To most homeowners, electrical wiring is a mystery. Wiring is ‘out of sight, out of mind’ – hidden behind walls, light switches and receptacles throughout your home. When something goes wrong, most are a bit intimidated, which is a good thing, since amateur wiring can be a safety hazard and even cause a fire.
We spoke to Shane Walton, owner of 24/7 Electric in Calgary, Alberta to get the lowdown on the basics a homeowner needs to know and why they should not DIY their own electrical wiring.
Q1: What are the most common electrical issues your clients face?
A: Almost all wiring issues my clients deal with are due to either old equipment that has worn out or improper installation of newer equipment that needs to be corrected.
Q2: What are the most common misconceptions homeowner have about electrical wiring?
A: Many homeowners believe that electrical wiring components last forever. Components like light switches or dimmers that are used every day wear out every few years. Smoke detectors must be replaced every ten years (and that’s the unit itself, not just the batteries). In fact, since 2006, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide (CO) detectors must have the expiry date printed on them. So in 2017, if your smoke detector has no printed expiry date it should be replaced immediately! The lifespan of electrical components can vary widely depending on how well it was installed.
Q3: How can an electrician make your home more energy efficient?
A: Having lights and fans turned on when not needed wastes energy. Bathroom fans should be on a timer. Lights on a motion detector will turn on when you walk past it and shut off automatically after a few minutes. Dimmers set lower use less energy than a regular light switch. And LED lights consume much less energy than any other light source.
Q4: What are the best light fixtures? (e.g. LED vs CFL vs halogen vs incandescent)
A: LED lights are the clear best choice due to low energy use and long life. Halogen lights have a shorter life span and use more energy than LED, although less than incandescent lights. Compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs take a few minutes to reach maximum brightness and they release mercury vapour if broken. Whatever type of lights you choose, be sure to consider all facets of lighting design before installing them.
Q5: What are safety considerations when replacing electrical wiring components?
A: Power outlets located outdoors or indoors within one meter of a water source, must use GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupter) receptacles. It is a device that shuts off an electric power circuit when it detects that current is flowing along an unintended path, such as through water or a person. It is used to reduce the risk of electric shock, which can cause the heart to stop or cause burns. They can also prevent some fires, like when a live wire touches a metal conduit.
Another safety-based acronym is AFCI, which stands for arc-fault circuit interrupter. An arc is an electric current, often strong, brief and luminous, in which electrons literally jump across a gap, which can cause a fire. AFCI can be installed at the receptacle or preferably at the main breaker panel, which gives the best protection. Combination GFCI/AFCI receptacles are also available.
Also consider tamper-resistant (TR) receptacles, which are designed to prevent children from inserting objects like hairpins, keys and nails that could give them a shock. The Canadian Electrical Code was revised in 2009 to require new homes to have tamper-resistant receptacles. While they’re not required for existing homes, some homeowners may wish to replace their receptacles, but beware – some TR receptacles are hard to plug into. For those with small children who don’t want to make the change, they can use the plastic outlet covers that you simply plug into the receptacle then remove to use the outlet.
Finally, consider a whole home surge protector. Lightning is the most severe power surge, but the power provided from your electrical utility has minor peaks and valleys that can, over time, wear out other electrical components like computers, TVs and kitchen appliances.
Q6: What questions should homeowners ask before hiring an electrical company?
Electrical wiring should be done by a certified electrician (aka Journeyman Electrician) or a Registered Apprentice under the supervision of a licensed electrician. Before hiring an electrician, ensure they are fully certified by asking to see their ‘Journeyman Certificate’ or ‘Ticket’ to prove it.
Ask about warranties they offer on their work. Ensure the company is both bonded and insured. A bond is a third-party financial guarantee promising to pay if a vendor does not fulfil its obligations under a valid contract. However, a bond is not business insurance. A bond, for instance, will not reimburse for damages to property or person resulting from work performed, but liability insurance will.
Be suspicious if a company asks for a deposit before work begins. If they insist a deposit is required for materials then get them delivered to your home before paying the deposit.
After the work is done, get a Certificate of Completion from the home inspector who approves the work.
Q7: What is the best advice you ever gave a homeowner?
A: Do your research! Read reviews on a reputable, trustworthy review site. If a company has no reviews, keep looking for one that does. Electrical wiring is too important to DIY, so use reviews to narrow down to a shortlist of trustworthy pros. Then interview a few to find the one that will do the best job.
Thanks to Shane Walton, owner of 24/7 Electric in Calgary for sharing his expertise with the entire HomeStars community. Best of luck with your next electrical wiring project, be sure to write a review when you’re done, it helps the whole HomeStars community!