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DIY – Know When to ‘Don’t’ It Yourself

Everyone enjoys that powerful sense of accomplishment we get from finding a problem and fixing it ourselves, that powerful rush of empowerment when you take something apart and put it back together better than it was before.  We also all love to save money – a good professional isn’t cheap (because if it was cheap, they wouldn’t be good, right?).  That being said, there are times when it really is a better bet to spend the extra time and resources for someone who can handle a job correctly, efficiently, and well.  How do you know when it is a better time to don’t-it-yourself?

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An electrical contractor in Florida discovered a pre-molded shower unit with what appeared to be a lovely built in lighting fixture in frosted plastic – but upon getting to the attic realized it was an elaborately designed home handyman job.  Behind the frosted plastic was a sawed out hole leading into the attic space.  Installed in the ceiling was a coffee can with a cord going into it – and a bulb hanging out the other end.  The can had holes drilled and flanges bent – the entire design was obviously something someone had spent a lot of time and effort on.  It was still an electrical danger – hanging a lamp over a shower, on its own cord, is in no way shape or form safe – and presented a fire risk, as well.

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Another instance of ‘handy help’ gone wrong: the electrical feed in a panel is designed to protect the circuits fed through it from overcurrent – aka, drawing more energy then the wire, wiring system, or equipment connected is designed to handle safely.  Fuses are intentionally designed to melt or fail if too much current is drawn, therefore preventing wires from melting, appliances and motors from damage, and fires from starting or electricity arcing.  (Modern day panels now have circuit breakers, which trip to protect circuits but can then be reset.)  There was a time when homeowners would replace these blown fuses with copper pennies – and put their homes in dangerous, risky situations.  Even worse is people who continue to make such poor choices – especially when it involves using copper pieces larger then pennies to replace circuit fuses for public elevators.  No one cares if those motors burn out and stop working, right?  Looks like a plumber was helping with this one:

212ecmICpic2[1] Electrical wiring is a specific science – yes, that’s right, a science.  There is math that goes into calculating a series of factors that affect each and every individual circuit – and each electrical system is carefully engineered, designed to work in a balanced state with other circuits, to power specific equipment and devices, to function in a myriad of locations from inside insulated walls to subzero temperatures buried in snow.  One of the biggest hazards is of course around water due to its conductive nature – electricians have developed a series of especially engineered wires and fittings to help utilize electricity safely around it.  This means we can run motors in wet conditions – like sump pumps – and power them safely, when we use the right equipment.  If your sump pump goes and your basement floods, it might possibly be because someone didn’t use the right kind of wire and fittings on it.  It could be because some one felt ‘pretty handy’, and happened to use something they had laying around – like what looks like an extension cord, red duct tape, and a plastic water bottle:

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Over the years, our culture (in general) has learned a healthy – and realistic – fear of using electricity unsafely.  As children, exploring the world around us sometimes includes brushing up against electricity in good and bad ways.  Our parents may or may not have let us pursue some unhealthy things – I can remember, I had an archaic video game system with a transformer plug that always left one prong behind in the outlet.  I’m not going to mention the decidedly unsafe things I did with that prong – however, suffice to say if my parents had known what I had to go through to play Space Invaders I probably would have never gotten to.  As adults, one would hope we would never use raw electricity to cook a hot dog at work; especially not on a government work site, nor specifically engineer a grounded outlet to a switch, attached to forks wrapped in electrical tape.  Ingenious and decidedly dangerous.  Kids, don’t try this at home:

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The internet is amazing; you can find everything you ever wanted to know (and a lot of things you didn’t); there are literally billions of facts available for the asking, and everyone who has access can find information with ease.  It also means that we retain less data because we have become adjusted to just ‘searching’ it out; if Google didn’t have an answer, odds are that no one else would either.  In some ways, having endless data can be helpful – learning how to make eggs in a basket makes for a wonderful breakfast, and discovering the night before that your favorite store is having a sale might save you some money.  However, some things on the internet are terrifying, and some things we might wish to ‘un-see’.  Quite frankly, the worst part about getting do it yourself information on the internet is that having experts do something they are familiar with quickly and efficiently is in no way, shape, or form an accurate reflection of the reality a complete novice is going to encounter when they attempt to do the same thing.  Even more scary?

When people post an online ‘tutorial’ and insist something delicate, precise, and difficult is ‘very simple’ and can be completed with ‘a few basic tools’.

Even people on YouTube can’t agree that one person knows what they are talking about – let alone whether you should do what he says, or whether he is trying to kill you.

If you put on a coverall and a headlamp, you still shouldn’t do this on your own.

When This Old House and Master electrician Scott Caron tell you something is ‘hard’ to do and should be performed by a licensed electrician, I don’t think they were joking.

When dealing with the dangerous world of electricity, it is always best to hedge your bets, play it safe, and call in the experts – like a local, licensed, knowledgeable and reputable electrician.

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Swartz Electric – Your Colorado Springs Electrician performs electrical work throughout Colorado Springs, Monument, Black Forest, Fountain, Falcon, Woodland Park, and everywhere in between. We are the electricians in Colorado Springs to solve your electrical problems and meet your electrical requirements.

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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.

© Copyright 2014. All rights reserved.

DIY – Know When to ‘Don’t’ It Yourself was last modified: February 11th, 2015 by Mai

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