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Top 10 Electrical Mistakes

Wiring problems and mistakes are all too common, and if left uncorrected have the potential to cause short circuits, shocks and even fires. Here's what to look for and how to fix what you find.

By the DIY experts of The Family Handyman Magazine

Mistake 1: Making connections outside electrical boxes

Caution!

Turn off the power at the main panel when you're doing electrical work.

Mistake 2: Cutting wires too short

Mistake 3: Leaving plastic-sheathed cable unprotected

Mistake 4: Poor support for outlets and switches

Mistake 5: Installing a three-slot receptacle without a ground wire

Mistake 6: Recessing boxes behind the wall surface

Mistake 7: Installing cable without a clamp

Mistake 8: Overfilling electrical boxes

Mistake 9: Reversing hot and neutral wires

Mistake 10: Wiring a GFCI backward

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Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

    • Cordless drill
    • 4-in-1 screwdriver
    • Needle-nose pliers
    • Electrical tape
    • Drywall saw
    • Non-contact voltage tester
    • Utility knife
    • Wire stripper/cutter

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here's a list.

    • Junction boxes
    • Wire
    • Wire connectors
    • 2 x 2
    • Outlet spacers
    • Receptacles
    • Electrical boxes
    • Box extensions
    • Cable clamps

Comments from DIY Community Members

Share what's on your mind and see what other DIYers are thinking about.

1 - 8 of 8 comments
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July 12, 11:00 AM [GMT -5]

If you don't know what your doing, Call an Electrician!

November 05, 10:23 PM [GMT -5]

Mistake #5 3 prong outlet with no ground. Other than this is a code violation, what is wrong with it?
Is is more 'unsafe' than a 2 prong outlet with an adapter?
Or is the thinking that someone won't plug a 3 prong plug into a an ungrounded outlet thinking it is properly grounding?

MCE

October 23, 8:59 PM [GMT -5]

Good advice

October 23, 12:25 PM [GMT -5]

On mistake #2...As an electrician, I would not recommend push-on connectors as they are merely springs that will fail in time because they do not provide the contact surface area against the wire needed to sustain the load. The less surface area the connection has, the more heat builds up causing expansion and contraction of the connector. This will eventually lead to more load on the device and it becomes a compounding problem from there. The best way to correct this problem is to physically twist the wires of the incoming lines and your pigtails together and place a wirenut on them. Just because something is UL approved doesn't mean it's the best solution.

October 20, 7:42 PM [GMT -5]

Installing a three-slot receptacle without a ground wire

Appears that the wire displayed has been turned the wrong way so that when you tighten the screw, it will open the wire.

August 29, 3:11 PM [GMT -5]

A GCFI is an acceptable alternative to 2-prong outlets for ungrounded wiring. Ordinary 3-prong outlets can be wired downstream (on the load side of the GCFI) but should be labelled
"GCFI protected; no equipment ground"

That of course informs the user of 2 things:
1. The device is GCFI protected, so the user knows what to look for if the GCFI trips; and
2. The 3 prong outlet offers no ground for electronic shielding.

These GCFI-protected ungrounded outlets are considered safer than ordinary grounded 3 prong outlets without GCFI protection.

I read that any downstream ground wires should not be connected to the GCFI, but am not sure if that's true. (In any case, it it unlikely that someone would connect new wiring for the branch directly to the first box with the GCFI.)

May 14, 2:37 PM [GMT -5]

It is perfectly acceptable to install a gfci without a ground wire. The way a gfci works is it detects an unbalanced load on the neutral.

February 27, 8:40 PM [GMT -5]

Another article from Family Handyman says two prong outlets can become safer by turning them into GFCI even without a ground cable. However, this article says that is not possible and actually dangerous. Which article is correct?

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