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Basic Electrical Safety

The “Shocking” Truth That Could Kill You*

There are two areas where it perhaps might be better for the average homeowner to call a contractor rather than try doing things him/herself– not out of consideration of knowledge or ignorance but because of safety.

One hundred and ten volts is only rarely fatal; if someone with a weak heart gets a jolt, or if somebody is foolish enough to play with the stuff with wet feet or standing in water, it can kill. But it’s more likely just to leave you with gritted teeth and a healthy respect for the mighty electron.

Two hundred and twenty volts, however, is a different matter altogether. It is, as they say in the trade, peppy as hell and can– given the slightest chance– stop the heart or freeze lung action and cause death by suffocation.

The high voltage is used mostly with heating systems and appliances (stoves, water heaters, dryers), involves correct hooking up of three wires (gaining its power from something called phasing), and shouldn’t be done unless the person working with it is thoroughly familiar with wiring and circuitry.

Unless it’s absolutely necessary, an emergency situation, never take shortcuts with wiring and protective devices. The quick splice– 2 wires twisted together just to keep a television set going– will do the job, but they’ll also become corroded, come apart, get hot and burn. It’s just not worth it.

Another point which must be mentioned is the insanity surrounding electrical circuitry, the insanity put forth mostly by professionals who are too cocky. Electricity, house voltage, is never safe — plugging a piece of bare wire in an outlet can kill you in just under a tenth of a second; all it has to do is catch you between two hearbeats and it can freeze the action of the heart.

Every time you get a shock, of even minor duration and magnitude, it is only luck that keeps you alive, the fact that it didn’t just catch you wrong. Still you see supposed professionals sticking their bare fingers on wires to see if there is voltage there.

Another area coming more to the fire, especially during the energy problems, is the vague “brown out” syndrome. With power fluctuations becoming more and more prevalent during the hot summer months and cold winter months, small gremlins come into being that can make one think their wiring is going bad.

Some appliances, radios, TVs, and some stereo equipment have a built-in cutoff point to keep from damaging sensitive or expensive components, at a certain low voltage they will automatically turn themselves off. If something in your home which has always been reliable starts to act erratic, cutting off at odd times, check with the local power company before starting to rip the walls apart looking for a short.

It’s best to go by the old adage: “better safe than dead… rrr, sorry”. So, hire an electrician if you’re the least bit unsure of your electrical skills.

*I couldn’t resist that one

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