Some thoughts, please

Discussion in 'Electrical Forum discussion & Blog' started by Thatguy, Oct 28, 2008.

  1. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

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    Location:
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    I cannot answer these questions, probably because I take too many risks [even after "losing a fight with a table saw"] so I'm asking y'all. . .

    A five-year-old messing with house electrical wiring is exposing himself/herself to danger and this probably cannot be remedied even with a knowledgeable adult at the elbow of the kid. The kid can be advised of the risks and still not understand them the same way an adult understands them. That is why adults make decisions for kids.

    An adult messing with house electrical wiring is exposing himself/herself to danger, depending on how foolhardy and/or uninformed he/she is. If he/she is advised of the risks and understands them, then fine.

    An adult messing with house electrical wiring who has been advised by several books or a DIY forum is exposing himself/herself to less danger. If he/she is advised of the risks and understands them, then fine.
    1st Q: Otherwise, why have a DIY Forum?

    2nd Q:
    How often and under what circumstances should a DIY forum advise an OP not to do some residential elec. task because it is too dangerous?

    Thanks in advance.
    :cool:
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2008
  2. leejosepho

    leejosepho DIY scratch-pad engineer

    If I understand correctly, this particular forum is not about helping DIYers be able to do everything the professionals here know how to do and regularly get paid for doing. Rather, this forum is more like a "PR forum" (my own term) where professionals can offer a little information or direction (and even solicit a bit) so potential customers can make informed decisions and even possibly call. So then, and for any of a number of reasons, it is completely understandable when someone here does not tell a DIYer how to do something, and it is just as understandable when a DIYer is told he or she should hire a pro.
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2008
  3. beekerc

    beekerc IT Consultant / Network Engineer

    Messages:
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    Location:
    Seattle
    my $0.02 worth

    My background is in low voltage DC circuits, electronics, and network engineering - lots and lots of experience with network, teco and video wiring.
    I have no formal training in high voltage (>24v) eletrical work, but I have a basic understanding of how circuits work. What i do know i learned from learn-by-doing (replacing an outlet, upgrading a switch, adding a ceiling fan, etc), invariably doing so after consulting several DIY books (time-life, stanley and home depot the first ones i check before tackling something i don't know). The internet, including forums like this, provides a great deal of pratcial knowledge and professional insight that you can't get from books. in addition I have also tapped the knowledge of my father and a good friend of mine, both electrical engineers.

    after much research, I decided to do all the wiring (lights, switches, outlets, telco, network, coax, GFI, etc) for my basement remodel project. For the most part, nailing boxes, pulling wires, wire-nutting conductors is pretty straight-forward. when I have run into unknows - largely dealing with "is it safe", "is it prudent", "is code compliant" or "how do i do this....", I have consulted a licensed electrician (neighbor), a lead inspector (via the state's L&I website) and a certified electrician who works at my local hardware store. through the use of all of those sources, I am confident that I have the knowledge that I need to accomplish the work and pass the inspections.

    While it doesn't sound like you're doing a remodel, I wanted to give you some background on where I was coming from. so to address your questions/concerns.....

    what makes me little nervous is the fact that because I chose to do the work, I am required (by the permit) to be the one make breaker connections in the panel. while I don't have a fear of electricity, I do have a very healthly respect for it. working on a circuit branch after you've turned off the breaker is no problem. discovering a hot neutral wire because of the previous owner's miswiring is not fun, but with precautions, can be mitigated. not taking every precaution when working in a hot panel (even just popping in a new stab-lock breaker) can be potentially deadly. I know what electricity can do and I know what steps i can take to minimize the risks to me. thinkgs you can do is to observe professionals at work when you can, ask questions, and research, ressearch, research. the key, in my opinion, is to have an understanding that places you somewhere between "knows enough to be dangerous" and "technically/professionally proficient". you don't need to be a ASE certified master mechanic to change the spark plugs or oil in your car, however, you do need to know things like how to select and use the right tools, not to touch hot metal engine surfaces with your bare hands, not to stick your fingers into moving engine parts, etc. giving your car a tune-up requires more knowledge, but is fully do-able by a DIY. the key is your confidence in your abilities, your confidence in understanding the things you need to do and your confidence in your ability to perform the work safely. if, after your research, you do not have a high degree of confidence to accomplish the task safely and correctly, then by all means, hire a professional.

    how/when would i advise a DIY'er not do to electrical work, based solely on the question "would I do it myself", since (generally speaking) you have access to much of the same information that I do.....

    -if it involves active working directly or very closely with live voltage.
    -if it involves working with high voltages (>220v)
    -if it involves utilizing special tools, safety equipment or knowledge that i don't have, and cannot obtain efficiently.
    -if it involves working in situations or locations that do not allow me to exercise every safety precaution that i can.
    -working with anything on the incoming side of the master panel cut-off switch.
    -working with anything in the panel other than pulling in wires, installing breakers and making the neutral & ground bus connections.
    -if i'm not confident that I can perform the work safely, efficiently and correctly.

    others might suggest a more stringent set of circumstances to decide whether to do it yourself or not. like always, don't be afraid weigh the advice based on the source.

    should you decide to tackle some of thes work yourself, here are some things to remember (this is not a comprehensive list, but a good set of basics).

    -if you can shut off power to the wire/devices/fixtures you are working on, do so.
    -use test equipment (voltage detector or multi-meter) to verify power flow before you start.
    -I use rubberized gloves - personal choice, i don't see too many electricians who use gloves, at least when working on 110v residential. yellow dishwashing gloves and latex exam (while fitting the catory of rubberized) gloves are useless as they puncture very easily.
    -when possible, use an insulating platform to work on, this can be as simple as a block of wood between and the floor.
    -use wooden or fiberglass ladders instead of metal.
    -use non-metalic or non-conducting tools when possible.
    -let everyone in the house know that you're working on the electrical system.
    -flag or tape all switches that you *do not* want turned on.
    -don't wear jewerly or accessories that can dangle and conduct.

    i'm sure there are other pieces of advice that can be added to this list.

    don't forget: research, research, research - if in doubt, research some more - in still in doubt, hire a pro.

    as to why there is a DIY forum? it provides a roundtable for experts and novices alike to exchange information and share advice. by posting here you might get responses from half a dozen or more licensed and certified electricians (in addition to non professionals like myself). to get that same kind of response, you'd have to call a bunch of electricians, ask the same questions to each of them, and hope they will give you an answer without charging your for it.

    if you posted some specifics about your level of knowledge, skills, and the nature of the work you're considering, you will very likely get an assessment ast to the suitability for DIY, but also, if it is, you'd probably get suggestions and advice on how to do it.

    disclaimer: I am not an electrician. the opinions are my own and while they work for me, they may not be applicable to you and your situation. Electricity, even a little bit, can kill you, but like fire, when handled correctly can be perfectly safe.

    Good luck
  4. jbfan74

    jbfan74 Electrical Contractor

    Messages:
    131
    Location:
    Newnan, GA
    One sure fire way is the way a question is asked.


    I want to put a plug outside, how?

    That question tells me the person has no clue.
  5. jimbo

    jimbo Plumber

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    San Diego
    The rationale I use is that some people are going to just go ahead and do it, including jobs beyond their level of skill and understanding. These forums give the professional (a) a chance to explain why the DIY should not try that particular job. and (b) a chance to maybe help him do it right and not hurt himself.

    Some folks take an absolute hand off theory, and I will not fight with their preference and opinion on that.
  6. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

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    So far, so good.
    Thanks.:)
  7. Cookie

    Cookie .

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    In all honesty, when they ask if it is dangerous. The person is already in over their head.
  8. Speedy Petey

    Speedy Petey Licensed Electrical Contractor

    Messages:
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    Location:
    NY State, USA
    I TOTALLY agree!!

    Same with Cookie.
  9. kingsotall

    kingsotall Plunger/TurdPuncher

    I would say run whatever DIY project by the city/county inspector and see if licensing/permits are needed. If not then get all the knowledge you can for the task at hand and do a thorough job.
  10. Billy_Bob

    Billy_Bob In the Trades

    Messages:
    422
    Basically it is the same as with kids. Based on your experience and judgment, you allow them to do certain things or to not do certain things based on their abilities.

    Say you have a 5 year old who wants to drive your car; No!

    But a 12 year old, maybe a little with lots of supervision and warnings.

    Or there may be another 12 year old for whom the answer would be No!

    So far as electrical, if they are reading books on wiring, getting electrical permits, asking questions on the internet, wanting to do things right, then they will get a lot of help and advice which sometimes might be to have an electrician do the work.
  11. hj

    hj Moderator & Master Plumber Staff Member

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    Diy

    If by their question is is obvious that they have no clue about what they are doing, but appear to be determined to do it anyway, then the first answer is to contact a profession. The second answer would be to try to tell them where they are wrong and try to tell them the correct way, but the hazard with doing that is we do not know if they will understand what they are being told and thus might still do it wrong. This paradox is not limited to the electrical forum however.
  12. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

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    This answer is funny.

    I guess their question then means they don't understand the risk and haven't inquired as to what it might be, and maybe they don't care.

    This category should have been my starting point; a person who is incurious, uninformed, perhaps lacking common sense, and wants to mess with dangerous stuff.
  13. Cookie

    Cookie .

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    WOW, you got all of that from what I said! :D That is truly amazing.

    I have always felt that people should have to take a test to become a parent. You have to take a test/ or get a license, for all the important things in life, yet ~~when it comes to parenting we allow people who can't raise a flea, raise other human beings because they can impregnate or give birth.

    I think the school system, should teach the skills to be a good parent, since many don't have very good role models or any at all. That is not to say, you can't overcome if you don't. My husband was a great man, who never had parents and my kids had the best.

    I just think if someone has to ask, " is this dangerous?" is he ready to elect to figure out? It tells me his hasn't done his homework well enough yet.
  14. beekerc

    beekerc IT Consultant / Network Engineer

    Messages:
    94
    Location:
    Seattle
    adding a penny to my $0.02 worth

    there are adults that woudl't trust behind the wheel even with supervision and warnings. I see at least one or two every day on my work commute.

    I really don't want want to open a debate on this thread, but Cookie, you are not alone in this sentiment.


    to Thatguy
    I'm curious, did you have a specific project/task that you are considering doing?
  15. Bill Arden

    Bill Arden Computer Programmer

    Messages:
    584
    Location:
    MN, USA
    Let's see...
    I started wiring up battery's when I was 6
    I took apart my first stereo when I was 8
    I popped my first house circuit when I was 8 (see above)
    I took apart my first tv when I was 11
    I had my first capacitor smoke when I was 12
    I started working at a TV repair shop when I was 16

    Now at ~30 something I am comfortable with house wiring and work with live 240 volts as part of my job, but I don't have a master electrician license so I can't go work in the industry.

    As I see it forums like this are for people that are both handy and smart enough to do a job, but seek more information.

    In a way it's also to help people understand a job so that they don't get ripped off since there are bad people out there. I once knew an electrical PE with a master electrician license that I would not trust to wire up a light bulb.

    -Made up quote "lady, you need a panel cleaning and I am going to have to go back to the shop to get the cable stretcher" :D
  16. jar546

    jar546 In the Trades

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    Location:
    USA
    Advice from the internet is not always right and can be dangerous.

    Too much information is needed in order to give proper advice and little to no knowledge about the poster's situation is known such as: code version enforced in his/her municipality, what permits are required, code alterations at the local level, capability of the poster, poster's ability to understand what is being said to them, etc.

    In order to give solid advice to someone who is going to carry out a task, you practically have to be there because there are tons of details.

    Just because you got a light to work when you flip a switch does not make it right or safe.

    DIY books are filled with mistakes.

    Professional electricians make mistakes every day and fail inspection because there are so many things that you have to know. Inspectors miss things that are wrong every day because there is always a lot to look at.

    It has been my experience that I can always find 1 or 2 small items wrong with any electrical inspection performed by a professional electrician.

    I have never, ever inspected a DIY project where there wasn't multiple safety problems. Even with the how to book open during the install.

    In my opinion, there are limitations to what homeowners/DIY can do safely and effectively. It is hard enough to get professional electricians to follow every rule, this makes it even harder for the DIYr who probably won't even pull a permit.

    As long as you pull a permit and get it inspected as your project is being built then I don't care who does the work. As long as it is done right and safely.
  17. Cookie

    Cookie .

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    I am thinking about dressing up as a Master Electrician for Halloween!
    Last edited: Oct 29, 2008
  18. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

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    "DIY books are filled with mistakes."
    I'm sorry to hear that. I'd think the editors and publishers would be more careful.

    You bring up some interesting points. Here's another take on the same kind of story:
    the factory repair manual for a car says to use "a double flaring tool" on brake lines.
    my officemate calls 10 service stations (on company time, of course).
    3 say "Of course we use a double flaring tool; it says so in the manual."
    7 say "we don't use a double flaring tool and we've been fixing cars since before you were in diapers."

    So my officemate asks me, "Who's right?" My answer to him went along the lines of:

    I personally would do the double flaring. If there were a crash due to my work and others were injured I would like to be able to say I exercised "due diligence."
    There is not an epidemic of cars by the side of the road with leaking brake lines.
    The factory manual "may have sort of been" making a disclaimer.
    Mechanics may say they do the double flaring stuff but if their boss is breathing down their neck they may not actually do it.
    There may be built-in safety factors in cars that come into play that rescue the mechanics who don't do the double flaring. I.e., the car designers are saving the mechanics from themselves.

    Now, about human nature in general (some humans, that is.)
    A woman wrote a book about air safety: "flying blind, flying safe." In it a guy actually said out loud something to the effect "that not enough people have died for us to look into this matter."
    I know now that this is a called a "tombstone agency."
    http://www.cnn.com/US/9705/11/aviation.safety/index.html

    Here's another:
    http://www.cnn.com/US/9909/10/ivey.memo/

    Anyone interested in blood money?

    I probably would not be on this forum right now had I not tried to blow the whistle on my particular government regulatory agency. The good news is, as they illegally force you out of your government job, the money you spend on your attorney in a vain attempt to keep your job is tax-deductible.
    Last edited: Oct 30, 2008
  19. Thatguy

    Thatguy Homeowner

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    1,459
    Location:
    MD
    I'm shocked to hear that!
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