Many homeowners who think nothing of tackling painting, carpentry, and plumbing projects turn timid when it comes to electrical work. A little fear isn't necessarily bad when dealing with electricity — it could keep you from making a serious mistake. But that doesn't mean there aren't electrical projects you can handle. All you need is an understanding of how the electrical code applies to your project and some instructions on making proper wire connections.
Floodlight: A Simple Electrical Upgrade
Installing an exterior floodlight — the first of three simple, do-it-yourself upgrades we'll be covering — can be done on virtually any house.
To safely guide you through this upgrade, we enlisted the help of electrical contractor Peter Eng, owner of Electrical Enterprises Incorporated in Litchfield County, Connecticut. It took him a day to complete all three projects. To facilitate your work, we've included photographs that outline the basic steps and illustrations that show all the wiring connections. Consult with an electrician if your home is wired differently than the ways illustrated.
If you're still not feeling confident, here's an alternate approach: Run cables, install boxes, and wire in switches and outlets, then hire an electrician to make the final power hookups and check for any code violations. (Most municipalities allow you to do your own electrical work, though you're never allowed to wire someone else's home.) Also, get the proper permits from your local building department before starting. It's the law, and you'll also get the benefit of having your work checked both at the rough-in stage and when it's completed.
- Before starting work, turn off the power at the main service panel.
- Plug a lamp or circuit tester into the circuit you're working on to confirm the power is off.
- Finally, if you have any questions or concerns, always consult with a licensed electrician or building inspector before you proceed. Electrical work isn't difficult, but the consequences for not doing it right can be serious.
Installing a Floodlight
Light up your life — or at least your backyard — with a floodlight. Our installation solves a common problem: A deck without adequate lighting for itself, a staircase, or the adjacent yard.
The solution called for installing a two-lamp floodlight ($12) high up on the house wall. As with most electrical upgrades, this one relies on tapping into an existing circuit. If you're not sure whether or not a circuit can support the upgrade, check with an electrician. An overloaded circuit is a fire hazard.
- Choose a location for the floodlight on the outside of the house and bore a 1-inch-diameter hole through the wall and into the attic.
- Next, pick a spot for the wall switch that will operate the floodlight. The best location is directly above an existing wall outlet near the door that leads outside.
- Pull the wall outlet from its box but don't disconnect it (the power should be off now). Push a snake up inside the wall to make sure there aren't any obstructions.
- Then, cut a switch hole into the wall about 34 inches above the outlet.
- Now move into the attic and bore a hole through the top wall plate directly above the switch location on the floor below.
- Use the snake to pull 12/2 nonmetallic sheathed electrical cable up from the switch hole and into the attic. The plastic-encased, three-wire cable, better known by the trade name Romex, costs about $10 for a 25-foot roll.
- Bore 5/8-inch-diameter holes in the attic floor joists and thread the cable through the holes, up the house wall, and out the hole at the floodlight location.
- Go outside and install the floodlight fixture, making sure to join the same-colored wires (white to white, black to black, as shown above). Also, be certain to secure the bare copper wire to the grounding screw inside the outlet box on the fixture.
- Now go downstairs and pull a piece of new cable from the existing wall outlet up to the new switch hole.
- Attach the two black (hot) wires to the switch, as illustrated, and then join the two white (neutral) wires with a twist-on connector.
- Finally, join the two bare wires with a "greenie," a wire connector with a hole in its end. Snip one of the bare wires several inches longer than the other.
- Slip the greenie over the long wire and twist together the two bare wires. Then, secure the long pigtail wire protruding out of the greenie to the grounding screw on the switch.
- Make the final wire connections at the existing wall outlet. Attach the two black wires to the dark-colored terminal screws on the right side of the outlet and the two white wires to the light-colored screws on the left side of the outlet.
- Join the bare ground wires in a greenie and connect that lead to the ground screw on the outlet.
Electrical Code Reminders
- Switches and outlets must be properly grounded.
- Twist-on wire connectors must be used for all standard wire connections.
- When boring through wood framing for electrical cable, the edge of the hole must be at least 1 1/4 inch from the nearest edge. If not, each hole must be protected by a ½-inch-thick metal plate.