Archive for the ‘electrical’ category

Quick Tip #37 – Can Lights? Make Them Green

October 27th, 2014

Can lights or recessed ceiling lights are a common design feature in modern residential construction. They are also common in older custom-built homes. They provide a unique lighting pattern without the glare of a fixture, but they may also waste energy.

You have several options when replacing the bulbs (lamps) in can lights. Don’t use a common “A” type bulb; it will not direct light out of the fixture. Most of the light is just wasted inside the can.

Consider a spot or flood lamp that reflects and projects light out of the can, such as a parabolic aluminized reflector lamp (also called a PAR bulb). For a “green” step up, consider a parabolic lamp, which has a curved reflector that projects even more light out of the can into a smaller pattern.

For a choice that’s even more “green,” use a compact fluorescent spotlight or reflector lamp. These compact fluorescents save about 75 percent in energy costs and last much longer than incandescent bulbs. They also create less heat in the room – heat that must be removed with air conditioning in hot climates.

While light from fluorescent lamps may look a little different at first, their light color and quality have greatly improved in recent years. Look for “warm” color lamps or “color corrected” lamps for a more pleasant light.

E123C - Can Lights - Proper Bulbs_300dpi

Quick Tip #24 – Compact Fluorescents – Yes, They’re a Good Deal!

July 29th, 2014

E124 - Compact Fluorescent LampsOK, for many years compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) were a bit of a pain. They provided an eerie color, took a long time to reach full brightness, never worked outdoors in cold weather, and failed early.

Most of those problems have been solved in the last 20 years. Now it’s hard to resist these lamps, which provide the same amount of light as incandescent lamps for about 25 percent of the energy cost. They also generate about 75 percent less heat inside an air-conditioned space, which is important in areas where air conditioning is used often.

They are color-corrected to provide a natural color. When you purchase the lamps, look for the “warm white” or “natural” color notation on the packaging. The color-corrected CFLs really do have great color. They’re available as spotlights and floodlights, and there are special versions for circuits with light dimmers. The bulbs are small enough to fit in most household lamps and fixtures.

If you do the energy calculation, you’ll see there is a great payback for substituting CFLs over incandescent bulbs. They also last about six to 12 times longer than incandescents.

Quick Tip #21 – GFCI? What? Why?

July 7th, 2014

E125  Safety of GFCI vs. BreakerYou may not know what a GFCI is, but chances are it’s making your home safer. A ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) measures current flowing through a circuit. It looks simple, but it’s really a complex electronic device.

Electricity flows like water through a circuit. The GFCI measures this flow; if the device is operating properly, the flow into and out of the device should be the same. If the GFCI detects a slight leak of current (perhaps through your body), it immediately disconnects the circuit. That’s where the term “ground fault” comes from – the GFCI detects that the current is “grounding” when it’s not supposed to.

What about a circuit breaker or fuse? Wouldn’t one of these detect an imbalance? Circuit breakers and fuses are designed to prevent wires and devices from overheating. A 15-amp breaker will allow 15 amps of power to flow before it trips the circuit. That 15 amps is enough to light more than 15 100-watt bulbs; it’s enough current to kill a person. In fact, just a fraction of an amp flowing through your heart could be fatal. A GFCI will trip before that happens.

Remember to use the test button to check the GFCI periodically. Plug a lamp into the circuit; the lamp should turn off when you push the test button, tripping the GFCI.

Quick Tip #20 – Extension Cord Safety

June 30th, 2014

E086 - Extension Cord ProblemsYou should view extension cords as a necessary evil. Avoid using them. If you must use an extension cord, use a heavy duty cord with a sturdy plug and outlet. Make sure the cord is in good condition.

Some basic rules:

  1. Never run an extension cord through a doorway where it could get damaged.
  2. Never run an extension cord under a rug where it can’t be seen and could overheat.
  3. Never run a cord where it could present a trip hazard.
  4. Never use two extension cords end to end – you just double the risk.
  5. Never use a cord with exposed wires or a loose plug or outlet.
  6. Never cut or modify the cord or connectors.

For appliances like washing machines, toasters or hair dryers, don’t use an extension cord, period. Have an electrician install an outlet near the appliance so a cord is not needed. These appliances use lots of energy and can overheat an extension cord.

All permanently installed appliances – a garage door operator or sump pump, for example – must have an electrical outlet nearby so an extension cord is not needed.

Quick Tip #16 – Three-Way, Two-Way or One-Way Switch?

June 2nd, 2014

E036 - Switches - 120 Volt, Single Pole, 3-WayHome systems have some strange terminology. Why are the two light switches that control one light fixture called a three-way switch? You know – the kind with a switch at both the top and the bottom of the stairs. Sometimes it’s up/switch off, and sometimes up/switch on.

The name relates to switching the power line back and forth, and having an extra wire and connector. Electricians call this a three-way switch, and it takes a smart electrician to wire this properly.

You may not care about the details, but you should care about the switches and what they control. Here is the quick tip: You can identify the type of switch by looking at the marking on it.

Single pole switches, with one switch controlling one light, are marked with an “on” and “off ” position.

A three-way switch has no marking because there is no consistent on or off position. The on-off can change depending on the position of the second three-way switch. Take a look at the switches in your home. You may be surprised with what you have overlooked.

Quick Tip #15 – Garage Door Safety

May 29th, 2014

D009 - Garage Door Operator Control ButtonWhat is the largest, heaviest moving object in your home? You got it – the garage door. So it makes sense to do frequent safety checks on the door.

First, look for a safety label near the control button or the overhead door. It will tell you how to safely operate the door and test the reverse mechanism.

Second, make sure the control button is mounted at least five feet above the floor or any step. This prevents small children from playing with the door operator.

Third, never allow children to play with the door or the operator.

You should test your operator for reverse and door balance once per month. Follow the specific instructions on your door’s safety label. If you don’t understand these instructions or you don’t have specific instructions for your door, contact a professional door service company.

Several times per year, check the door hardware for tightness. Consult your owner’s manual for the proper lubricant, and apply it to rollers, tracks and other mechanical parts. Have the door serviced by a professional if there is any sign of problems.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #10 – Reviving a “Dead” Disposal

April 22nd, 2014

Garbage Disposal Wrench, ResetDead garbage disposal? Usually, it’s easy to bring this gadget back to life. Take a look at the illustration and follow these simple steps.

Does the disposal “hum” when the switch is on? If not, most likely the problem is a tripped overload in the disposal. Turn the wall switch off. Look under the disposal and locate the reset switch — a little button recessed within a hole toward the side of the housing. Push the button, and the disposal should at least hum when you hit the wall switch. It may also come up to speed.

If the disposal hums but the blades don’t spin, you can use a service wrench to loosen up the motor. You’ll probably find the disposal’s service wrench stored in a small plastic sleeve below the sink. It will look like a hex wrench with two angled ends. If you can’t find your wrench, purchase one (they’re inexpensive) at the hardware store.

With the power off (no hum), place the small hex wrench in the center hole at the bottom of the disposal. Twist the wrench back and forth to free the impellers. Remove the wrench and hit the switch — yeah!

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #9 – No “Ding-Dong” at the Bell

April 16th, 2014

E010 - Doorbell ButtonHow annoying…that front doorbell only works from time to time, and you never know whether someone is there. You don’t want to call an electrician for such a small job.

Hey, it’s often a quick fix — just replace the exterior button. Doorbell systems operate at a low voltage, so you really can’t get a shock. You also can’t damage the system by attempting a repair. Give it a try.

Check out the front button and loosen a few screws holding it to the door frame. If the button is recessed into the wood, carefully pry it from the hole in the wood frame with a putty knife or pocket knife. The wires can be delicate, so be careful not to damage them — and don’t give the wires a hard tug.

Once you have found the wires, remove them from the screws on the switch. Touch the two wires together. If you get the “dong” every time you touch the wires together, you have found the problem. Just go to the hardware store and find a similar replacement switch, attach the wires and install the switch.

It is really that simple. Most doorbell failures can be traced to the exterior button, which is exposed to the weather and takes a beating.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #7 – Get with the GFCI

March 24th, 2014

E119Ever noticed that some electrical outlets have a red and a black button in the middle? You’re looking at a GFCI — a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter. This sophisticated device senses any current leaking through and immediately shuts off the power so you don’t get a shock.

In newer construction, GFCI outlets are located wherever water and electricity are used in close proximity: near sinks, in the garage, and at exterior outlets. In an older home, there may be a GFCI breaker (with push buttons) in the main electrical panel.

You should test this device every month to make sure it’s working to protect you from shocks. A simple test is to plug a lamp into the outlet with the light on. Press the “test” button and you should hear a click and the light should turn off. Push the “reset” button and the light should turn on with a click of the GFCI outlet.

Statistics show that about 10 percent of household GFCI devices are not working properly. If you find a problem, hire a professional to fix it ASAP.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It

Quick Tip #1: Power Lines: Play It Safe

January 1st, 2014

We all need to be aware of possible safety concerns with overhead power lines. If you ever see a power line – or what you may think is a power line – on the ground or in an area where folks can touch it, call your local utility.

Take a quick look at the electrical line feeding your home. It may be underground. Don’t dig a deep hole (to plant trees, for example) without contacting Diggers Hotline to locate underground wires and utilities.

E025If your home is fed by overhead wires, they should be at least 10 feet above any walking surface and 12 feet above a driveway. If your home has a pitched roof, overhead wires should be at least 3 feet above the roof. Make sure there is sufficient clearance to any window or raised porch. Electrical wires should never be run over swimming pools.

These clearances are mandated so people are never exposed to the wires, and also to keep the wires from being struck by tall trucks and other vehicles. You should never be able to reach out and touch a wire.

Sometimes clearances become a problem because of home improvements. We all add porches, deck and pools around our homes, and often folks don’t think about the overhead wires when making these changes. Any home inspector will tell you about finding hazards related to electrical wires.

By Tom Feiza, Mr. Fix-It
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