn a simple job into a trip to the emergency room or worse. The most important thing to remember before doing any electrical work is to be careful, turn off electricity at the breaker box when doing the work, double-check all wiring with a continuity tester before touching it to make sure it is not live and double check all connections while the electricity is still off.

Before you decide to do the job yourself, you should familiarize yourself with the following information. After you have done that, if you still feel comfortable doing the job yourself then go ahead but if at any time during the work, you run into something that doesn’t seem right or you are not sure what to do, you should consult a licensed electrician.

Installing and replacing switches and outlets are commonly done by do-it-yourself homeowners

After all mechanical rough-ins, drywall and paint are completed, it’s time to start putting in switches and outlets.

There are several different types of switches and outlets. You need to make sure to get the ones that work properly with the circuitry in your home.

The circuit wiring scheme of your home will determine the type of switch you install. Outlets are fairly standard however but some rooms require GFCIs (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, also GFI).

A GFCI is an outlet designed to prevent electrical shock. It is a little bigger than a normal outlet and it has two buttons on the front. These buttons allow you to check the GFCI monthly to see if it is still working properly. Push in the "Test" button to kill power to the circuit. Restore the power by pushing the red "Reset" button.

A GFCI also monitors the current used by anything plugged into it. Normally, a balance of current passes through the GFCI.

If a misdirection of current, called a "fault to ground," the GFCI senses it and shuts down almost instantly, this can prevent hazardous shocks.

On the back side of a standard GFCI are four terminal screws, two brass "hot" screws and two silver "neutral" screws. The bottom brass and silver set marked "Line" is for incoming wires. The top set marked “load” is for wires going to other protected outlets. The GFCI also has a green "ground" screw on the bottom. The bare copper ground wire connects there and provides a path for current to be safely diverted.

A single-pole switch has two brass screw terminals. Both are hot (often black) leads for one incoming and one outgoing line. Those are the only wires that connect to the switch. The neutral wires (often white) tie together separately, the ground wires tie together separately in the box. Most new switches include a ground screw; others may not have one. If you have the choice, get a switch with a ground screw terminal. That's where the bare copper or green wire connects.

When a switch is at the end of a circuit the neutral also becomes a hot lead and connects to a terminal. This type of wiring scheme is often called a switch loop.
Three-way switches control one light from two different places. A three-way switch has three screws. One screw will be colored darker than the others. This one is called the “common” terminal. The other two are “traveler” terminals. You can wire two three-way switches and a light in a several different ways. It depends on where the light is located: before, between or after the switches.

The following will give you an idea of how they are connected.

If the light is after both switches, the first box has two cables, one 14-2 incoming from a power source, and one 14-3 outbound to the second box. The second box has the incoming 14-3 cable and an outbound 14-2 cable to the light. In each box, you should twist all ground wires together then screw on a wire nut (fasten a pigtail to the back of the metal box). Connect the neutral wires in each box using wire nuts. In the first box, connect the incoming hot wire to the switch’s “common” terminal. Connect the outbound wires to the two “traveler” screws. In the is case, the traveler wires can be hooked to either terminal. In the second box, hook up the incoming hot wires to the switch’s travelers screws. Finally, hook up the outbound hot wires going to the light to the “common” screw. This completes the wiring. Complete the circuit by hooking up the light to the neutral, hot and ground wires.
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