Preface to the Revised Edition
There are two constants in life -- paying taxes and changing codes. The purpose of this preface is to assure my many fans and avid readers that this new edition takes into consideration all the codes that have changed since I originally wrote Wiring a House.
Here are a few of the more common code changes:
- One expected change was in marking the white insulated wire in switch legs. At the time Wiring a House was written, code did not require the installer to indicate whether a white insulated wire, such as a traveler in a 3- or 4-way switching circuit, was not a neutral or whether a common switch was using a white wire for its incoming power. Code now requires the white insulated wire to be taped (any tape color except white, gray, or green) to make sure you know that it is not a neutral.
- One change that I particularly dislike is the new rule on bathroom receptacles. Now you can put a whirlpool tub, a bath heater, a heated towel rack, bath lights, or whatever on a single bathroom receptacle circuit as long as that circuit stays in that one bath.
- Outbuildings, if they are wired, are required to use ground-fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs) whether they are finished or unfinished.
- To keep children from grabbing appliance cords and pulling the appliance down onto themselves, all countertop receptacles are now required to be above the countertop. Exceptions are made for the handicapped.
- Installers are now allowed to use nonmetallic (NM) cable, in residential installations, at any grade level. Previously, code had allowed NM for up to three floors, but there was some debate about whether or not you could count the basement as one story and the attic as another.
- AFCIs (arc-fault circuit interrupters) are now required for any circuit in the bedroom. That includes receptacles, lighting circuits, smoke alarms, and so on.
- Dedicated receptacles in unfinished basements that feed fire and burglar alarms are not required to have GFCI protection.
- All 15- and 20-amp 125-volt receptacles installed outside (you are required to have one in the front and one in the back) must utilize waterproof covers that keep the receptacle waterproof even when a cord is inserted.
One major change in this book's revision is the addition of my Above Code wiring system throughout the book. Above Code is my way of ensuring that the homeowner has a safe, high-quality, trouble-free, long-lived electrical installation. An example of using Above Code is in wiring bathroom receptacles. If you were to simply "meet code," you could load up a bath circuit with the lights, fan, heater, and so on. A single hair dryer on a low setting would wind up kicking the breaker and leaving you in the dark. My Above Code system shows you how a bath should be wired so that doesn't happen. In addition, my system tells you how to wire better, what products to buy, and which ones to avoid.
This revision has a number of other changes. I've replaced black-and-white photos with color photos to give you a better understanding of the material. I've reworked artwork--and even complete chapters -- that didn't have practical applications in favor of adding information that you could really use. I've also added color to the line art to give a greater sense of realism. To aid clarity, I added the chapter "Wiring Room by Room" so you wouldn't have to hunt all over the book to find the specs to wire a specific room. Due to their recent popularity, I've also added chapters on home standby generators and lightning protection.
I think you will be pleased with my new edition of Wiring a House.
New buyers, I hope, will find this edition to be their "real-life" wiring reference -- the one with the dog-eared pages -- while all those written by desk jockeys will gather dust on the shelf. For those who already own a copy of the earlier edition, I hope you will find this edition even more useful and will add it to your library as well.
My family has three generations of electricians -- I am the third. As a kid, I remember working in spooky old buildings that had been around since the Civil War. The attics and basements of those houses were especially scary to me, but it was the crawl spaces I hated most. While lying in those damp or dust-choked caves, I remember pulling wires through floor joists spanned by spider webs clogged with insect carcasses, attempting in vain to ignore the multilegged thing crawling up my leg--all the while trying not to knock my head against another darn joist and hoping the flashlight wouldn't die. Those are not fond memories, but I learned a lot. And it was literally from the ground up that I was taught about electricity and wiring a house.
Now I'm both a master electrician and a master plumber and have my own company. I have written this book from lifelong experience and knowledge, some of which has been passed down through each generation. However, there is no one within my family to pass the gauntlet to -- no fourth generation to pick up the trade. Therefore, by reading this book, you will become heir to my knowledge and experience. You, in effect, will become the fourth generation.
Three main themes of the book are safety, design, and materials. If you're doing the work yourself, I'll tell you how to do it safely. If you're not doing the work, you'll gain enough information from these pages to ask educated questions, to understand what an electrician is doing, and to know whether he or she is doing it correctly. You'll also learn what makes a good electrical design and how to choose the best materials -- not the lowest-cost materials -- for your situation. Safety Is Paramount
As an electrician, safety is a primary concern -- both for my clients and for me. Electricity can kill, so it's very important to be alert while working with it and to use safety equipment. I've received shocks before, and I would not be here today had it not been for a GFCI-protected receptacle. If you are not competent working around electricity, hire an electrician do the work.
One of the aims of this book is to help you understand the basic principles of electricity so that you can give it the respect it deserves. You'll learn not only how electricity flows but also how to work according to a plan, so that any wiring job can be done safely and without fear. Throughout the book I offer safety tips that could save your life. Wiring can be tricky, so take your time and don't cut corners. Tools
Tools are important to any person working in the building trades. Using the right tool for the right job will make the work go smoothly and safely. The same holds true for electrical tools; however, using the wrong tool or a low-quality tool will not only cause headaches by making the job more difficult, but it also could seriously hurt or kill you. That's why I devoted an entire chapter to tool use. In it I give you good background knowledge of electrical tools so that you will know which tools to buy, and even more important, which ones not to buy. I also illustrate how to use tools correctly, not just in the tools chapter but throughout the book. Meeting Code Is Not Good Enough
Minimum code means exactly that -- it's the absolute minimum required to pass inspection. And I'm sorry to admit that on many jobs even minimum codes sometimes aren't enforced. Most inspectors are already backlogged and overworked -- they have time only to check for obvious violations. They cannot trace every wire to make sure it goes to the right location or even verify that the wire is the proper gauge. Therefore, you cannot assume that an electrical system has been installed correctly or even safely just because it has passed inspection. Sadly, the bottom line is that it's normally up to the installer or homeowner to know what needs to be done and to see that it is done correctly. Knowing this, I try to give you enough information to know right from wrong and what works and what doesn't, so that you can make intelligent decisions about the design of an electrical system.
In addition, this book will teach you how to develop a good, safe, high-quality electrical design, not one that simply meets minimum code. For example, one time I was called out to rewire a recently built house. It had passed all electrical inspections, the walls were up and painted, and the owner had moved in. The contractor had only been obligated to build to minimum specs. The outlets were spaced 12 ft. apart, with no receptacle outlet where it was needed for a specific piece of furniture. A cheap, poorly designed electrical panel that was 99% full upon completion of the house was taking all the load it could handle, so nothing could be added (such as a spa). The electrical system -- in fact, the entire house -- was built without any consideration for the owner's needs. The owner had to pay twice: once to meet minimum code and a second time to get things custom-designed. A good design surpasses minimum code and takes the owner's needs into consideration. Low-Bid Jobs Are Cheap -- for a Reason
It may come as a surprise to some people that it is impossible to obtain high-quality material on a low-bid job. Why? From the contractor's viewpoint, the object of the bid is to get the job. If I were to put together a bid that includes good-quality, high-end material and my competitor makes a bid that includes cheap material, my bid will be significantly higher -- and I most likely will not get the job. For contractors, this book will illustrate when high-end material is appropriate and when you can get by with average-quality material. With this knowledge, you'll be able to put together a bid that's reasonably priced, without compromising overall quality.
As a homeowner, you should know that when you choose the lowest bid, you may get exactly what you pay for. But if you specify in advance the type and exact grade of materials you want, so that all contractors are bidding with the same standards in mind, you can choose the lowest price knowing that you haven't compromised quality. This book will give you the knowledge to make informed decisions about the wiring system in your house. A Book Written from Experience
This book is unlike any other wiring book on the market. Written by an electrician for homeowners, do-it-yourselfers, and professionals alike, it is full of stories and experiences of exactly what happens when wiring a house. I even talk about some of the common mistakes that both pros (including myself) and do-it-yourselfers make so that you can avoid them from the outset.
I've always hated the standard how-to wiring books because, for the most part, they're not written by practicing electricians. Instead, some desk jockey rehashes stuff from other books written by other desk jockeys. These books always pick perfect textbook situations with photos taken in a studio. They never tell you the problems you will encounter and what to do when things go wrong--let alone the experiences of the authors. They can't, because the people writing the book have rarely done what they're telling you to do. I think both professionals and novices will appreciate my book because it's honest -- I've done the work.