DIY Electricity Basics

Every home is dependent on electricity as a means of power; in fact, few gadgets will work without it. It provides lighting and heating — even if you have gas or oil as your main source of fuel — and it powers virtually all those household appliances that have-become an essential part of people’s lives today.

Because we cannot see electricity we tend to fear it; the only reason we know it is there is when we operate a switch, or accidentally touch a live wire and get a nasty shock. But a basic understanding of what it is, how it works and where it runs through the home will go a long way to removing the apprehension. The key word is safety.

More than with any other work around the home, accuracy is all important. ‘Nearly right’ may be acceptable on some jobs, but this does not apply to electricity. Whatever job you do which involves working with or using this source of power, it must be 100 per cent right; there is no margin for error. If you follow the rules, check at every stage and double check at the end — and do not try to take short cuts — you will find that installing and repairing appliances, fittings and circuits is within the scope of the careful, competent worker.

There are of course many words of warning — and some are more obvious than others. For example, never work on any electrical fitting or appliance without first disconnecting it and — if necessary — switching off the power at the mains. This sounds very obvious, but it is amazing how many times people forget — and that is nearly always where the trouble starts. Always plan the work carefully before you begin. It may take that much longer to do what appears on the surface to be a perfectly simple job, but bear in mind that mistakes can be very costly to rectify — and you may not even be given that chance. When you disconnect or strip down any unit, always mark clearly each wire or terminal so that you connect up correctly when the job is completed.

Most of the electrical equipment and fittings are your property. But remember that the mains supply into your home, right up to and including the electricity company’s meter, is not. This part of the circuit belongs to your regional electricity company and on no account should you ever try to tamper with or work on this part of the supply. Should you wish to isolate your consumer unit — if, for example, you want to fit a new, larger unit in order to run off it more circuits — you must get your regional electricity company to come and disconnect you and reconnect you when the work is finished. The Boards are required by law to isolate a consumer’s installation from the mains on request during normal working hours.

On the whole, however, the work you will normally need to carry out can be done by turning off the main switch on your consumer unit or fuse box. This will isolate all circuits in the home and work can then be carried out in total safety. But remember that as soon as you turn the main supply back on it will activate all circuits again; so make sure you have finished all the jobs on the various circuits. Never leave a job unfinished, even though you may not wish to use that particular circuit immediately.

You may not want to tackle all this type of work yourself. But there are many other smaller jobs which you can handle easily and safely and which will minimize the inconvenience of important fittings or appliances not working. The basic techniques of repairing fuses or wiring up plugs, stripping cable and flex and joining them, checking consumption and diagnosing faults are covered on this site.

There are a lot of items you may want to fit yourself, such as light fittings and switches, dimmers and time switches, bells, buzzers, chimes, TV aerials and sockets, cookers and cooker hoods and the range of bathroom fittings. There are detailed instructions in the electrical category on secrets-of-self-sufficiency.com on how to carry out all these jobs, as well as the more major work of moving, adding and wiring up lights, switches and sockets, wiring a converted loft and wiring outside to a garage or greenhouse, for example, or putting lights in the garden.

One of the most inconvenient and costly types of electrical equipment when it goes wrong is the domestic appliance. One sub-category is devoted to the basic repairs you can safely carry out on some appliances — vacuum cleaner, iron, toaster, kettle, fire, hair dryer, tumble dryer, fridge, freezer, mixer, blender, washing machine and floor polisher. Major overhaul work should be left to the manufacturer or appointed repair specialists and models which differ in design from those illustrated should be left to specialists. There are individual parts of many appliances that you can replace yourself; but do not attempt to service any appliances contrary to manufacturers’ instructions. Again a word of caution. Do not be tempted to buy cheap or reconditioned parts and always buy spare parts from a manufacturer’s recommended outlets. Genuine spare parts may be that bit more expensive, but at least you know that you are getting the right part for the machine. There is another point you should bear in mind when considering doing your own repair work on an appliance. Check first whether you are covered by the terms of the manufacturer’s guarantee. If you tackle certain jobs on a new machine yourself, you may well invalidate this guarantee, which could prove costly — and the manufacturer will not be sympathetic to any sob stories if this is the case.

The information contained here should not be regarded as an open invitation to tamper with electrical fittings and equipment. Initially it should be used to give you an understanding of electricity, where it goes, what it does and how it works. When you have grasped the principles, you can then look at the jobs you feel confident to tackle. And if you do not feel you have sufficient expertise to do the work yourself, you will save a lot of time and money just by being able to diagnose the faults and making sure any repair work is done correctly — and is necessary. Above all, take special note of all warnings. They are there for your safety and protection and you ignore them at your peril.

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