Your Electrical Questions Answered

Here are a few of the electrical questions people most frequently ask us.....

ELECTRICAL QUESTIONS ON SAFETY

How can I help protect myself from electricity-related injuries?

You should check for problems in your home electrical system. Check outlets and extension cords to make sure they aren't overloaded. Examine electrical cords to make sure they aren't frayed, damaged or placed under rugs or carpets. Make sure that the proper wattage light bulbs are being used in light fixtures and lamps. Consider installing ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI's). One of the most important precautions you can take is to test your smoke detectors and to replace smoke detector batteries annually.

You should always follow appropriate safety precautions and manufacturer's specifications.

I have an old house, with old wiring. How do I know if repairs are necessary? How extensive and costly can such repairs be?

Electrical systems age, and can become overloaded, particularly in older homes. Over the years as more lighting, appliances, and equipment are added, the electrical system becomes overburdened and problems can develop.

If fuses or circuit breakers protecting branch circuits trip frequently, new branch circuits or other repairs may be necessary. Depending on the condition of the equipment and the extent of the repairs, the cost may be nominal or could run into several thousand dollars. A qualified licensed electrician can determine if repairs are necessary and can estimate the cost.

ELECTRICAL QUESTIONS ON THE BASICS

How does a three-prong plug work? What's the benefit of using it?

The third prong on a three-wire cord set provides a path to ground for electricity that is straying or leaking from a product. This helps protect the equipment and can help prevent electric shock.

How does a polarized plug work? What's the benefit of using it? A polarized plug is a plug with one large or wide prong and one narrow one. It ensures that the plug is inserted correctly into a socket and reduces the risk of electrical shock.

What is a GFCI?

A GFCI is an electronic device for protecting people from serious injury due to electric shock.

How does the GFCI work?

A GFCI constantly monitors electricity flowing in a circuit. If the electricity flowing into a circuit differs by even a slight amount from that returning, the GFCI will quickly shut off the current flowing through that circuit. The advantage of using a GFCI is that it can detect even small variations in the amount of leakage current, even amounts too small to activate a fuse or circuit breaker. A GFCI works quickly, so it can help protect consumers from severe electric shocks and electrocution.

If the GFCI is working, is there any danger of electric shock?

Even if the GFCI is working properly, people can still be shocked. However, the GFCI can act quickly to prevent electrocution.

Do all GFCIs work in the same manner?

All GFCIs work in the same manner to protect people against ground faults. However, unlike the receptacle GFCI, the circuit breaker type GFCI also provides overload protection for the electrical branch circuit.

If the appliance has a built-in shock protector, is an additional GFCI necessary?

Appliances that have built-in shock protectors, as now required for hair dryers, may not need additional GFCI protection. However, other unprotected appliances still need GFCI protection.

Can consumers install a GFCI?

Consumers are encouraged to use a qualified electrician to install a circuit breaker-type GFCI. Individuals familiar with electrical wiring practices, who can follow the instructions accompanying the device, may be able to install a receptacle-type GFCI. Otherwise, these devices should also be installed by an electrician or other knowledgeable person. The portable GFCI requires no special knowledge or equipment to install.

What is the big plug now found on such appliances as hair dryers?

The large box-like device found on the ends of some appliance cords can be either an appliance leakage circuit interrupter (ALCI), an immersion detection circuit interrupter (IDCI), or a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI).

They work in different ways, but they are all intended to shut off the power to an appliance under an abnormal condition such as immersion of the appliance in liquid. Just because you have an appliance with one of these devices, it doesn't mean that it’s okay to drop the appliance in water and retrieve it while it's plugged in. The rule that "electricity and water don't mix" still applies.

If the product has a three-prong grounding type plug,is a GFCI still necessary?

A GFCI is necessary even if the product has a third wire to ground it. A GFCI provides very sensitive protection to consumers against electric shock hazards. Under some conditions, a shock hazard could still exist even if a product has a grounding wire.

What size extension cords should I use? How can I tell if an extension cord is appropriate for the intended use?

Before purchasing an extension cord, you should consider how the cord will be used. Make sure the rating on the cord is the same as or higher than the number of watts needed by the product that will be plugged into the cord. Extension cords should never be used as a substitute for permanent wiring.

Are there any benefits to using circuit breakers instead of fuses?

The main difference between circuit breakers and fuses is that circuit breakers can be reset while fuses operate only once and then must be replaced. If your breakers or fuses trip repeatedly, call an electrician because you may have a problem with your electrical system.

ELECTRICAL TERMS


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