Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

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Lynette
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Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by Lynette » Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:24 am

I was wondering how many people (especially women) replace their own switches/outlets/dimmers etc. I grew up in South Africa where they use 220 volts and in that time we used to have to put plugs on appliances so I knew how to do that. Recently I have been remodeling my house and find it inconvenient/expensive to call someone whenever I need to have some work done. A contractor knocked the head off of a dimmer switch and told me it had likely been glued on so the light stayed on. It was not glued on - he was careless! The electrician I use did not return my calls for a week. My handyman came after 3 days as a special favor but did not have a replacement plate or a dimmer. So I either have to paint it - or .. Some of the fluorescent lights in my basement were flickering. I have drop ceilings with acrylic coverings that I broke. I replaced the tubes but it still flickered so I called in the electrician who is going to replace the fixtures.

I know where to switch off the power and I bought a voltage tester for about $20 at Home Depot. The associates tell me that I can do this easily myself. There are a lot of YouTube videos on replacing switches etc. A lady associate told me she had been "zapped" many times. The danger is if you have the power through you! Also the voltage here is only 110. I haven't got around to doing it myself yet but have the switch that needs to be replaced.

Any recommendations/tips.

Gropes & Ray
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by Gropes & Ray » Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:28 am

Shut the power off at the breaker box and go for it. Replacing a switch or outlet is easy. You can do it.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by livesoft » Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:31 am

I do lots of handy work. I start by watching youtube videos. Doesn't everyone?
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by killjoy2012 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:34 am

My suggestion, without trying to be 'smart' in response, is that if you have to ask on here whether it's a good idea or not, you probably shouldn't be doing this yourself. Is it hard to swap switches or receptacles? No. Can you hurt yourself? Yes. Can you cause a fire if wired wrong or used the wrong receptacles? Yes.

Can you do this with a likely successful outcome? Yes. Buy quality receptacles/switches, make sure you're following code (e.g. don't install 20A receptacles on a 15A plug circuit, which is a very common mistake), etc. Technically, if we're talking 'letter of law', you're suppose to pull permits. Again, most don't in practice.

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Mlm
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by Mlm » Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:36 am

I replaced most of the switches and outlets in my house myself after I turned off the main power. I did run into a problem when I replaced a two-way switch with a one way switch, there is a difference :oops: I had to call en electrician to fix that mistake. I have also replaced the thermostat and garbage disposal myself. Youtube is great. Good luck.

Mary

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by msk » Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:39 am

It's very simple to swap out the switches yourself. Simple instructions for those who are careful and are using a switch very similar/identical to the one you are removing:

Switch off the mains feed at the breaker for that circuit.
Loosen the switch and use your phone to take a clear photo of the wiring behind it. Some electricians can be very messy with their logic.
Use a neon/screwdriver tester to verify that all the wires are dead. Do NOT trust the electrician who had installed it. If there is any cable that is still live, switch off the mains for the whole house, not just the breaker for that circuit.
Unscrew all the wires, install new switch, making sure all colors are exactly at the same locations as your photo.
Done.

It is very unfortunate that even licensed electricians sometimes pull corners and do not follow code during the initial installation. Hence always verify that the wiring is truly dead before proceeding.

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Youngblood
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by Youngblood » Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:43 am

Yes, do it yourself, very easy. Do turn the electricity off and check it before you remove anything. One way switch or two way switch very easy if you have the right switches. Ask at HD or Lowes for the parts. With the saved money you can buy top quality switches and still save money.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by nisiprius » Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:44 am

I've done both, but to tell the truth I haven't done it myself in a while. I know that because the last time I did it, we still had a fuse box.

I always pulled the main house fuse before starting. I did it during the day, using a headlamp if necessary. I have a $20 gadget--you can get them at most hardware stores--that will sense if a line is live just by holding it next to a wire, and I always double-check by using that as well.

In theory, replacing switches and outlets is an easy do-it-yourself job.

In practice, our house is old and there have sometimes been various surprises underneath the faceplate. For example, extremely short wires that just barely reach and thus have no allowance for cutting off the end and re-stripping to expose clean copper.

I wouldn't be scared to try, but I would do it early in the day on a weekend, be sure I had time and patience, and leave time for a trip to the hardware store to pick up something or exchange something. Vision gets to be a challenge if you are old enough to need bifocals.

Let me think what you need. You can get by with less, but: a good pair of needle-nose pliers (to bend the wire end tightly around the binding post;) a good pair of wire strippers (yes, you can do it with a pocket knife); enough screwdrivers to have one that really fits the screw so you can get it down good and tight. Most wire strippers have a reasonably good wire cutter function, too, but a pair of "diagonal" wire cutters is nice to have, too. Oh, a ground tester (if you replace an outlet), costs about $9, you know, three lights that tell you if the hot-neutral-ground pins were connected to the right wires.

Where you really need an electrician is if you are going run new wires through the walls. I once tried to do it myself. Waste money on a "fishing" tool before discovering that you need actual skill to use it.
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by nisiprius » Tue Feb 21, 2017 11:52 am

P.S. One detail. In the United States, some houses in some parts of the country were wired with aluminum wire instead of copper. Find out if yours is before you start. If it is aluminum, a) that's bad, and b) leave everything strictly to the professionals. Everything you use with aluminum wire has to be specially designed and certified for aluminum and has to be installed just right.

Another detail. I have never been zapped while doing house wiring. You don't want to be. It all depends how bad but it can be very bad. I have occasionally gotten 110VAC through my hand while doing electronic stuff--up one finger and down the other. That's startling and it hurts, but it's not dangerous. However, if 110VAC, 60 Hz, takes a path that goes through your chest--for example, you touch a "hot" wire with one hand and touch anything grounded with your other hand, the current passes through your chest and can potentially send your heart into ventricular fibrillation, which can kill you. Whenever I do the most trivial electrical stuff, I only do it when my wife is in the house. And whenever I've done any real wiring (replacing outlets or switches) I've shut off power to the whole house at the main... fuse (nowadays breaker). You don't want to risk being mistaken about which circuit is which.

US house current will not necessarily kill you, but it can[/i].

To say nothing of falling (off a ladder, or just falling wrong in a bad place) from the surprise of getting the shock.

The professionals do NOT do this. But as an amateur I think I can give myself a margin of error by just shutting off all the power. Even though I then need to spend half an hour afterwards resetting clocks and watching computers stuff get baffled and reboot more slowly than usual.
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by michaeljc70 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:00 pm

I would never bother calling someone to replace an outlet or switch in the same location. It would take more time to get someone out and let them in, etc. than to just do it yourself.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by corysold » Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:03 pm

I'm a novice, but I've done this sort of work. Read a book, watch a video, kill the power and give it a try. Worst case, you have to call the electrician out anyway.

The biggest issue is getting over the fear of first time. Once you're past that, basic electric work isn't too hard.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by renue74 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:06 pm

livesoft wrote:I do lots of handy work. I start by watching youtube videos. Doesn't everyone?
Everybody watches Youtube videos for how to stuff. I'm rehabbing an 80 year old rental house and using youtube so I can do most of my work.

In fact, I just looked up how to install a digital timer switch this morning.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by lthenderson » Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:10 pm

killjoy2012 wrote:My suggestion, without trying to be 'smart' in response, is that if you have to ask on here whether it's a good idea or not, you probably shouldn't be doing this yourself. Is it hard to swap switches or receptacles? No. Can you hurt yourself? Yes. Can you cause a fire if wired wrong or used the wrong receptacles? Yes.

Can you do this with a likely successful outcome? Yes. Buy quality receptacles/switches, make sure you're following code (e.g. don't install 20A receptacles on a 15A plug circuit, which is a very common mistake), etc. Technically, if we're talking 'letter of law', you're suppose to pull permits. Again, most don't in practice.
I absolutely agree with all this but the highlighted sentence. I've never worked in a municipality or state where someone is required to pull a permit to replace and outlet or a switch.

Others have said it but buy a pencil-like voltage tester that you can stick near a wire and see if it is energized. Don't assume because all the other outlets or switches on the wall are dead that the one you are replacing must also be that way.
Last edited by lthenderson on Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.

J295
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by J295 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:10 pm

Likely you can do this if you choose.

As for the female part of your quesiton, both my wife and I are handy; but my wife multiple times more handy than me ..... for example, over the years she has completely removed, prepped, and power painted formerly stained cabinets, customized wainscoting, painted, etc. Sometimes we use professionals (had 18 subs on our town home remodel), and sometimes we don't. It depends (I am having a water softner guy come out this week to trouble shoot because I just couldn't get my brain around this item). We always invest in premium tools and products, and when we hire we get great tradespeople.

For one anniversary I bought her an air compressor and she bought me a new iPhone ... and we'll be celebrating 35 years this summer!

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by adamthesmythe » Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:12 pm

> Also the voltage here is only 110.

Still potentially lethal. "Intrinsically safe" starts well below 110.

OK to do replacements if you

1. Turn off the power.
2. VERIFY that your circuit tester is working.
3. CHECK using your circuit tester to see if power is off.
4. Don't get inventive.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by sport » Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:13 pm

One other pointer, especially for the lady Bogleheads. When connecting the wires to the switch or receptacle, make sure to tighten the screws tightly. If the connections are not tight, they could overheat which is a fire hazard. This is not a sexist remark. Women are generally not as strong as men, and may not be used to using substantial force on a screw driver.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by neilpilot » Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:15 pm

killjoy2012 wrote: Technically, if we're talking 'letter of law', you're suppose to pull permits. Again, most don't in practice.
Pull a permit to change a wall switch?? Get real. :o :dollar

BTW there's no lesser concern from exposure to 110v than 220v. They both demand the same level of safety.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by killjoy2012 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:18 pm

corysold wrote:Worst case, you have to call the electrician out anyway.
The problem is, that isn't the worst case. The worst case is you get zapped/hurt or burn your house down. The problem with playing with home electricity is that even when done wrong, it can still sometimes 'work' and not show signs of the 'wrongness' until it's too late. Putting a 20A receptacle on 15A circuit, putting a CU-only rated receptacle in with AL wire are just two examples of such, where the plug will appear to work just fine after you do the work and turn the power on, yet is a fire waiting to happen. Replacing switches/receptacles is not rocket science, and I'm not trying to make it sound like it is, but it's also not quite as brainless as some are making it seem in this thread.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by AlwaysAStudent » Tue Feb 21, 2017 12:54 pm

Lynette wrote:I was wondering how many people (especially women) replace their own switches/outlets/dimmers etc.
Female, have changed/replaced/installed several switches/outlets/dimmers in my lifetime. I always research something like this before I do it the 1st time and refresh my memory if it has been a while since the last time.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by curmudgeon » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:08 pm

While youtube videos can be a helpful reference, I like the do-it-yourself guide published by Reader's Digest. It gives a structured view of wiring and household systems that is useful whether you do the work yourself or have someone else do it. When you are dealing with 3-way switches or other less common wiring situations, it can be helpful to have diagrams to study.

Replacing like-for-like switches and outlets is pretty straightforward, but even that can have odd situations that take a little thought, so take your time and make sure you understand how and why the connections are made the way they are.

Switches and outlets do wear, and I have a couple of times gone through a newly purchased 50-year-old house and just replaced every switch and outlet on principle because of signs of wear in the outlets (looseness).

I definitely agree that aluminum wiring is a special case that most folks should not DIY.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by jazman12 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:17 pm

if you're going to turn off the power. don't do the job in the evening!#%
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by KlingKlang » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:20 pm

I'm an engineer so I always did electrical work myself, but 25 years as a diabetic has decreased both my eyesight and finger sensitivity to the point that it has become problematic. Our house has a GFCI outlet in the circuit breaker box that covers about half of the outlets in the house, I screwed up replacing it (being packed solid with yellow jackets didn't help it) and had to get an electrician.

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Lynette
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by Lynette » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:24 pm

AlwaysAStudent wrote:
Lynette wrote:I was wondering how many people (especially women) replace their own switches/outlets/dimmers etc.
Female, have changed/replaced/installed several switches/outlets/dimmers in my lifetime. I always research something like this before I do it the 1st time and refresh my memory if it has been a while since the last time.
Thanks all - I have asked friends my age and older - none have worked with electrical. I'll get around to doing it as soon as the other remodeling - and taxes and medicare and other financial stuff has been done. I retired at the end of 2016. Another problem with these old house like mine that was built in 1950 is that they only have two wires. I have been assured by several contractors that the electrical is grounded in the panel box and I don't need to have the house rewired. Its a real pain to scrape the paint off of the screws and then cut it out with a utility knife. I've removed several baseboard registers that needed replacing.

Renovating old little houses! Mine is in a prime location where little houses like mine are being broken down and replaced by largerhomes. I guess there are pro's and cons to these older houses! I've just signed a contract to have six windows replaced and tomorrow the electrician comes to replace the fluorescent light fixtures in the basement.

Thanks again,

Lynette

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by MP123 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:25 pm

It's easy to DIY. Just be aware that you may run into 3 way switches or split wired receptacles that have a lot more wires than you're expecting. Draw yourself a diagram or snap a cell phone photo before you pull the wires off, they can be a little confusing.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by alfaspider » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:33 pm

adamthesmythe wrote:> Also the voltage here is only 110.

Still potentially lethal. "Intrinsically safe" starts well below 110.

OK to do replacements if you

1. Turn off the power.
2. VERIFY that your circuit tester is working.
3. CHECK using your circuit tester to see if power is off.
4. Don't get inventive.
You can't really assess how deadly the shock potential from an electrical source is without knowing current. Static electricity (the kind you feel touching a metal object after walking on the carpet in socks) can be 20,000+ volts and is intrinsically safe (unless you are flying in the Hindenburg).

I look at it like being hit by an object. Volts is the speed the object is traveling, Amps is how heavy it is. Getting hit by a baseball that is traveling 50 mph will leave a bruise. Getting hit by a bus that is traveling 50 mph will kill you. Likewise, a 50 volt source with a lot of amps could absolutely deliver a fatal shock, or it could be barely noticeable at very low amperage.
Last edited by alfaspider on Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:38 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by jf89 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:35 pm

As someone else pointed out, this is very easy work if you know what you're doing. It's also very easy to screw up if you don't (or if the person who did it previously didn't know what they were doing or did a poor job). And screwing up this work means you electrocute yourself or do something that causes a fire (maybe not right away). You used to wire plugs on appliances, so my gut says you at least have the basics of wiring down, and this should just be a matter of you familiarizing yourself with your home's electrical panel and the specific wiring job at hand.

So my overall advice would be that if you don't know what you're doing, don't do it and find yourself a more trustworthy electrician/handyman. But this is something that you can teach yourself (especially with your history of wiring). I think Home Depot regularly runs free clinics (especially ones pandering to women to be self-reliant where they make you wear a pink bib)... maybe look at local hardware stores to see if there are any going on near you.

Also as a side note: I'm a man, but it's still a pet peeve of mine when people ask if any women have done something stereotypically male as if the genders are born with a different skill set. You should just be looking for people of your particular background who have done it (such as: you used to work with 220 and know how to wire a plug), not someone of your gender. It has zero to do with your skills. I wouldn't walk around asking if any men know how to [insert female-only task stereotype here], and if they think I could do it.
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by Toons » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:38 pm

Replace our own.
Not necessary to turn power off but I ALWAYS do,
Breakers are labeled in box,
If you are unsure ,
turn off the main. :happy
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:51 pm

If your breaker box is like mine, it's horribly labeled or not at all. I have lots of "general lighting" breakers. Here's an easy trick. Plug something into the outlet (assuming that it is working) that you want to replace that makes noise. A radio works. Turn it up so you can hear it while at the breaker box. Now, turn off breakers one at a time. Radio still playing? Turn it back on and go to the next one. You'll find the one that turns off that outlet. I would double check it once back in the room. You don't need a meter....you could plug in a lamp. Do NOT assume that other outlets in the room are now off. Especially with an old house, new work could add an outlet on a completely different circuit. My house is like this with lights in one room, 2 outlets in another room and 1 outlet on the upper floor all on one circuit. Verify each and every one so you know it's off. I always then work on the wires as if they're still hot. This is where I will use a meter to check all the wires, assuming that someone screwed up the colors. With 2 wires it's easy. With 3 wires, you want to test every wire to every other wire and read zero.
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by FreeAtLast » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:53 pm

adamthesmythe wrote:> Also the voltage here is only 110.

Still potentially lethal. "Intrinsically safe" starts well below 110.

OK to do replacements if you

1. Turn off the power.
2. VERIFY that your circuit tester is working.
3. CHECK using your circuit tester to see if power is off.
4. Don't get inventive.
Yes # 2 is very important, in addition to #'s 1 and 3. Always confirm the functionality of your safety monitoring equipment every time you are going to use it. Another point, as other posters have emphasized: it's the amperage that will hurt/kill you. Heart arrhythmias can be initiated with as small a current as 75 milliamps (eg, 75 thousandths of an ampere). Please give electricity all the respect it deserves. :shock:

Edit: I should add that well before the current through the body reaches 75 mA, a victim can experience very painful muscle contractions, difficulty in breathing and the worst possible situation - inability to break contact with the power source due to muscular paralysis.
Last edited by FreeAtLast on Tue Feb 21, 2017 2:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by corysold » Tue Feb 21, 2017 1:55 pm

killjoy2012 wrote:
corysold wrote:Worst case, you have to call the electrician out anyway.
The problem is, that isn't the worst case. The worst case is you get zapped/hurt or burn your house down. The problem with playing with home electricity is that even when done wrong, it can still sometimes 'work' and not show signs of the 'wrongness' until it's too late. Putting a 20A receptacle on 15A circuit, putting a CU-only rated receptacle in with AL wire are just two examples of such, where the plug will appear to work just fine after you do the work and turn the power on, yet is a fire waiting to happen. Replacing switches/receptacles is not rocket science, and I'm not trying to make it sound like it is, but it's also not quite as brainless as some are making it seem in this thread.
Correct, that isn't the worst case.

But I was also assuming that she'd do the proper research, turn off power and if in doubt, not continue and hope it's done right.

Take the proper precautions, start the project and if you aren't certain you're doing it right, call in the pros.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by zip605 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 2:19 pm

Pay attention to duplex outlets (most common type that can accommodate two plugs) that have one socket controlled by a switch and the other socket always powered. The installer (you in this case) must bend off a piece of metal that joins the two sockets to make each socket separate circuits. Carefully compare the old outlet with the new one, especially if more than two wires are involved.

The circuit tester (plug) with 3 lights is a very good idea, to test the final wiring and also all the other sockets for proper wiring.
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by Kosmo » Tue Feb 21, 2017 2:25 pm

This is definitely DIY. Assuming the existing switch or outlet is wired properly, just make sure you connect everything exactly as the original was connected. As others have said, absolutely make sure the wires you're touching are not energized. I prefer to test with a multimeter instead of a voltage tester. That way you can verify you're getting getting proper voltage before and after, so you can ensure you didn't inadvertently short something.
alfaspider wrote:I look at it like being hit by an object. Volts is the speed the object is traveling, Amps is how heavy it is. Getting hit by a baseball that is traveling 50 mph will leave a bruise. Getting hit by a bus that is traveling 50 mph will kill you. Likewise, a 50 volt source with a lot of amps could absolutely deliver a fatal shock, or it could be barely noticeable at very low amperage.
This is not entirely accurate. Ohm's Law sets the relationship between voltage, current, and resistance. The source sets the voltage, not the voltage and current. A 50V source will only push more current if the resistance of the circuit is reduced. To minimize the effect of any shocks, you need to increased your electrical resistance. Wear gloves and boots, make sure your hands are dry, don't touch metal objects, etc.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by nisiprius » Tue Feb 21, 2017 2:25 pm

I would encourage Lynette to take an exploratory approach. You don't need to commit, but take a look, scope it out. Go into the cellar and look for the breaker box (or fusebox), figure out how to open the cabinet, look inside. Take the faceplate off the switch or socket, that really is an easy, and easily-reversible job (even there, I'd turn off the main breaker because why not) and see what's it looks like behind the faceplace.
Jack FFR1846 wrote:...If your breaker box is like mine, it's horribly labeled or not at all....
Well, the individual breakers on mine are like that. Semi-accurate, but mostly sins of omission.

However, there is an obvious "main breaker," as suggested by the fact that it looks different from all the others, has four breakers tied together at a single handle, and has the word "main" embossed right into the breaker box. Twice.
Image
Now, add to that:
  • When I pull that handle, every light in the house goes out and everything that makes a background noise, notably the refrigerator, goes silent;
  • When I stick the $9 ground tester gadget into the socket, none of the lights light:
    Image
  • When I hold the $16 live wire non-contact gadget near the wires, it doesn't light up or beep (oh, and as someone mentioned... I try it out first before shutting off the power to make sure it does light up when the wire is live.
    Image
So, in my case, I have a lot of confidence that the power is really off.

So, Lynette, if you go exploring in the basement, maybe you'll find an obvious "main breaker" like mine and maybe you won't. If you find one... take a deep breath and flip it and see if all the lights and everything else goes out. (Uh... have a flashlight, or better a cheap headlamp when you do that!)

Step one is "do I know how to turn the power off? Am I sure it's off?" There's a good chance the answers are "yes, it's obvious" and "yes, it's obvious." But if not, then maybe it's not crazy to call the electrician.

Step two is to take the faceplate off the switch or outlet and look inside with a flashlight. How does it look? Do the wires look nice and new? Is there a decent hank of extra length that's been folded up, so that you can snip 3/4" off the end of a wire and still have plenty of wire to reach?

Step three is to get a chunk of wire that's as much like your house wire as possible, get it out, get out your replacement switch or outlet, and spent a few minutes practicing. Strip the wire, bend it, put it under the screw, tighten the screw. Then pull fairly hard on the wire and see if you can get it to move underneath the screw; if you can, it's not tight enough. You'll quickly discover the obvious for yourself: the end of the wire should bend around the screw clockwise so that as you tighten the screw clockwise it tends to tighten, not loosen, the wire. That sort of detail.

Go for it, if you get stuck then stop and call an electrician.

Lots of wire strippers work. This style is one of many that's OK for both stripping and cutting wire:
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You should have some kind of pliers to help bend the wire. You can get by with any kind. "Needle nose" pliers are best. They don't need to be high-quality.

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The main thing about a screwdriver is that it needs to be half-decent and it needs to feel like it fits. Yes, the four-in-one multiblade dealies they sometimes have on the checkout counter for $5 are probably good enough. You can't get by using a dime, you can't get by with the blade on a Swiss army knife. I don't even remember if the binding screws have regular or Phillips heads nowadays, but that has to be right, too--you can't cheat by trying to turn a Phillips head with a flathead screwdriver.

Buying tools is kind of fun, they honestly last for many decades and tend to get used in the future.
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alfaspider
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by alfaspider » Tue Feb 21, 2017 2:48 pm

Kosmo wrote:This is definitely DIY. Assuming the existing switch or outlet is wired properly, just make sure you connect everything exactly as the original was connected. As others have said, absolutely make sure the wires you're touching are not energized. I prefer to test with a multimeter instead of a voltage tester. That way you can verify you're getting getting proper voltage before and after, so you can ensure you didn't inadvertently short something.
alfaspider wrote:I look at it like being hit by an object. Volts is the speed the object is traveling, Amps is how heavy it is. Getting hit by a baseball that is traveling 50 mph will leave a bruise. Getting hit by a bus that is traveling 50 mph will kill you. Likewise, a 50 volt source with a lot of amps could absolutely deliver a fatal shock, or it could be barely noticeable at very low amperage.
This is not entirely accurate. Ohm's Law sets the relationship between voltage, current, and resistance. The source sets the voltage, not the voltage and current. A 50V source will only push more current if the resistance of the circuit is reduced. To minimize the effect of any shocks, you need to increased your electrical resistance. Wear gloves and boots, make sure your hands are dry, don't touch metal objects, etc.
I left out resistance for simplicity's sake because in the case of a DIY homeowner without any personal protective equipment, it's going to be fairly constant. Going back to my object analogy: resistance is like adding barriers between you and the object that can slow it down or stop it. For example, having a catcher's mitt will keep the baseball from leaving a bruise. A concrete barrier will prevent the bus from crashing into you.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by The Wizard » Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:12 pm

I'm also an engineer who did all the work to double the size of my house a few decades ago, including adding about a dozen branch circuits, none of which have burst into flame yet. :)

But I'm hesitant to recommend to just anybody to just become an amateur electrician. One needs an aptitude, proper tools, and a proper understanding of the National Electric Code. I still have the 1978 version of the NEC upstairs.

Now it's true that replacing a broken switch with a similar one is something almost anyone can do. Just be careful not to stab the palm of your other hand with the screwdriver...
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by an_asker » Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:23 pm

alfaspider wrote:[...]Likewise, a 50 volt source with a lot of amps could absolutely deliver a fatal shock, or it could be barely noticeable at very low amperage.
Let alone 50, I've been told that the car battery @12 V (?) could be fatal as well!

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by bluebolt » Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:30 pm

I have replaced most of the 2 & 3 way dimmers in my house because the ones that were there didn't work with LEDs.

I'm comfortable with electrical work and always double or triple check that power is turned off.

The issues arose when something unexpected happened. Here are some examples of things I came across:

1) There's a common wire running to the switches in my living room, dining room & kitchen, but not to the hallways or bedrooms. Had to return dimmers I bought that required a common wire.

2) Some dimmers had a ground wire in the box and were properly connected to ground, some had a ground wire in the box and were not connected to ground and some boxes had no ground wire. I felt comfortable knowing what to do in all those situations, but it would be difficult for someone without experience & background knowledge to confidently do the right thing for these scenarios.

3) DON'T TRUST THE LABELS IN YOUR BREAKER BOX. I had a four gang with three switches and an outlet. I turned off every conceivably labeled breaker and, while none of the switches had power, the outlet continued to be live. The breaker for that outlet was labeled 'Refrigerator' (and no, the breaker was not connected to the refrigerator, just that outlet).

4) Some switches were connected to the old style cloth insulated wires. Had to be super careful stripping and connecting those as the outer cloth was pretty fragile.

5) One of the switches I bought didn't fit well in the box no matter how hard I tried to shove the wires to the back of the box. I needed to put in a bigger box.

In the end, I was comfortable addressing all of these situations, but I imagine someone without the knowledge & experience would either not know what to do or might end up doing something dangerous.

My recommendation is - if you come across something you don't understand, put it back the way you found it and call a professional (or knowledgable friend).

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by lthenderson » Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:31 pm

alfaspider wrote:You can't really assess how deadly the shock potential from an electrical source is without knowing current. Static electricity (the kind you feel touching a metal object after walking on the carpet in socks) can be 20,000+ volts and is intrinsically safe (unless you are flying in the Hindenburg).
This reminded me of a time I was pouring a concrete pad inside a electrified livestock enclosure with 50,000+ volts flowing through the wires. I was carrying 20 feet long stick of rerod and made sure to lift it over the wire, was very careful to step over the wires myself (they were only about two feet high off the ground) and proceeded to walk towards the pad forgetting about the length of rerod still following along behind me. I most definitely survived to write this due to there being low amps in the system but my arm certainly hurt for several hours afterwards.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by alfaspider » Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:39 pm

an_asker wrote:
alfaspider wrote:[...]Likewise, a 50 volt source with a lot of amps could absolutely deliver a fatal shock, or it could be barely noticeable at very low amperage.
Let alone 50, I've been told that the car battery @12 V (?) could be fatal as well!
It can, although usually only if you somehow get stuck so the shock is ongoing and continuous. One thing worth noting is that electrical shock can make your muscles involuntarily contract, so you cannot let go of a conductive object you are holding.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by The Wizard » Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:40 pm

lthenderson wrote: This reminded me of a time I was pouring a concrete pad inside a electrified livestock enclosure with 50,000+ volts flowing through the wires. I was carrying 20 feet long stick of rerod and made sure to lift it over the wire, was very careful to step over the wires myself (they were only about two feet high off the ground) and proceeded to walk towards the pad forgetting about the length of rerod still following along behind me. I most definitely survived to write this due to there being low amps in the system but my arm certainly hurt for several hours afterwards.
I'd be rather surprised if a standard electric fence for livestock runs at 50,000 volts, but more power to you...

Edit: 2000 to 5000 volts per this link http://www.zarebasystems.com/learning-c ... tor/cattle
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by 2comma » Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:47 pm

Relatively easy usually but you can run into some weird situations, especially in old houses. I'd say cut the power, remove the cover plate, unscrew the dimmer (a screw at the top and the bottom) and pull it out and evaluate. If you have enough wire, don't see a rats nest of wires or disintegrating insulation and the wire is not aluminum it should be easy. You just need to know how to remove the old wires and put them back correctly onto the binding screw connections. Find a book or video or person to show you how much wire to strip, how to shape the end of the wire into a 'C' shape, the top of the 'C' needs to be pointing in a clockwise direction and the screw needs to be tight.

I've run into too many simple electrical jobs that turned out to be anything but. For example, the cover was well painted to the wall. You pull off the cover and a good bit of the paint/plaster/drywall comes with it. Wires with no extra length, they were connected in the back into the "push-in" connectors in the back those things are almost impossible to disconnect when you don't have room to work. If you cut them off you have almost no extra wire left to connect to the switch/receptacle. Then there are electrical boxes that were so crammed with wires you could barely stuff everything back in when you were finished. Once you have a look you'll have a much better idea of what you're getting into.
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by kcb203 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 3:57 pm

I would turn off all power to the house at the main breaker and not just individual circuits. You'll occasionally find a multi-gang switch box that has multiple different circuits in it.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by Timoneer » Tue Feb 21, 2017 4:19 pm

2comma wrote:...shape the end of the wire into a 'C' shape, the top of the 'C' needs to be pointing in a clockwise direction and the screw needs to be tight.
This is probably the hardest physical part of replacing a switch or outlet, but there is an alternative method of hooking up the wires. Most switches and outlets also have small quick connect holes in the back for each of the terminals. Strip off 1/2" of insulation from a straight wire, push into the hole and you are done. An inner clamp grabs the wire. No screw to tighten, no worries about which direction to wrap the wire.

If you ever need to release the wire, there is small slot near the hole in which you insert a small screwdriver blade.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by MathWizard » Tue Feb 21, 2017 4:26 pm

I do it myself.

I have done 2 way switches, but had trouble with the one set of 3 way switches in my house.

If I need a new outlet, I get an electrician.

I don't mess around in the breaker box though.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by The Wizard » Tue Feb 21, 2017 4:27 pm

kcb203 wrote:I would turn off all power to the house at the main breaker and not just individual circuits. You'll occasionally find a multi-gang switch box that has multiple different circuits in it.
This is why it's a good idea to check all hot wires in a box (if more than one) with a voltmeter before going further.
I never turn off the main breaker if I need to work on something, just the breaker or fuse for that branch circuit.

I also took some time 20+ years ago and mapped out all circuits and what receptacles and switches each powers.
I compiled this into a Word document that covers a dozen fused circuits for the old part of the house and about twenty breaker-protected circuits for the new part of the house...
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by mister37 » Tue Feb 21, 2017 4:31 pm

livesoft wrote:I do lots of handy work. I start by watching youtube videos. Doesn't everyone?
+1
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by 2comma » Tue Feb 21, 2017 6:29 pm

Timoneer wrote:
2comma wrote:...shape the end of the wire into a 'C' shape, the top of the 'C' needs to be pointing in a clockwise direction and the screw needs to be tight.
This is probably the hardest physical part of replacing a switch or outlet, but there is an alternative method of hooking up the wires. Most switches and outlets also have small quick connect holes in the back for each of the terminals. Strip off 1/2" of insulation from a straight wire, push into the hole and you are done. An inner clamp grabs the wire. No screw to tighten, no worries about which direction to wrap the wire.

If you ever need to release the wire, there is small slot near the hole in which you insert a small screwdriver blade.
Yes very good point, that may be a good solution in this case and AFAIK passes code everywhere. In my opinion the spring type push in connectors (also known as back-wiring) is not as good a connection as a binding screw head connection. My IBEW (union electrician) brother wouldn't let us use them but we sometimes did if we had more than two wires to connect on each side of the switch; when he wasn't looking... Years ago there were push in connectors that caused problems but they aren't sold anymore. I think I installed something that had a push-in connector with a screw to hold it firm. That seemed to be easy to install and made a good physical connection but I don't know who makes switches/receptacles with that feature.
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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by whomever » Tue Feb 21, 2017 7:24 pm

FWIW, I've replaced a number of the push-in spring connectors over the years because the connections failed. I won't use them.

If you want a good connection but don't want to wrap wires around screws, look for outlets that have clamps - you strip a length of wire, push it in the back, and tighten a screw that tightens a clamp to hold the wire. These are the ones that cost $4 instead of 79 cents at the hardware store.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by lthenderson » Tue Feb 21, 2017 7:48 pm

The Wizard wrote:I'd be rather surprised if a standard electric fence for livestock runs at 50,000 volts, but more power to you...

Edit: 2000 to 5000 volts per this link http://www.zarebasystems.com/learning-c ... tor/cattle
I may have done the math wrong which doesn't surprise me. Electrical calculations were never my strong suit. However it was a heavy duty charger that put out around 32 Joules and I was told that there were six 10-ft long ground rods that were installed just to run it. The owner had just installed it to burn off all the weeds around the perimeter.

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Re: Do you replace your electrical switches/outlets or use an electrician?

Post by The Wizard » Tue Feb 21, 2017 8:12 pm

whomever wrote:FWIW, I've replaced a number of the push-in spring connectors over the years because the connections failed. I won't use them.

If you want a good connection but don't want to wrap wires around screws, look for outlets that have clamps - you strip a length of wire, push it in the back, and tighten a screw that tightens a clamp to hold the wire. These are the ones that cost $4 instead of 79 cents at the hardware store.
I always avoided using them since there appears to be minimal contact surface area between the spring thingie and my 14 or 12 gauge wire. If you're drawing 14 amps through that receptacle, the circuit breaker is happy, but the minimal contact area could cause excess heat and melt or distemper the spring.
I always took time to make a nice C in the wire with my needle nose, then hook it on the receptacle screw before crimping the C down even further before tightening the screw. No high resistance connections in any of my work, I hope...
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