Basic Residential Electrical Wiring

Wiring a home must be done precisely, to prevent damage and health hazards.
Wiring a home must be done precisely, to prevent damage and health hazards. (Image: Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images)

When working with wiring and electricity for a home, it's essential to remember what can occur if the process is done incorrectly. Electrical fires and shocks are serious problems, both causing severe damage to the home and injuries to its occupants. Inexperienced handymen are capable of completing the task, but a licensed professional is preferable. This will reduce health hazards, as well as costly repairs down the road if the project isn't up to code.

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Wiring Diagrams

A wiring diagram is a guide that outlines how to wire electrical devices and their controls. It's essentially a key to wiring, and is an essential first step to any electrical project. These diagrams are available from several sources, including online sites and do-it-yourself wiring books. A good guide, particularly for beginners, will also include illustrations about wire color and specify where each wire should be located when the project is completed. If printing from an online source, all type and diagrams should be legible and clear enough to read quickly. Keep it close by throughout the wiring project as a quick reference.

Service Boxes

Most states will have a specific designation for the location of service equipment. These pieces include the main panel, meter base and conductors, and each much provide appropriate voltage for the home, particularly for the kitchen, where heavy-duty appliances will be run. The National Electrical Code is an essential part of wiring a home, and specifically lays out box setups and clearances to keep the home safe. Main panels should be given an uninterrupted space of at least 30 inches wide and 36 inches deep, which leaves room for repairs and prevents problems. The code also states that closets, bathrooms and other enclosed locations aren't appropriate for main panels.

Kitchen Outlets

Wiring the kitchen is an especially difficult prospect. This is a space where wiring must be done very specifically and completely to code for it to work properly. Heavy appliances, including the dishwasher and refrigerator, require specific voltage and certain types of wire. All kitchens, counter tops and designated eating areas must be outfitted with Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) protected plugs. This is a plug specially designed to prevent shocks and electrocution. Counter top outlets must be placed a minimum of 24 inches apart, and any counter top or bar 12 inches wide or wider is required to have at least 1 receptacle.

General Tips

Residential wiring utilizes three colors of wire--red, black and white--as well as bare ground wires. The bare wire is attached to the appliance frame and has no current running through it except in the event of a short circuit, which will trip the circuit breaker. This action will kill all electrical current moving through the circuit. Black and red wires hold current that's flowing from the breaker to the appliance; these are called “hot” wires in the electrical world. White wires hold amperage that's returning from the appliance to the circuit breaker, and are called “returns.” Most codes require the use of 14-2 wire, but 12-2 wire is preferable since it's a thicker wire that handles more amps. This provides more carrying capacity and less chance of a circuit breaking, an ideal setup for technologically advanced homes with computers, home theaters and other devices that might run simultaneously. This type of wire is also better for garage or basement workshops that run heavy equipment or tools.

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