wikiHow to Master Do It Yourself Electrical Safety

Many of us who perform DIY carpentry, gardening, painting, and even plumbing. But when it comes to home wiring, fear keeps us from completing projects that increase the value of our home, and give us strong personal satisfaction from the beautiful upgrades we could be performing.


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    Electrical safety is without question, the most important aspect of any electrical work. And just like anything we do in life, fear comes from ‘not knowing’. So imagine what you could accomplish if you could perform home wiring safely and confidently. Imagine saving thousands of dollars over the years, if you could do-it-yourself!
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    It really just takes a common sense approach, but just as important; it demands your undivided attention. It’s very important that you do not get in a hurry. Make sure that you have planned your project adequately, and that you’ve allowed plenty of time to complete your project, or at least if you have to pull off of it and come back to it later, that you find a suitable stopping point, and that you can do without the circuit that you’re working on.
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    All it takes is one mistake – and some think that 120 volts is not dangerous. It’s not only dangerous. It is lethal. Shut the power off to any circuit that you are working on. (This means turn the power off at the circuit breaker panel. Just switching off a wall switch does not turn off the power in the wires.) Confirm the power is off with a simple pocket tester, a multi-meter, or lamp, blow dryer or another similar appliance.
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    Keep a flashlight near your electrical panel at all times, just in case of a power loss.
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    Use fiberglass ladders for any electrical work that you do. Fiberglass ladders are non-conductive. Don’t use an aluminum ladder. Spend the money for a good fiberglass stepladder.
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    Never work on electrical systems in the rain, or in damp or wet locations, or where power is not completely shut off.
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    The best type of shoes are rubber-soled shoes, and when possible stand on a rubber mat, or dry wooden floors or sub-floors. Never work barefoot or in socks or slippers, and don’t assume that it’s safe to work without rubber-soled shoes on concrete floors. Concrete is conductive, particularly when it’s damp (a good reason to never load or unload your washing machine while you’re barefoot).
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    Anything can conduct electricity if the conditions are right. Even if by definition it’s called an insulator. (A conductor allows the flow of electrons, and an insulator resists the flow of electrons).
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    When you turn off the power to a breaker, tape that breaker off. OSHA requires us as contractors to lock it off, and tag it out with a procedure called lock out/tag out. It involves red tags and devices that will lock the breaker off to prevent it from being turned on. (If you have your panel cover off, remember that even when you turn breakers off, there are still energized components in the panel itself!).
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    In your home, at minimum put tape over the breaker, red tape if you have it, then close your service panel cover, and put a piece of masking tape across the cover, or a sign that says, “Do Not Open,�? or “Danger�?, or something similar, so anybody who approaches that panel will see that, and immediately know what’s going on.
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    Furthermore, inform your family members that you are doing electrical work so that, if you’ve got teenagers or kids that are capable of turning breakers back on, they are completely aware that you are working on the electrical system.
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    If you are working with fuse panels instead of breaker panels; when you remove a fuse, use only one hand to remove it. Put your other hand either in your pocket or behind your back, and that’s a good practice to develop anyway. What that does is keeps you from grabbing a circuit with two hands and providing a path for the electricity to flow through your heart.
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    Now, electricity can still flow through one hand and one foot and pass through your heart, but if you’ve taken the other precautions I mentioned above, you will minimize your exposure to that hazard.
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    Another important aspect of safety that frequently goes unmentioned is tool use. It is well worth spending a little extra money to purchase quality tools. I’m referring to hand tools like your lineman pliers, screwdrivers, wire strippers, and other hand tools that you will use for electrical work. For instance, Good wire strippers will prevent you from nicking or skinning the wires. Good screwdrivers will prevent slipping out of screw heads or rounding them out. You get my point; good tools not only improve the quality of your workmanship, but improve your confidence as well. So don’t skimp on tools. You can stock your tool pouch with good quality tools for $100 or less.


Regarding extension cords and power tools

  • When you are using extension cords, be sure to use GFCI protection. Whether that means plugging into a GFCI outlet, or providing a GFCI whip to plug your extension cord in to. Also use GFCI protection for your power tools, particularly if you’re using cords or power tools outdoors.
  • A GFCI whip is nothing more than a very short extension cord, if you will, sometimes with multi-tap capability, meaning, that you can plug in more than one cord, and it has a GFCI device that’s integral to the whip itself. If there’s ever a ground fault, it should prevent you from being shocked.

Regarding opening sheet rock and other finished surfaces

  • Remember, when you cut, saw or drill into walls, ceilings, and floors, pay very close attention to the depth of your work. Be conscientious because, even though you’ve got the power off to the circuit you're working on, there are most likely wires behind your wall, and you don’t want to get into a live circuit behind your wall.

Regarding protection equipment

  • Safety equipment such as masks for dust, safety glasses for eye protection and gloves to preserve your hands are highly recommended; and in my business, they’re mandatory. I require my technicians to wear safety glasses when they’re working inside of a panel in case of an arc, or a short circuit that might flash, or throw sparks. You only get one set of eyes. Also…develop the habit of turning your face away from the panel at the very moment you turn on or off a breaker, on the off chance a breaker explodes. Odds are against it, but it has happened.

Regarding grounding

  • Never cut the grounding pin off the plug end of an extension cord, or any power tool cord. Tools that have plastic cases may not have a grounding pin, and that’s because they're double insulated so a short will not reach the casing of the tool itself. But let’s say you have a cord and plug assembly that you're trying to plug in somewhere; for example, to a two-slot receptacle, and you have a grounding pin on your tool or your extension cord, do not cut that pin off. That pin is there to carry a fault away from the tool and protect you, and the wiring. Use an adapter if you have to, and ground fault protection, like I mentioned before (an adapter that has the tab secured to the screw in the cover plate does not ground the cord or appliance, unless the yoke of the receptacle is truly grounded…but then the receptacle should be a 3-slot device).


  • Make sure to always exercise electrical safety precautions. Being electrocuted is not a fun thing to have happen to you!

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Categories: Electrical Maintenance