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If there is one type of home project that will drive even the most seasoned do-it-yourselfer to call in the professionals, it is one that involves electricity. Not only do these projects boast complexity, but also danger for both heart and home.

The dangers of electricity can make changing a light bulb nerve-wracking, testing an outlet seem beyond reach, and leaving the toaster plugged in while the house is empty unimaginable. But it doesn’t have to be this way. With a basic understanding of home wiring, even beginners can alleviate the stigma bound to electricity and make their homes safer places for their families.

Understand the Wiring

The key to engaging any home improvement project that involves electricity is to understand contemporary home wiring. Fortunately, it is a simple concept, based upon two wiring principles: two-wire with ground or three-wire with ground.

Stripping wires for a wall outlet.

  • Two-wire with ground: A two-wire setup is used for 110v connections and powers most consumer goods. It includes a white “neutral” wire, a black “hot” wire, and a green or copper ground wire which is a safety feature.
  • Three-wire with ground: Some consumer goods and appliances require 220v connections, requiring a three-wire setup. Like two-wire with ground cables, three-wire with ground also includes a white “neutral” wire, a black “hot” wire, and a green or copper ground wire. In addition, there is a second “hot” wire.

Put Your Knowledge to Work

Homeowners with a simple understanding of the wiring types found in a home can then embark on the following three do-it-yourself projects that can remedy electrical problems, reduce the potential of dangers like electrical fires, and add aesthetic touches and fixture updates.

Please note: Before starting any project that involves electricity, it is important to remember to shut off the power not only in the room, but at the master circuit breaker. It is also important to have a voltage tester handy to make sure that the circuit is dead before beginning work.

Attaching wires to an electrical wall outlet.

Replacing an Electrical Outlet

An electrical outlet that doesn’t hold a plug snugly can pose a risk of shock, and if it doesn’t provide electricity, it could simply be a nuisance. In either situation, it may be time to replace the outlet. These simple steps will allow you to swap out an electrical outlet in a matter of minutes.

  1. Turn the power off from the main circuit panel.
  2. Unscrew the face plate and remove it.
  3. Use a voltage tester to ensure that the circuit is dead.
  4. Unscrew the receptacle and pull it and the wires from the electrical box.
  5. Remove the black and white wires from the terminals on the receptacle.
  6. Remove the ground wire.
  7. Attach the black and white wires to the new receptacle.
  8. Attach the ground wire.
  9. Screw the receptacle back into the electrical box.
  10. Re-attach the face plate, and turn on the power.

Attaching wires to a wall switch.

Replacing a Light Switch

A flickering lamp can be a sign that the light bulb is faulty. But if a fresh bulb doesn’t fix the problem, it could mean that the light switch is the problem. To replace the light switch, you can follow the same steps as you would to replace an electrical outlet.

Make sure to purchase the correct type of switch before starting the project. These include a simple single pole switch, or more complex three and four-way switches, depending on the number of switches controlling one light.

Replacing a Light Fixture

If one of the lights that dot your ceiling or walls isn’t working as expected, or even if it is just time to update the lighting fixtures in the room, this is another home project that is made easy with knowledge of wiring. Takes these quick steps to replace the faulty or out-of-date light in a safe and efficient manner.

Hanging ceiling light fixture.

  1. Turn the power off from the main circuit panel.
  2. Remove the fixture from the ceiling or wall.
  3. Detach the black, white, and ground wires.
  4. Attach the new mounting bracket per the instructions that accompany it.
  5. Connect the black, white, and ground wires to the appropriate partners. Black should be attached to black, white to white, and the ground wire to the fixtures’ mounting bracket. This is usually done using wire nuts rather than the screw terminals you find on switches and outlets.
  6. Assemble the rest of the light.
  7. Turn on the power.

Home projects that involve electricity should be approached carefully. Electricity can not only shock, but it can lead to fires that cause destruction and even fatality. But a simple understanding of home electrical wiring can enable even the DIY amateur to take on projects that can remedy problems or simply add stylistic touches.

What electrical projects have you undertaken? Any tips you can share from your experience?

Go to The Home Depot for all your household electrical needs from home security systems to solar panels.

Editorial Contributors
Danny Lipford

Danny Lipford


Danny Lipford is a home improvement expert and television personality who started his remodeling business, Lipford Construction, at the age of 21 in Mobile, Alabama. He gained national recognition as the host of the nationally syndicated television show, Today's Homeowner with Danny Lipford, which started as a small cable show in Mobile. Danny's expertise in home improvement has also led him to be a contributor to popular magazines and websites and the go-to source for advice on everything related to the home. He has made over 200 national television appearances and served as the home improvement expert for CBS's The Early Show and The Weather Channel for over a decade. Danny is also the founder of 3 Echoes Content Studio, TodaysHomeowner.com, and Checking In With Chelsea, a décor and lifestyle blog.

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