Electrical Safety & Energy Conservation

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Electrical Safety: What Homeowners Must Know

Many homeowners are unaware that the electrical system is the most potentially hazardous infrastructure in their home. No other trade-related item has the power to create either fire or shock. That's why it's essential to hire only a qualified electrician to work on electrical system upgrades or repairs.

Hire a Fully Qualified Electrician

Unfortunately, since electrical companies have some of the lowest capital investment costs, there are more handymen and non-licensed tradesmen involved in the residential electrical industry than any other building trade. Even finding an electrician with a license and a bond is not enough. For instance, all electrical companies in California are required to have a State Contractors license, a bond, Personal Liability insurance, vehicle insurance, a business license for each city they work in and most importantly, workers' comp. So what’s a homeowner to do? Simple. Insist that your electrical contractor pull his own permits.

Find out Whether Electrical Work Needs a Permit

We highly advise homeowners to simply check their municipal website, which will state most clearly what work can and can not be performed without a permit. The answer, in a nutshell, is not much. While we advise against homeowners pulling their own permits, if you decide to go ahead, you must do extensive research to find out all the essential facts behind electrical permitting. Your local Contractors License Board has current information regarding homeowner permitting and is a good place to start your research.

Hazardous Electrical Systems

That said, it is extremely important for homeowners to know this about their electrical panels, especially in homes 25 years or older: Several panels, including "Zinsco," "Federal Pacific Stab-lok," "Pushmatic" and "Square D type XO" have been deemed unsafe and thus have lost the original UL listing. Consequently, some homeowners insurance providers will not insure or honor the insurance of homes equipped with these panels.

Another major deficiency in older homes is the original "knob and tube" wiring. There is a wealth of information on the Internet regarding all of these safety issues, and I recommend a small investment in time to find out more. Homes don’t come with instruction manuals, so I encourage all homeowners to educate themselves.

Energy Conservation Tips

  • First of all, when given the choice of electric or gas, go gas. The BTU ratio of a therm of gas is substantially better than that of a kilowatt hour of electricity. 

  • Rethink fluorescent lighting installation. Today’s fluorescent technology is not like in the old days, and many homeowners that were initially resistant to change come back to me and say "those fluorescent recessed lights are great." 

  • Be aware that many homes do not have overhead light fixtures, but have a "switched outlet" in the room. That would be a great outlet to put your chargers on, as they are considered "ghosting" transformers that consume power regardless of whether you have a phone, laptop, or other device switched on or even plugged in. 

  • Drop the common misconception is that unplugging the bulb from a fluorescent fixture saves energy. All lighting, other than standard Edison base bulbs, uses power regardless of the bulb. As long as the switch is on, the transformer is consuming power. 

With Americans becoming more aware of energy use, we face a bright future in the soon-to-be green environment. But change comes slowly, and we all need to embrace it.

Adapted from a guest post by Alan Fortin, BSEE, who is the owner/operator of Lighthouse Electric, and has been in the electrical industry for 40 years.

Updated August 16, 2018.

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