Thursday, June 25, 2009

Subject: Wiring GFCI to a switch

Name: Jason

Question: I've got an outside outlet on a GFCI receptacle. I'd like to hook a switch up to it so that I can completely kill the power when it's not in use. The feed line goes straight to the receptacle and I'm not hooking anything else up to it.

Answer: Hi Jason.

All you need to do is add a two gang box. Have the black from the feed leave the GFCI go into the switch. Then from the switch send the black out to the outlet you want to cut off.

Subject: two outlets not working

Name: Susan

Question: Single pole switch to ceiling fan not working in Master bedroom, also double switch(fan&light)/double receptacle outlet in adjacent hall bath not working. No GFCI in house. No breaker thrown. Reset all breakers anyway, also looked inside outlets, nothing looks amiss. All neighboring receptacles and switchs working perfectly but these two, any suggestions?

Answer: Hi Susan,

You did everything right. Now it is time to call an electrician. This could be a damaged wire that if not repaired could start a fire. I know you would like to fix this yourself but if you can't find the problem doing everything you just did call an electrician. This is s safety issue.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Subject: replacing a hallway ceiling light

Name: dave

Question: hi,
i am replacing a hallway ceiling light. The old light fixture had one black wire ,one white wire and a ground wiring, The box has 4 white wires connected together, two black and one red wire connected together, one other black wire, and a ground wire. The new light has two white and two black wires plus the ground wire. How should they be connected to the box? thanks dave.

Answer: Hi Dave,

You want to match the colors the same way that they are on the light you are replacing. The only difference is your new light will have two wires instead of one.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Subject: Main electrical panel

Name: Dave

Question: Hi,
Not sure if I can give you enough appropriate details but will try, in hopes of getting some advice. We live in a rural area in a 25 yr old house. The electrical issue I would like to address is that of power drop. What I mean is that any time the furnace cuts in during winter the lights all dim and TV quiets briefly during the initial power surge of the furnace motor. Also, during the Christmas season if the outdoor lights come on (6x 25 bulb strands) any lights in the house dim and stay dimmed until the outdoor lights go out. I understand this is just a factor of the power draw but wondered if it can be remedied with a heavier main breaker or some modification to the panel. The main panel states 125 amp and nearly all slots have breakers. Any suggestions or advice you have would be appreciated. I have purposely avoided summer landscape lighting or yard lights due to this annoyance.
Thanks, Dave

Answer: Hi Dave,

You could get a device for your panel that corrects your power factor. It is a box filled with capacitors that store extra power for such a problem. Here is a link to the one we install here in Philadelphia. It will also save you money on your electric bill.

Subject: can I add a dryer outlet to my breaker?

Name: Don

Question: I would like to get a clothes dryer but I don't know if the electric service to the house has the capacity for a second 240 outlet; there is an electric range. How can I determine if my breaker box and service are adequate?

The breaker box has 8 breakers slots. Currently one is a double and labeled 50 amp, there are four more single, one is labeled 15 amp. Two slots are not in use. The name on the cover plate is Trubull Electric, Rumbull Lite.



Answer: Hi Don,

That is an old panel. You should have an electrician look at the panel. I have a few safety concerns that pop up into my mind when you said you had a Trubull Electric box. I think you should look into updating that box.

Subject: bedroom breakers pop every morning

Name: Mike

Question: I just bought a new house built in 2008 I have been in it for about a week in a half, but every morning one of my bedrooms and some times my master bedroom breaker pop around 7 am every morning. If I unplug every thing in both rooms the breaker dose not pop just if some thing is plugged into the room. the bedroom breakers all have a test trip on them but no other breakers have a test trips on them. HELP...plzzzzz Thanks

Answer: Hi Mike,

You have what is called an arc fault breaker in your bedroom. They are extra sensitive and can be incompatible with something you plug in. They also make your home much safer.It could be an alarm clock or a shaver that id setting off your breaker. I would contact the maker of that breaker and ask them if they know of any thing that you have in your bedroom that could be causing the problem.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Subject: wiring a back to neutral switch in an old house

Name: ken

Question: hello bill,

i live in canada, its a really old house, the wiring i have for the switch to a bedroom has no ground. its just 2 wires coming out of the box. i bought a switch hoping to be able to use it with the ceiling light fixture in the room, but the switch requires a my question really there a way to ground the switch properly if there isnt a ground wire coming from the wall???

Answer: Hi Ken,

Your switch doesn't require a ground to work. It has a place for a ground to attach for extra safety. It will work fine with out the ground. It is time you started to look into a whole house rewire. Your wiring is well past it's prime I would not waste my time with any grounding solutions.

Name: jason

Subject: gfci's

Question: where do you connect the white neutral wire from the gfci double pole breaker if its a 220v circuit

Answer: Hi Jason,

The White wire on a 220 volt circuit can be a hot wire or a neutral. If there is a red wire the white wire is a neutral and there should be a lug marked with a white dot.

If there is not red wire the white wire is a hot wore and it goes under one of the hot lugs.

If you are not familiar with this equipment I think you should contact an electrician who is. I don't think working is your main panel is a place to learn things the hard way.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Subject: Wiring lamp with toggle switch?

Name: Matt

Question: Is it possible to wire a lamp using a toggle switch for the on/off switch? I'm making a house/floor lamp out of an old street lamp and I need to rewire it for indoor use. I wanted to use a toggle switch on the lamp pole itself as the on/off switch, but a lot of the toggle switches that can be found online have specs and ratings that I don't understand. I don't think I need any "heavy-duty" toggle switch, but even the "light-duty" toggle switches have amp/volt ratings that I don't understand. I found some here that look promising ( but again – I don't know what all the rating jargon means. I don't want to do anything that could burn down my house. BTW - I'm not planning on using anything more than a 100w bulb in my lamps. Please advise!

Answer: Hi Matt,

Head down to any local hard ware store. They all will have lamp part. This is a common device but would be hard to find on the internet.
Here is a good link:
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Subject: Wiring for double ceiling fan

Name: Jason

Question: I'm trying to install two ceiling fans in my living room. It had two ceiling lights before, but was prewired for ceiling fans. There are two sets of switches, each with a seperate switch for light and fan. When I removed the first light I found three groups of wires coming into the box. One had red/black/white wires running to the other ceiling fan, one red/black/white running to one of the switches and a black/white coming from...? It doen't seem like I'll be able to wire this so that each switch operates only a single fan like I would prefer, but until I know what to do with the black/white wire, I can't wire it at all.

Answer: Hi Jason,

It sounds like you have all the wires you need. The red and black are booth two switch legs and should do exactly what you need them to do. Still I do understand how this can be confusing. Installing ceiling fans can take sometime if you have not dealt with a situation like this before. You may want to consider calling out an electrician to do this job.

Subject: Fireplace wiring

Name: Carlos

Question: "I am going to hang a LCD over the mantle of my fireplace and have removed the entire front wall above the mantel exposing the cavity above the fireplace. The fireplace itself is a pre-built with a double walled exhaust about 14 inches thick.

Currently there are two lights, one on each side above the mantel so there are already electrical wires running inside the cavity. I had an electrician take those out and leave an outlet in the middle so there is an exposed wire in the cavity. what I want to do is run grey PVC conduit next to this outlet, horizontally along the inside, and then down the side of the fireplace so that I can run the HDMI and others cables to the TV, hidding all the cables. Do you think this will be safe? The metal exhaust duct currently runs up and then out of the house and at the point where it reaches the ceiling above the fireplace is touching the 2x4 studs so if this is fine then I believe I should be OK but just wanted an expert opinion.

Answer: Hi Carlos,

Your fireplace has to be designed so that the outside of the exhaust can not start an accidental fire. Still you don't want to rest anything directly against it. You should be fine running your conduit. I would just give your fire as much clearance as I could.

Subject: Circuit requires two breakers to turn off

Name: Jordan

Question: I just bought a house and I noticed a serious electrical problem. I tried every breaker in the house to turn off lights/outlets in the living room and bedroom, and couldn't find the correct one. I turned off several at once, and that turned off the power to it. However, I noticed that I need to turn off two separate breakers to de-energize the circuit. It's like one circuit is being back-fed off the other.

I guess someone was working on electricity and didn't know what he was doing. Why do people do this?? They just mess things up for themselves and others who nay need to work on the circuit later. What's the best way to track something like this down, and separate them into the two individual circuits as originally wired?

Answer: Hi Jordan,

I would call an electrician for a first hand look. What I think they will do is break the circuit in the middle so that you have two functioning circuits. Someone need to be there with a tester to do this right.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Subject: brief buzz as AC kicks on

Name: Tim Moore

Question: Hi Bill,

I have read several posts here about breakers that buzz briefly once the AC unit kicks on. Mine is doing the same. My home is about 12 years old. The breaker has no signs of arching. I replace it anyway and cleaned the connector bars. I still get a 1 to 2 second buzz with a corresponding dimming all the lights in the house (for the same duration). When I touch the AC breaker and one other (with a different hand), the AC breaker does have a slight vibration for the 1 – 2 seconds. I get the sense (after reading other posts here) that I could easily spend several hundred dollars going through a series of electricians telling me that they can’t figure out how to make it stop. Is this something about which I should be concerned?

Answer: Hi Tim,
You problem could be a power factor problem.

Not all the electricity delivered to everyone's home is in the correct form when your appliances call for it. That buzzing could be wasted power. The link above is for a power factor corrector. This is a device with a compactor that store wasted electricity and delivers it when motor driven appliance like your AC call for it. It could stop that buzzing and it will reduce your electric bill.

Bill Lutz
Generation 3 Electric, Inc.
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The GFI in our bathroom trips

The GFI in our bathroom trips every so often when we use the hair dryer. In fact the hair dryer fried last week. Any ideas?

Hi Ray,

The first thing I'm thinking is your GFCI is going bad. I would replace the GFCI . If the problem continues you could have a bad hair dryer or water in your wall form a leak.

Subject: GFI installation

Name: Charles

Question: If I install a GFI outlet in my older home with a 2-wire system, will it still perform its safety function?

Answer: Hi Charles,

Yes the GFCI will work on a two wire system. The code actually want electricians to replace two prong outlet with GFCI outlet. I world really prefer you to start replacing the old wiring. The GFCI is only a band aid on a bigger problem.

Subject: Changing out plug receptacles

Name: Krista

Question: Hi, I have recently painted my home and wanted to update my plugs and switches from beige to white. I started with my kitchen and turned off all power to my entire condo (just being overly cautious). I replaced 5 plugs and reattached them as they were on the old plugs. When I went to turn my power back on there was no power in the entire condo. Some of the breakers I got to stay on but some of the ones for the kitchen stayed in a neutral position. And, when I did try to flip the switch there was a green spark that came out of those particular kitchen breakers.

I did notice that most of the plugs seemed to be wired different. One had one black, one white; one had two black, two white; and two had two white, one red and a black capped off. But again, I hooked everything back up exactly as it was on the old plugs.

Finally, I ended up putting the old plugs back on and the power came back on, no problem.

I would still like to update the look of my plug and switch receptacles. Can you please give me some idea of where I went wrong.

Thank you.

Answer: Hi Krista,

Something do take professional to do correctly. I would not recommend you to replace all the outlets in your home unless you had some experience doing electric work in the past. You could treat it as a bunch of small jobs. Only change one outlet at a time. Then test each one as you go along. I do think you would be better off hiring a pro for this. There are too many little thing that could go wrong when you are doing your whole house. If you were only changing one outlet it would be easy to find any problem you cause. If you do the whole condo then any unnoticed problems will be harder to find and could cost you more to repair then calling a pro to start.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Subject: Wire gauge at 165 feet

Name: jim

Question: What gauge wire do I need to run for a 15 amp circuit at 165 feet?

Also what gauge wire do I need to run for a 20 amp circuit at 165 feet?

Answer: Hi Jim,
If you are running over a 100 foot run you will need to move you wire gauge up one level. So If you are running:

15 amp 165 feet should use 12 awg.
20 amps 165 feet should use 10 awg.

Subject: Wiring a dishwasher

Name: Mike

Question: I am installing a dishwasher where one has been before. The wire in place is 14-3 with black, white, red, and a ground wire. The dishwasher has hookups for the black, white and ground. What do I do with the red?

Answer: Hi Mike,

The red wire is just an extra wire. The electrician who wired the first dish washer may have ran out of the 14-2 wire that is normally used and fined the job using 14-3.All you need to do is cap the red wire. It is useless in this situation.

Subject: outdoor lighting

Name: Kathy

Question: I've replaced the outdoor lights on either side of my garage door. The old lights were motion sensor and the new ones are also, however, they have an 'accent' feature. I just noticed that when these lights are turned on and then turned off the halogen bulb continues to glow, just ever so slightly. I would not even notice how slight if it weren't completely dark outside. Is this faulty wiring? stray voltage? dangerous? a fire hazard? faulty lights?

Thanks for your help

Answer: Hi Kathy,

If it is an accent feature then no it is not a problem. If they are not supposed to glow then yes it is a fire hazard. You need to read the instructions that came with the lights. I know some do have this accent mode built into them. You might find a note about this function on the controls on the light it's self.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Subject: Mild shock / tingle off some appliances

Name: Mark

Subject: Mild shock / tingle off some appliances

Question: Hi. Recently, my wife got a mild shock taking the washing out of the washing machine. I get a sharp tingle off the rusty (ie 'exposed' metal) corner of an electic radiator, even though neither appliance is on(merely plugged in).

Testing a different socket earth to a basin tap gives about five volts. Testing the washing machine drum to some piping gives 250 volts!!! (in Spain). But, there is no current and no fuses have tripped. Can you help please. Thanks.

Answer: Hi Mark,

Wow I don't know much about the electrical system in Spain. I'm in Philadelphia PA. I'm sure there are some Spanish electrician who would be much better suited to answer this question.It sound to me like you need to contact a local electrician. You have a dangerous problem. The cause is most likely a bad return path. Electricity is all way look to find it's way back to ground. If the path is not provided by your electrical system the electricity may find ways to leak out.
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Subject: installing new light

Name: Rob

Question: I have a relatively recently built home (1972) and I have done some basic electrical before in installing ceiling fans and lights and stuff but I have something I have not seen before. I am trying to install a kitchen light and dining room chandelier. I have run across the same thing in both cases...I have a 2 black wires, 2 white wires and a single red coming from the junction box in the ceiling. The swithc in each case has the black wires attached to the lower connection and the red attached to the upper connection on the switch. The white wires are capped. How do I wire the single white and black wires coming from my lighting unit? Thanks...

Answer: Hi Rob,

The white wire is the neutral and it goes to the white of the light fixture. The red wire should be your switched hot wire and goes to the black of the light fixture. The two blacks wires in the box are constant hots. They just just get tucked in the back of the box.

Subject: fuse selection for residential hosehold

Name: Tim

Question: Hi there,

We have a 1926 era Tudor revival style home in Michigan. All the wiring is original with exceptions to the kitchen, partial basement (a washer and an auxiliary wall outlet), the main bathroom and two single 20 amp outlets installed in rooms for computer use. The house was generously wired for the period according to the electrician who updated the kitchen.
We use to have and used fast acting Edison base fuses both 15 and 20 amp. These appear to be no longer available and I think there is not a replacement for the fast acting style which I felt comfortable using. The question is what is the best type of fuse to use given the conditions of the general wiring?



Answer: Hi Tim,

You need to up grade you electrical system. I'm sorry to say but you have nearly a 100 year old system and it I would not consider it to be safe enough for my standards. I would first start by changing out your fuse box to a new circuit breaker box. You may want to install some Arc-fault breaker for extra safety. I have not see too many fuse boxes left here in Philadelphia. 20 years agothere was a big push in this area to get fuse boxes replaced.

no light fixture in the bedroom,

The margins on new construction are really slim. i recently moved into a new construction condo. there was no light fixture in the bedroom, only a juction box. before i installed the chandelier connecting all the right wires, i shut the electricity off in the breaker box. after connecting the wires, i went to switch power back on in the breaker box and it worked. the lights came on in the chandelier. i went to use the light switch to turn it on and off, and now the light switch doesn't work at all. help! how can i get the light switch to work with the chandelier? what am i doing wrong? the builder/developer had stated that the particular light switch is the one that controls the ceiling light box.....

Hi Maha,

Congratulation on your new condo. This is hard to answer with out looking at it. If you are in the Philly area give us a call and I can have this problem tested by one of my Technicians. It could be that the original electrician set this junction box up in a way that would be difficult for a home owner to install a light fixture. The margins on new construction are really slim. In many new construction homes these blanked off boxes are what electrician use make their profit. I have found that sometime the switch is wired completely wrong to keep home owners from cutting them out of this work. I wish I could help you more but I think you need an electrician who can trace out your wires and set them up correctly.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Subject: Outlets work but light switches don't

Name: Chris

Question: I own a relatively new condo, built 2005. My home was inspected when I moved in, but I seem to have 6 dummy switches. All of my outlets work but should I be worried about grounding or wires incorrectly installed? Also, it seems like at least some of the switches should control some of my outlets but none seem to, is it likely that my house is wired incorrectly? Thank you

Answer: Hi Chris,

I would call in an electric in for a general home inspection. I will bet some of you dummy switch are for optional lights and fans that were never installed. This is something that is common for electricians to do in the pre-wire phase of a home. After there is a buyer the electrician will go back and try to boost up his profit by add a few recessed lights or a ceiling fan on the wire that he did during the pre-wire.
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I have a dryer with a 3 wire plug

I have a dryer with a 3 wire plug I have 10-2 wire on the plug side I have the white and black on top and the bare copper on bottom for ground I have a 30 amp double pole breaker how do i hook it up at breaker box

Hi timothy,

I don't recommend doing this if you have not worked in a panel box before. The first problem I see is you are installing a 3 wire line. If you are doing it new you may want to invest in the bring it up to the current code of 4 wire dryer. The cord on the dryer will need to be replaced but that is not too hard. In the dryer you will find two wires on the ground post that will just need to be split so that it will accept the 4 wire cord.

In the panel, I would have an electrician put the two hot wire in a 4 wire dry they would be the black and red, in a 2 wire dryer they would be the black and white, on a double pole breaker. The ground wire goes onto the ground bar and the the white neutral wire on a 4 wire dryer goes on the neutral bar.

I want to run power to my future guest house

DSC_0648Image by AZBump via Flickr
I want to run power to my future guest house, shop and pool. I have what i think is a 800 amp disconnect(is that possible) at the meter pole about 330 feet away from my 200 amp sub panel outside my garage. how should i run the power? do i need to increase my ampacity at the main disconnect or can i tie into the sub panel outside my garage. this is in texas by the way. thanks for your time.

Hi Murry,

The first thing you need to do is contact an electrician. This is not a project you should take on yourself. 800 amp is the size service that would be on a multi-unit apartment building here in Philadelphia but I heard everything is bigger in Texas. You should not need any more ampacity. You will probably only need to add a 100-200 amp disconnect and a sub-panel at your new location.
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I'm replacing a ceiling fan/light fixture with a chandelier

I'm replacing a ceiling fan/light fixture with a chandelier. We have two switches that operated the ceiling fan/ is a dimmer switch that dimmed only the lights. I understand the wiring coming from the chandelier, but have "extra wires" left from the ceiling fan/light hook up. What we have in the ceiling is on one side one black, one white & one ground. Coming from the other side is one black,one white,one copper & one RED wire.
Help! I understand black to black, white to white & copper to the same, but where does the red come into play & how do I keep the dimming ability.
We tried hooking up the black,white &copper from the one side with the red,white & copper (capped the black) from the other side to the light and turned the power on. The dimmer doesn't work & neither switch will shut the light off. Repeated hookup & included the black this time with the same results...???? Help please?

Hi Louise,

The red and black wire both are some type of hot wire. In your situation I believe you should put the two black together a wire nut. The push them into the back of the box. They are a constant hot. The red wire should be your switched or dimmed hot wire ant that will go onto your chandelier.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Subject: Arc fault breakers

Name: michael

Question: I have a house I bought that was built in 1925 and we put
some new electrical lines in and a new breaker box. Do I
have to put in all Arc fault breakers to meet code?

Answer: Hi Michael,

I can't answer that question. It fall under the AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction)clause in the code. Here in Philadelphia the L&I are starting to enforce that The Arc Fault breaker more and more. They are a good idea but I do understand the add extra expense. This question is best directed to who ever is inspecting your work.

Subject: Lighting for over garage storage

Question: Bill,
I have an pull down ladder in my garage for overhead storage. I have a pull down switch that turns light on at top of stairs and it mounted on the 2x4. My attic is long and I need to install a light farther back in the attic so can I run new wiring from that existing light to the back of the storage area and what would I need to do that or can I do that. Thanks for your help and advice Bill.
Jim Reynolds

Answer: Hi Jimmy,

You can do it but judging by the way your question was written I think you would save tons of time and frustration by calling in an electrician. This would be a simple job for an electrician. It is in the attic and that is a bad place to learn how to run a new circuit. If there is a problem with the circuit you may never notice it, see it or smell it until it is too late.