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Wasting Time

House wiring is not rocket science. Standard cable has a black, a white, and a bare wire in it. The bare wire is always used for the ground. The white white wire is used for the neutral. The black wire is the hot wire.

When you are using a standard cable as a ‘switch leg’, i.e. running wire between a light and a wall switch, the white wire is hot. This is a common practice, and part of the practice it to label such white wires with black or red electrical tape, so the next guy who is looking at the connections knows what was done.

If people don’t follow the simple rules, and something goes wrong, you can spend an uncomfortable afternoon with fiberglass insulation in a cramped attic tracing wires to figure out what in hell is going on so you can fix it.

6 comments

1 ellroon { 01.28.13 at 12:51 am }

No.. no thanks. I’ve done my time wrestling with insulation. And I know just enough about electricity to know I’m dangerous. Just be careful up there.

2 Bryan { 01.28.13 at 9:51 pm }

If people follow the simple rules for standard 110 volt circuits you can’t get into trouble. It when they swap the line and the neutral that you can short out the system and start a fire. The insulation is a bigger problem for me – I itch if I even see the stuff.

3 Badtux { 01.28.13 at 10:24 pm }

All of this is quite clearly laid out in the National Electrical Code. It ain’t expensive to buy a copy of the code — if ya can’t get it at yer local bookstore, amazon.com has it for cheap — and it’s written in clear language intended for use by electricians, who generally aren’t the most legal-minded folks around. Furthermore while you can get away with some violations of code without burning down the house, by and large it’s pragmatic practical advice on how to avoid electrocuting yourself / your kids / random passers by and how to avoid burning down the house. All ya gotta do is read the appropriate section and within a paragraph it tells you what to do. And furthermore, none — *none* — of this has changed since 30 years ago when I bought my first copy of the code. They’ve tightened up the code somewhat to, e.g., require more electrical outlets in kitchens on new construction (talk about something long overdue!), but the basic nuts and bolts of how to safely wire a house with Romex ain’t changed since the three-wire variant was introduced in the early 60′s.

But legends in their own mind don’t need no steenkin’ book, yo. And Libertopians don’t want Big Government telling them how to wire up their own steenkin’ house, forgetting that they aren’t gonna live forever and someday, someone else is gonna own that house and is gonna get their sh*t fried trying to fix something in the wiring. If said Libertopian doesn’t get electrocuted or burn down his own house first by miswiring it. Gah, the stupid, it burns, it burns!

- Badtux the Former Electrician Penguin

4 Bryan { 01.28.13 at 10:43 pm }

We have decided that at some point the house was converted from aluminum to copper wire, and it was a rushed job. Everything is #12, even the two exterior lights, which means that was all that was bought for the job. That screams ‘amateur’ almost as much has finding wires stapled to the siding, instead of the studs. The last time I worked on this house I remember having to flip a number of switches that were installed upside-down. I didn’t get into anything new, so I wasn’t aware of the other problems.

Anybody should be able to keep black, white, and bare in their brain, but it is apparently beyond the capacity of some people. An inspector should have caught the problem, but it may have been done before the locals started enforcing building codes.

5 Badtux { 01.29.13 at 10:56 am }

Or, Bryan, it was done by a jakeleg unlicensed gypsy “electrician” working out of a pickup truck with a shell on it, who didn’t bother pulling any permits. (By “gypsy” I’m referring to the lifestyle — people who are constantly on the move to keep ahead of their reputation or the authorities). Some people are more interested in saving a buck than in having the job done right. It’s false economy, but people are morons. So it goes.

- Badtux the Seen It Plenty Penguin

6 Bryan { 01.29.13 at 10:14 pm }

Knowing the guy who owned this house before my friend bought it, I know the job cost him at least twice what the licensed master electrician who lived two blocks away would have charged him. He over-paid for everything he had done to the house, and got the most worthless people in the world to do it.