Improving your home's electrical system is well within the reach of the average do-it-yourself home handyman. Many homes built prior to 1985 may benefit substantially from upgrades. Electrical projects require following a few basic safety rules like turning the power off and following electrical codes. Always check with your local building department for permit requirements.
If your bathroom or kitchen does not have ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) protected outlets or circuit breakers, you can increase safety in these areas at a low cost. Purchase GFCI outlets at local home centers and hardware stores. Match the new receptacle current rating of 15 or 20 amps to the circuit you are replacing. As an alternative to GFCI receptacles, you can replace a standard circuit breaker with a GFCI circuit breaker.
Light Fixture Replacement
When you can't stand to look at that 40-year-old ceiling light fixture any longer, don't call an electrician. A new light fixture can be installed in less than an hour with basic tools. Another option is to install a ceiling fan or ceiling fan/light combination kit. Installing new light fixtures is easy and relatively inexpensive to do.
Dimmer switches allow you to control the intensity of the lighting. Installing a dimmer switch is as easy as turning the power off, disconnecting the old switch and replacing the wires on the new switch. Dimmers add a touch of ambiance by allowing you to set the mood with lighting.
Often receptacles are placed by home builders to meet minimum code requirements. Sometimes this means receptacles end up behind beds, couches and other furniture. You can extend a circuit to include new receptacles by running wire and installing an electrical box with a new receptacle. This project takes a little more time than changing a light fixture, but the added convenience is well worth it.
Lights and Fans
Similar to extending a circuit for a new receptacle, adding light fixtures and ceiling fans isn't that hard. Choose the location you'd like the new fixture, run wire from an existing outlet to a new switch location and from there on to the fixture location. Be sure to use a fan box instead of a fixture box if you plan to install a ceiling fan.
Replace existing outdoor light fixtures with new, outdoor motion-sensing lights or sunup-to-sundown lights. Good locations include the fronts of garages, backyards or the front door. When someone approaches the house, the lights go on. Keep in mind that all light fixtures must be connected to a switch. Some styles include both light and motion sensors so you never have to worry about turning the switches on or off.
Replacing switches and receptacles is an easy project and you don't have to do it all at once. Over time, receptacles and switches accumulate paint, dirt and grime and no amount of cleaning is ever going to make them look new again. Standard switches and receptacles at the home center cost less than a dollar and decorator styles are not much more. Turn off the power, remove the existing switch or receptacle and install the new one placing the same wires on the same terminals. While you're doing it, you may as well replace the covers, too.
- "Basic Wiring"; Time Life Books; 1994
- "Home Improvement 1-2-3"; The Home Depot; 2003
- Photo Credit Rainer Elstermann/Digital Vision/Getty Images
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