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For Electrical Repairs, Safety Is Handiest Tool

June 28, 1997|From Associated Press

The first rule for do-it-yourselfers making an electrical repair: Treat it with respect.

Avoid tackling a job that is beyond your capability. In fact, except for simple repairs such as replacing an outlet or a switch, you may need a permit from your local building department to change or add to your wiring system. For a job of that magnitude, it's wise to hire a licensed electrician.

Some safety tips:

* Before working on an electrical circuit, turn off the power to the circuit at the service panel. Either turn off the circuit breaker or remove the fuse that controls the circuit. Tape a note over the panel warning others to leave the power off.

* When testing a fixture or removing a fuse from the service panel, work with only one hand; keep the other hand behind your back. If one hand comes into contact with electricity and the other makes contact with a "ground" (such as a metal pipe), electricity may travel from one hand to the other--with your heart in its path.

* Before you turn off a circuit, replace a fuse or do other work at the service panel, don a pair of sturdy shoes with nonconductive rubber soles. Even a dry concrete floor can be a good conductor of electricity. Keep a heavy rubber insulating mat in the vicinity of the service panel or stack a few boards nearby where they will remain dry. Stand on the mat or the dry boards while at the panel. Never do any electrical job while standing on a wet floor.

* Always replace a fuse with one of the same amperage. A higher-amperage fuse will allow wires to overheat, which can create a short circuit and start a fire. Don't replace a fuse until you've solved the problem that made it blow in the first place. If an overload blew the fuse, turn off or unplug the appliances on that circuit before replacing the fuse. Keep a supply of fuses of the correct amperage near the service panel.

* Before working on a switch, remove the cover plate and check that the power is off by using a simple voltage tester, available at hardware stores. The tester has two probes and a small bulb that lights when power is encountered. Place one probe on the metal box or the bare ground wire. Place the other probe on each terminal screw in turn. If the power is off, the bulb will not light on either terminal. At a receptacle, insert the probes into all the pairs of slots. If the tester doesn't light, carefully remove the cover and outlet. Touch the probes to each terminal screw and the metal box or bare ground wire. If the bulb still doesn't light, the power is off.

* Be careful not to touch pipes or plumbing fixtures when working on wiring. Also avoid ductwork and registers, structural steel aluminum siding, metal gutters, foil faces on insulation and electrical appliances.

* Don't touch a small appliance that's under water. Turn off power to the circuit at the main service panel. Then unplug it.

* If an appliance or power tool gives off sparks, unplug the cord without touching the body of the unit. If the sparks come from the cord or plug or if the cord is hot, turn the power off at the service panel before unplugging the unit. If you see sparks at the wall fixture, use a nonconductive item to turn off the switch before turning off the power at the service panel. Call your electric company if the sparks are at the service panel.

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