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The Basics of Residential Electrical Systems

The first in a series of 'Basics' videos on residential electricity. This one is on receptacles.
May 26, 2022

This video is for basic electrical system informational purposes.

Electrical outlets:

In addition to attaching a wire to the side screws, some outlets have ports in the back which you can push wire into for a quick connection.

Paul never uses these quick connections because they can become unconnected just as quickly. He also notes that this is especially true with aluminum wire.

Instead, always connect the wire to the screw terminals, wrapping the eye clockwise so that as you tighten the screw, it pulls the wire into the connection.

There are, however, outlets with good rear connections. Some outlets clamp down on the wire if you tighten the screws.

Tools for electrical work:

Wire strippers come in many forms.
Some are automatic in that they strip off the right amount of sheathing each time.

Receptacle testers tell you if the wiring is correct.
Plug into the outlet, and the light pattern indicates problems (or lack thereof), according to the chart on the back of the tester.

Voltage test pens indicate if electricity is in the wire or if it is safe to work.

Lineman pliers
Don't get cheap ones. Get good pliers; it makes a difference.

Two tips for working with wire

  1. Turn off the power.
  2. Lock the panel shut. You never know who might turn there power on—not knowing that you are working on live wire.

More on installing an electrical outlet:

Leave at least six inches of wire extending from the box. One easy way to gauge this quickly is to use the palm of your hand as a guide: lay the wire across your hand and cut it about an inch or two past, depending on your ham-handedness. Much more, and it is difficult to push the wire back into the box neatly, much less, and it is difficult to work.

In this video, Paul recommends putting the ground post down—ground down—to make an upside-down triangle. Other electricians that we have worked with recommend against this to avoid an accidental connection between hot and neutral should a plug be partly dislodged (common) while something like a butter knife slides off of a table and slips into the gap.

This would make a connection between hot and neutral (maybe not so common, but certainly not incomprehensible). This configuration may make plugging in night lights a pain in the neck, but it may be a worthwhile safety step.

If two cables are coming into the box—or, more accurately, one comes in, and one goes out—keep the wire from each cable aligned on the plug. The wires from the incoming cable are at the top, and the outgoing cables at the bottom.

Don't over-strip the wire. Keep it short enough so that there is no exposed wire after wrapping around the screw. Or else: fire, shock, razzing from your crew. Most receptacles have a strip gauge.

Black is hot and connected to the gold screw, white is neutral and connected to the silver screw, and the ground is bare copper and connected to the green screw. Pigtail the ground wire to the ground from the other cables and attach the pigtail to the green screw.

Special wire nuts and crimping connectors are available for this, but not all are accepted by all jurisdictions, so check. Paul uses a push-in connector.

Push the cables back into the box and screw the receptacle to the box. Accordion-folding the cables may help keep it neat.

Paul uses a torque gun to screw the receptacle to the box and a screwdriver to fasten the faceplate—which avoids cracking the plate.

With the receptacle in the box and the faceplate installed, Paul uses the tester to check his work and to illustrate various problems, including a loose 'hot' wire.

He does not touch the copper part of the loose wire, so he does not electrocute himself, but just the same; please DO NOT play the loose-wire-location game at home or on the job unless you are very experienced and comfortable working with residential electricity.

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