Housewife MacGyver: Electrical Basics with Gwenny Penny

We have one of my favorite people (and bloggers) back again today for the Housewife MacGyver threepeat! Gwen from Gwenny Penny is just awesome, and today she's here sharing yet another one of her amazing skills with us: electrical work! Give it up for Gwen!

Hey, everybody! It's Gwen from Gwenny Penny again. Back in April I was here sharing some tips on resourceful stain removal, and in June I shared some resourceful recipe substitutions. Today I’m back with yet another new topic. In a former life I was a mechanical engineer. When I was tossing around some possible topics for this month's post, Lorene immediately jumped on the idea of sharing some basic electrical knowledge. It's important to know what your breaker box does (hopefully you know where it is :) and how an electrical outlet and a light switch work. Are you ready?

image source (and how cool is it that I found female electrician clip art?!?)
What is a breaker box, and why do I have one? A circuit breaker box (or panel) is the main point from which electricity is distributed in your home. Power comes into your house from the utility company then into the circuit breaker box. Every circuit in your house is wired through a circuit breaker in this box. The purpose of a circuit breaker is to break the circuit (i.e. turn off) when a circuit becomes overloaded (i.e. too much power use is detected). This is to protect the electrical system (and you) in your house.

What causes a tripped circuit breaker? The most common reason for a tripped circuit breaker is an overloaded circuit. This usually means that too many things are plugged into one electrical circuit. The circuit breaker switches off to protect the circuit from becoming overloaded.

How do I reset a tripped circuit breaker? You can easily reset a tripped circuit breaker. Look in your breaker box for a circuit breaker switch that has flipped off or is somewhere between on and off. If it is not already there, push the switch to the off position, then flip it to the on position. Power should be restored to the circuit. If the same circuit trips again, you should contact an electrician because there could be a problem.

image source
Likewise, if you ever need to turn off the power to a particular circuit in your home, just flip the circuit breaker to off. This is why it is important to label all of the circuit breakers in your breaker box. But always test the circuit at the source before performing any electrical work! Every homeowner should have an electrical voltage tester. It is a simple and inexpensive tool used to determine if the electricity to an electrical wire or outlet has been turned off or if electrical power is present.

Say you want to replace an outlet in the living room. You flip the circuit breaker for the living room. Now you need to make sure that there is no power going to the outlet. You just stick the two probes of the voltage tester into the outlet. If the lightbulb on the tester doesn't light up, there is no power going to the outlet. If the lightbulb lights up, you flipped the wrong circuit breaker and need to find the correct one. Houses can have weird wiring setups... code or no code, no two homes are wired the same. Your bathroom downstairs could be on the same circuit as your bedroom upstairs. I'll say it again... always test the circuit at the source before performing any electrical work!
voltage tester... this one only costs $6!
How does an electrical outlet work? When nothing is plugged in, the hot and neutral wires that are attached to the outlet are not connected with one another to form a complete circuit. When the plug of an electrical appliance is plugged in, the circuit is completed and electricity flows through the appliance.

How does a light switch work? A light switch is like a gate for the electrical current passing through a circuit. When the switch is "on", the gate is closed and the electrical current is allowed to pass through the circuit. When the switch is "off", the gate is open and the electrical current can't pass through the circuit.

Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of electricity in your home. As always, but especially today, I should note that I am not a licensed electrician. I've done some basic wiring around the house and have some knowledge of electrical work, but everything you read here came from books I have read on wiring or basic electrical knowledge that I picked up through my introductory courses when I was getting my engineering degree. As I mentioned before, I have a mechanical engineering degree, not an electrical engineering degree. Please consult a licensed electrician for any electrical work that needs to be done in your home. That being said, I highly recommend the Home Depot book Wiring 1-2-3 if you are interested in learning more. There are some basic things that anyone can easily do, like replacing a light fixture or an outlet that accidentally gets painted over (not that I know anything about that :).

Please feel free to stop by Gwenny Penny anytime to say hello. I’d love to have you. I have really enjoyed being a part of the Housewife MacGyver series this year, Lorene. Thanks so much for letting me join in.

See what a smarty pants Gwen is? Thanks for sharing your smarts with us Gwen! I'll have to figure out some kind of award for your MacGyver awesomeness...

And thanks to all of you for reading! I've been a bit absent lately, but I have been working on lots of fun things to share... someday. We're doing the enjoy-summer-while-it-lasts dance (and enjoying it very much) but enjoying our summer means not spending as much time inside and on the computer. So, someday I'll share all the awesomeness that's been going on around here. :) I hope you all are enjoying your summer!

This post is part of the Housewife MacGyver series on just Lu. Read more about Housewife MacGyver and see all the posts in the series here.


Gwen @ Gwenny Penny said...

Thanks again, Lorene :)

Amy at Ameroonie Designs said...

Great tips Gwen! It's nice to know that modern wiring can prevent fires..I have a story to tell you sometime. ;) I love this series Lu! I always wanted to be Mac!

KJ@letsgoflyakite said...

Excellent advice and very timely for me (I am working on a couple of DIY projects in the home). I am going to pick up one of those voltage testers on my next Home Depot run.

Michele Pacey said...

Great post Gwen, very informative especially for those of us who have no clue about the "potential" of electricity, hee hee. Thanks so much for this!

Nick and Keira said...

I honestly didn't even know how an outlet worked. I couldn't be further removed from the technology that makes my life so wonderful. :) Thanks for sharing the VERY basics, for ... people like me.

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