The Lights Work But is the Wiring Safe? Or How Do You Know They’ve Improved the Taste of Dog Food?

How do you know the electrical work you just had done was done correctly? Because the lights work? Because the receptacle outlet works? Not true! Anyone with a screw driver and a wire stripper can install a wall socket or a light switch and a light! Anyone can stick a wire in a wall and connect it to live power and tell you it’s finished. If it works, it must be done right. Right? Not necessarily. I have spent a lifetime repairing or replacing the cheaper guy’s electrical installations. I’ve always wanted to see that van running down the road with a sign that reads “Cheap, Non Licensed, Crappy Guy Electric” in big bold letters on the side! And under that, “Non Licensed, Non Bonded & Never Insured”. And it would be hand painted! And after you write him a check, you have to give him a jump start! But hey, you got a good deal, right? Well, did you? How do you know?

What constitutes poor workmanship? Sloppy wiring comes to mind. When my wires are exposed, say for example, in a garage, I staple them across the joists or down the studs without any twists in them and keep them as straight as possible. This is not necessary, but the way I see it, this is an example of my work, in plain sight. When someone sees my work, I want them to be impressed. This is called “Pride in Your Work”. When the same wiring is going to be covered with drywall or some other wall board, I still keep the wires straight and neat, but a few twists here and there don’t matter so much. It doesn’t affect the quality of the installation or the flow of electricity. Another example (and this is a pet peeve of mine), receptacles that have no side termination screws. The cheap, cheap ones. The only way to connect this type of receptacle is by sticking the wires in holes in the back of the receptacle. And 99 times out of 100, if the electrician or handyman (unlicensed contractor) uses this type of receptacle, he also does not splice his wires together first and tail off the splice with one lead wire to the device. He uses the holes in the back of the receptacle as a means to splice the wires through to the next outlet. This is called “Speed Wire” and has been used on every new home, apartment and townhouse since I began my apprenticeship in 1971. This method of using the device holes to continue the circuit wire to the next outlet box is my number one cause for service and repair calls. I was taught by my father to physically splice all the hot wires together and all the neutral wires together first by twisting them. Then, off the twisted splice, add a lead wire about 8″ long (pigtail) and connect it to the SCREWS on the side of the more expensive switches and receptacles. By doing it this way, the receptacle can be removed from the wires, but because the wires are spliced together, the circuit still continues to the end of the line. When the speed wire holes are used as a splicing means, removing the receptacle opens the entire circuit. Everything beyond that point is without power and all the lights and plugs go out! And that’s why I get so many calls. It only takes ONE wire in ONE speed wire hole to become loose causing the rest of the power to go out throughout the house!

Do you ever go up into your attic / crawl space above the ceiling and look at what the electrician did up there? Do you ever go under the house into the dirty crawl space and see what he did down there? I do. Whenever I send my employees up there or down there to do any wiring, I go and check the work. If the wires are not stapled and supported to the joists, someone’s in big trouble. Especially under a house. Electrical wires cannot be laid on the ground. They have to be stapled to the floor joists. I am amazed by how many electricians do not bother. Did you know that any electrical wires 120 volts or higher, that are to be buried in the ground, have to be buried at least 18″ deep? Did you know that to bury an electrical wire, it has to be a very specific type of cable? Did you know that by burying PVC conduit instead of “direct bury” wire you can replace the wire whenever you wish by pulling the old wire out of the PVC conduit? Did you know that electrical conduit, which is used primarily on the exterior of a structure, or under the ground, with no other way of getting a wire under, over or through the walls from point A to point B, can be bent no more than 360 degrees total bends? If more than 360 degrees of bends are required, then a junction box must be installed. Then, you can begin again up to 360 degrees of bends. I have seen conduits with six 90 degree bends, a 45 and a few other small bends in 10 feet of conduit. The guy had to have run the wire in the straight conduit first and then bent it. A wire will not go through a conduit that is bent more than a full circle. Did you know that an electrical outlet box, no matter what the purpose, cannot be covered over? Every single electrical outlet box has to remain accessible. If there is ever to be an electrical problem, it will be in the outlet box that was dry-walled over and nobody remembers where it was located. Did you know that indoor electrical wire, called Romex, cannot be installed below 7 feet unless it is to be covered by wallboard, or has been put inside a protective conduit? I see exposed Romex wire often running through closets or book shelves and cabinets. This rule applies only to living areas. Did you know that when you had your meter box upgraded to 200 amps, and the electrician left the old sub-panel active inside that closet, that your electrical system is still only limited to the size of that old panel in the closet? Did you know that? The easy, slam-dunk meter upgrades involve putting the new meter / panel box outside and hooking it to the power lines. Then, the old feed wire going back to that old fuse box or ancient breaker panel is placed on a circuit breaker in the new panel, usually 30 or 40 amps, and simply re-feeds the old fuse box. You now have 170 unused amps (in a way of looking at it) outside. I eliminate that old closet panel and extend the old circuits in it out to the new box. It defeats the purpose of the meter upgrade if you don’t.

To the average homeowner, if the lights are on, the electrical work must be ok. Unfortunately, just because your lights are on, you cannot be sure that your home is properly wired or safe. Once again I ask the question:

How do we know they’ve improved the taste of dog food? How do you know your wiring was done properly and meets electrical and safety codes?